A walk by the sea seemed essential on such a warm, glorious October afternoon, so I found myself drifting in the direction of Barmouth. What I hadn’t expected was finding myself in a crowd of many hundreds who had turned out to see the annual Barmouth Beach Races. I had utterly forgotten that they were happening this weekend. A good time seemed to be had by all, though I imagine the riders will be finding sand in some odd places for many days to come.
On the other side of the dunes, away from all the noise and crowds, it was the perfect day for a beach walk. A blue-skied, green-light-through-the-waves, sparkling surf kind of day with the hill of Olau Dinas making a lovely autumn-coloured backdrop.
There was even a baby Portugese Man o’War jellyfish on the tideline, along with this little crab and four or five big Barrell Jellyfish.
After a long interval of leaning on the sea wall and watching the tide foaming in, the evening just got more and more lovely, and the Mawddach estuary looked stunning on the way home.
A perfect afternoon’s messing about by the sea.
A very lazy morning left us with enough guilt to feel that we needed some exercise in the afternoon, so we set out to follow one of the walks in our new ‘Walks Around Machynlleth’ book, which, after some road-testing of the routes, will be appearing in Isfryn. We chose a walk of just over 6 miles, starting at the Dyfi Bridge in Machynlleth and making a big loop past the now deserted farm of Pantyspydden.
The first half mile is solidly, steeply uphill on a metalled lane. It was a pretty warm afternoon, and we were seriously hot and more than glowing gently by the time we reached the top. There was a brief respite about two thirds of the way up when we came across a little stall set out by the residents of Bron Aur, which had home baked, organic energy bars for sale. It would have been rude to pass by, so we bought some and ate them on the spot. This part of the route is on the Wales Coast path, so I imagine they’re used to wilting walkers stopping for a breather and glad of something to eat.
The views from the top of the first long pull up were lovely- it feels like we’re moments away from full autumn colour.
The walk passed a lot of very remote farms, now abandoned and in ruins. From the size of the buildings, they must have been very prosperous in their day. I have no idea why they would have been abandoned, but I’d be interested to find out.
It’s fair to say that the path was a little bit damp in places…
There were also a few places where the book was rather out of date. A suggested footpath shortcut would have needed a team of machete wielding bush rangers to get through, and there was a place where a stile over a barbed wire fence was simply not there. Luckily, a fallen branch had pulled the barbed wire down far enough that we could climb very gingerly over. We’ve noted these places in the walk description in the book.
Given that the ground was too saturated to sit on, a little waste tip from a path-side quarry in the woods offered a perfect, dry lunch spot and some lovely lichens to look at.
Aside from the water and the occasional misdirection, the walk was easy after the first long climb, undulating through woodlands and in and out of small valleys. We got a very distant view of the sea at one point, which always adds to a walk for me.
We also came across the fantastic survivor. A oak tree whose base was so pitted with rot that it looked as if it were made of cork, yet it was green and growing.
On the route back, we found a very cold and exhausted bee on the path, so a rescue mission swung into action. The only sugar we had was in a rather aged and sticky Chewit, dug up from the depths of my rucksack. We added a bit of water and helped the bee aboard the opened paper. It was soon licking away, and with the whole rig moved into the sun, soon looked like a new bee. After about 20 minutes of continuous eating, it flew away and we could walk off happy at a good deed done.
We dropped back down the long hill (much easier this way!) with views of Machynlleth in the autumn evening sun.
A final check for otters at the Dyfi Bridge (nothing tonight, though we were watching one playing just here a couple of weeks ago), then home for well earned beer and pizza!
After a day of household chores, DIY and bit of supermarket shopping, all done in the rain, we felt the need of some outdoor activity. The clouds had cleared and the evening promised to be fine, so what better time than 4.30 to set off for a 6.5 mile walk over the hills to view a waterfall?
There are two roads into Glaspwll and we took the one slightly furthest from home. It’s all a bit rainforest in there, and the first road in particular gives one the feeling of driving along an interestingly narrow ledge between a cliff and a river. The one we took was narrow and winding and bordered with dense summer greenery with the river some distance below.
It was a lovely afternoon to be out. The heather is in full bloom, so the colour on the hills was gorgeous, and the delicious wild blueberries (known as wimberries where I was brought up in South Wales) are carpeting the ground and available for frequent snacking.
It was clear enough to give us a distant view of Aran Fawddwy, the highest peak in Mid Wales (and itself the source of some excellent walking). The picture below is a somewhat zoomed-in view.
A little further on, and after a climb, we were striding along a ridge and looking at two waterfalls. It was so quiet and still that the only sound we could hear was the sound of the falling water from across the valley.
A little further on, sloshing through stretches of bog and mud awaited us, and we were very glad of waterproof boots and gaiters, as well as walking poles for testing the depth! One particular bog-trot led us to a Llyn (Lake) and a well-deserved hot choc break.
Arrival at the edge of an escarpment gave us splendid views from above Pistyll y Llyn, the waterfall that was the object of our walk. It’s one of the highest waterfalls in Wales.
It’s a bit of an awkward descent beside the falls, first along a very narrow Miner’s Track (off which I nearly took a header after stepping on a very slippery rock!) then down a trackless but pleasingly springy gully of deep moss and grass.
Once in the valley, more bog was to come, but the final section of track was dry and clear.
So many small things make walking in the hills such a rich experience: wonderful old slate gate posts; fence posts with their own eco-systems and fabulous clouds.
We arrived back at the car just after 8pm, just as the last rays of the sinking sun were shining over the hilltops, and drove home under lovely sunset clouds towards beer and dinner. A perfect way to end a day!
We were first-time attendees at the annual Banger Racing/ Demolition Derby in Harlech last night, and can definitely recommend it to anyone who would enjoy an evening of automotive mayhem! It was watched by a very enthusiastic crowd and was a thoroughly entertaining way to spend a couple of hours. Despite the crunching crashes and one car bursting into flames, there were only metal casualties and both drivers and crowd seemed to be loving it! If you’d like to find out whether there will be any nearby events when you’re visiting, you can check on Banger Racing Mid/North Wales Facebook page .
One of the undeniable perks of owning Isfryn is needing to try out all the local visitor attractions so that we can recommend things to our guests. We’ve had some great outings lately, so here’s our verdict on what we’ve tried…
We had a very leisurely trip on the Corris Railway on a glorious afternoon. It’s a very tiny affair, lovingly run by volunteers. Aside from operating the line, they build the beautifully-made carriages and restore the engines.
At the moment, there’s just a kilometre of track, so as well as the gentle trip down the line in the very pretty valley, the tour is supplemented by a guided trip around the engine sheds and the telling of some stories about the history of the line. Our trip cost just £6 per head. It’s a great way to pass a relaxed hour, and you can top off your trip with some delicious food and drink at Andy & Adam’s cafe just across the road, or a drop of something stronger at the Slater’s Arms just a little further up the street.
Next on the menu: Caernarvon Castle. It’s an impressive structure, dominating the estuary and the small town. It’s a warren of stairways, corners and wall walks inside. At the time we visited, it was £8.95 for an adult entry ticket.
Once you’ve exhausted your enthusiasm for military architecture and history, there are plenty of places to eat and drink in the town. The area closest to the castle is by far the nicest part of Caernarvon; the further from the castle you go, the more run-down the town gets, which is a shame. Still, there are plenty of options around the castle to keep most people happy and it was a very nice place to wander around in the sun. The home made ice creams on offer are definitely recommended!
On the way home, we took in the Roman remains at Segontium. Entrance to the site is free, and there is an interpretation board inside to explain some of what you are looking at. All that’s to be seen are the foundations of what was once a barracks for over 1,000 soldiers. (There’s a little more across the road from the entrance to the main site if you look over the stone wall. ) You have to stretch the imagination somewhat to conjure up the life that was once happening there, but if you’re interested in Roman history, it’s still fascinating to imagine them in this place.
Next, we took a trip to Newquay in Cardigan Bay for a sunset sailing to watch the dolphins. we actually chose a grey evening when there wasn’t much sunset in evidence and the sea was excitingly choppy, much to the delight of the little kids who were on board the open boat with us! To be honest, we loved it too. We saw several dolphins, a couple of whom gave us an apparently quite unusual show of being tail-down and sticking their heads above the surface of the sea. It was lovely to get to see heads as well as arching backs and tails.
There are several companies in Newquay running dolphin watching sailings, and they go out several times a day. Our trip cost £17 for one and a half hours. You can also sometimes see dolphins when you’re just standing on the quay, as we did on this evening. Newquay was new to us, and it looks like a nice little place. We’ll be going back for a better look, so watch this space for more!
Today’s outing was to Plas Brondanw, the former home of Clough Williams-Ellis, the man who built the Italianate village of Portmeirion on the coast of Snowdonia. The gardens are lovely, with some gorgeous views of the mountains and surrounding countryside. The property is still in the hands of the family, and there was much activity and excitement today as the main house was having its opening as a gallery. The staff still managed to be welcoming and kind and let us in for a sneak preview!
The gardens are not huge, but they make for a very pleasant ramble, and you can also walk up a wooded track to a folly built as a ruined castle. That gives a view all the way out to the coast. There’s free parking and a cafe on site, so everything you need is on hand! It’s about an hour’s drive from Isfryn and, as usual around here, there’s some lovely scenery along the route.
We made the most of a beautiful afternoon with a trip out to Tywyn and back via a walk at Dolgoch Falls. Dolgoch is a beautiful drive of about 20 minutes from Isfryn. The walk around the falls is through a wooded valley – a veritable Welsh rainforest. It’s deliciously cool and shady in hot weather and the falls are impressive after rain, so it’s good at any time of year. The walk to the first fall is a flat, metalled track suitable for anyone, but beyond that, the tracks are very up and down, with some very uneven stone steps and other sections that can be muddy and slippery: perfectly fine for most people with just a little care.
The walk out takes around 45 minutes, and takes you past the tunnel openings to old slate quarries, over wooden bridges and past all the falls. It also runs under the viaduct of the Tallyllyn steam railway, which offers some good photographic opportunities if you time your visit well.
The walk out ends at a small clearing with picnic tables. There is a pay and display car park at the start of the walk, right next to a convenient tea room. If you fancy something a little stronger, or maybe dinner out, the Ty’n y Cornel Hotel is just down the road. It has tables for drinks next to the water in fine weather, and a lounge where you can sit next to the wood burner and look out at the water when it’s colder. The food is good, and there’s a sample menu in Isfryn for guests to peruse. We decided to take advantage of a fine late afternoon for a swift waterside half!
Visitors to Isfryn often ask us for ideas of things to do, and we’re always happy to share ideas.. If you’re coming to stay and you’d like a fascinating and unusual way to spend a day, then I’d recommend visiting Yr Hen Efail forge for a day with Lez. It’s at Aberllefenni, just 5 miles from Isfryn via a beautiful and mountainous road through the forest. (The landlord of a local pub describes this road as ‘a bit American Werewolf’! If you travel it in the dark, as we do often, you can see what he means…). The forge is on the site of the old slate quarry, and continues to serve its original purpose (‘Yr Hen Efail’ means ‘the old forge’ in English). Lez is a man of many skills, being a former stone mason as well as a blacksmith. He is an excellent teacher – clear and patient in his explanations, and well able to deal with someone like me who has no experience of anything remotely like blacksmithing! His Introductory day lasted for around 5 hours, and in that time, I learned some serious respect for the art and craft of blacksmithing and had a very enjoyable time to boot.
I think this is a particularly rewarding experience because at the end of it, you emerge with a product of your labours that has genuine value and will last more than a lifetime. I came out with a poker for our fire. It was laughingly dubbed ‘the dinky poker’ because of all the scars left on it by my wildly inaccurate hammer skills, but I loved that, because it’s the very essence of something personal and handmade. If you’d like to include a day’s Introduction to Blacksmithing, in your holiday, you’ll need to contact Lez and book in advance. You can find out more at his Facebook page, The Celtic Forge.
My finished poker is on the right. the one on the left is a splendid thing made by Lez which we’ve owned for some time. A bit beyond my skill levels!
Today’s walk was to Pistyll Gwyn ( The White Gusher!) waterfall deep in a hidden valley above nearby Llanymawddwy. It’s the first day when we’ve walked with snow on the higher peaks around us, and a small amount of icy snow where we walked. Winter is coming!
This is our objective at the head of the valley
Along the way, we encountered this strange spawn on the wet ground and the internet seemed to hint that it’s unfertilised frog spawn, but the time of the year is wrong for this, so the research continues….
The options for this walk are a relatively easy 2 mile there and back route to the bottom of the falls (although it does include a rather interesting crossing over a stream which features stepping stones and a piece of scaffolding pipe, fixed horizontally between the banks to hang on to!). As we’ve had a couple of days of heavy rain/ hail/snow in the hills, the crossing was about as exciting as you’d want it to be! Sadly, we forgot to photograph it. When you get to the bottom of the falls, you have the option to add another mile to the trip and take a steep and narrow sheep-path up the side of the falls to the top. We took this option and it was well worth it, even with a rather slippery, muddy descent, some of which I accomplished in a very undignified sitting position as I was favouring a somewhat injured knee! VERY muddy waterproofs are even now in the wash…
The guide book that we have in Isfryn recommends waterfall walks for rainy days as the waterfalls will be at their best. However, this does mean that everything underfoot is VERY wet and there is a certain amount of bog-trotting and crossing small streams guaranteed.
On a clear day, the view down the valley would be lovely. The picture doesn’t give a true impression of how steep it is.
We really enjoyed this walk, and it’s definitely one that we’ll repeat.
It has been the most glorious autumn with wonderful weather, and we’ve done our best to make the most of it by walking every day. Lots of our guests come here to walk, but not everyone wants long, strenuous days in the mountains. We have a variety of walking guides in Isfryn, several of which have shorter routes with no high mountain ascents, but still offering the chance to get into the hills for a few hours and see stunning scenery. We’ve been road-testing the guides and making notes of any changes or inaccuracies in them, so that our guests can more easily follow the routes. Great excuse for some fantastic outings!
This is beautiful Bearded Lake, which according to legend, is home to green-clad fairy-folk, who graze their magical white cattle on the shores before returning to their home under the water. It’s easy to reach by car (we took a short diversion on a trip home from the supermarket!) and the walk is a lovely loop of just a couple of miles. As well as the lake, you’re rewarded with some stunning views over the Mawddach Estuary.
A walk from Darowen (just 15 minutes’ drive from Isfryn) takes you to the site of an ancient hilltop fort and offers some beautiful valley views.
A walk along the cliffs from Aberystwyth to Clarach Bay offers wonderful scenery and, on the afternoon that we walked, a spectacular sunset.
A ramble at Corris Uchaf took us past a fantastic model Italian village created by local man Mark Bourne. A trip to Italy in the late 70s inspired him to turn his garden into this amazing folly. It’s a hike up a steep lane to get to it, but worth the trip. You can’t get into the garden, but the view from the road is great.
A walk around Dinas Oleu in Barmouth gave us views over the town and the spectacular bridge to Fairbourne. Dinas Oleu was the first tract of land ever to be gifted to the National Trust.
Torrent Walk at Brithdir is always an autumn favourite. The beautiful broad leaved woodland displays a show of gorgeous colour and stands of birch that Klimt would have loved.
A walk at Bontddu was not in any guide, and provided a bit of excitement. We set off in sunshine, navigating a route from an OS map, but it wasn’t long until the rain clouds gathered over us, even though there was the most beautiful silver sunlight over the distant sea.
Our route took us past the face of an abandoned slate quarry, which looked a fine and interesting spot from a distance, as the photo below shows. That was right up until we got there and found crumbling ledges, inches wide, above sheer drops. Steve could have scrambled down, but we decided that retreat was the better option!
The footpaths shown on the map were nowhere in evidence on the ground on the route back. We found ourselves picking our way through a couple of miles of tussocky bog, crossing multiple streams and clambering over walls as both rain and darkness began to fall. We were very thankful for head torches, good waterproofs and Steve’s navigational skills! We had at least had a beautiful sunset before the rain set in. Our car was at the far end of the lake pictured below, and it seemed to take a long, long, dark and soggy time to negotiate our way to it. The only option was to retreat to a warm pub for well earned beer and crisps!
These were just a few of the lovely walks that have made this a fantastic autumn. This really is the ideal place to be if you love spending time outdoors. There’s something stunning round every corner and even the shortest walk can make that stop at a cosy hostelry on the way home feel justified.