Thursday, May 31, 2007

Wales - Day 6

Guess what ?

Give up ? What, not specific enough for you ?

Ok......well I came down this morning and there was The Leeds Weekly News sticking half way through my letterbox. Was I upset ? No. Was I annoyed ? No.

After getting such things off my chest in yesterday's blog post, I was calmness itself and with a fixed smile of resignation on my face, I removed the offending rag and SHREDDED IT INTO TINY BLOODY PIECES AND THREW THEM IN THE BLOODY BIN. GRRRRRRRRRR.

S'ok, the red mist has gone now and I can get back to Day 6, Wednesday last week, of my trip to Wales.

I didn't go far from base this time as we were expecting a wi-fi router to arrive in the post and I was going to set it up for my brother and wanted to get it done before the Champions League Final at 7:45pm which we wanted to watch.

I went right out the gate, direction wise I mean, and headed to Machynlleth. As I approached the golf club, I decided to work up an appetite by going up onto the course and take some photographs.

This first view is from the 2nd tee and looks down on that nameless and numberless road I mentioned in an earlier blog as being one of the most scenic I've ever been on in this country.

I know it doesn't look much like your classic golf course but I'd describe it as an inland links course in some ways. There are no narrow tree lined fairways here.

I initially thought there was little or no rough either but even the munching sheep on every hole couldn't get rid of it all and my brother said it'll grow a lot thicker as the summer progresses.

As I'd not even held a golf club for a couple of years, I was pleased to have such an open course to get back into the swing of things........literally.

This is the view a little to the left of the first photo and shows the 1st green and the clubhouse on the other side of the little clump of trees.

The first is a dog leg and you're not allowed to 'take it on' as that would endanger any walkers who might be on the hill to the left of the clump of trees as we look at them.

Again you can just see the road at the bottom of the photo and driving right to left, it's only about half a mile from here to the town of Machynlleth.

I walked on up the course, which involved quite a climb, and came to the 8th tee. As usual there were a few sheep around and the two on this particular tee looked like they had a story to tell. What a state they were in. I hoped some local resident was suitably shamefaced and racked with remorse......if not a shocking hangover !!

It's only a 9 hole course and so the 8th is also the 17th.

The sheep are so used to the golfers and know they're safe - from most of them - that apart from a quick glance up, they carry on munching and keeping the grass down.

Can't see them being introduced at Augusta any time soon but a lot of lesser courses could make use of these natural lawnmowers.

Back in the car and getting my breath back, I looked at the map and decided where to go for breakfast. My only definite destination was the foot bridge across the estuary to Barmouth and so after passing through Machynlleth, I went along the coast hugging A493 to Aberdovey (or Aberdyfi to be Welsh about it) which was a lovely little seaside village with colourfully painted houses and a very pleasant sea front.

I pulled up at a parking area which allowed free parking for 45 minutes and I was beside the low sea wall which, at this point, had these 2 birds scanning for any morsels of food being handed out or, more likely, being dropped by passing tourists.

As you'll gather from my previous posts, I'm not much good at naming birds so I don't know if the one on the left is a variety of seagull or something completely different.

The wall was on my left so these birds were visible through my passenger window and not for the first time, I missed the electric windows from my previous cars.

Still ,they were so relaxed and content on the wall that they didn't move when I leaned over and wound the window down to take these quick snaps. The one I knew to be a seagull did get fiddigty and just before it decided to fly off, it posed nicely for this 2nd shot.

Across the road, the A493, I spotted The Sunflower Cafe which had a few tables and chairs outside and this seemed a good place to have my breakfast.

It appeared to be owned and run by a husband and wife team from London, but I'm only going by accents and the fact that he talked a lot about West Ham football club !

Their son was helping out as well so it had a nice friendly family atmosphere.

Remembering the proximity of the seagulls, I picked a table inside and passing up on the delicious cold choices on the menu, I went for the less healthy but more filling cooked English breakfast. Yes I know. If it's any consolation, I berated myself for a while afterwards.......with every satisfied burp in fact !!

Full of stomach and slightly lighter of wallet, I left Aberdovey to the birds and continued around the coast on the A493, looking for the foot bridge across to Barmouth. I was pretty low on petrol and after a few miles, the warning light came on, followed by a warning noise that scared the bejesus out of me. One or the other, guys.......I don't need both.

As I was getting over 47 miles to the gallon, I knew I could ignore the warnings for a while and being a 3 week old car. I shouldn't need to worry about the pipes fouling up with the sludge at the bottom of the tank. This gave me a confidence to carry on which was unwarranted as for all I knew, there wasn't a gallon LEFT in the tank. I'd not read that part of the handbook and just ASSUMED you always have a gallon left when the alarm goes off.

I suddenly found myself a few miles from Dolgellau (and numerous petrol stations) which meant I'd missed the foot bridge across the estuary. I turned around and drove back and looked even closer for some sort of sign. When I passed a narrow road to the right that had a small railway sign at it's entrance, I thought that might be it and so I stopped to ask at the next commercial business. I was told that WAS the road down to the foot bridge and so back I went again.

All this time I was thinking I might have made a big mistake not going on into Dolgellau for petrol but hey, call me young and impetuous. PLEASE call me young and impetuous cause really I'm old and quite scared by a lot of the decisions I make these days. This being one of them. Why DIDN'T I go on into Dolgellau and fill up ???!!!

I went down the narrow road a few hundred metres and came to a parking area close to the world's smallest railway station. It was a hut really but then it wasn't a mainline station and didn't need to be anything more.

As usual there were sheep everywhere and as I started on my walk along the side of the line towards the bridge, this little fella kept a wary eye on me.

Not so little actually.

There was an electrified fence on each side of the tracks but it was soon obvious that sometimes the odd sheep decided it was worth a bit of a shock to get onto the line.........or maybe worth a couple of shocks to cross over to the other side completely.

Coming towards me was this railway employee trying to get a sheep off the tracks. Quite how he planned to achieve this wasn't immediately obvious to me as he just seemed to be slowly herding the animal along - maybe he knew there was a gap in the fencing, probably 20 miles away, and was pacing himself.

In any case, the sheep was clearly enjoying this pantomime a lot more than the employee who was probably wondering how to put this on his time card and if he could claim extra for multitasking as a shepherd.

The people behind him had just come off the footbridge and were making their way round past me and on to the car park.

Young shepherding employee had an older colleague who had gone the other way and was walking the line in true Johnny Cash style.
I think there is a task where you hit the actual railway track with a metal rod and listen for the noise it makes and use this low tech method to determine if the train will cross the bridge or leave it.

If I was that interested, I'd Google it but it did seem that this man was doing just that.

Well either that or he was just a vandal with a hard hat and a florescent jacket ( maybe an ex-Easyjet employee ) as every so often he'd take his big rod and smack it against the track.

Stop tittering at the back, Jones Minor.

By now I was well along the elusive foot bridge and so about halfway across the Mawddach Estuary. In front of me, at the end of the bridge, lay Barmouth where I'd been by road a couple of days earlier.

There were raised sandbanks on the left and the beautiful coastline on my right and almost straight ahead on the land was this lovely, if slightly bizarre, house with a speedboat 'parked' in front of it.

What a location ! I thought I was along the California coastline somewhere near Monterey.

Even the mountains in the background helped with that impression.

The sun was out and it was quite a beautiful setting for a home.

I was impressed with the numbers of pedestrians and cyclists who were using the bridge at this time. It was a toll bridge but the only pay booth was at the Barmouth side and so I never had to dip in my pocket. This pleased me enormously of course and I decided the money saved would help pay for the breakdown truck that might be needed to get me to Dolgellau if my fuel starved car decided not to start.

This was the view towards Barmouth which was pretty enough in it's own right.

Again I loved the neat rows of houses seemingly carved out of the sides of the mountains that now protected them.

It was just after midday and the sun was blazing down from an almost cloudless sky. It was very warm and apart from the distant clanking noise of the track bashing railway employee, the only sounds were from the circling seagulls from nearby Barmouth harbour.

I looked over the bridge to the right and it was like a view from a cruise ship entering a Caribbean port. Was I really in mid Wales ??

This photo doesn't really capture the view as I saw it. One of those 'gotta be there' moments really.

I stayed a while longer enjoying the peace and quiet and then went back to the car. Thankfully it started ok and got me to Dolgellau where I had the luxury of passing one petrol station (well it WAS charging £1.02p a litre) and finding another one which just happened to be at a Renault dealership. Sadly no discount.

I wanted to get back to base to install the wi-fi router so once I'd left Dolgellau, I got on the A470 (what else !!) and took this mountain pass route to Aberangell. It's called Bwlch Oerddrws - Bwlch being the Welsh word for 'gap' and what a gap it was.

This link takes you to an aerial photo of the pass and the A470 that takes you along it. This is the photo I took and was taken from the small parking area at the top of the pass which is usually packed with cars as this is prime walking country.

I had to park, blocking in a couple of cars but as I wasn't stopping long, I knew it didn't matter.

I was standing on one of the highest passes in Wales and looking down the Dyfi Valley. The peacefulness of the location belied it's history as three centuries ago, the area was a stronghold for thieves and bandits.

A few miles further down the valley and back on the flatlands, there is a lovely hotel/pub/restaurant called The Brigand's Inn where my brother works a few hours a week and where we had a meal before I went back to Leeds. But that's for the next blog.

Back at the parking area on top of the pass, someone had managed to stick this plant or weed or flower into the top of a wooden fence post. It was a strange thing to do and yet I liked it a lot. I wondered how long it had been there and how long it would remain. Based on it being firmly embedded in the wood and that generally walkers are not the sort of people who would remove such a joining of man made and natural elements ( I'm classing the post as man made here), I think it might be there for years to come. I hope so.

On my way down the pass I stopped one last time as I came upon another example of a tiny community living in the shadows of the mountains. There was another lovely churchyard and this time I suspect that the building in the middle of the village was the church or chapel.

It was just after 3pm and I needed to be back. It was only a few miles along the A470 to Aberangell.

When I got there I learned that the router had not arrived and a phone enquiry informed my brother that it would be delivered tomorrow, for sure, definitely, on pain of death or worse.

As it was a lovely afternoon and sis-in-law had cut the grass and tweeked other parts of the garden, I took one more photo of the front of the house as it was looking particularly attractive in the sunshine. The self contained flat is open for business ( now that I've left it ) so feel free to make enquiries and do yourselves a favour - book in and try a break in mid Wales sometime soon.

End of gratuitous and shameless plugging.

We had an early supper and settled down to watch the Champions League final - sorry Liverpool fans.

The plan for the next day was to go up north to the top of Wales and check out Conwy Castle which looked jolly impressive to me.

Today I'd driven the least miles of any day so far but I had lasting memories of the views from Barmouth foot bridge and the even more stunning views from the top of Bwlch Oerddrws.

I don't care who you are or where you are. That's a good day out by any standards.

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