A Winter Break in Dorset

Wanting a winter break by the coast for myself, my parents and their dog, Lily, we didn’t really have any specific place in mind so were just looking to find a reasonable deal somewhere. Happy to stay in a static caravan, lodge or cottage, we eventually plumped for a break with Darwin Escapes staying in a lodge in Dorset. Although not right on the coast, their Wareham Forest site was a 10 minute drive from the beaches in Poole and no more than a half hour drive in either direction from coastal towns including Bournemouth, Swanage, Lulworth and Weymouth. The site promised seclusion and peace and quiet with none of the usual club houses etc you’d find on many of the other chain holiday parks and there were plenty of country parks, woodlands and countryside walks nearby should we tire of the beach.

Lily settles into her cabin home for the week

With a later than normal check in time of 4pm, we set out from our Midlands base early afternoon arriving in the dark down the not-at-all-well-lit country roads. We were more than pleasantly surprised by the cosy lodge which met us and after unloading our car, immediately switched off into holiday mode.

That evening, we drove the short distance into Upton for fish and chips before relaxing back at the lodge in front of the television and flame effect fire.

The pretty beach

On our first full day in Dorset, we opted to drive the short distance to the nearest beach to the holiday park. Lake Beach is one of Poole’s beaches, situated on the shores of Poole Harbour. We parked on the car park by the old pier from where we had the choice of walking across the beach or taking a path through the dunes behind leading to Ham Common.

Cliffs backing the beach

With Lily itching to get in the water, we strolled along the pretty stretch of beach to begin with. As the beach tapered off, the tide hitting the cliffs and eventually stopping us from walking any further, we followed the steps leading up to the coast path turning left at the top to walk towards Ham Common viewpoint.

Lake Pier in the distance

While it was possible to continue around the Haven Holiday Park ahead of us and pick up the coast path again on the other side, we instead decided to loop around back to the Lake Beach car park, this time walking along the coast path rather than back along the beach. The path took us past a large lake – perhaps the lake the beach is named after, before curving back towards the old Lake Beach Pier and we arrived back at the car park just in time for a picnic lunch.

Lake Beach Pier

After lunch sat inside our car, we drove the short distance down the road to Hamworthy Beach. The beach was backed by a large public park with playing fields, a play area, paddling pool (closed of course for the season!) and cafe.

After giving Lily a run round on the playing fields, we headed down the the beach. The wooden breakers along the sands and unfortunate placing of the steps to access the beach meant we couldn’t walk in one continuous end to end stroll along the beach so we instead made do with a walk along the promenade past the colourful beach huts, occasionally stepping down onto the sands whenever Lily decided she wanted another splash in the sea! Then, reaching Poole Yacht Club at the far end of the beach, we turned around and walked back through the park to the car park.

It was now late afternoon so after stopping to grab some groceries, we decided to drive back to our lodge where we spent another evening relaxing.

Day 2, we decided to drive a bit further and take a trip to Weymouth. The site of many a happy family holiday as a child in the early ’90s, I had returned to the popular resort just once since for a flying visit 10 years earlier so I was looking forward to returning once more.

The White Horse of Osmington

Realising we were travelling into the town the route we used to take and past one of the holiday parks we used to stay at in Osmington, we decided to pull over at a view point for Dorset’s famous White Horse – a figure cut into the limestone of the hills – something I loved to stop and see as a child.

Disappointingly, we found the figure to be more the green and muddy horse than the white horse. I guess the figure is not kept in its bright white state out of the holiday season!

Above, and below, visiting Weymouth

Driving past the pebbly north end of Weymouth’s seafront, we parked near the old Pier Bandstand from where we could easily reach the long, sandy stretch of beach – much better for Lily’s paws! – we walked right the way along to Weymouth Pavilion in the distance.

From here, we took a stroll around the picturesque harbour, reminiscing about some of the now long gone attractions we had visited here many years ago over tea and cake at one of the harbourside cafes.

Taking a slow stroll back along the promenade to the car, we sat and had a late lunch before driving back to the lodge for a lazy late afternoon.

On the beach at Lulwoth Cove

The next day we drove to Lulworth Cove on the Jurassic Coast wanting to see both the small horseshoe cove there and the popular Durdle Door a bit further along the coast. We parked at the large and rather expensive car park at Lulworth’s visitor centre and took the short stroll down through the pretty village to the beach.

Views at Stair Hole

With the tide in, there wasn’t much beach to walk along so we instead followed the coast path up towards Stair Hole.

There were great views of Lulworth Cove from the path from where you could really get a better sense of the curvature of the bay and when we reached Stair Hole, just a short way up, it was fun to watch the waves crashing through the rocks.

Walking on the coast path near Durdle Door

We followed the coast path a bit further towards Dungy Head but with my parents struggling with the muddy paths, decided to turn back to the car park. Seeing the signposted path to Durdle Door leading up and over a rather large, steep hill, I realised my parents were not going to cope with the walk there and back again so we instead drove the short distance there, paying another rather steep fee to park in the car park nearby.

Beautifulcoastline near Durdle Door

From the car park there was still a bit of a walk to the Durdle Door viewpoint but the clifftop path was more gently sloping so taking our time, we were able to all make it there and back. The views of both Man o’ War Beach and Durdle Door itself were really pretty although Durdle Door did really remind me of the Green Bridge of Wales in Pembrokeshire.

Swanage was our destination the following day, somewhere none of us had visited before so we were unsure what to expect. We arrived to rainy weather and parked up on a car park next to a sports field and just a short walk from the sea front. It was a good job Lily had chosen to have a run around on the playing field as we found the sea to be rapidly coming in leaving very little beach for us to walk on.

Swanage Pier

Heading north, we began our walk along what beach was left until we eventually had to climb the steps up onto the path behind the sands, leading past more colourful beach huts. We soon came to a private section of beach where, during the summer months, dogs are not allowed, but as it was out of season, we could continue further along. Soon, the path tapered off as we reached a cliff-lined section of beach. With the tide still racing in, we decided to turn around and walk back in the other direction.

Swanage Harbour

Reaching the cafe we had started our beach-walk from, the rain started to fall harder so we decided to return to the car for a picnic inside, sheltered from the rain before driving down to Swanage town where we parked up to take another walk.

From the town, we walked back down towards the beach where the sea now covered the sands completely and the waved slammed against the sea wall.

Looking back towards Swanage from the coast path near Peveril Point

We walked south along the promenade towards Swanage Pier and Harbour then followed the signposts along the coast path towards Peveril Point, reaching a pretty cliff top area looking out to sea.

The coastguard lookout house was perched nearby and information boards around it detailed wrecks and disasters that had occurred nearby.

The coast guard lookout hut at Peveril Point

After looping around the cliff top, keeping well back from the cliff edge, we walked back into the town and its quaint high street lined with independent stores, cafes and bakeries. We couldn’t resist buying a delicious looking cake each from one of the bakeries before driving back to our woodland lodge to eat it alongside a warming cup of tea!

On the beach at Bournemouth

With just 2 full days left in the area, we still had a long list of places to visit, both coastal and inland. After Lily had missed out on getting much beach time the previous day, we decided to drive to the popular seaside resort of Bournemouth which we knew had a good stretch of sandy beach no matter what the tide was doing.

With it being out of season, we managed to park up right on the seafront, saving my parents a walk down the cliffs to reach the beach. Starting towards the Boscombe end of the beach, not far from Boscombe Pier, we walked in the direction of Bournemouth, Lily having the time of her life running around the beach chasing her ball, diving into the waves to chase sticks and meeting and greeting plenty of other dogs out for a stroll along the way.

Visiting the beach at Sandbanks

Walking against the wind, and stopping regularly as Lily played, we didn’t get as far as we were planning and as the rain once again started to fall, we decided to return to the car. After lunch, we gave Lily another quick stroll, this time walking towards Boscombe and under the pier and back before driving back.

A busy Sandbanks Beach

With one last day left in Dorset, there was one place we’d hoped to visit that we’d not yet made it to – Sandbanks. Situated between the towns of Poole and Bournemouth, Sandbanks is known as the home of the rich and sometimes famous. Driving in, we passed huge houses backing onto the beach or overlooking the marina full of expensive-looking boats.

It was the weekend and reaching the beach car park, it seemed like everyone in the area had had the same idea to visit that day!

The pretty stretch of beach was too busy to give Lily much of a run around on but we walked sown towards the shore and gave her a paddle in the sea before weaving our way through the crowds to walk along the golden sands.

After lunch, we decided to drive the short distance back to Bournemouth which although still busy, had a lot more room as there was more beach for people to spread out along. Lily once again had lots of fun racing around after her ball and burning off some excess energy before it was time to once more return to our cabin.

Despite the cold, wintry weather, it had been fun to spend some time exploring the Dorset coast and with plenty more to see and lots of walks along the coast path to do, I hoped to return sometime soon.

A Liverpool City Break

Liverpool was one of those UK cities I’d been to multiple times but never really seen anymore than my hotel room and the concert arena due to always being short on time. Visiting again on a pre-Christmas concert break, I was determined that this time would be different. Despite having just the one night in the city, we had made plans to drive up early so we could have most of the day exploring the city.

Arriving too early to check in at our hotel near the docks, we dropped our bags off and walked straight into the city centre.

Road trip to Liverpool!

Our first stop was at Liverpool One, the city’s large outdoor mall for a spot of shopping. The mall has all the usual high street stores and a range of well-known restaurants on its top level. After working up an appetite shopping, that was exactly where we headed, settling on Zizzi Italian restaurant a pizza and pasta lunch.

Liverpool One shopping centre

After lunch we wandered further into the city towards the Cavern Quarter. Passing the city’s famous Hard Days Night Hotel (where I’d had an excellent afternoon tea on a previous visit to the city!), we found our way to Matthew Street, home of historic live music venue, The Cavern Club.

Turning into the street, we were met by themed bar after themed bar and with the Cavern Pub and Cavern Restaurant also bearing the famous bar’s name, it took us a while to work out which venue was the one we were looking for!

Inside the Cavern Club

Finally spotting the Cavern Bar’s entrance across the street, we paid our £5 entrance fee and began our walk down the staircase to the basement, stopping to view some of the pictures lining the walls showing some familiar (and in some cases unexpected) faces who had performed there over the years. The bar was a lot smaller than I’d expected it to be with low ceilings and stone walls. We spent a bit of time looking around finding a larger, more open room with a stage at the back of the venue and a smaller but busier room at the front.

The main stage at the Cavern Club

Memorabilia from the Beatles’ career as well as from other famous rock and pop acts covered the walls and a gift store sold a range of Beatles and Liverpool-themed souvenirs while Beatles’ hits were performed by live acts in each room.

After buying drinks from the bar, we found a free table in the smaller room. The structure of the room with its archways and stone pillars meant there wasn’t a clear view of the stage from many of the tables but video screens dotted around showed a view of the stage and it didn’t matter too much anyway as there was such a great atmosphere as everyone sang along to the Beatles’ and other popular 1960s’ hits.

Highlights of the afternoon included mass singalongs to Let It Be and Hey Jude and after the latter, the singer took a well-earned break. We decided that was our cue to leave having spent a lot longer there than we had planned to!

Above, and below, down by the docks and the Liverpool Tate

Before heading off to explore more of the city, we stopped to get photos with the sculpture of John Lennon outside the Cavern Pub and then went on a search for the Cilla Black sculpture. Unable to find it where google maps said it should be, we stopped to ask a local who informed us it had been temporarily removed for renovation. Guess we’ll have to return to see that one another time.

We’ll also have to return to visit the Beatles Museum. Spending longer than planned in the Cavern Club meant we didn’t have time for this, or any other, museum.

Albert Dock and the Wheel of Liverpool behind it

Retracing our steps back through the Cavern Quarter and through Liverpool One, we made our way towards Liverpool’s docks area. Passing Salthouse Dock, we walked along Hartley Quay, past the Maritime Museum and towards the Tate Liverpool where a giant colourful sculpture stood aloft outside.

It was now early evening and after stopping for windswept photos beside Albert Dock, we took a stroll around it passing the currently quiet cafes, bars and restaurants. With the winter sun already going down, the dock was lit up with lots of twinkly lights. We were hoping to end our day with a ride on the Wheel of Liverpool, the city’s equivalent of the London Eye but despite it being a Friday evening and the city filling up with weekend visitors, it was closed.

The view across the Mersey from Kings Dock

So instead, after enjoying the sunset views across the River Mersey, we returned to our nearby hotel to get ready for our concert over at the M & S Bank Arena at King’s Dock.

It had been a brief but fun trip to the city and it was nice to finally spend some time there being a tourist but there was so much more to see and do and I’m really looking forward to returning.

A Day on the Isle of Anglesey

While staying on the outskirts of Bangor to visit the nearby Snowdonia National Park in North Wales, we decided to take a day out from our National Park activities to instead drive across the Menai Strait to the Isle of Anglesey.

Attempting to pronounce the longest place name in the World

Having never visited this part of Wales before, we’d done a bit of research on places to visit on the island and had a long list of stops which we knew we couldn’t possibly get through in one day. Without an exact itinerary, we drove across the Britannia Bridge into Anglesey to see where the day would take us. We’d certainly chosen the right day as the sun was shining and the sky overhead was bright blue!

South Stack Lighthouse

Our first stop was our one definite ‘must do’ photo opportunity of the day in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch!! This town has the longest place name in the World and after parking up at the train station we had a lot of fun trying to pronounce it using the helpful phonetically written out signs dotted around to help us. After a quick look around the souvenir store next door, it was back in the car to decide where to head to next.

With it still being early, we decided to drive right across to the west side of the island to try and beat the crowds at South Stack Lighthouse, just outside of the town of Holyhead. Managing to grab a parking space on the second closest car park, we were glad we’d decided to make this our next stop as we watched cars who’d followed us have to circle the car park and leave to park further out. As expected, the carpark wasn’t cheap so we paid the lowest rate which allowed us an hour’s stay. We didn’t plan to go into the lighthouse or even into the visitors’ centre so we figured this would be enough time to walk to a lighthouse viewpoint and back.

On the coast path at Breakwater Country Park

We followed a a path out from the back of the car park turning right towards the lighthouse. Soon we were on the Anglesey coast path enjoying pretty coastal views down towards the lighthouse. We spent a while taking photos, enjoying the scenery and wandering along the various paths to get different views. Then, with a bit of time on our parking ticket still left, we retraced our steps and then followed the coast path in the other direction for a while for more beautiful views.

Above, and below, views from the coast path at Breakwater Country Park

Next we drove the short distance back towards Holyhead to Breakwater Country Park. From here, it was possible to access the coast path again and we followed it in the direction of Holyhead, the marina there soon coming into view. With the sun still shining down on us, the views along the coast path were really beautiful and when we turned back, we realised we’d inadvertently walked a lot further than we’d thought we had! Back at the country park, we grabbed our picnic lunch from the car and sat out on a bench overlooking a pretty duck-filled pond to eat it.

Deciding not to stop in Holyhead itself, we continued north-east next following the coast to the next bay, Cemaes Bay. Unfortunately, with it now being the busiest part of the day and with everyone making the most of the sunshine and rushing to the beaches, we were unable to find a parking spot so had to drive on.

Looking out from a viewpoint towards Bull Bay

The same happened at the next spot, Bull Bay where all the on-road parking spots were taken and car parks full. Wondering if this was going to be the case for the rest of the day now, we continued our drive. Spotting a large lay-by area at the top of the hill just outside of Bull Bay, we decided to pull in to look at the map and decide where to head next. We were excited to find an ice cream stand in the lay-by so we bought an ice cream each and sat enjoying the view for a while.

On another coastal walk- from Almwych Port

We decided to try one more of the places we had listed along this stretch of coast, the next town along, Almwych, and this time we were lucky. Here we found a much quieter (and free!) car park by the port.

Above, an below, pretty views from the coast path

Following the road out of the car park alongside the port and past the Copper Kingdom attraction, we picked up the coast path by the cliff top Y llofft Cafe and began to walk in the direction of Point Lynas. The views, with the sun shining down on the glistening, clear blue sea and the wild flowers blooming, were stunning. Not having time to walk all the way to Point Lynas and back, we turned around after a while and retraced our steps back to Almwych Port.

Visiting Llandona Beach

It was now late afternoon and we needed to start to make our way back towards the town of Menai Bridge where we had a dinner reservation booked at a US-style BBQ restaurant. We had time for one more stop and decided to make our way towards Beaumaris. Instead of stopping in the town itself, we chose instead to make another coastal stop at Llandona Beach.

Llandona Beach near Beaumaris

Following the signposts and sat nav directions we found ourselves on a narrow, winding road with a rather steep descent down to the beach. Hoping we wouldn’t meet a car driving towards us in the other direction, we slowly made our way down eventually reaching a flatter road leading to the car park. Arriving late enough that parking charges no longer applied, we parked up and made our way through the dunes onto the pretty stretch of sand.

After a stroll along the beach, we made our way back to the car and back up the steep hill to drive to Menai Bridge for dinner before making our way back across the bridge to the mainland.

It had been a whistle-stop tour of the Isle of Anglesey but we’d really enjoyed our day and I’d definitely like to return and explore more!

Snowdonia National Park

Following on from visits to Brecon Beacons National Park and the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, we travelled north to the third and final Welsh National Park of our summer road trip, Snowdonia. Like the Pembrokeshire park, this was a park I was somewhat familiar with having vacationed near Barmouth at the southern end of the park a few times with my family and dog in the past! I had not ventured any further than the beaches close by to here though in all the times I had visited so was looking forward to explore the park more.

After a pleasant drive following the coast road from the northern end of Pembrokeshire up and through Aberystwyth and other Welsh seaside towns, we crossed into Snowdonia National Park early afternoon, driving through a mountain pass and up through a very busy Barmouth.

Visiting the town of Harlech

Continuing on, we stopped in the town of Harlech, famous for its castle. We were here to see another sight which had put this town on the map though – the World’s Steepest Street. Or at least, at this point in time, the World’s former Steepest Street as the accolade had recently been given back to the city of Dunedin in New Zealand.

A sign still stood proudly at the top of Ffordd Pen Llech, as if the challenge from the New Zealand street had never happened and tourists were queuing up to take photos with it. Few of them though, were taking on the challenge of walking down the street and, of course, back up again.

Harlech Castle

Bravely, or stupidly, though, this is exactly what we did. The initial gradient of the street was deceivingly a comfortable decline but as the road turned around a corner, we began to feel it on our knees and knew the climb back up was not going to be a breeze after all. Making it to the end of the street, we turned around and began our walk back up. Reaching the steepest section, we were glad of a breather as we stood to the side to let a brave driver slowly weave down past us, then it was onwards and upwards, still out of breath from the climb. Making it to the top, we were proud of our achievement but worried for our chances of reaching the top of Mount Snowdon if we’d found even this a challenge!!

Back at the top of Ffordd Pen Llech and in the centre of Harlech town, we took photos of the castle ruins before rewarding ourselves with an ice cream at the busy parlour across the road. Then we drove to our guesthouse accommodation, in a farmhouse not far from Portmaddog.

On the mountain train to Snowden

The following morning we were up early for breakfast before driving the short distance to the town of Llanberis, home of Mount Snowdon. Unsure about what the weather would be like – not to mention our levels of fitness! – we had prebooked seats on the Snowdon Mountain Railway. Usually, the train runs to and from the summit of Mount Snowdon but with Covid regulations in force, its final stop was currently three quarters of the way up the mountain at Clogwyn. We had bought a return journey ticket but, as long as the weather conditions were ok, planned to walk to the summit from this point and then the whole way down Snowdon.

With the weather at the base of Snowdon blue skies with the odd cloud, we were hopeful we would be able to hike to the summit. Arriving at Clogwyn though, we were met mainly by thick cloud. Still, it was dry and there were no forecasts of storms so after explaining to the train driver that we’d be walking rather than using our return train ticket, we set off following the other hikers up the Llanberis Path.

The Llanberis Path is the easiest, but longest way to the summit of Snowdon. Just before the summit, it meets with the rest of the paths with everyone following the same final stretch. Before embarking on our hike, we were warned by the train driver to pay careful attention at the point the paths met so we knew exactly which trail to follow back down the mountain and didn’t end up on a more treacherous or difficult path. We were told that alternatively, we could just follow the rail track down from the summit back to Clogwyn as this wasn’t currently being used by the trains.

Above, at the summit of Mount Snowden, and below, views descending the mountain

Even just walking the last quarter of the Llanberis path to the summit was not easy. The path was often steep and loose rocks and shale made it trickier to navigate. I’d bought walking poles with me especially for this hike and was glad I had them to support me. The cloud thickened the further we went and we soon found ourselves dripping wet from walking through it despite it not actually raining.

As we neared the summit, there was a queue of people waiting to have their photos taken with the Cairn at the highest point while others decided to push their way straight to the top, climbing up the rocks rather than waiting in the line. It took us about 20 minutes to reach the top. There was no view but we took photos with the cairn as proof we’d made it. Unfortunately, we didn’t feel we got to savour the moment as we felt under pressure to get our photos and get out of the way to make room for the next group in the queue, some of whom were already climbing up next to us.

Carefully making our way down from the summit back to the path, we decided to take the train driver’s advice and follow the train tracks back down to Clogwyn rather than the much steeper path. Many other hikers had decided to do the same so we were able to just follow other groups of hikers. Back at Clogwyn, we found somewhere to sit for lunch before following the path all the way back to Llanberis town.

As we made our way down the mountain, the cloud started to clear again revealing pretty views of glacial lakes. For the most part, the descent was easier than our climb up the final quarter of the path to the summit although the final section into the town was so steep we wondered how we would ever have succeeded walking the whole way up – we’d have been exhausted just a fraction of the way in to our climb!!

We were relieved to make it back into town and after a quick look around the gift shop for a souvenir or two, we walked back to our car (wishing that we’d parked a bit closer than we had!) and drove back to our hotel via a stop in Caenarfon for dinner.

The Italian Riviera-style village of Portmieion

We awoke the next day to aching legs but made it up and out in time to make our reserved ticket slot to visit Portmeirion village. This was one of those places I had passed many times on visits to North Wales and often had my parents tell me how pretty it was and that I should visit so I was excited to finally make it there.

Despite being in Wales, Portmeirion was built in the style of a village in the Italian Riviera. An entrance fee has to be paid to gain access unless you are staying in one of the on site hotels or have a meal or afternoon tea booked at one of the restaurants there. As part of its Covid restrictions, advance bookings were recommended which meant we were left to hope it would be nice weather on the day we had picked. Unfortunately, we arrived to dark clouds which soon became heavy rain.

Following a path through the woodlands in Portmeirion

As we’d arrived early, we were able to stroll around and explore the village before it got too busy. It didn’t take long to look around and if the weather had been better, it would have been nice to take our time a bit more and stop to have tea and cake at one of the cafes there. With its Italian-based design though, a lot of the cafes and restaurants in the village had mainly outdoor seating and with the heavy rain, the parasols and small marquees erected to cover these areas were not able to keep them very dry.

Looking down at the coast from a Portmeirion viewpoint

Instead, we walked along the village’s coast path, enjoying the views over the estuary then followed the path up and into the woodlands. After seeing the Japanese Garden, Dog Cemetery and Dancing Tree, we decided to call our visit day and move on.

Taking a riverside walk

Having expected our visit to Portmeirion to take up most of the day but finding it wasn’t even midday yet, we were at a bit of a loss for what to do with our afternoon. After consulting the map, we decided to drive to the village of Beddgelert where the National Park Visitors Centre was to try and get some ideas.

Parking up in the village, we walked to the Visitors Centre to find it closed for lunch! The town looked pretty though so we decided to grab an ice cream and take a walk down by the river.

A map by the river showed a variety of circular walks of different lengths that could be taken in the area. We decided to do a loop down one side of the river, across a bridge and back up the other side however, upon reaching the bridge, we didn’t feel we’d gone very far at all so instead decided to continue along the riverside path a bit further.

As we continued, the flat, wide path narrowed and became stonier until at points we found ourselves having to scramble up rocks and edge our way along narrow riverside ledges to continue along it.

Back in Beddgelert

Unsure where we were actually heading, we got talking to some other people who were following the path who told us it eventually came out at a National Trust car park with toilets at which point you could either retrace your steps back to Bedgelert or pick up another longer trail.

It was certainly an adventure getting there and we’d enjoyed the river walk with its waterfalls along the way. Eventually arriving at the car park, we decided to turn back and follow the path back to Beddgelert. Arriving back, we found the Visitor Centre now open so after a quick look around and more souvenir buying, we drove back up to Bangor where we’d be checking into the last hotel of our trip.

Above, and below, a river walk in Betws-y-Coed

The following day we drove back into the National Park to Conwy Falls Park, just outside of the popular town of Betws-y-Coed. After parking up, we grabbed breakfast (and some change) from the cafe overlooking the carpark before paying the small admission fee to go through the turnstile gate into the park.

Here, we followed the one-way path down to a viewpoint of Conwy Falls before trekking back up to the car park and driving into Betws-y-Coed itself.

Sapper Suspension Bridge crossing the River Conwy

Parking by the river, we took a stroll through the riverside path and up into the woods following a well-marked circular path before sitting on one of the many picnic benches in the wood to eat lunch.

The River Conwy

Then we followed signposts through the town towards Sapper Suspension Bridge, a bridge built across the Conwy River in the 1930s. After tentatively bouncing our way across and back again, we explored the town a bit more stopping to grab some delicious cakes from a local bakery.

With the sun shining, we decided to leave the National Park for the afternoon and drive up to the coast. We arrived in Llandudno early afternoon and enjoyed a leisurely hour or so strolling along the promenade and along the pier before eating fish and chips overlooking the sea.

That evening, after an early dinner, we drove the short distance to Penrhyn Quarry, site of one of Wales’ multiple Zip World attractions and home of Velocity 2 – the fastest (and formerly longest) zipline in the World.

Arriving at Penrhyn Quarry

This was something we’d wanted to experience for a while and had been disappointed to find it sold out for the entirety of our North Wales stay when we went to book. Luckily, after regularly checking the website, we eventually managed to get some cancellation tickets a few days before.

Looking down on Penrhyn Quarry

After checking in, all the riders in our times lot were decked out in safety gear – overalls, harnesses and a helmet – ready to fly; and after a safety talk and instructions on how to ride (arms lodged behind our back), we were taken to a practise zip which was pretty exciting in itself and a lot of fun. Then we clambered aboard a 4-wheel drive van and were driven along the long, winding road to the top of quarry.

It was a sunny, blue-skied evening and the views from the top over the quarry and across Snowdonia were so beautiful that we deliberately hung back in the queue for our go on the zipline so that we could spend more time admiring them.

Celebrating!

When it was our turn, I was more excited than nervous as we were clipped into place. Then, following a countdown in Welsh, we were released to fly down, head-first, over the quarry. It was an exhilarating experience, it definitely felt as fast as it was and the ride was long enough that I felt I did have time to take it all in.

This was the most expensive experience on our trip but absolutely worth it and it was something I’d love to do again someday!

The next day, the penultimate day of our trip, we took a day off from Snowdonia National Park and instead, headed across the Menai Strait to spend the day on the Isle of Anglesey (post coming soon).

The impressive Conwy Castle

The following day, it was time to wave goodbye to Wales for a while but not before a couple of more stops. First up, a stop just outside the National Park – the town of Conwy where we admired its well-preserved castle and passed by Britain’s Smallest House.

Bala Lake

Then, as we headed back to England and the Midlands, it was time for our last stop in Snowdonia National Park, Bala Lake. Parking up in Bala town, we followed signposts out of the car park along a country lane and along a public footpath down to the lake.

Kayakers on Bala Lake

Enjoying the pretty views across the large expanse of water, we followed the lakeside path down to the busy watersports centre where families sat picnicking on the lakeshore, children splashed in the shallows and kayakers paddled out into the distance.

Then we walked back into town and began our drive back to England along the Milltir Cerrig, a mountain pass road with amazing views.

It had been a fun few weeks seeing a bit more of Wales and its stunning National Parks and I knew it wouldn’t be long before I returned.

Revisiting Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Part 3

We were midway through a road trip taking in the three Welsh National Parks and after visiting the Brecon Beacons, we had spent the last few days in Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Basing ourselves just outside of the park near the town of Narberth, we’d taken trips out to Skomer Island, walked alpacas, revisited some of our favourite parts of the South Pembrokeshire coast and taken a trip to St Davids, the UK’s smallest city, and its surrounds.

With two final days left to spend in the park, we decided to drive out towards the seaside town of Dale, somewhere I had not visited for more than a decade. I remember being less than impressed on my last visit, mainly because the pretty beach looked out across to the Pembrokeshire Power Station pumping clouds of smoke out into the sky. But I thought being older, maybe I’d appreciate the village more now.

Walking along the coast path towards St Ann’s Head

Arriving at Dale, we parked up along the road behind the beach. Although visible looking out t sea, the power station was a lot less imposing than I recalled and didn’t spoil the prettiness of the place as much as I had remembered. Across the road from the beach were a few cafes and hire shops, all busy with customers as lunch time approached.

While the weather wasn’t sunbathing weather, there were still a few people strolling along the beach and plenty of surfers and windsurfers around.

Above, and below, more views walking towards St Ann’s Head

After a quick stroll on the beach, we sat on a bench overlooking the bay to have a cup of tea and picnic lunch before driving on to the next stop along the coast path, St Ann’s Head. We parked up in the free National Trust Kete Car Park, the sight of a former military base. Picking up a leaflet from under the car park’s information board, we followed the instructions to walk through along the public footpath through farmland and out onto the coast path. Here we were met but beautiful views of Skomer, Skokholm and Grassholm Islands.

The leaflet mapped out a short circular walk cutting back through the farmland to the car park before reaching St Ann’s Head itself but the coastal walk was so pretty, we decided to continue along the coast path further. Soon the lighthouse at St Ann’s Head was in view. Once we reached it, we followed the road leading away from the coast half a mile back to Kete Car Park.

The next day was our final day in the park and we decided to drive to the north of the park towards Cardigan then work our way back down the coast where we’d revisit Poppit Sands then see parts of the park we’d not been to before between here and Fishguard.

Views of the Presleli Hills

The drive north would take us through the Preseli Hills, another part of the park we’d not really visited before. Driving along the A478, we pulled over at a layby for our first view of the hills. The weather clouding over and rain forecast, we weren’t sure how visible the hills would remain and sure enough, by the time we reached our next stop, a viewpoint along the B4329, the cloud and rain was obscuring our view.

We continued our drive, heading towards the historic site Pentre Ifan Burial Chamber, one of the best preserved of the many, ‘cromlechs’ in this part of Wales. The site was well signposted from the main road and easy to find and luckily, by the time we reached there, the weather had started to clear.

Poppit Sands

After spending a short time marvelling at the ancient standing stones, we headed back out on the road to drive to Poppit Sands just in time for a lunchtime picnic on the beach. It had been a long time since I’d last visited this bay and it was a lot prettier than I recalled.

From Poppit Sands, we drove south to the town of Newport. Here, we pulled up at Newport Sands, its main beach and stretched our legs with a walk towards the harbour, Dinas Head in the distance. Back at the car, we drove through the town and down a side road to Newport Parrog Beach for views from the other side of the harbour.

Our next stop was a bit of a hidden gem as we went in search of Aberfforest Beach. This small, pebbly cove was reached by driving down a farm access road off the main A-road. After driving down the gravelly road, there was a small grassy pull in where a few cars were parked and we walked the rest of the way following the road to the left then picking up the Pembrokeshire Coast path. This lead us down some steps and onto the pretty beach.

We had read that there was a waterfall in the nearby woodlands so after spending a bit of time on the beach, we exited it and decided to follow a public footpath sign that seemed to be pointing away from the beach into the woods. We soon heard babbling water and reached a river running alongside the path. Crossing it over some makeshift stepping stones, we continued through the woodland eventually finding the pretty Aberfforest Falls!

The path continued from here, and I believe, loops back onto the coast path at some point but, as it looked quite steep and muddy, we decided instead to return to the beach and retrace our steps back to the car.

Our last stop in North Pembrokeshire, was just off the main road in Dinas Cross where we followed signposts up a rather steep hill with some sharp switchbacks to a Pembrokeshire Coast National Park viewpoint. It was worth the climb for the sweeping views across to Dinas Head with Fishguard to the south and Newport to the north.

Driving back towards Narberth, we relaxed over dinner for an hour or so before deciding to head out to the coast once more.

Above, sunset at Skrinkle Haven, and below, at Manorbier

It had turned into a beautiful evening so we wondered if we could catch a sunset somewhere. After looking at the map, we decided to try Skrinkle Haven but after arriving, realised it didn’t quite face the right way so we hopped back into the car and drove the short distance to the neighbouring Manorbier where we watched the sunset from the beach.

We’d had a busy few days in Pembrokeshire and discovered lots of new places along the way but, after a quick stop in Tenby the next morning, it was time to finally wave goodbye and drive to the final Welsh National Park on our road trip – Snowdonia!

Revisiting Pembrokeshire Coast National Park – Part 1

Having been holidaying in Tenby, a popular seaside resort in the south end of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park since I was a child, I know that area of the park at least pretty well so when we decided to include this park in South West Wales in our Welsh National Parks Road Trip itinerary, I knew I wanted to make sure we included some places and activities there I’d either not done before, or hadn’t done since I was much younger while still revisiting what I consider to be some of the park’s highlights for my friend who had not been before to see.

Views walking along the sea wall from Wisemans Bridge to Saundersfoot

With this in mind, we planned a 5 night stay in the area. With many of the hotels in the park itself sold out or way too pricey by the time we got around to booking and many holiday parks only offering the standard Sat-Sat, Mon-Fri or Fri-Sun stays which didn’t suit our itinerary, we eventually decided on a roadside motel in the small village of Llandissilo, a few miles north of market town Narberth and, while quite a way outside of the park, a pretty central location to reach all parts of the park from with pretty much everywhere being within a 20-40 minute drive!

Arriving early on a Saturday afternoon wasn’t what we had planned – we’d expected to spend most of the day still in the Brecon Beacons but the weather had had other ideas – so we made a hasty decision to stop off at Wisemans Bridge at the southern end of the park and the closest point of the park to our motel. When we had to queue along the a-road out of Carmarthen into the park, I should have realised how busy everywhere would be on a Saturday afternoon and we arrived to find all the spaces in the free car parks at Wisemans Bridge completely full. Continuing on, we came to the car park for Coppets Hall, a small bay lying between Wiseman’s Bridge and the popular seaside town of Saundersfoot. Although busy, the car park had an attendant who directed us to park along a grass verge despite there not being an actual marked space there. It didn’t cost much for a couple of hours parking so all paid up, we picked up the coast path and headed through the old railway tunnels and on to the sea wall path back towards Wisemans Bridge.

Rocky coastline at Wisemans Bridge

The Wiseman’s Bridge to Saundersfoot walk is one of the easiest walks along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path being along flat and wide paved footpaths so it didn’t take long to reach the pebbly beach at the other end. We spent a bit of time wondering along the beach looking in the rockpools revealed at low tide before retracing our footsteps back to Coppets Hall and walked in the opposite direction to the bustling town of Saundersfoot where we treated ourselves to an ice cream and wandered around the harbour.

After returning to Coppets Hall, we drove to our motel to check in deciding to have dinner in the restaurant on site realising it was unlikely we’d find anywhere with space for us to eat out at that evening!

For our first full day in the park, we had booked tickets to visit Skomer Island. Worried about things getting booked out, we had done this quite a bit in advance which meant we couldn’t check the weather first.

Walking along the coast path near Martin’s Haven

Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side that day. Arriving in Martin’s Haven to check in for our boat trip an hour before it left, we were met by high winds and heavy rain. After checking in and looking around the small gift store,we found the rain had eased a bit so I decided to go for a walk along the coast path while we waited for our boarding time. The views were stunning as I watched the waves crash up against the rocks.

Once it was time to board, we walked down to the small bay and onto the awaiting boat. Just as we set off, the rain started to pour once again making for a rather uncomfortable crossing only cheered up by a seagull deciding to hitch a lift on the corner of the boat to save him the flight across!

Arriving at Skomer, we climbed a set of steps up to a ranger station where we were met by an island ranger who explained a bit about the island, what we might see and the rules for our visit.

Above, and below, exploring Skomer Island

Because of Covid restrictions, the paths around the outskirts of the island had been made one-way in an anti-clockwise direction from the visitor centre and picnic area at the centre of the island. We had 4 hours until we needed to be back at the ranger station and were told that that should be more than enough time to walk the perimeter and be back with time to spare.

As we set off along the path to the centre of the island, the rain finally stopped and we made it about half way around the perimeter path before it started up again. The path around the island lead to many beautiful viewpoints from the cliff tops but wildlife wise, being slightly too late for ‘puffin season’, we instead had to make do with spotting a seal frolicking in the waves crashing against the rocks below.

The pouring rain and strong winds made the last section of our walk slightly more uncomfortable than we’d have liked and with not stopping as long as we otherwise would have to enjoy the views and speeding up our pace a bit to get out of the rain, we ended up back at the centre of the island quite a bit sooner than we had expected to.

The rain sets in again as we walk the coast path on Skomer Island

Luckily, we managed to find an empty bench in the covered picnic area so spent the last hour on the island having a leisurely picnic lunch and looking around the small visitor’s centre before making our way back to catch our boat back to the mainland. Just as we were about to depart, we spotted another seal playing in the surf then scrambling up onto the rocks just off the island.

The rain had stopped again making for a much drier and more pleasant boat trip back to the mainland. Arriving back late afternoon, we drove back to our motel and change into some drier clothes before going for dinner there.

Above, and below, taking Reggie the Alpaca for a walk

The next day, we were pleased to wake up to a much drier day and a forecast of some sunny spells! We had booked an alpaca trek for that morning and tickets to Heatherton World of Adventures for that afternoon so after breakfast, drove out to a farm near Manorbier to meet our furry friends for the morning. Having never walked an alpaca before, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect but it turned out to be a really fun activity even if we were technically just walking around a field.

My alpaca, Reggie, was pretty obliging, trotting alongside me and posing for photos when we reached the halfway point in return for a few handfuls of food.

After returning Reggie to his pen and saying our goodbyes, we drove on to Heatherton, an activity centre just outside of Tenby. This was a place I’d always go on a cloudy day with my family when I was younger. Back then, it was a much smaller affair and billed as a ‘country sports’ and golfing centre. We’d spend our morning on the pitch ‘n’ putt course and our afternoons trying out archery, pistol shooting, laser clay pigeon shooting, croquet, boules, and, of course, take a few trips round on the bumper boats. Now the park has extended to occupy a site across the road from when the original activities are still housed and the list of activities on offer has more than doubled to include baseball, ropes courses, slides, a hedge maze and many many more. I mainly just wanted to revisit all my old favourites for nostalgic reasons so we bought an 8-credit pass which we calculated to be enough to spend on all these with a couple left over for anything else that took our fancy.

Upon arriving, we couldn’t quite believe how busy the centre was, especially as passes had to be pre-booked due to ongoing Covid restrictions and were supposedly limited each day. We struggled to even find a parking space in the overflow but once we had, went to pick up our passes from the main reception. Seeing that there were long queues for everything, we went with the one that currently seemed to be the shortest/moving the quickest and that was the bumper boats. Within 10 minutes we were sat in the boats – which didn’t seem to have been updated at all in the slightest since my original visits in the late ’90s – racing (well, more like crawling) around the small course trying to bump into the other boats. Great fun!

Having forgot to take our lunch with us that day, we grabbed sandwiches from the on-site cafe before our next activity. We went with pistol shooting next. Although we were the next group to take part when we joined the queue, there was a loong, tedious wait as the group before us had their safety talk then slowly worked their way through their 20 pellets but once it was our turn, it was a fun activity to try out and when I collected my target after our session finished, I hadn’t done too badly!

It was another long queue next, this time to try out laser clay pigeon shooting. This was always my favourite when I was younger as I was always pretty good at it but not today, as I failed to hit all but 2 clays as they flew through the air! At this point, having only averaged one activity an hour since our arrival and with still over half of our credit to use up, we were slightly worried we wouldn’t get through everything but as we headed across the road to try out the park’s new Dragon Slide – where you sit in a giant rubber ring, a bit like a water park slide but without the water! – we found a much shorter queue time and were on and off in 5 minutes. The slide was so much fun that we decided to use another credit up to ride it again!

Crossing back under the tunnel to the other side of the road again, we found the crowds had started to empty out a bit. We had 3 credits each left to use, 2 of which we knew we wanted to spend on the still extremely busy Adventure Golf, the other, we originally planned to use on archery but seeing there was still quite a queue for this and no queue at all for the bumper boats next to it, we decided to jump on these again instead!

Having left Adventure Golf to the last hoping the crowds would clear, we decided it was now or never and went to get our clubs and golf balls and were warned that we’d have to queue to play each hole. As it turned out, it wasn’t too bad with just one group in front of us to wait for each time. Seeing how busy the park had been put us off booking to go to Oakwood, a nearby theme park, over the next few days as we worried we’d just be spending the whole day queuing so instead we decided to use the day we would have spent there exploring the coast a bit more.

It had been a fun start to our time in Pembrokeshire and we still had a few more full days left to explore the park as well as the morning before we left for Snowdonia. With the weather forecast not looking too bad, we were looking forward to spending a bit more time out on the coast.

Brecon Beacons National Park

After a few weeks of planning, we were starting a 2-week tour of Wales concentrating our time mainly on the country’s three National Parks. First up was the Brecon Beacons, situated in the middle of South Wales. The park was one I’d driven along the outskirts of many a time, bypassing it on an A-road at least once a year for the last 25 years as we headed on family holidays to South West Wales and I’d visited the town of Brecon as a ‘halfway to our destination’ stopping off point many times over. But I had never crossed that busy A-road to see what lay on the other side!

At the trail head to climb Pen y Fan

We arrived at our motel for the next three nights early evening on a Wednesday. We were staying in the town of Merthyr Tydfil just outside the southern end of the park as prices were a lot cheaper here than to stay in the National Park itself but in just a 5 minute drive, we were across the park boundaries.

After settling in to our room, we went out in search of dinner thinking that we’d have no problem getting a table anywhere on a Wednesday evening.

As restaurant after restaurant told us they were full though, we began to realise we were once again going to have to plan ahead for our meals this trip, pre-booking and making sure we were back in time rather than seeing where the day took us and grabbing something wherever we ended up. Finally finding a Pizza place that could squeeze us in, we had dinner a little later than we’d hoped but still found time to fit in a walk around town after our meal.

Sheep near the top of the mountain

Our itinerary for our stay in the park was more a list of ideas and suggestions than a definite plan. A walk up Pen-y-Fan, the highest mountain in Southern Britain, was top of that list and we were keeping an eye on the weather to decide which day was looking best for it. The weather looking to be ok and expecting the National Park to be pretty full with the August summer holidays in full swing, we were up early for our included breakfast at our motel the next day, aiming to be at the car park for the main path to the top of Pen-y-Fan by 9am to beat the crowds.

While the car park was by no means empty when we arrives, we did comfortably find a space and when we returned later to find cars parked everywhere in the main car park, along the road and in lay-bys within a mile or so either way, were glad we made the effort for an early-ish start.

View from the top

The weather was pretty clear for the most part, the sun shining as we set out. The path was easy to follow and the instructions I’d downloaded from a National Trust circular walking route helped us work out which of the two peak we were aiming for when the path split – and it’s a good job it did, We reached a very windy peak of Pen-y-Fan just as the cloud started to move in, some kind of view still visible to us from the top but just minutes later, we made our way across to the peak of Corn Du, the second peak to find ourselves completely immersed in fog and cloud and unable to see Pen-y-Fan, or anything else, anymore!

On top of Corn Du in a cloud!

From Corn Du, we retraced our steps back down the path we had walked up rather than taking the circular route down an alternative path to the road. Exhausted, but feeling a sense of accomplishment, we collapsed into the car feeling grateful that we had a space so close to the path entrance so that we didn’t have to walk any further, and treated ourselves to our packed lunch and a nice hot cup of tea from a flask!

Lunch over, we drove north and seeing the National Park Visitor Centre signposted, decided to use the facilities, get some more park information and buy some souvenirs. There were a number of walks signposted from the visitor centre of varying lengths and difficulties but deciding we’d done enough walking for the time being, we moved on to do a circular scenic drive through the east side of the park.

Above, and below, Gospel Pass drive

Driving up towards Brecon, we turned off back into the park and followed an extremely narrow, steeps, twisting and turning track which, judging from the grass growing up the middle of the road, is rarely used. Thankfully, we didn’t meet any oncoming traffic and just as we were wondering where the sat nav was taking us, the road opened out to reveal Gospel Pass, the road we were aiming for, in front of us.

This mountain pass is seen as a ‘must-do’ drive in the Brecon Beacons for it’s stunning views and we made our way along it past pretty countryside and wild horses roaming the hills. We pulled up at Hay Bluff, a parking area from where we could admire the views.

Llanthony Abbey ruins

After taking in the scenery, we continued along gospel pass, the road again narrowing and heading through woodland. Eventually, we reached Llanthony Abbey. The abbey ruins are free to visit and there was a cafe on site run by neighbouring Llanthony Priory Hotel for refreshments.

From here the road continued to a main A-road which we then followed west back to our Merthyr Tydfil Hotel giving us a few hours to relax and freshen up before our dinner reservation in town that evening.

The next day we were once again up early, this time to drive out to the car park at the start of the Four Waterfalls walk. As the name suggests, here there is a circular path with paths leading off it at various intervals to see four waterfalls!

Above, and below, on the Four Waterfalls walk

Finding the car park almost empty at around 9am, we chatted to the car park attendant who explained to us that none of the waterfalls are visible from the main circular trail and that the paths leading down to each of the falls were quite strenuous. He recommended we did the loop in reverse to see the most impressive waterfall first so if we were to decide we’d had enough at that point, we could just retrace our steps back still having seen a pretty good waterfall!

Although we were pretty sure we’d not give up after one waterfall, we decided to take his advice so we could at least get the waterfall with the most steps up and down out of the way first!

The main path to the waterfall exit was easy but we could straight away see why we were warned over the path to the waterfall itself. The steps down were often uneven, made of slippy blue stone and way too deep for our short legs to manage easily without grabbing onto something for support as we lowered ourselves down – and often there was nothing to grab on to! But it was worth it once the waterfall was revealed. It was possible to scramble across some rocks to go behind the waterfall but seeing as we’d had a tough time just getting down to that point, we stayed to admire it from the base of the steps before climbing back up to the path again – surprisingly, it was easier going up than down!

We continued along the path which narrowed, had frequent unpaved sections and rocky sections and was in itself, not an easy walk anymore, until we reached the next branch off to another waterfall. Again, we found a steep path with loose gravel sections, muddy areas and even a few boulder sections! It certainly made the walk more interesting though. It took us about 3 hours to complete the full walk with stops for a bite to eat along the way and taking our time across trickier sections of the path and we made it back onto the main paved section of the path back to the (now packed) car park just as it started to rain, grateful that it hadn’t rained while we were scrambling over already slippery rocks to see the falls!

Pretty views from the lay-by opposite Crai Reservoir

After a lay-by late lunch stop, we looked at a map and consulted our list of itinerary ideas deciding to loop around to the centre of the park and visit one of the park’s many reservoirs. We decided on Crai Reservoir which would put us back on a road heading towards Merthyr Tydfil again rather than taking us out of the way. We had read that there was a path you could walk there towards the reservoir dam with great views across but upon pulling up at the car park across from the reservoir, we couldn’t actually find this path!

There was a bridge across a valley stream leading off from the car park which offered a pretty view of the hills and some footpaths signposted up into the hills but across the road, we walked along the grass verge alongside where we could barely even see the reservoir peeping out from behind dense hedgerow, never mind find a path to access it.

Carreg Cennen Castle

Giving up and returning back in the other direction, we walked a bit further south of the car park to a driveway down to a house where there was a public footpath sign which seemed to be pointing along the side of the house’s grounds but a path was barely visible and overgrown with nettles to the point that we weren’t completely sure if it was even there or if the sign was pointing along the road we had just walked along instead.

Not wanting to end up walking across private property, we instead returned to the car and, as it was now nearing 3pm anyway, took a scenic way back to the southern end of the park looping background to our Merthyr Tydfil motel.

Nearing the castle

With no rush to get to our Pembrokeshire National Park destination the next day, we had planned to spend the majority of the day still in the Brecon Beacons but checking the weather, we saw there was heavy rain forecast the next morning. We checked to see if there was any availability at the Dan yr Ogof Welsh National Showcaves but fond all the timed slots already sold out so decided to see what the weather was like the next day and take it from there.

We did indeed wake up to heavy rain and cloud and decided our original loose plans to hill walk to a view of a glacial lake Llyn y Fan Fach or to drive along Black Mountain Pass at the west side of the park were probably not worth it as the views wold be obscured by cloud.

Exploring the castle ruins

Instead, we decided to begin our drive to Pembrokeshire making a stop at Carreg Cennan Castle on the edge of the Brecon Beacons along the way.We had downloaded instructions for a circular walk around the castle providing views it without having to pay to go in but once there, the weather still not great, we decided to pay the small fee to visit the ruins instead. Luckily, the weather started to clear just as we were about to leave so we got to see a bit more of a view from the top!

It was great to finally see what lay on the other side of the busy A-road bypassing Brecon that I’d driven down so many times in the past and as it turned out, our 3 nights in the Beacons was nowhere near enough time to see anywhere near all the park has to offer but it was a start. I was glad I had the chance to visit and definitely plan to return sometime!

A Wales National Parks Road Trip

Who’d have thought when our US National Parks Road Trip planned for last summer had to be cancelled that we’d be unable to reschedule it for 2021 either?! But with Covid still dominating new headlines around the World, the US still not allowing UK visitors and strict rules on entering and exiting the UK still in force over a year on, we realised pretty early into the year that making any plans to travel out of the UK was not a good idea. Despite some travel being allowed out of the UK to the few ‘green/amber list’ countries who will have us, with all the uncertainties over how long countries will remain on these lists for and all the complicated – not to mention expensive – testing rules to travel, we decided we were best to make summer travel plans a bit closer to home again.

In the beautiful Brecon Beacons

We had a few early discussions about possibly travelling to Ireland, a country I’ve seen very little of, for a road trip around the coast but not being sure if we’d both be fully vaccinated in time to go there, that idea was soon put hold for the future and our thoughts returned to the UK National Parks.

After a successful 2-week trip to the National Parks of Northern England last summer, we narrowed this year’s options down to the parks in Southern England, a trip up to Scotland for a mixture of National Parks, isles, highlands and cities or heading west into Wales. We eventually settled on visiting the 3 National Parks of Wales, a country I am very familiar with having holidayed there at least once a year for the last 27 years. In fact, my annual family holiday is usually taken in Tenby, a seaside town in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park but as this is mainly spent as a beach holiday with the occasional trip out to other nearby beaches, there was plenty of the National Park I’d not seen as well as some activities and attractions I’d not visited since going as a teenager which I wanted the opportunity to relive. I figured I could then play tour guide on the day we planned to spend in the southern end of the park which I know and love.

Regularly visiting Snowdonia National Park too with a friend having a holiday home at the southern end of it as well as often taking out of season trips there with the dog meant I was somewhat familiar with this area too although once we started looking into what to do there, I soon realised I’d actually seen very little away from the southernmost tip where the seaside town of Barmouth is located.

One of the many waterfalls in the Brecon Beacons

The Brecon Beacons was a National Park I was totally unfamiliar with outside of the town of Brecon itself where my family would often make a pitstop at en route to Tenby so I decided to concentrate my initial research here.

Looking at a range of websites, blogs etc on each of the parks, we eventually came up with a plan to split our time with 3 nights un the Brecon Beacons and 5 nights at Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and Snowdonia National Park respectively during which time we’d tackle some of the big hikes including Pen-y-Fan and the Four Waterfalls Walk in the Brecon Beacons and, of course, Mount Snowdon in Snowdonia National Park.

On Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire National Park

Despite pretty much having our trip all planned out, we put off booking longer than we usually would as we waited to see what restrictions would or wouldn’t be eased. Then, just as we were starting to think about booking hotels for our stay, our plans had to be briefly put on hold as my friend suffered an injury which could have put an end to any hiking and long days driving followed by a death in the family.

When we finally came to book some places to stay we found very limited availability and extremely high prices, especially as we’d decided to book fully cancellable options just in case things changed before we went.

Walking an alpaca

We eventually settled for a pub/motel room in the town of Merthyr Tydfil, a few miles south of the Brecon Beacons National Park and just a short drive from some of the walks we planned to do. The motel was within our budget and included breakfast and its location was also convenient for eating out in the evenings as there were plenty of cheap and cheerful chain restaurants just a short drive from the town centre.

For Pembrokeshire National Park we had to stay quite a way out of the park in a roadside motel near the town of Narberth. The motel cost us a lot more than we’d wanted to pay but was still the cheapest place we could find. It did include breakfast though and although being a bit out of the park, was at least pretty centrally located meaning we never had more than a 40 minute drive to the north or south end of the National Park from there.

Snowdonia proved to be the most difficult and expensive park to find accommodation for and we ended up having to split our stay between 2 places, choosing a small farm guesthouse just outside the south-west end of the park for the first 2 nights and a chain motel in Bangor, a seaside town north of the park for the final 3 nights.

Visiting Snowdonia National Park

With our accommodation finally sorted, we moved on to the activities. Whereas many of the activities and attractions in the park are usually turn up and go, many of them currently had pre-book only rules which can be difficult when you’re going somewhere with very unpredictable weather! We had the National Welsh Showcaves at Dan-yr-Ogof pencilled in as a rainy day activity for the day we left the Brecon Beacons in case it was too wet to hike but decided to hold off booking in case the weather did turn out to be ok.

As soon as we realised it was almost certainly going to pour down that morning, we went to book only to find we were too late and it had sold out. That wasn’t our only booking failure – we also left booking activities at the popular ZipWorld attractions in Snowdonia way too late, finding the Velocity 2 zipline and the mountain coaster we really wanted to do both sold out until the autumn (we did eventually manage to get a cancellation slot on the ziplines at a later date!)

We did manage to pre-book a boat trip to Skomer Island in Pembrokeshire National Park – something I’d wanted to do for years – but pre-booking weeks in advance meant it was pot luck with the weather and, of course (spoiler alert!), it ended up absolutely pouring down that day.

About to zipline over an old quarry in Snowdonia

We were luckier with the date we picked to walk Alpacas or that would have been miserable too. Other activities such as visits to Heatherton World of Activities and Oakwood Theme Park both in Pembrokeshire, we decided to leave til the last minute and check on the weather and luckily, when we did decide to attend Heatherton, there were plenty of tickets left booking the day before we attended.

Despite everyone staycationing leading to accommodation prices shooting up and activities selling out way in advance, our trip was, overall, a success and while it still wasn’t quite up there with our US adventures, we were grateful to be able to get away at all and had a pretty great time.

East Sussex and Kent coast

A UK Staycation

After months of lockdown over the winter, I was desperate for a break and with Spring approaching, UK staycations in self-contained accommodation were finally to be allowed. With the opening date for holiday parks, holiday cottages and lodges overlapping with the second week of the school Easter holidays, we decided to look for somewhere to go for a few days, just looking forward to a change of scenery.

Winchelsea Beach

With Wales, our normal port of call for a UK staycation, remaining closed to visitors from across the border for the time being, we had to look elsewhere. Having family in Kent we’d not seen for a while, we started to look at availability in the south of England, thinking we could tie in a get-together while there.

Prices were sky high with everyone desperate for a getaway, especially in the more obvious holiday destinations around Brighton. Deciding to leave booking to the last minute, we eventually managed to grab a bargain 4-night stay at in a static caravan at an East Sussex holiday park.

It was a long drive from the Midlands down to the small seaside town of Winchelsea and by the time we arrived we were pretty exhausted. Not wanting to cook, we took a drive into the nearby town of Rye, hoping to grab some food from the local chippy. Unfortunately, we found both of the town’s Fish and Chip shops closed on a Monday. Not being able to find or settle on anything else, we ended up heading back to the holiday park and its local Co-op, finding what we could from the groceries we’d brought with us and grabbing a few extra items from the convenience store.

On the bech at Camber Sands

The next morning, we had arranged to meet with family at Winchelsea Beach. They were not expected to make it there til a little before midday so with Lily the dog chomping at the bit to be walked, we headed down a bit earlier. We were disappointed to find that with the tide in, the beach was pebbly, the shale stone hurting Lily’s paws so instead we had to walk her along the coast path that ran along the top of the sharply steeping beach.

Messaging our family who were more familiar with the area, we asked if there was any sandy bays they knew of nearby and they suggested Camber Sands, just a 20 minute drive along the coast. Quickly changing our plans, we arranged to meet there instead at around noon and turned around to walk back to the small Winchelsea Beach car park.

With it being a warm-for-April, sunny Easter holiday day, the main car park at Camber Sands was busy and the charges seemed a bit steep but luckily, we found some on-road parking nearby and cut across a playing field to reach the dunes backing the beach. Following one of the well-trodden paths that had been made through the dunes, we soon emerged the other side to be greeted with an absolutely beautiful stretch of golden sands to our right which gradually turned to pebbles to our left.

We made our way down towards the beach cafe where we’d arranged to meet our family members who had also just arrived then walked down towards the sea to find a space to sit out and picnic together.

A stroll on the beach at Camber

After lunch, Lily and my 6 year old niece paddled happily in the sea. The tide was starting to go out and we spent the next few ours strolling along the sand, paddling in the shallows, and, once away from the busier end of the beach (by the car park and cafe), we even found time for a family game of French cricket!

Away from the crowds, with the warm sun shining and the sea sparkling, we could have been anywhere. The beach at Camber is definitely up there with some of the best I’ve been to in Europe and further afield!

Above, and below, at Bexhill-on-Sea and, further below, St Leonards-on-Sea

3 hours later, we decided it was time to make our way back to our cars and saying our goodbyes, we returned to our spacious caravan back at the holiday park exhausted.

After dinner, we took Lily out for an evening stroll in Winchelsea around the playing field behind the beach where a local children’s football club were finishing a practise session, then up to the coast path retracing our steps from our morning stroll.

The next day, we decided to have a ride our further along the coast to explore the area further. Driving out past an extremely busy-looking Hastings, we stopped instead at the quieter Bexhill-on-Sea. Like Winchelsea, the beach here was pebbly while the tide was in but we enjoyed spending an hour or so walking along the wide, grass-lined promenade, sitting out in the sunshine on a bench overlooking the sea to eat our picnic lunch. After lunch, we briefly walked Lily down to the sea, being careful not to stay too long on the pebbles before returning along the promenade to our car and driving back towards Winchelsea.

Our next stop was at St Leonards-on-Sea. Unfortunately, the weather had changed for the worse and the sunny spells from the morning had been replaces by cloud, some passing drizzle and a bitterly cold wind. Parking at the southern end of the town, we took a quick walk down onto the beach hut lined pebbly beach then battled against the wind to take a stroll along the promenade and back.

On the way back to Winchelsea, we took a slight detour to the small village of Icklesham.

Hogg Hill Mill sat on top of a hill

My mother is a huge fan of The Beatles and my sister-in-law had informed her a recording studio belonging to Paul McCartney lay just outside of Winchelsea and it was possible to follow a public footpath running alongside it. After looking it up, we found our way to Hogg Hill Mill, a former post mill which had been converted into a recording studio.

Reaching the former mill

Seeing the building lying on top of a hill, we found a small pull in to park by the gate signposted as a public footpath and dutifully all marched up the hill so my mother could get a photo with the studio in the background!

Returning to the holiday park, we ventured out again in the evening to once again walk Lily around the playing fields behind the beach, this time heading up to the coast path and wandering along towards Rye Nature Reserve before looping back to the car.

Wanting to give Lily another run on a sandy beach, the next morning we returned to Camber Sands first thing.

Back on Camber Sands briefly, and below, the intriguing landscape of Dungeness

After Lily had a run around and splash in the sea, we drove east across the border into Kent to visit Dungeness. Situated on the Kent headland, Dungeness is part of Romney Marsh and is both a private estate and part of a national nature reserve. The barren, almost destitute headland was like something out of an apocalyptic movie with rusting machinery, empty shacks and rotting boats sporadically dotted across the land, paths and the occasional boardwalk leading down to a shingle beach and the sea.

Further along, a lighthouse, which can sometimes be climbed for views across the bay, lay along with a busy cafe and more boardwalk walks across the land.

Greatstone-on-Sea

After spending some time exploring, we continued along the Kent coast, stopping at Greatstone-on-Sea where we found another pretty, but pebbly, beach. Taking a walk along the grassy promenade, we then continued into the town of New Romney and along towards Dymchurch where we hoped to make our final stop of the day.

Unfortunately, we found Dymchurch to be incredibly busy and, unable to find somewhere to park, had to turn around and head back towards Winchelsea and our holiday park.

After another walk along the Winchelsea coast path that evening then again the next morning, it was time to say goodbye to East Sussex and Kent but we’d enjoyed spending a few days exploring part of the UK we’d not seen before.

24 hours in Boston

Ending our 5-week road trip with a day in Boston, MA

After 5 weeks on the road, it was time to say goodbye to our trusty hire car. Pulling up at the Alamo terminus at Boston Logan International Airport, we scrambled to get everything we needed from the various compartments of our vehicle before making our way to catch the free shuttle from the car rental centre to the main terminals.

Swan Boats docked for the evening in Boston Public Gardens

Then we hopped on to the Silver Line bus to shuttle us into the city. With it being early evening, traffic into the city was heavy but we eventually made it to Boston’s South Station, transferring here onto the Red Line to reach our Back Bay area hotel.

All checked in and not wanting to completely waste the evening, we went for a walk finding ourselves in the Boston Common-adjacent Boston Public Gardens.

George Washington statue in Boston Public Gardens

The sun was starting to set and the sky was a beautiful red colour as we wandered through the grounds past the Swan Boats all docked for the evening and then out of the park past the George Washington statue. We then walked along Newbury Street down to Copley Place stopping to grab a drink and a snack before looping back round to our hotel.

Leaving Boston Harbour

The next day, we had a late night flight out of the city back to the UK meaning we had the full day to enjoy in the city. Having both been to Boston before – this was my third stay in the city – we’d seen a lot of the main sights before. So, wanting to do something a bit different, we had pre-booked a whale watching trip with Boston Harbor Cruises.

The Boston skyline disappearing in the distance

Getting up and out early, we made a pit stop at a Starbucks for breakfast then walked through the city past Boston Common following the Freedom Trail markers down to Boston Harbour. Arriving at the harbour area a little are than needed, we took a stroll along the waterfront until it was time to check in for our tour and board our boat.

It was a large boat and we took a seat inside by the window, staying put for the first few minutes as we left the harbour, a commentary from one of the crew members explaining to us all how the morning would run and a little about what we could see looking back at the Boston skyline.

We soon decided to make the most of the beautiful weather and head up to the open deck where we could move about more freely and enjoy the skyline views unobstructed.

Everyone trying to get a glimpse of our first whale.

As we moved further and further away from the city, our guide continued to give us information on our surroundings and we when far enough out to sea, we eventually slowed to begin our search for whales. Even without the excitement of spotting some marine life, it was the perfect weather for just cruising out at sea watching the World go by. But as it turned out, we didn’t have long to wait before our first whale spotting.

A whale in the distance

Suddenly everyone onboard seemed to be out on the top deck as we all tried to find a space to get a look at our first whale of the day! Luckily, it was the first of many sightings and we even came across a pod of whales floating at the surface as they enjoyed the sunshine before seemingly showing off to us waving their fins and splashing around!

After spending some time watching these magnificent creatures, it was time to turn around and make our way back to Boston harbour. It had been a really exciting way to spend the morning though and we were really glad we’d decided to book the activity.

With a few more hours to spare, we walked to Boston’s Hard Rock Cafe for a late lunch then followed the Freedom Trail markers back towards Boston Common stopping to look around in Quincy Market and passing Boston landmarks including Faneuil Hall and the Old State House.

Arriving back into Boston Harbour

Finally finding ourselves back at Boston Common, we enjoyed the last bit of sunshine before walking back to our hotel to collect our luggage and making our way back to Logan Airport ready to fly back to the UK.

It didn’t feel like 5 weeks had gone since we arrived in Miami.

The Old State House

Since then we’d certainly had a lot of adventures – my first ever trip to Walt Disney World, exploring Savannah, visiting Charleston and Congaree National Park in South Carolina state, learning about the history of Coca Cola in Atlanta, line dancing the night away in Nashville, encountering black bears in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, enjoying the beautiful views along Blue Ridge Parkway, segwaying in Washington DC, visiting Baltimore city, returning to New York, enjoying a sunset sail in Rhode Island, becoming a Junior Range at Acadia National Park in Maine, visiting New Hampshire’s White Mountains and learning all about ice cream production at the Ben & Jerry’s Factory Tour in Vermont to name just a few.

While I was sad to say goodbye for now, with a few more States still to tick off and plenty more to see, I knew it wouldn’t be long until I returned for another epic trip.