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.

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.

The Essex Coast

A UK Staycation

On the beach with Clacton Pier in the distance

While I have missed being able to take off on a European city break at a minute’s notice or head further afield on heavily planned extended trip, the past year has at least, given me the opportunity to explore a bit more of the UK. After trips to various UK National Parks last summer, I headed to the East coast of England last autumn where I spent a few days exploring the Essex coast.

By the pier

Essex was a place I visited a lot as a child having relatives who lived there until my early teens. Although they lived inland, I remember making the odd trip out to the county’s coast while there – Clacton, Walton-on-the Naze and Frinton-on-Sea all being places I had vague, hazy memories of.

Now, all these years on, I had booked a static caravan for a week away with my parents and my dog just a few miles outside of Clacton and I was looking forward to revisiting some of these places.

We spent our first day of the trip driving the short distance into Clacton where we easily found somewhere to park along the promenade just up from the seaside resort’s pier. Despite social distancing and mask wearing advice still being in place, it was half term and the area around the pier was busy as families with excited children headed along the boardwalk towards the bright lights of the arcades and fairground rides dotted along the large jetty.

Moving away from the crowds, we headed onto the quiet, mainly sandy beach, lined with its colourful beach huts. Walking away from the pier, Lily our dog playing happily in the waves lapping onto the seashore. Returning to the car to sit and eat lunch sheltered from the cold wind, we then took a short walk in the opposite direction past the pier and onto the resort’s West Beach before driving back to the holiday park to warm ourselves up.

At Frinton-on-Sea

Day 2 and we drove a bit further up the coast to visit Frinton-on-Sea and the livelier neighbouring resort of Walton-on-the-Naze. This morning, the weather was a bit better and this showed on the beach here being a lot busier than the beach had been at Clacton the previous day. With the tide almost fully in, there was little beach to be seen and instead of heading down to the sand, we had to make do with walking along the concrete, beach hut-lined path behind. Walton-on-the Naze’s pier with its large yellow undercover amusement arcade in the distance brought back childhood memories of previous visits.

Returning to the grass-lined promenade, we sat out on a bench in the sunshine to eat our lunch before returning to the beach. As we walked towards the pier, the tide was slowly creeping out and by the time we reached Walton-on-the Naze, there was enough beach for Lily to have a run on and splash around in the sea.

A rainy Walton-on-the-Naze

The next day, we decided to drive a bit further along the coast to Walton-on-the-Naze itself. After stopping in the town for a bit of shopping, we parked up right by some steps by the beach just as a heavy downpour of rain began. Wrapping up warm, we braved the rain and wind to give Lily a walk on the small bit of the beach not completely covered by the sea before returning to the car for lunch.

With the weather not looking like it was going to improve anytime soon, we decided to leave the beach behind and drive along the coast to visit the Naze Nature Reserve.

Lily enjoys the view at the Naze Nature Reserve

The rain briefly stopping, we walked Lily along to the Nature Reserve’s entrance. A visitor centre and shop stands near the entrance and there are steps down to the beach. Instead, we walked along the path into the nature reserve itself past the Naze Tower. When open, it is possible to climb the tower for views over the coast. We followed a circular path around the nature reserve which took us along the cliff overlooking the coast before turning inland past some Artillerary Pillboxes from World War 2 and back towards the Visitor Centre.

We finished our visit with a walk down the path to the beach and along towards Walton-on-the-Naze in the distance before returning to the car and driving back to the holiday park.

Visiting Point Clear Bay, and below, walking around the peninsula

Wanting to see as much as the surrounding coastline as possible, on day 3 we headed south of Clacton-on-Sea past St Osyths and on to Point Clear Bay. Standing on a penninsula overlooking Mersea Island, Point Clear Bay didn’t have much of a beach, more of a shore leading down from a watersports club and hire centre and we stood watching the windsurfers hurtle back and forth across the waves in the distance before racing back onto shore. A path follows the sea wall along the penninsula and as we followed it around, we were soon met with views of Brightlingsea, another Essex coastal resort, in the distance.

Batemans Tower at Brightlingsea

The next day, we decided to drive into Brightlingsea for a better look. It was a quaint little place with its endless rows of colourful beach huts, many of them occupied with holiday makers wrapped up warm and huddled up with a cup of tea.

Lily splashing around at Brightlingsea

While again, there wasn’t much of a beach, Lily had a great time splashing around in a salt water pool at Brightlingsea Beach overlooked by Bateman’s Tower, a listed building built in the late 1800s.

A busy coast path walk at Brightlingsea

From the promenade, we followed a coast path along the sea wall then looking out over Brightlingsea Marsh National Nature Reserve.

Dovercourt Beach

Our final full day in Essex was a wet and windy day. Today, we drove north of Clacton to Dovercourt Beach, near Harwich. The dreary weather had stirred up the sea and as we walked along the promenade, huge waves crashed over the sea wall. We followed the coast path down to Earlham’s Beach, a bit of a hidden bay backed by dunes and marshland before returning to Dovercourt and making it back to our car before another torrential downpour.

Viewpoint at Wrabness Nature Reserve

After another lunch in the car, we drove to Wrabness Nature Reserve following the path from the car park out to a viewpoint then down to a pretty beach overlooking the River Stour estuary, the Suffolk coast in the distance.

Cold and wet, we then made our way back to the holiday park to change into some dry clothes and warm up!

Lily enjoying a walk at Holland-on-Sea beach

The next day it was time to say goodbye to our caravan and holiday park but before leaving Essex behind, we once again headed to the coast, this time to Holland-on-Sea, a stretch of sand just up from Clacton. Like Clacton, the sandy beach was again lined with colourful beach huts and we spent some time wandering along the shore letting Lily burn off some energy with one last splash in the sea before the long drive back to the Midlands.

We all agreed we had enjoyed our trip to the Essex coast and would definitely visit again if the opportunity arose.