Wednesday, 30 July 2014

CEMAES HEAD



The coast of Pembrokeshire is, in my opinion, the most spectacular stretch of the Welsh coast, largely due to its soaring cliffs and dramatic headlands.  As we move out towards the open sea from St Dogmaels we encounter the first of these headlands, Cemaes Head, which can be reached via a well-worn circular route starting from St Dogmaels or Poppit Sands.  The geology of the headland is laid bare for all to see, with crumpled layers of rock bearing witness to the upheavals of the past.  The cliffs here, at 550 feet  high, are the highest in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, and are a nesting area for guillemots, cormorants and fulmars, while the base of the cliffs is an important breeding area for Atlantic Grey Seals - you may spot them basking on the shore if you can bear to look down.  If you point your eyes heavenwards, you may see chough as well as birds of prey such as kestrels and buzzards, and bottlenose dolphins are often seen out to sea.  Other charming creatures to look out for are the grazing ponies who do a great job keeping the vegetation under control, which in turn helps the chough by improving their grassland habitat.  There are lovely views of the Teifi Estuary and Cardigan Island to the north from the top of the headland.  

Map of the area. 

File:Cliffs on Cemaes Head, Pembrokeshire Coast - geograph.org.uk - 430187.jpg
Photo by Philip Halling, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 27 July 2014

ST DOGMAELS

Like many places in this part of Wales, St Dogmaels has an alternative Welsh name: Llandudoch. St Dogmael was a 6th century saint said to be a cousin of the more famous St David.  The village, which lies on the Teifi estuary across the way from Cardigan, is best known for the ruins of its 12th century Tironian Abbey, occupying a site on a hillside where there was an earlier Celtic church dating from the 7th century. The abbey, which is run by Cadw, is open to visitors, who can also visit a museum and visitor centre in the restored Coach House, where fine examples of early Christian and medieval stones are on display.  The abbey has its own theatre group which performs Shakespeare plays during the summer - next up is the Merchant of Venice from 6-9 August.  Next to the abbey is the church of St Thomas, with further interesting stones with inscriptions that provide the key to an early alphabet. Further down, where the estuary opens out into the sea, is a sandy beach with dunes known as Poppit Sands. Swimmers need to exercise caution here due to the mid-tide currents, and in particular they should avoid the deep-water channel further out.

Map of the area.

File:St Dogmaels Abbey - geograph.org.uk - 309701.jpg
Photo by Trish Steel, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

CARDIGAN

Cardigan lies on the estuary of the River Teifi, hence its Welsh name Aberteifi. The river separates the Western counties of Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire. It used to be a walled town with a medieval castle built in 1093 by Robert Montgomery. In 1176 the first National Eisteddfod was held at the castle. The town went on to become a thriving maritime centre, and was at one point the second most important port in Wales. Many goods were exported from the port and there was a large herring fleet. The port was also a major departure point for emigration to North America, with ships such as The Active and The Albion taking passengers to New Brunswick in Canada, and the Triton heading to New York. One of the families who emigrated from here was that of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The Cardigan Bay Maritime History Project known as 'Over the Waves' is dedicated to recording the area's seafaring past.

Today, Cardigan is a busy market town, with a pleasant mix of independent shops and galleries. Many of the buildings have their original Georgian and Victorian frontages. The Neo-gothic Guildhall contains an indoor market and a gallery, while other places to view arts and crafts include the Custom House shop and gallery and Pendre Art Gallery and Cafe. There is entertainment to be had at the Theatr Mwldan, and there are events and festivals throughout the year, including a River and Food Festival and a Film Festival. For nature lovers, just upstream from the town is the Welsh Wildlife Centre, with walking trails meandering among the marshes and hides dotted about for viewing the birds and other wildlife. One of the more unexpected sights at the centre is a herd of water buffalo, and if you are very lucky you may spot an otter.

For a list of events in Cardigan and the surrounding area see here.

Map of the area.

File:Cardigan River.jpg
Photo by Jprw, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

MWNT AND GWBERT

It takes a bit of work to get to the beach at Mwnt, involving the negotiation of narrow roads and a fair few steps down from the car park, but it is well worth the effort. The beautiful little beach is overlooked by the church of Eglwys Mwnt, a simple whitewashed building built in the 13th or 14th century on a site originally occupied by an earlier 6th century church. The font inside the church is made from Preseli stone and there are ancient pieces of carved wood. Beachgoers frequenting Mwnt are occasionally treated to the sight of dolphins just offshore.

File:Mwnt - Wales 03.jpg
Photo by Dickelbers, via Wikimedia Commons


The village of Gwbert lies in an elevated position above the mouth of the River Teifi, which marks the southern boundary of the county of Ceredigion. The sand dunes on the estuary to the south of the village support a multitude of plant species. To the north is Cardigan Island Coastal Farm Park, with rare breeds from all over the world. The headland by the Farm Park offers fine views across to Cardigan Island, a small uninhabited island 200 yards offshore, once the home of puffins, but sadly no longer since the island was overrun by rats from a shipwreck and the little blighters ate all the eggs and chicks. However, the island remains a nature reserve, with thousands of nesting sea-birds and also a flock of wild Soay sheep. Below the Farm Park the cliffs are riddled with caves, and these are the haunt of a colony of Atlantic grey seals. If you are lucky enough to be in the area towards the end of a sunny day, the sunsets from the clifftop are spectacular.

File:Sunset at Gwbert - geograph.org.uk - 196753.jpg
Sunset at Gwbert. Photo by Ian Knox, via Wikimedia Commons


Map of the area.


Friday, 11 July 2014

TRESAITH AND ABERPORTH



The tiny Tresaith and the larger Aberporth are linked by a clifftop path from where, as well as spectacular views across Cardigan Bay, walkers may get a chance to see a variety of wildlife such as the rare chough or, out to sea, bottle-nosed dolphins and grey seals.  There have even been sightings of orca in the waters off here.  Both Tresaith and Aberporth developed around the maritime trade, with many local shipowners.  There was also a thriving herring fishing industry, making use of rowing boats with sails and a crew of 5 to 8.  Each family had a shed where the herring were salted and stored for the winter.  Aberporth's Traeth y Dryffryn beach was used as a sheltered anchorage for the vessels.  When Tresaith began to attract tourists towards the end of the 19th century its popularity earned it the unlikely title of the 'Second Brighton'.  The sandy Blue Flag beach continues to attract families, with the reassurance of lifeguards on hand in the high season.  Aberporth has two beaches separated by Pen Trwyn Cynwyl, a headland named after St Cynwyl, to whom the parish church is also dedicated.  Up until recently, the Felinwynt Rainforest Centre to the west of Aberporth delighted visitors with its exotic butterflies in a tropical environment. Sadly, this is now closed due to retirement according to the website, but may open again if new owners are found.  There is another quite different activity in the vicinity of Aberporth: an MOD testing range, first established during the Second World War, where air-launched weapons and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are tested.

Map of the area.

File:Aberporth Ceredigion Cymru Wales 03.JPG
Aberporth. Photo by Wici Rhuthun, via Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

CWMTYDU AND LLANGRANOG



Walkers heading south along the coastal path from New Quay are in for a treat, especially those who enjoy wildlife, natural phenomena and ancient remains.  First there is Bird Rock with its colonies of nesting birds, then a short distance further along is Seal Bay, where mature seals can often be seen, although the autumn is the best time for younger seals.  Then for the ancient history enthusiasts there is the site of Castell Bach, a 2,000-year-old Celtic fort.  The village of Cwmtydu has a shingle beach reached  by a drive along narrow lanes.  The beach is overlooked by the remains of an old lime kiln, and the nearby shale cliffs are dramatically buckled and tilted.  

One of the many things I enjoy about the British coast is the spectacle of mountainous surf rolling onto the shore, all the more so when viewed from close quarters.  This was what I was met with during my visit to Llangrannog a couple of years ago, where I stood on the beach watching the waves roll in, and became so transfixed by the sights and sounds of it all that I was reluctant to drag myself away.  This small resort is reached by narrow lanes weaving past picturesque cottages.  The village was established in the 6th century around its church.  The original church of St Caranog has been superceded by a newer building dating from 1885, although among its contents are treasures from the Norman period.  St Mary's Well, also from around the 6th century, used to be visited by pilgrims who believed in the health-giving properties of its water.  However, there are signs of much earlier habitation in the area: the headland of Ynys-Lochtyn is overlooked by the site of a prehistoric fort.   

Nowadays it is tourism that is the mainstay of the economy.  Llangranog has a small sand and shingle beach with a distinctive rock at one end of it called Carreg Bica which according to legend is the tooth of a local giant, spat out when the giant had a toothache. During the early days of Llangrannog's time as a holiday resort it was visited by Edward Elgar.  Dylan Thomas also paid a visit while living in New Quay and, inevitably, ended up in the Ship Inn.  The Welsh painter Christopher Williams was moved to paint the village while there, and his painting 'Holidays, Village Girls at Llangrannog' is on display in the National Library of Wales (Aberystwyth). The village remains small and unspoilt, with a small cluster of businesses including two pubs.  A mile to the east of the village is the Llangrannog dry ski slope at a youth centre called the Urdd Centre.   

Webcam view from the Pentre Arms.

Map of the area. 

Llangrannog Beach with Carreg Bica