Cambrian Mountains

With the current state of the world, I think 2021 is the year I finally explore the UK.

I’d booked a Wigwam Holiday at their Hafren site, near Llanidloes in mid Wales, for 3 nights in the middle of the wettest May in recent history. It’s about a 2 and a half hour drive from Cardiff, up the A470, which once you get past Merthyr Tydfil is a very scenic drive.

I’d planned a couple of pit stops on the way, and after 2 hours I stopped for lunch in the pretty town of Rhayader.

Rhayader

After a quick walk around the town and down to the River Wye, I hopped back in the car for the short drive to Llyn Clywedog, which has some lovely views

After that it was a 10 minute drive to my home for the next 3 days, a Wigwam cabin just outside of Staylittle. There are 6 cabins on site, all of which have a double bed, kitchenette, and an en-suite bathroom, and 3 of the cabins also have wood-fired hot tubs. It’s owned by very friendly farmers who made me feel very welcome.

After settling myself in, I decided to go for a short drive to the nearby Dylife Gorge, with this fabulous view:

Dylife Gorge

After an evening spent hoping the clouds would part to experience the Dark Skies that this region is famous for, I retreated unsatisfied to bed.

The next morning after a slowish start hoping for the rain to stop, I headed off on the short drive to the Hafren Forest. This is a working forest, with several trails, some on short loops and a longer one, approximately 8 miles round, to the source of the River Severn. There is a small car park with toilets, and from there, all the trails are very well signposted. I started off doing the 1.5 mile loop to Severn-Breaks-Its-Neck, a waterfall. After stopping for my packed lunch at the picnic benches on the Cascades Trail, I continued on to the Blaenhafren falls, which was approximately 2 miles from the start. Originally I’d intended to turn around at this point, but I felt good (despite the rain) and as the Source of the Severn was only another mile and a half, I decided to carry on.

This part of the walk is described as ‘strenuous’, and it does get quite steep in parts, rising to over 2000 feet. It is, however, a very peaceful walk, following the Severn as you wind your way up onto the open moorland. The source itself is marked by a wooden pole. All the paths are well maintained and well marked. It was quite cold and still raining so I didn’t hang around for too long before retracing my steps back to where I’d started.

All in all, it was just over 9 miles in just shy of 4 hours, and a great way to spend a day in the outdoors, despite the rain.

The next day, after another slow start, I headed 40 minutes south, back towards Rhayader, and out to the Elan Valley. I parked up at the Visitor Centre and paid for parking (£2.50 all day), and then set off walking along the well-maintained trail which runs alongside the reservoir. It was quite pleasant as I approached the first dam, but the weather quicker turned and I steadily got wetter and wetter. I kept wandering through the rain, hoping for it to brighten, but turned around after 3 miles and retraced my steps. I had a short detour across the Garreg Ddu Dam to see the Nantgwyllt Church. Obviously as I approached the end of my walk, the weather cheered up enormously. All in all I walked 6 miles in 2 and a half hours.

I then got in the car and decided to drive along the road which hugs the shores of the lakes and made it to Pen y Garreg Dam.

Pen y Garreg dam

After that, I retreated back to my cabin, where apparently the weather had been pretty reasonable all day – typical!!

I returned home through the rain the following day. Even though this was only a short break, I was so thankful for the change in scenery and to spend some time outdoors instead of being glued to my laptop. I think that UK-based breaks are likely to be the norm for a little while, and you could definitely do worse than spend a few days in this beautiful and peaceful part of Wales.

Iceland

In March 2018 I took a short trip with a friend to Iceland. Flight time is approx 2 and a half hours from the UK – we flew from Manchester and arrived into some low cloud at Reykjavik’s Keflavik airport mid afternoon. After getting to the hotel, we had a bit of a wander around the local area to orientate ourselves, before having dinner and an expensive drink.

The next morning, the weather was much better and we could see some of the beautiful scenery that surrounds Reykjavik.

We had a long walk around Reykjavik, along the waterfront which has some interesting sculptures, and we visited the Aurora Northern Lights museum to learn about the Northern Lights, which we were hoping we’d be able to see in the evening.

After an expensive burger for lunch, we visited the Hallgrimskirka, which is the main church in Reykjavik. You can also climb up the bell tower and see some great 360o views of Reykjavik – I definitely recommend doing this if you visit Reykjavik. And I also recommend trying to get up high in any new place you visit – it gives such a great perspective on wherever you’re visiting.

We continued our wandering and ended up visiting the Icelandic Phallological Museum (ahem…)

After that, we meandered back to our hotel for a bit of a break and snooze, as we were heading out later in search of the Northern Lights. We were quite fortunate with a break in the weather on the day we were booked on the Northern Lights trip, the previous day’s trips were all cancelled due to the weather. We were picked up at around 10pm and were driven out of Reykjavik for around an hour towards Thingvellir National Park. We were looking for dark, clear skies, and we were so fortunate to get them. To the naked eye, you could see the sky shimmering a silver-ish colour, but when I cranked up to the right settings on my DSLR, it captured the greens and purples amazingly (if a little shakily as I didn’t have a tripod). I still reckon the Northern Lights are one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen, such an awe-inspiring sight.

We were out until around 12.30am watching the skies, and then with an hour’s drive back to Reykjavik, it was a late night. Followed by an early morning as we were doing a full day Golden Circle tour – an absolute must do when you go to Iceland.

The first stop was at Geysir, which does exactly what it says on the tin. Not the most impressive geyser I’ve been to (humble brag…), but if you’ve not seen one before, it’s certainly a sight to behold. There were also some wonderfully blue pools in the area, and lots of steam coming from the ground, as you’d expect in a place with lots of geothermal activity.

The next stop was a Gullfoss Waterfall – an amazing sight, though it was absolutely freezing and blowing an absolute gale.

The final stop of the day was back to Thingvellir National Park, which we were unable to fully appreciate when hunting for the Northern Lights. This is an important place in Iceland, it’s where the first parliament was held, and is also where 2 tectonic plates are moving away from each other, and you can literally see the crack in the earth.

After some more expensive drinks in the evening, we had an early night followed by an early morning as we had a very early flight back to the UK. Iceland makes for a great, if expensive, short break destination from the UK. If you’re going to see the Northern Lights, choose your dates wisely – the sky needs to be dark so better to go around the time of a new moon rather than a full moon, and also bear in mind the daylight hours in Iceland. It’s the furthest north I’ve been and especially in summer, there will be near-constant daylight. We went in March which has approx 12 hours of daylight and does mean it is dark enough in the late evening for viewing the Northern Lights. Do your research if seeing the Northern Lights is an important part of your visit. There are also some wonderful natural phenomenon to see here, it’s on a plate boundary so heaps of geothermal activity and barrenly beautiful scenery in and around Reykjavik. Definitely recommend!

Sevilla, it makes me happy…

In 2018 my holiday plans were primarily to ‘cold’ places – Iceland, Alaska and Jersey (which can be, and was, warm but it wasn’t guaranteed!), so I figured that I needed a hot weather break before we headed into winter. I’d very briefly visited Seville in 2017 when I did a trip through Spain and Morocco, but we basically only had half a day there and it was so hot I could barely move, let alone see everything I wanted to see. So, it seemed like the perfect option for a long weekend break with a good friend who I met on a trip to New Zealand in 2014.

We flew from Gatwick and arrived in Sevilla in the late afternoon. It was cloudy but warm. After checking into our hotel we headed out for a wander towards the Plaza de España

Plaza de España – October 2018

The cloudy skies gave it a different ambience to 2017’s blue sky visit:

Plaza de España – September 2017

With the temperature in the high 20s rather than approaching 40, this time round it was a much more comfortable temperature for meandering through the streets and taking in the sights.

After wandering back around to the cathedral we found a nice tapas restaurant for dinner and a couple of drinks. Afterwards a walk through the city back to our hotel

Sevilla Cathedral by night

The next morning we headed over to the Bull Ring. Bull fighting remains a spectator sport in Sevilla, and you can go on a tour of the bull ring, as we did. It was very interesting to learn about the history of bull fighting in this part of Spain, and the arena itself is very impressive, but I can’t say I’d be rushing to see a live event

In the afternoon we went on a tour of the cathedral, which we had booked in advance. An immensely impressive building (the largest gothic church in the world) and a must-do when in Sevilla. I would also recommend climbing La Giralda, the clock tower, for some great views over Sevilla.

Afterwards we continued our wandering through the pretty streets of Sevilla before dinner, wine and local speciality tinto de verano (makes red wine drinkable in my opinion!).

The next day, with a slight hangover, we had a tour of the Alcazar, which again we’d booked in advance. It’s an enormous complex, both the buildings and the gardens, and you could easily spend hours there. Another must-do if you are in Sevilla.

After more tapas and wine in the evening, it was an early start the next morning for our flight back to Gatwick.

I would absolutely recommend Sevilla as a great short break destination. It does get extremely hot in this part of Spain, so great for visiting in Spring or Autumn – we went in mid October and it was still 30C. It’s a good idea to book ahead for the Cathedral and the Alcazar as they can get very busy, and it saves you queuing in the heat. Wandering around the pretty streets and enjoying wine and tapas is an ideal way to spend a long weekend.