Hafren Forest

12 Jul

Rich’s toe already looked better this morning, and after failing to deflect his jokes about pus and exploding toe nails over breakfast, we decided to head out to Hafren forest for the day.

We parked just inside the northern edge and followed the Glyndwr’s Way as far as the sailing club jetty, stopping on the shore of Llyn Clwyedog reservoir for lunch. Again we saw few other walkers, but this could be because unlike yesterday where we’d been walking and swimming in sunshine, today we’d had to don jumpers and waterproofs.

Whilst we huddled on a well positioned bench outside the angling club office to eat our snacks, too late realising that we were effectively sitting in a wind tunnel, most other visitors were admiring the scenery from the shelter of their cars. Give me cold hands and  a wind burned nose over a scenic drive any day though. Whilst we love Skyra – our little car, she’s very much a means of getting us to a place where we can start our adventures.

With the Easter weekend fast approaching the number of cars on the road had noticeably increased, and rather than returning via the forest track, we decided to go back the way we’d come. That way we could avoid the vehicles, enjoy the peace and quiet, and watch the lambs playing whilst they were still young enough not to have learned to be afraid of humans.

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By 4pm we were home for tea. We love getting into this routine of good food, fantastic walks and swims, reading, writing, the right sort of tired thanks to lots of exercise, and no telly or internet. If only ‘working days’ back home could be as productive, and enjoyable. Although admittedly since I left a mainstream career my days are certainly more relaxed than they used to be.

There still be Dragons in Wales...

There still be Dragons in Wales…

The cloud didn’t lift all day but we were grateful to not always have sun beating down on hot heads whilst walking. Heat stroke is never pleasant, and can easily overcome even the best prepared trekker. It’s hard to believe that we spent last Easter walking through snow in Wales though.

After enjoying the cooler evening air on the deck, and washing some clothes ‘grape crushing style’ in the shower, we prepared a walker friendly meal of oven chips, baked salmon and salad, whilst Peaches the cat meowed pitifully from the conservatory to be let in. I love the way cats always try to pretend to be starving and unloved, when really they’re chubby fluff balls who are always getting cuddles from whoever they meet. The tortoises meanwhile were doing what they do best – absolutely nothing. Rich is transfixed by them though, and they’d certainly be easier to look after than a dog, so maybe something to consider when we move.

In praise of Llanidloes Health Centre

30 Jun

What with Rich’s NF2 and the associated problems, sleep often eludes me when I’m worrying about the latest issue. Last night, his big toe kept me awake. As the circulation is so poor in his right leg, it’s susceptible to infection, and we realised yesterday evening that it was back with a vengeance.

Expecting to be asked to come in at the end of the day when I phoned the Llanidloes Health Centre, I was very pleasantly surprised when they booked us in for 9am. Rich didn’t even have time to brush his teeth before I bundled him into the car, and instructed Dervla to navigate the 9 miles to the surgery. We were even more surprised that despite only 30 minutes notice, they’d arranged for a translator to sit in on the appointment in case Rich needed someone to sign for him! Fortunately his lipreading is second to none, but the fact that a rural service in deepest, darkest mid-Wales can provide this level of service impressed us no end. Within 15 minutes of arriving we’d been given antibiotics, a dressed toe, and peace of mind, and both left thinking that we could easily live in this part of the world.

With plenty of time on our hands, we drove back to the Trefeglwys Community Cooperative Cafe for a cuppa. The cafe and shop are very well stocked, and open all day most day’s. There’s even an internet cafe, library, post office, and community centre where I was disappointed to find that I’d just missed the weekly pilates class. This place really does have a wonderful sense of community, and not the oppressive nosey type where everyone wants to know your business.

Back to Gribyn Cottage for a full Welsh breakfast, before setting off for Glaslyn Nature Reserve and a short walk on the track that runs alongside Bugeilyn. Whilst we ate lunch, we willed some of the people that had congregated on the shore of Glaslyn to pack up and head home, and sure enough they did. Neither of us particularly wanted an audience whilst we changed into our wetsuits, and as it’s been 6 months since our last wild swim, we were out of practice, so much so that I managed to put mine on backwards to begin with.

Whilst Rich’s new diving gloves kept the cold out, mine failed miserably and so we were only able to stay in the water for ten minutes. I’ve no idea how cold it was, but I must remember to buy a thermometer for future trips.

Unfortunately the old migraine then started to set in and by the time we got back to the cottage I was fit only for bed. I get annoyed with myself for having migraines and being out of action sometimes, but like Rich says, sometimes I just need to let him look after me, as more often that not it’s a case of me looking after him. At least by our proper bedtime, Rich was able to report that his toe already felt a lot better.

Llawr-y-glyn

23 Jun

Ok, I admit it. I slept with a little light on downstairs. As someone who never really ‘drops off’ to sleep, old houses and shadows sometimes frighten me when I allow my imagination to run wild. Rich thinks it’s hilarious, especially as I’m the person who rushes to protect others in need in the street or at work, and would fight to the death to protect those I love and care about. Possible ghosties though. What can I say, I’m a sensitive soul.

We woke to sunshine and cloudless sky. Even the tortoises had come out to sunbathe. Having the conservatory separate Gribyn Cottage from Vicky and Tim’s house, really does make it feel as if you’re sitting in the garden to eat your breakfast, even when you’re tucked up in the kitchen. Being able to smell the earth and plants makes us feel even more alive, and Rich has already developed a very soft spot for the shell creatures. In his words, “they’re my sort of pet”.

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Sunbathing tortoises

After gluten free pain au chocolat for breakfast courtesy of ‘Genius’, we decided to give Skyra a day off and walk from the cottage via the local waterfalls. Unfortunately the footpath to the falls were so overgrown that we couldn’t pass without cutting ourselves to shreds, so we headed for the ridge and Carno Wind Farm instead. Again, the paths through what is now managed forest are non-existant, and after wading through a quagmire we instead opted to ignore the ‘no un-authorised persons’ signs and follow the forest track as far as Gors Goch old quarry and pond. From there we were able to pick up the footpath again and descend back down to Llawr-y-glyn, passing a large hill farm that supplies lamb to Waitrose. After watching three farmers on quad bikes expertly herd their flock all the way down to bottom of the hill from the peak, we headed back up the hill to the cottage for tea and hot cross buns.

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My camera chose today to finally conk out on me. Still, it’s been used extensively for four years. It developed what I’ll call ‘black blob syndrome’ and a dark smudge appears in the centre of all photographs for the rest of this trip. Fine for photographing dark things, but I apologise now if subsequent pics are not of the usual standard.

Washing some clothes in the shower reminded me our adventures in Chile – somewhere we’re desperate to get back to in the not too distant future. We think nothing of washing our smalls in a bucket and hanging them outside the front door in full view of the neighbours. No doubt it’ll give them something to talk about.

For dinner, Rich concocted chicken fajita wraps out of yesterday’s leftovers. We always try to eat well on holiday, not least because we can’t risk Rich losing any more weight. Ignoring the telly we then moved up to the gorgeous lounge area to read and write. Tim, one of the cottage owners, had helped publish a village book to celebrate the new millennium, and reading about the history of the village and its residents is fascinating. Unlike many parts of Wales, Llawr-y-glyn seems to welcome ‘incomers’, and to have a liberal rather than an insular outlook. As a Welsh person I’m allowed to say such things as this. Wales can be lovely to look at, but there are undercurrents in some areas that are scary. That parts of the South have become a UKIP stronghold says enough. I don’t do prejudice, hatred and gossip. Neither do I really do rugby or alcohol, so I’m not a very good Welsh person really.

Scrambled goose eggs

20 Jun

I’m like Goldilocks. Bed’s have to be ‘just right’ for me to be able to get even a minute’s sleep. Unfortunately my ‘just right’ means ‘rock hard’ as far as most people are concerned, and I had to give up on the lovely squishy king sized bed at Gribyn Cottage and move to one of the singles on the landing area in the night. Still at least this meant that Rich got lots of space once I’d abandoned ship. Sleep, or rather lack of it, is an issue for me at the best of times, and I’ve resigned to never sleeping well on the first night when staying anywhere new.

Fortunately Rich slept very well and woke full of life. He knew that I’d not had such a restful night and so immediately started teasing me about the ghosties found in old barns, a reference to the fact that I often seem able to sense strange things in historic buildings. It’s a bugger being so sensitive at times, not least because it means that I’ve felt very uneasy in some places we’ve stayed. Here I feel safe and sound though, and even when I can’t sleep, I enjoy listening to the night sounds – wind swishing through the trees, owls hooting, and sheep baa-baa-ing. It’s a blessed relief not to be able to hear traffic, sirens blaring, or neighbours effing and blinding in the early hours. Although the cockerel could soon end up in the pot if he starts crowing before 7 am :-)

Here we truly are ‘over the hill and far away’, and it’s heavenly. Once we’d eventually figured out how to break the goose eggs shells, and fished out all of the shell pieces, we each had a plate of scrambled eggs for breakfast (1 goose egg easily feeds 2 people). Rich then drove us along very quiet (and small) side roads to the parking spot at the entrance to Glaslyn Nature Reserve. The 6 mile walk took us down to the Wynford Vaughan Thomas memorial – a famous Welsh journalist and broadcaster from the 1930′s through to the 60′s; across to Aberhosan, and then back via a stretch of the Glyndwr’s Way – a national long distance trail that I’m determined to finish walking in the new two years.

The walk had a fair bit of up and down so that we could start getting our hill fitness back quite quickly, and took us through interesting hamlets full of friendly locals who always said at least “hello”. With glorious weather, and red kites playing in the skies above, I’m always surprised that so few people seem to visit these parts. But then that means that we get to enjoy the solitude. I find it wilder and more scenic here than the Brecon Beacons, and whilst admittedly the landscape doesn’t have the majesty of Snowdonia, it’s certainly more peaceful, and cheaper. It also seems to have more character. Crafts, trades and quirkiness are all taken very seriously here, and we decide that we’d fit in well.

Walking past Glaslyn – ‘The Blue Lake’, we plan a wild swim for later in the week, and are soon back with Skyra (our little car). She’s coming into her own already – taking on the tiny lanes with ease, and powering up the hills.

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Back at the cottage, one of the cockerel’s had found his way into the conservatory and was busy tormenting the tortoises. Eventually it gave up trying to elicit a reaction from them, and perched on a cactus…

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After lovely hot showers and a roast chicken dinner cooked in the well equipped cottage kitchen, we retired to the deck area for a last glass of the Aldi cava, and cuddles with Peaches the cat. Whilst Rich is less keen on fluffies than I am, they always take a shine to him regardless, and Peaches decides that his knee is the most comfortable spot in the garden. This is my favourite time of day when on holiday. No interweb or telly. Just us and the view.

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Welcome to Gribyn Cottage

9 Jun

After a little bit of a holiday, what with not being able to accompany us to Iceland, Dervla was back on form, directing us along side roads that blatantly weren’t meant for vehicles any more. Still, it meant that we bypassed the centre of Newtown, and that we reached one of our favourite cafe’s – ‘The Watering Hole’, in super quick time.

The cafe is part of the Midway Holiday Park, does a very cheap but tasty plate of sausage and chips, and sometimes sells goose eggs! We bought four, and after taking advice on how best to cook them (scrambled or as an omelette), we headed a few miles further north west to the Cider House car park for a 6 mile walk along the Kerry Ridgeway.

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This Kerry Way is an ancient Celtic path in mid Wales rather than Ireland, and stretches for fifteen miles from the village of Kerry, in Wales, to Bishops Castle, in England. We’d walked this same stretch two years ago when we stayed at Llethrau, and met Lydia the world’s friendliest sheep, but it was in thick mist so we’d seen nothing of the views. Today we had glorious sunshine, and whilst the wind picked up on the return stretch, we were still able to enjoy the magnificent views of Powys.

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Back at the car park, after a quickly aborted loo stop because a little old lady decided to drive past us very slowly to see what we were up to, we drove the final twenty miles to Gribyn Cottage, our home for the next week. And what a home it is! The cottage is part of an old Welsh barn, which once belonged to the largest farm in Montgomeryshire. The farm has long since been divided up, and Vicky and Tim Ware own the cottage and live in the adjoining barn. Vicky also has her own pottery on site, near to where they keep the chickens and Arkle – the miniature Shetland pony.

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The cottage is compact, quirky, warm, and well equipped. It also comes complete with a view of sunbathing tortoises in Vicky and Tim’s conservatory. A view which Rich enjoyed so much that he now desperately wants his own tortoises! Scarlett, a little terrier who loves cuddles; Peaches – a tortoiseshell cat who also loves cuddles; and Max the lab (cuddle lover), complete the animal part of the family, making it even more of a perfect place to stay if you like fluffy creatures, which of course we do.

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The cottage comes complete with a private deck area overlooking the Trannon valley and village – Llawr y Glyn. Guests are also welcome to walk around Vicky and Tim’s woodland and garden, and to try and persuade Arkle to come over to the fence for cuddles. He was on a diet whilst we were there, and as a result seemed to prefer gently head butting our legs because he was being denied treats!

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After a Romania inspired dinner, and a bottle of Aldi cava, we retreated to bed at 10pm, already feeling relaxed in our rural retreat. For some unknown reason, most tourists tend to flock to either South Wales and the Brecon Beacons, or North Wales and Snowdonia, leaving mid Wales and the Cambrian mountains well alone. We like it like that.

Singed sheep head

7 Jun

With heavy hearts we closed the door on the Langholstvegur apartment, and caught a taxi to the BSI Bus Terminal for an early lunch at the renowned restaurant – Fljótt og Gott. This is where the locals eat. Proper home cooking, without a hefty price tag. We’ve always enjoyed eating here, and come at least once during each trip. We both selected from the ‘specials’ menu, but shied away from the singed sheep’s head, because quite frankly, I don’t want a pair of eyes staring back at me from my plate. I chose the roast pork, potatoes and brown sauce (gravy), whilst Rich went for the mixed meat stew, topped with a fried egg. With soup and salad included, neither of us could finish what we were given, or face pudding. Excellent value at £20 all in, including hot drinks, in what’s supposed to be one of the most expensive cities in the world.

Singed sheep head - an Icelandic delicacy

Singed sheep head – an Icelandic delicacy

Our bellies full, we boarded the 1.30pm flybus back to Keflavik Airport. The 50 minute drive through the lava fields is very scenic, especially on what was a sunny day. We quickly checked in at the Iceland Air kiosks just inside the entrance, only realising a little too late that that we’d been seated apart – it seemed that everyone else had checked in online. Rich quipped that he was sure he could survive two rows back from me, so we dropped our bags off and headed back outside to visit our favourite brightly coloured sculpture thingy, for some pictures and fresh air.

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It’s called ‘The Rainbow’, and was created by Icelandic artist Rúrí. It’s 24 metres high, made of steel and glass, and I think it’s beautiful. I’ve always been drawn to sculpture, but never to trying to create it myself surprisingly. Maybe that will come later in life.

Back at the airport terminal, we wondered why some tourists actually believe the adverts that say that the prices here are cheaper than in the city because they’re tax free. Most of the prices are marked up, believe you me, and you’ll certainly find them cheaper in Reykjavik, and most definitely outside of the city.

On the plane I was sat next to ‘gin and tonic’ couple who definitely didn’t want to talk to me. So after watching a lovely South African children’s film about a cheetah – without headphones because we’re too tight to spend extra for them, and I couldn’t face getting my ipod out of the overhead locker, I decided to annoy the female of the couple by watching ‘The Following’ over her shoulder. She’d very kindly downloaded it beforehand, and I didn’t need subtitles or sound to realise that it was a bit gruesome. Still, it’s saved me having to buy the DVD.

Without Rich by my side though, in my eagerness to get off the plane and escape the unfriendly couple, I managed to leave my little medication bag and book in my seat pocket. Unfortunately, this then meant waiting an extra 45 minutes at Heathrow whilst the bag was retrieved. I never did get the book back, but if you requisitioned my hard to find copy of ‘Democracy in Chile’, I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Eventually we got to the car, but were by now so tired that we didn’t realise that the engine warning light was on until we’d made moves. Keeping everything crossed, we set off for home, but almost immediately managed to drive into an area that you’re not supposed to drive into. A policeman and car suddenly appeared alongside us, asked where we were going, and when Rich replied “I’m sorry, I’m deaf, and trying to get us home”, the policeman responded “I suggest you follow me then sir”. And promptly escorted us, at speed, to the motorway. When he flashed his lights goodbye, other drivers turned to see who the VIP’s in the Honda were. Rich was in his element :-)

Grótta

2 Jun

January 3rd – we woke feeling weary, and so decided to take a bus trip to the Seltjarnarnes peninsula, the Westernmost part of Greater Reykjavik.

The No.11 took us from Hlemmur right to the footpath that circles the peninsula. Whilst still very much part of Reykjavik, it feels worlds away, and is certainly well off the beaten track as far as other tourists are concerned.

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We walked around the south coast to the nature reserve, and then along the magnificent black volcanic beach to the causeway. Fortunately we’d timed our visit with the low tide and were able to cross onto the little island called Grótta, to see the lighthouse. We’d both love to have stayed here for a night, although I imagine that it can get a little stormy.

From Grótta we walked along the north coast into town, passing a little geothermal rock pool which we were only able to resist because we were on route to Seltjarnarneslaug  for a dip.

Seltjarnarneslaug was without a doubt our favourite thermal pool. It has 4 hot pots and 2 swimming pools, is cheaper than our local pool – Laugardalslaug, and was lovely and quiet. I was welcomed by a little dance from a chubby toddler in the changing room, and we stayed for an hour, relishing our final opportunity on this trip to gently simmer in an Icelandic hot pot.

Seltjarnarneslaug waiting area

Seltjarnarneslaug waiting area

The bus back leaves from the main road through town, just a few minutes walk from the baths, and after popping into the 10-11 store for such essentials as skyr, appelsin and chocolate, we caught the No.14 back to Langholtsvegur.

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