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Death Wish Dervla

A satnav with attitude

Glacier, the Icelandic dog

After a lie in to enjoy the typically cosy Icelandic duvets, we forced ourselves out of bed and in to the guesthouse cafe for breakfast. With as much tea and coffee as you could possibly want, yoghurt and fruit, ham, cheese, eggs, salad and fresh bread, you certainly get your money’s worth. The cafe was also lovely and quiet (in April), which I was pleased about as I’d had to pop a tryptan to stop a migraine from developing. Me and my quirky brain.

Having already decided to take it easy today, we wrapped up warm and set off to explore the village and its surroundings on foot. We found the still closed campsite – it opens in May and is ginormous,  and an outdoor gym – something which I wish we had more of in the UK, before nipping into the Samkraup mini-market to buy some nibbles for lunch.

Guesthouse Flúðir’s gorgeous dog – Glacier, finally melted, having seemed very wolf like when we arrived yesterday, and now greets us eagerly awaiting strokes and tummy tickles. He likes to sit by the recycling bins and greet locals as they come by.

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Glacier

The hire care, originally nicknamed ‘Starlight’ has now been renamed ‘Aurora’, because we’re in Iceland. We fired her up to take us to the first of today’s long awaited destinations – the Secret Lagoon. Except it’s not so secret any more and there were tour buses in the car park when we arrived. Being charged just over £30 for entry as well drew an exclamation from both of us. But I guess that’s what being on the tourist route does to places, and to be fair they do have to maintain the premises. Whilst the price seems a bit steep, it is definitely worth a visit, at least during quiet times. I’d have been miffed to have paid that much and then to have had to fight for space. I suspect it’s going to get to that stage during the summer though as it’s now well and truly on the Golden Circle route. Which is why we’ve learned to come here out of season.

Showering naked is always a novelty for British tourists, but you have no choice in Iceland – thems the rules. It’s always a tad amusing to see first timers terrified of revealing flesh, and then discovering the liberty of just letting it all go and not worrying. The Secret Lagoon changing rooms are small, but it looks like work is underway to extend them. Again – another reason to visit before it gets too big and loses its specialness.

A short walk from the changing rooms takes you outside, and within seconds you’re submerged in gloriously warm water, between 36 and 40 degrees C, so not too hot, just right. It’s apparently the oldest natural swimming pool in Iceland. Your feet get a massage from the gravel underfoot, and the water is crystal clear. After an hour, we felt suitably broiled, so got ourselves dressed and followed the walkways surrounding the pool to visit the hot springs. Be warned – they are very hot, and have names like ‘litli gesysir’, so don’t muck around, and don’t get too close.

Back to the guesthouse for a glass of appelsin (orange pop) and chillax time – we always go internet free on holiday; before setting of for today’s second must see destination – Restaurant Minilik, one of only two Eithopian restaurants in Iceland. Despite always wanting to try Ethiopian food whilst living in London, I’d never gotten round to it, but we were determined to make up for that tonight.

Azeb, the co-owner and chef, hails originally from Adis Adaba, and her food is incredible. Inside, it feels like you’re in Ethiopia, rather than a cold place near the Arctic, with decorative pieces that Azeb has collected from home adorning the walls, ceiling and floor. Azeb cooks to order, and her husband recommended several dishes. Both Rich and I went for lamb, and amazingly, the flat breads are all made out of teff flour, which meant that they were gluten free – perfect for foodie coeliacs.

As is the case in so many parts of the world, in Ethiopia you don’t eat with cutlery – you use the bread and your fingers to scoop, adding touch as another sensory experience, and meaning that you enjoy the food even more. It sounds like it could get messy, but you quickly get into the swing of things, and for me, it beats using a knife and fork any day. It’s also made me eager to eat more Ethiopian food, although we’re short on global cuisine restuarants in our current neck of the woods. Minilik is absolutely worth travelling especially to Flúðir for though, and is open lunch time if you’re traveling through. We’ll definitely return.

Flúðir

Despite feeling and looking like it belongs on another planet, I love the fact that Iceland – my favourite place in the whole wide world, is only a two and a half hour flight from Birmingham. After a few false starts in trying to get hold of Hasso car rental to let them know that we’d arrived – my phone decided that it was no longer going to roam, and Rich’s isn’t set up for making calls, him being deaf n’all; we eventually established that the minibus was outside, waiting to take us to the office a few km away.

After sorting the paperwork we were introduced to our gorgeous wagon – A Honda CRV which I immediately nicknamed Starlight, mainly because she was silver, and that’s largely how I identify cars. Rich then drove us 90 mile towards and around Reykjavik, east to Selfoss, and eventually to Flúðir – our base for the next two nights. It’s a very small village but we have two very specific reasons for visiting – to be revealed tomorrow! For now, we’d just enjoy Guesthouse Flúðir, one of a few places to stay in the village. We’d decided against the Icelandair hotel solely because we like homelier places, and chains are designed to be a bit samey.

Beautifully painted headboard
Beautifully painted headboard

The guesthouse is right next to the supermarket and vinbudin (off-licence), and also doubles up as a cafe and restaurant. We were given a triple room and so had plenty of space to stretch out, and with two bathrooms between 5 rooms we didn’t have to queue for the loo. We dumped our bags and headed over to Cafe Grund for an early supper. The menu is varied and the food fresh, and we made up for our healthy airport lunch by having fish and chips, and for Rich a Viking beer.

When in Iceland...
When in Iceland…

Once full, we ambled around the village, discovering the local geothermal vents and swimming pool. I never realise how much I miss the smell of sulphur until I return to Iceland! We also found not a crazy golf course, but a crazy frisbee course – something I’ve not seen in the UK but which is apparently common in Nordic countries. It’s because of things like this that we keep on comin back to Iceland. Its quirkiness just sings to our souls. That and the hot pools.

Petting pygmy goats

Not wanting to waste our ‘drive home’ day, we stopped off at the Small Breeds Farm Park and Owl Centre on the outskirts of Kington. We literally had the whole place to ourselves, and thoroughly enjoyed meeting the miniature creatures and all the owls. Until today, I’d had no idea that there were so many different varieties of owl, or that they came in such a range of sizes, shapes and colours. I’d also never heard of a ‘Zebu’ – although Rich now wants a small herd of them, or realised that pygmy goats could be so affectionate. Visitors are allowed to feed many of the animals by hand – although be warned that if you leave the feeding buckets out and the alpacas are a’roaming, you’ll return to find the buckets empty.

The centre is definitely worth a visit, and in some ways tis more enyoyable in Winter as the creatures are all cosied up in their enclosures and enjoy interacting with humans. In Summer they’re free to roam the fields, and probably more interested in food and sunshine than us. Admittedly I’m not a fan of zoos or of creatures being put on display oblivious to their needs and wants, but the those at the centre are mainly rescues from such places, and are treated extremely well in their forever home.

Ambling around Aberedw

Thanks to slightly warmer temperatures than yesterday, the hills were shrouded in mist when we woke. Whilst waiting for the skies to clear a little, we ate our favourite cold weather breakfast – porridge made with cream and served with banana and honey. Luxurious, but much needed before a good walk.

Powys has definitely been good for our health. We always leave feeling refreshed, and for me – it’s a chance to create better memories of Wales than the ones I have of my childhood in the South. That’s a long story for another time though.

We instructed Dervla to navigate us to the village of Aberedw, and parked up by the riverside picnic benches. We then walked back up the minor road to the centre, before cutting back and following a footpath across the fields on the other side of the river. Big mistake! The walk quickly become a mud and sludge fest, with the sludge at one stage largely made up of cow manure. Much like Sunday’s walk, we were not impressed. I get annoyed when footpaths aren’t maintained, not least because they do bring tourists to an area, and tourists spend money in said area, so the initial investment is worth it. In some cases, landowners seem to go out of their way to make if difficult for walkers however – padlocking rights of way, or covering the path in cow muck. Am not sure why as walkers are not a bad bunch. We don’t want to cause damage or trespass – we just want to walk on by and enjoy the landscape.

Having lost my rag with the walking guide book, we went off piste and climbed up the side of the valley. Staying high, we were able to enjoy the views before descending to the bridge and walking back along the road to the car. Arriving back at the cottage, we were finally greeted with cuddles from the daft cocker spaniel, who then ran back to tell mum that he’d been brave and met the latest guests. I do like daft dogs.

Claerwen

We woke to temperatures of minus 5 degrees. Now this is the sort of Winter weather we love! The air was crisp and clear, and the hills draped in a frosty white overcoat. After defrosting Skyra (our little car), we couldn’t not return to the Elan Valley on a day like today. We took it slowly past Rhyader as the Elan Village road hadn’t been gritted, but this meant that we could admire the stunning scenery all the easier as there was very little traffic. We stopped briefly at the car park opposite Caban Coch Dam to take pics of the steam rising off the water, and the frost covered valley.

Back in the car, we drove over Gareg-Dda’s submerged dam and stopped at Claerwen’s lower car park to use the loos, before parking for a few hours at the top – there’s space for about four cars here. Claerwen Dam is the youngest in the valley, but no less impressive, and in the sunlight, all we could see was miles of blue.

The track is a byway but unlike many others, hasn’t been churned up by over-enthusiastic green laners. Icicles had formed alongside springs the whole way round, and we unanimously decided that this was one of our best walks in Wales yet, and we’ve done a fair few! We stopped for lunch at Cerrig y Gadair, then walked for a few miles to the inlet below Nantybeddau, before retracing our steps. With the sun on our backs, there was no doubt that this was one of those absolutely perfect walking days.

Lazy day in Llandrindod

With Rich’s energy levels flagging (thanks to chemo), and my left leg playing up a bit (thanks to EDS), we made today a rest day. The weather was perfect for a stroll around town – cold but clear and sunny, although I have to admit that we found it hard to tear ourselves away from the cottage’s living room window seat.

After parking near the railway station, we explored the rock park, and took some of the waters from the public spa water fountain – it tasted much more minerally than the so called mineral water you buy in bottles.

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Unfortunately, there aren’t many shops left in Llandrindod. Tourism has declined, and lots of young people up and leave as soon as possible, so it’s not the wealthiest of towns. We found the butchers though, and bought some fantastic lamb chops for tea, and then settled down in a little tea shop with a latte to watch the world go by. Llandrindod is a friendly little place, and whilst there might not be much to offer shoppers, it has a unique history and feel.

The Elan Valley

Today’s walk DEFINITELY made up for yesterday’s mudfest. Ignoring the light rain, we headed over to the the magnificence that is the Elan Valley, to walk around Carreg-ddu reservoir. The area is nothing short of stunning, and the scenery astounds you as soon as you leave the main road. We parked Skyra (our car) below Pen-y-Garreg dam, and followed the footpath south.

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Rich found balancing on the narrow footpath hard work, what with the immediate drop into the water, but past Nant Methan – the former workings of the Elan mine, it becomes a solid farm track. After crossing the bridge between the Carreg-ddu and Caban-coch reservoirs, the path follows the former tramway, built to aid construction of the dam. This means that you avoid walking on the minor road – by no means busy in January, but likely to be more so in the Summer.

All the while we were blessed with views of high hills and still waters. We didn’t see any other walkers, just the odd car pulling up to take pics. It’s no wonder that we love mid-Wales. It tends to get left off the radar as people are focused on visiting either the Brecon Beacons or Snowdonia, which means that we get to enjoy it in peace. Powys absolutely has a place in our hearts, and is an area we’ll return to again and again. There’s weeks of walking to be had in the Elan Valley alone!

Mud fest

I’d bought a couple of walking guide books by a local author, and had very high hopes for all of the routes. Half way round the ‘Woodland Circular’ from Llandrindod though, I’d decided that either the author had made the walks up, or hated walkers. With annoying phrases like ‘turn half right’, and words like ‘dingle’, I ended up questioning what the hell the guide book meant. Although described as a woodland route, we only walked through three short sections of wood. The rest was a mud fest through fields. Towards the end, we just wanted to be done with it. Neither of us particularly enjoy field walking, and whilst we don’t mind mud, when it’s all mud, it gets a tad monotonous. Still, on the bright side, we got good views at least three times, or at least would have if there hadn’t been mist in the way; saw buzzards and kites; and it made good training for the upcoming Iceland trip – all that wading through sludge strengthens the leg and bum muscles.

Back at the car we peeled off our mucky waterproofs, and I ventured in to Aldi, complete with mud all over my inner trousers as well – that stuff gets everywhere. Llandrindod has an Aldi and Tesco as well as a really good independent butcher, and so makes it easy to self cater. Back at the cottage, we decided that we’d remove our trousers outside the door rather than spread the mud inside. Fortunately Margot and Anthony – the cottage owners, didn’t choose that moment to walk out in to the farmyard, as they might have thought us a bit odd standing there in our knickers. After tea, cake and hot showers though, we soon recovered from today’s anoyances,and set about planning tomorrow’s adventure.

Gilwern Hill

After a very refreshing night’s sleep, we decided to make the most of there still being crisp snow on the ground, and follow a circular walk direct from the cottage. Unfortunately, we always forget that in most parts of Wales, unless they’re national trails, footpaths tend to be badly signposted and very overgrown, so it took a few false starts to get on to the byway north east of Tw-Gwyn Farm.

It started snowing again not long after we left, but in our Winter fleeces and with the effort needed to move upwards, we stayed toasty warm. After passing the three ponds near Ffwrd, we turned right on to the footpath over Gilwern Hill, from where we followed the track over the common. We were then very naughty walkers and followed a farm track that isn’t a designated footpath, all because we wanted to avoid traversing lots of fields. As payback, one of the farm dogs set upon me and nipped my heel, but fortunately my walking boots stopped it finding flesh. We then had to wade across a swollen stream and climb over a fence, so perhaps the field walking wouldn’t have been such a bad idea after all.

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