Archive for September 2012

There’s a place in the sun – Villa D’Olive, Montferrer   6 comments

It was time to head to our home for the next two weeks.

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View south towards Spain

Rather than stay near the coast I wanted to be up in the hills. There is a bewildering choice of holiday accommodation in the South of France but the photos on the website of the Villa D’Olive with its views across the green mountains of the Pyrenees Orientale tipped the balance

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Pool and Villa D’Olive

When we arrived on the Saturday evening the weather was looking dark and stormy but what it couldn’t hide was just what an amazing location the villa was in.

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Clear evening

High on hillside at around 800m near the pretty village of Montferrer the views were every bit as stunning as the photos promised – a real “wow “moment as we stepped from the car to the warm greeting from the owners Ian and Linda. They were the perfect hosts, always on hand to help with any questions about the local area but respectful in allowing us to chill and relax

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Sunny morning

The house itself was marvellous, beautifully appointed with loads of space and plenty of homely touches. As to the grounds a profusion of wild flowers surrounded the lawns (with its own table tennis, the kids really liked that) and of course the pool. The kids needless to say were straight in while me and Jane did the unpacking.The true test of any holiday home for me is how quickly you feel at home, in this case about 30 minutes.

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Pool and gardens

Despite my natural instinct to explore, just like our previous visits to Provence I quickly drop into a chill-out regime that scratches my itch to get back in the car (mind you 4 days living out of a suitcase does that pretty well). In the morning either me or TBF would take the 15 minute stroll into the village to collect the fresh bread and croissants for the day. After a leisurely breakfast, a morning of relaxing by the pool, reading and swimming, and a mid morning snack of local fresh fruit. Lunch taken in the conservatory (even at 800m it’s too hot to sit in the sun).

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Lunch in the conservatory

Lots of local wildlife to share the place with

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Don’t make me angry….

More of the same in the afternoon with a game of table tennis thrown in until it was time for the evening meal outside by the pool while the sun went down.

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Evening chill-out

We had a few evening showers with being so hot and in such close proximity to the mountains. We were treated to a double rainbow display on one evening….

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Natures colour palette

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Somewhere over the rainbow

And some blazing sunsets as well.

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The sun sets on another lazy day

There are actually two properties on the estate with a Mas lower down the slopes with its own much larger pool.

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The Mas, Villa D’Olive behind

Linda kindly let us spend a day by the pool at the Mas during the changeover day so we could compare and contrast.

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The Mas Pool

The kids loved the bigger pool and the fact they could jump in as there was a deep end.

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Mas pool from the lazy comfort of the hammock

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Mas Pool

I loved the large hammock and could have spent the whole 2 weeks lying it.

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This is the life

I’d obviously love to go back and it would be a hard choice between the properties as they are both superb

We spent at least half of the two weeks just chilling by the house with some local walks thrown in (more posts to follow). Whilst my natural instinct is to explore the local towns and villages and especially in this mountainous region, climb the hills, I love these relaxing days and despite all the great things we did, it’s the days spent at the villa that are my own abiding memory.

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Pool and Villa D’Olive

As I have to work full-time I don’t get as much time as I’d like with the family but these days are real quality time to spend together and I treasure them.

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Evening clarity

These are the simple pleasures of life. Good food (and yes a few beers too, including the local cherry beer), warm sunshine, play and relaxation, all in a mountain setting to die for. A real detox from modern life.

I’ll follow-up with a few posts about pool antics, a couple of local walks (including a walk from the villa) and some nearby excursions to gorges and fortified towns but for now a few pictures of the villa and it’s surroundings and a little slide show to feel the sun as winter approaches back in the UK. A big thanks again to Linda and Ian for their hospitality and sharing their small slice of heaven

Posted September 27, 2012 by surfnslide in Family Trips, France, Rousillon

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Cool Clear Water – The Verdouble River   9 comments

After our ramble around the Chateau de Peyrepertuse in the blistering sun we needed to cool off before completing our journey to our villa.

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The upper gorge from the lower pools

A couple of miles down the road my Sunflower walking guide to the area highlighted a pleasant looking spot where the Verdouble river flows down a number of cascades and through a series of marbled rock-pools that looked ideal.

With hindsight we should have spent the whole day there in such high temperatures but then it would have been a shame not to have seen the castle. I had it in my head that the place would be hard to find, with no parking or worse, the water wouldn’t be flowing in the height of summer. I was wrong. The road was well used and signed, there was a huge car-park (with a steep parking charge) and a healthy flow of water. In short a well-known spot

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The lower pools

Added together you can imagine that on a summer Saturday afternoon it was very busy with scores of people, mainly families enjoying the cool water. It’s a stunning spot with the clear turquoise water, the golden rocks and the green of the trees making an idyllic if somewhat brash and noisy setting. It was all good-humoured though with lots of families and kids jumping in the pools and scrambling up the rocks and waterfalls.

We found a shady spot and immediately dived in for a cooling dip – man it felt good after the hot and sultry conditions at the castle. The water flows across the rocks like a water slide so you can just lie back in the water and chill out literally.

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Nature’s water park

We had our lunch on the rocks and while TBF relaxed me and the kids scrambled about in the pools and under the waterfalls.

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Cool clear water

If you read my blog regularly you know how much I enjoy the water and rivers so messing about here I was in my element. The kids had a ball as well with the excitement of the deep water and the rocky surroundings and in particular swimming behind the waterfalls, a novel experience.

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Behind the falls

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“D Jones and the waterfall of fear”

TBF and L spent a happy half an hour swimming in the larger pools at the bottom, sliding and slipping across the rocks between them

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TBF and L enjoy a swim

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L goes solo

There are numerous pools heading up the valley and with a little more time I could have scrambled up and jumped down the falls. I imagine it would be a little less crowded during the week and absolutely perfect out of the high season

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The upper gorge

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The upper gorge

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Looking down the gorge to the lower pools

Unfortunately we still had a couple of hours drive to the villa and we had a major shop to do so we had to pack up and head off.

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The lake at the end of the gorge

There are several of these mountain rivers and gorges in this area so it would be a great place to spend a holiday. I’d certainly love to go back, a true fan of wild swimming.

Between a rock and a hard place – Chateau de Peyrepertuse   8 comments

It was our last day of wandering before we reached our holiday home in the South of France. We had the whole day to kill and being the castle fan that I am, I suggested we visit one of the famous castles of the Pays de Cathars.

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St Jordi

The site has been occupied since roman times but the first mention of a castle was in 1070. Interesting bunch the Cathars described in my guide-book as the “Fundamentalists of their day”. An extreme lot they believed that Gods kingdom was locked in a battle with Satan’s evil world and that humans were base at heart. A life of purity and reincarnation was the way the true salvation (Cathar comes from the Greek Katharos meaning “pure”). They gained a strong following in this region of Languedoc and they built many fortresses in the region in the 12th Century, most sited on dramatic rock perches like Peyrepertuse and Queribus nearby. They were wiped out by the Albigensian crusades in the 13th and 14th centuries, by all accounts a merciless and brutal period that saw most believers burnt at the stake or in mass funeral pyres. The last of the Cathar prefects was burned alive in 1321 and that was the end of them. It was as much a political crusade as a spiritual one with many northern rulers, barons and knights using it as an excuse to expand their lands. It was also the first crusade on christian soil.

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Lower enceinte and buttress from the approach path

Still, their castles remain and mightily impressive they are too. After a pleasant drive through the countryside we drove up the steep mountain road above Duilhac to the car park at the foot of the cliffs. The first thing that strikes you is how hard it is to tell the castle from the rock edge that it’s built upon.

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Castle from the car park below

It’s quite a feat of 12th century construction to have used the natural rock as a base for the castle and the man-made and the natural blend together seamlessly. As the paths wends it way upwards towards the walls the second and most obvious thing strikes you. How on earth did they manage to build such a mighty fortress on such a remote and inaccessible limestone outcrop without recourse to modern building techniques. It’s a massive and intricate castle on a grand scale with towering walls and complex layout of rooms tumbling along the narrow rock ridge.

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St Marys Church

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Lower enceinte from above

Both me and D were in our element exploring every nook and cranny and scrambling about on the walls. The drops over the edge were giddying and the views from this massive stone eyrie were magnificent. The whole place needs some care as the French don’t have quite the same attachment to health and safety as in the UK and you could easily come a cropper. In my view that’s how it should be, free to explore everywhere and make your own safety decisions.

The equally impressive Chateau de Queribus was visible across the valley.

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Chateau de Queribus (left of centre)

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St Mary’s Church from the middle enceinte

Alas TBF and in particular L were not quite as enthralled as they are not quite the castle addicts but more so because the temperature was well over 30 degrees C, much too hot to be scrambling around a castle in the full sun. My enthusiasm had got the better of me as I really wanted to see one of these and didn’t think I’d get another chance this holiday. TBF and L decided to wait in a shady spot while me and D scrambled up the steep stone steps to the upper castle of St Jordi.

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St Jordi from below

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The steps to St Jordi

The views up here across the mountains and down over the rest of the castle were simply stunning. You could really appreciate the scale and the sheer amazement of its cliiftop location and audacity of its construction.

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The lower castle from St Jordi

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View west to Pic de Bugarach

It was a shame that the heat made a longer exploration a non-starter so we had to bail out and head down before we all got sunstroke. One of the wonders of the region and a visit here in Spring or Autumn or in the evening to watch the sun set would be breathtaking.

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St Jordi from the approach path

For now we needed somewhere to sit in the shade with a picnic and cool off. Some river swimming was in order…

Somewhere down the crazy river – Tarn Gorge Kayaking   10 comments

Onwards and southwards.

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Tarn Gorge beach

After our day in the Monts Dome scrambling and slipping around on volcanos we took an overnight stop in the pretty French town of La Canourgue in one of our favourite hotels La Portalou with its creaking wooden floors and character. (photos from last years wander through the village here). It’s been our base for the last couple of trips, for a kayak down the Tarn Gorge. No sense in changing a good plan so the following morning we headed down to Les Vignes at the southern end of the gorge.

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D & L, Les Vignes

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Bridge at Les Vignes

In both the last 2 years it was hot and sunny in La Canourgue but we woke to cloudy skies and cool weather before a steady improvement through the day. This year it was a glorious clear cloudless morning and stayed that way for the rest of the day.

We’re almost regulars at the hire place of Aqua Loisirs and the friendly owner Karine remembered us, gave us the usual warm welcome and discount as regulars! My post from last year contains all the details of the trip down the gorge so flip back there if you want to check it out. There are also more photos and videos on that post courtesy thios year, of me forgetting to take a spare battery for my camera like the senile old git I’m turning into. We had to wait an hour for the minibus to take us to the start and I really wanted to take a dip in the waters in Les Vignes but I had to drive the car to the rendezvous point and didn’t fancy a wet seat. Les Vignes is a lovely place with a beach by the river and would a nice place to spend the afternoon and watch the kayaks go by and especially descend the weir just above the car park down a water chute – I so wanted to give that a go

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Weir at Les Vignes with the water chute in the centre

Safe to say it’s a truly superb day out and one of the days I really look forward to. A mixture of gentle kayaking along a crystal clear river, stopping to swim in the silky cool waters, watching the dragonflies buzz past, the fish in the water and the eagles and vultures soaring high above.

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River swimming

We even have our own favourite picnic spot just at the end of the narrow section of Les Detroits where we can sunbathe swim and pig out. Both kids now like to find the faster flowing bits for a swim so they can float down the rapids. We found several of these to enjoy this year.

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Messing about on the river

Just like in the Monts Dome it’s the vivid colours that really make the spirit soar. The river moving from dark blue to pale green but always clear, the bright yellows, browns and whites of the cliffs interspersed with luxuriant multitudes of greens from the trees. The height of the cliffs is awesome and the carved shapes are different and amazing at every turn and bend. One of my favourite places.

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Les Detroits

The trip always seems to end too soon and you just want to carry on and on. Before we headed off on the next part of the journey we stopped at the end point and had a snack and cuppa on an island in the middle of the river. We swam some more and watched the kayaks trying to negotiate a rather tricky fast flowing section. At least half ended up going backwards or crashing into the rocks and a handful capsized to keep us all entertained.

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Tea by the river

Time to continue the journey, heading down to our hotel in Narbonne. An unsurprising need for a pee stop for TBF gave me and D the chance for a close up look at the Millau viaduct from the Service Area built at one end. It’s a breathtaking structure, and impressively designed with slender pylons and graceful curves. I think it’s beautiful.

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Millau viaduct

For the technical among you here are some facts:

Designed by Sir Norman Foster in conjunction with Michel Virlogeux

Cost to build was 394 million euros

Time to build 2 million working hours

2.5km long

Total height 343m (higher than the Eiffel Tower)

Expected to last 120 years

See, you’ve learned something about the worlds highest bridge!

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Millau viaduct

We moved on across the viaduct (always a little disappointing as you don’t get any sense of the height) and headed across the high Causse de Larzac and down towards the Med. Most noticeable was the temperature which increased steadily from the high 20’s to a sizzling 38 degrees by the time we reached Narbonne. Luckily our hotel room had air conditioning, unluckily it was crap, blowing out a dribble of cool air into the oven that passed for the room. An uncomfortable night but after a fine day like that who cares 🙂

Dance on a volcano – The Auvergne Monts Domes   13 comments

And so it begins…..

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Puy de Lassolas

Once again we were off on what has become our annual summer holiday trip to France. It was a similar trip to last year so if you want to get a feel for why we choose these long road trips then check out some of the posts from last year which will give you the flavour and how I plan and organise things. Also saves me having to write it out again! All the reports from last year are listed on my Family Trips page and I’ll cross link the relevant pages as I post this years

We’ve got the whole planning and journey thing down to a fine art now (checkout the Outward Journey post from last year) so after a long couple of days driving from Hereford via the Eurotunnel, a night in Boulogne and a day spent on the Motorway we found ourselves once again in Clermont Ferrand in the Auverge. The French leg of the drive started off wet with heavy rain in Boulogne but it had stopped within 30 minutes and by the time we reached Clermont the temperature was 30 degrees C.

As always after 2 days cocooned in the car we were ready for some proper holiday stuff so like the last 2 years we headed for the volcanos and cinder cones of the Monts Dome. Previously we’ve taken a walk up the stunning Puy de Pariou with its own crater. Whilst it’s a stunning walk we fancied a change and having checked the map out I found what looked like a nice half a day walk over a couple of mountains a bit further south. We parked up in the woods, packed the picnic and headed off under a cloudless blue sky and hot sun.

The first cinder cone is the Puy de la Vache and rather than a perfect cone the sides have collapsed to reveal what the inside looks like. After 10 minutes we came out into the open amidst a collection ragged volcanic rocks and red scree/soil.

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Volcano rock garden, Puy de la Vache

I informed the kids that we were in effect inside a volcano. Taking a slight liberty but near enough the truth for me.

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Layers of volcanic rock and soil

From there it was a very steep, stepped climb all the way to the top. As we climbed the expansive view opened out with distant views of the Monts du Cantal and Masif du Sancy and nearby the famous sentinel of the Puy de Dome.

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Monts du Cantal

All around are numerous small cinder cones all with their distinctive shape. Almost every one is swathed in trees so I was surprised to read that not all the trees are natural. The Count of Montlosier started planting trees in the early 19th century to show that trees could be grown on land thought of as useless (apparently he was thought a bit of an idiot for this but as you can see he was right).

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Surrounding tree-covered Puys

At the summit you can then walk around what remains of the rim of the crater and take in the views.

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Puy de Lassolas from Puy de la Vache

As we descended we discovered why everyone thought trees couldn’t grow here – the ground is astonishingly steep, loose and slippery, like walking on a pile of ball-bearings. We managed to get down to the col before the next climb without incident and worked our way up the equally steep and loose Puy de Lassolas. L was struggling in the hot sun so I introduced her to the art of steep climbs, just keep a slow methodical pace and keep going to the top, and it worked!

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Crater rim of Puy de Lassolas

The summit was superb with a well-formed crater rim perched over the steep slopes with stupendous views. It was just great to be out in the sun after such a long drive and after such dismal summer in the UK. It was the first day we’d spent in the hot sunshine since May. I’m not exactly a sun worshipper but there is nothing like feeling the warm sun on your back especially after 2 months of cloiud and rain. It was hot but with enough breeze to keep things pleasant and we engaged in our favourite pastime of an extensive fresh picnic lunch in the sun. Nothing beats a some fresh crusty french bread with cheese/ham and a collection of local fresh fruit. Heaven in a stripy coolbag/rucksack 🙂

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Puy de la Vache from Puy de Lassolas

The end of the crater rim was a perfect lunch stop and TBF in particular was happy to lay back and soak up the warm rays of the sun.

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TBF takes a nap

While we were there, a helicopter buzzed around us and appeared to be some form of civil rescue chopper. It hovered over the col we walked over for several minutes so it was possible that someone had slipped on the treacherous slopes and done themselves a nasty. We never did find out

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Civil Security chopper

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Adds to the view don’t you think?

Unfortunately we still had a few miles to drive later that day so we reluctantly headed down an even steeper and looser slope than the previous one after an engaging stroll around the rim, delaying as long as possible the inevitable climb back into the car

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Walking the rim

Every step was precarious and I was amazed we all got down without incident. Well nearly, I’d held L’s hand all the way down to make sure she stayed on her feet. As we approached the very last shallow downhill section to the grassy path at the bottom I let go and she slipped over almost instantly getting a nasty elbow graze for her trouble. Typical. As we approached the car park there were several more vehicles with the same markings as the helicopter but no sign of any casualties or activity, perhaps an exercise.

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Puy de Lassolas

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Meadows at the base

Time to move on. We headed further south to our hotel in La Canourgue ready for our next adventure with another kayak trip to the Tarn gorges

A fine walk that again tells me I should explore this area in greater depth but as with many of these places it’s uncertain if I ever will. Its a truly stunning area and relatively quiet and unspoilt. The clours are just breathtaking with the dark reds and browns of the rocks, the deep greens of the forests and the clear blue skies we’ve been lucky to see on all 3 days out here. There always seems to be an exceptional clarity to the air here. Like a wine glass you can ping and get a note. Check it out if you are down this way, you won’t be disappointed.

New Treasures – Lleyn Peninsula Coastal Walks   4 comments

Whilst on our regular summer trips to the Lleyn Peninsula and North Wales, we’ve played on the beach, walked the hills and visited the local sites. One thing we haven’t done is walk the coast. With the Welsh coast path now official we’ve corrected that and while on this years trip between the family we explored a good part of the local coastline near Towyn. It doesn’t possess the drama of the SW tip of the peninsula or of the Pembrokeshire or Cornish/Devon coast but it does have its own charming spots and views to the isolated hills that dominate the centre and Northern reaches.

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Porth Dinllaen

While I was back at work BF and D took a walk along the coast from Nefyn back to the campsite while everyone else went to the circus for one of the kid’s birthday treats. It’s one of those to file under “doesn’t look all that far on the map” but as they inevitably found out with coastal walking it’s always further than you think. With its constant ups and downs, ins and outs, bays and peninsulas, it took them hours to complete the walk and D in particular was on his last legs by the time he got back. Their reward was some stunning views of the coast and surrounding hills on this little walked section of coast on a lovely warm summer evening.

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D walks the coast above Porth Dinllaen

As always Carn Fadryn caught the eye.

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Morfa Nefyn and Carn Fadryn

I was a more than a little jealous when I saw the photos, much better than the circus (I hate clowns, something spooky about them and they aren’t even remotely funny)

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Along the coast to The Rivals

As the week progresses our friends start to head back home and on the second Saturday afternoon, ED and his brood bid us a fond farewell and we were left on our own. Whenever we have one of our get togethers it’s always leaves me feeling a little down and flat once everyone else has gone home. It’s particularly so at Towyn as having everyone there is what the holiday is about and when it’s just us left it simply doesn’t feel right. Even though it was a pleasant afternoon part of me just wanted to go home. The kids felt the same way too. When we asked them if they wanted to go to the beach they declined. From their perspective being on the beach at Towyn was something they did with their friends. Even though they will normally play quite happily on their own on any beach it’s just not something they do at Towyn.

So we decided to take a little evening stroll on the coast.

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The Rivals from Porth Dinllaen

There is a small headland at Porth Dinllaen near Morfa Nefyn that has always looked intriguing so we parked up at the golf course and wandered across the fairways to the small collection of houses on the beach.

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Porth Dinllaen and the Ty Coch Inn

There is in fact a pub there and what a splendid little spot it was. There was a blues band warming up for gig and a happy atmosphere of people sitting on the beach having a drink.  The band was pretty good to and I cursed the fact I hadn’t bothered to bring any money with me otherwise I’d have settled down for a couple of pints (I’d have probably still been there now!).

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Boats and Pubs

The setting here is perfect. A calm bay with boats bobbing about and the Rivals where we’d walked earlier in the week as a dramatic backdrop. I can’t belive I’ve been visiting this area for 7 years and never having been down here, I’ll be correcting that error in the coming years.

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Across the bay

Despite the temptation to linger on the beach and try to beg, steal or borrow money for pint we decided to walk around the headland. There is an enchanting path that meanders along the waterline around to the lifeboat station and coastguard lookout point on the tip of the headland. With intermittent sunshine and dark brooding clouds the views were just magnificent looking back to the houses at Porth Dinllaen and across the Rivals.

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The Rivals from the headland

On the return section we were even treated to rainbow to really set the seal on the views. The band was in full flow as we went past with a real low key party atmosphere and I cursed again at my lack forethought. It was warm and sheltered enough to have sat on the beach until dark but we had to return. I’ll be hoping the band returns next year so I can enjoy the place to the full.

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Somewhere over the rainbow

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The sun sets on a fine holiday

It turned out to be our last action of the holiday save a short visit to my parents at their caravan on the way home. Another memorable week in this most under-valued part of our coastline. I hope it stays that way. It’s a gem that doesn’t need the trappings of tourism and I hope to be coming here for many summers to come.

Walking the Rivals   14 comments

On our trip to Towyn last year I fashioned an escape plan for ED, EWO and myself to take on a walk in Snowdonia. We had a superb day on the Nantlle Ridge and so on this years Towyn trip we hatched plans to do the same again. We were up early at 7am but the weather was dank, grey and dreary, ED and me discussed the possibility of it clearing and whether we should go for it anyway but seeing as the normally mad keen EWO was nowhere to be seen (he later “claimed” he was awake and just waiting for us to knock on the door of his van – yeah right!) we bailed out and went back to bed. The day wasn’t a total loss as we went to Beaumaris castle later in the day which turned into a mighty fine day.

With our walking itch remaining unscratched we needed another plan. On my last day before I went home we decided to take the keen kids out for a walk. In previous years we’ve always been up Carn Fadryn, a storming little hill that the whole posse including the little ones have climbed. This year we decided it was time to try The Rivals as they dominate the view to the east and by all accounts are fabulous hills.

Leaving some of the kids to play on the beach and some to visit Portmerion with one of the Beach Funsters a small select band set off for the hills.

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Yr Eifl from the car park

We parked up at the large parking area just beyond Mount Pleasant on the road to the Welsh National Language Centre. It’s pretty much 1000 feet up so less than 1000 feet to the top, ideal for a gentle stroll with the kids (and more importantly to allow lots of time for stops and lazing about which is my want these days). Rather than head straight to the main summit of Yr Eifl we thought we’d take in the smaller summit of Tre’r Ceiri first. We (well me and EWO) headed off up the slopes and made a line for this lower summit.

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On the right path

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Going wrong…

Well that’s what we told ourselves. Neglecting to bring a map we soon discovered we were in fact on a path to the main summit and what we originally thought was Tre’r Ceiri turned out to be the somewhat insignificant pimple of Caergribin. An easy mistake to make of course even if doesn’t posess a contour to call its own. ED was marshalling the kids at the back and as is his way took the pish mercilessly and grumbled bitterly at the 1/4 mile of deep heather and bog we had to traverse to get to the path we should have been on in the first place.

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Off piste

All part of life’s learning curve is my excuse and I’m sticking to it along with blaming EWO as he never reads my blog so he can’t argue 🙂

Once we were back on track we could see that Tre’r Ceiri is a significant presence with around 400 feet of ascent to the top and it looked mighty interesting.

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Tre’r Ceiri

There was a good albeit steep path through the broken rocks and scree that smother these hills. I’d read it had and iron age hill fort on the top but what I hadn’t read was how magnificent it was. There is similar settlement on Carn Fadryn but all that remains are a few low remnants of walls. Here the walls were, in a word, massive, at least in girth being  a good couple of metres thick and nearly the same in height in places. The whole summit area is covered in numerous lines of old buildings and enclosures with the whole summit enclosed by the massive outer wall. The information boards said the wall was up to 4 metres high originally, although how they know that is a mystery. Whatever, this is a truly breathtaking site and yet it seems pretty much obscure. I’ve paid hard cash to visit iron-age monuments a whole lot less impressive. Echoing the comments in EDs report of the day you really need to see this place so make sure you take it in on any walk in these hills and take time to explore, its awesome.

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ED and A scrambling on the ramparts

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Gyrn Ddu, Gryn Goch and Bwlch Mawr

We had an early lunch amongst the summit rocks before pressing on to the main summit. After exiting the walls through a hole which may or may not have been an original entry/exit way, we found a very thin path through the rocks.

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Yr Eifl main summit

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The main outer wall

It turned out to be an excellent path all the way to the summit of Yr Eifl threading its way through the rocks and boulders.

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Looking back to Tre’r Ceiri

The weather had promised good things but it had been intermittently grey all morning with even a few spots of rain but at the summit some hazy sunshine appeared and the views were just magnificent.

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Approaching the summit, Lleyn Peninsula behind

There is nothing to beat coastal mountains and Yr Eifl is spectacular in this regard. Perched immediately above the sea the views straight down to Trefor are magnificent and those out along the Lleyn Peninsula with both coasts and of course Carn Fadryn even better. The views extended across the whole of Snowdonia so we could play the timeless game of peak spotting/naming and across Cardigan Bay to the Pembrokeshire coast.

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Across Cardigan Bay to the Rhinogs

The nearby hills of Gyrn Ddu, Gryn Goch and Bwlch Mawr looked intriguing for another walk in this neglected area. The small un-named peak next to Yr Eifl promises an even better coastal viewpoint but we decided to save that for another day (there is an excellent video on youtube here of a stroll over that one if you’re interested)

We had an extended lunch just down from the summit trig pillar intriguingly topped with a “4” not unlike those Channel 4 graphics, no idea what it was for.

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The Trig Pillar “4”

ED enlivened and amused the event by sitting on an ant’s nest and getting several formic nips in his unmentionable regions for his trouble. I can sit on summits for hours with food and good company. Alas the kids get restless pretty quickly and wanted to be off down and back to the beach for more play.

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The summit party

We strode back down to the car the walking itch scratched, even if EDs ant bites needed more. A super outing and one enjoyed by all the kids as well as the adults. Thank you for the days……

The ruins visit the ruins – Beaumaris Castle   8 comments

North Wales has, in my humble opinion, the best collection of castles in the UK. It has the “big 4” of Harlech, Caernarfon, Beaumaris and Conwy as well as numerous other smaller but no less beautiful and evocative ruins across the region.

As you can tell from some of my previous posts (and in due course from my recent trip to France), I love castles. From an early age as a kid, my parents took me to all the major ones in Wales, the borders and across the UK. I have some very fond memories of sunny days spent exploring them, having a picnic in the gardens and pretending to be a medieval knight. They are some of the best days out I can remember as a kid. My grandparents had a caravan in mid-Wales so we often took a day out to the castles in North Wales. As we had to drive through Snowdonia to reach them it also sparked my very first yearning to climb mountains.

I’m pleased to say that my kids and those of my friends share my passion for exploring these old ruins so it’s a pretty sure fire winner for a day out. One of the days on our recent North Wales trip to Towyn was looking gloomy so we decided a castle day out was in order. Caernarfon is the closest and it’s a magnificent building. However we’ve been a couple of times before and fancied a change. Beaumaris is a little further but it’s a nice seaside town to spend the day and of course it has a castle.

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The Inner Ward

After a splendid and whopping fish and chip lunch we set off to explore the castle (minus my beach funster and TYG who wanted to look in the charity shops)

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The zoo

It’s a cracking castle and has what all castles should have in my opinion, a moat, a remnant of the days when you could access the castle direct from the sea.

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The moat and entrance

As you walk in you realise that it’s a concentric castle with both an inner motte and an outer protective wall. When I was a kid you could walk the entire circuit of the outer wall but when I revisited a few years ago some cheerless soul had decided it was far too risky to walk on (the walls are completely intact and perfectly safe) so they were closed (I’ll leave you to insert your own Health and Safety, Nanny State, we don’t to be sued by people too stupid to look after themselves and preyed upon by legal leeches rant so I don’t have to bother). Anyway I was delighted to see they have re-opened the outer wall again (or at least half of it). A walk around the outer wall and then back in around the grassy swathe between the two walls is one of the delights of Beaumaris.

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The outer walls

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The outer court walk

Inside you really get the sense of the scale of the place. It truly is a big castle in area. It doesn’t have the dramatic position of Harlech or the grandeur of Caernarfon but it’s a castle that you can really get a sense of what it must have been like to live in. The inner ward is huge by comparison to other castles as you can see from the photos. The walls are immense with numerous passages and rooms and small chapels contained within. You can also climb a couple of spiral staircases (my favourites, I don’t know why) to access some sections of the wall. From up there the views down into and across the castle are excellent and again really gives you a sense of the scale and with a much greater sense of the height than you do from below or outside.

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Atop the inner walls

Whenever I visit a castle like this I’m always amazed at how they ever got built in age without mechanical assistance. Just assembling the materials must have been difficult especially when consider the volume required when you see how thick the walls are. These places really are historical treasures.

It had been a cold day up until now but the sky had been slowly clearing and the views from the top of the walls along the coast of Anglesey and across to the Carneddau and Great Orme were spectacular with clouds rolling along the tops of the mountains. From a dull start it was turning into a fine day.

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Across the inner ward to the North Wales coast

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Above the gatehouse

The kids are at that age when we can now just let them loose in a castle and let them explore at their leisure. B & S being typical small boys took to trying to kill all of us with plastic swords, a timeless pleasure that every small boy should do at least once. We caught glimpses of them from the tops of walls or waving from windows or bumped into them in the long passages within the walls that the kids really like.

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Damsels in Distress

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A fleeting glimpse of the girls

We spent a really pleasurable couple of hours exploring every nook and cranny, the adults enjoying this just as much as the kids.

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View to the inner ward from the gatehouse

To finish off the day the kids (and some the adults) had a little play on the pleasant park in the grounds and we then took a short stroll to top of the low cliffs just outside the town.

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Adults (with a token kid) at play

The views from here as the sun really came out were just superb, a fine finish to the day.

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Across towards the Carneddau

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Along the coast towards Puffin Island

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Looking back towards Beaumaris and the castle

I was a little disappointed we hadn’t had chance to catch crabs from the pier as it’s a great place for it but there is only so much fun you can have in one day. You can read ED’s account of the day here

A slap up fish and chip lunch, a play in one of Britain’s finest historical monuments and coastal stroll with views across to the mountains. Now that’s a good day.

Down by the Sea – the North Wales Pilgrimage (7th year)   12 comments

So I’m back from Summer Holidays and just like last year facing a backlog of reports to catch up before I even start telling you about all the great stuff we got up to while in France. So better get cracking…

As you may know a group of us from university days in the 80’s, having never managed to find any better friends since then, regularly get together several times of year. Our numbers have swelled in the last 12 or so years as families have blossomed and there is regular hardcore of over 20 of us adults and kids. Of these gatherings the real highlight is the annual pilgrimage to Towyn Farm campsite on the north coast of the Lleyn Peninsula on the first weekend of the summer school holidays. Last years trip is here if you’re interested

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Setting up camp

Back in 2005 our own little brood were holidaying near Criccieth (itself a rather splendid spot) and I was idly scanning the map for a new beach to visit. I spied a small patch of sand marked at Towyn that was clearly worth a trip and so it proved. A perfect little sandy cove and we spent a happy couple of days there including my first try at body-boarding. I’d noticed a small campsite at the back of the beach and after checking it out decided it would be a great spot for a meet up. The idea was born and the following year we all headed down in a rare heatwave and had a fantastic week. We’ve been going ever since.

We are pretty lucky in being able to holiday in some great places abroad but this place and this weekend always has a special place in my heart and particularly in the kids hearts. For me it’s the whole laid back pace and easy life we quickly slide into. We holiday in Cornwall quite a lot where a day at the beach is an operation of military precision. Get up. Have breakfast. Make packed lunches. Pack Car. Get to beach before car park fills up. Spend all day on beach to maximise investment in extortionate car parking fee. Get back. Have tea. Go to bed. Repeat.

At Towyn, with the beach a 5 minute stroll away the whole pace changes. We can come and go as we please and the beach is always relatively quiet. The campsite is basic with just a simple loo block and a couple of showers but the owners are extremely friendly and welcoming and it’s all very informal, a proper family campsite with huge fields for ball games and the like.

We spend almost the whole time on the beach. All the kids play happily together and the adults either join in the games or just chill out with a book as it suits. It’s how beach holidays ought to be. I just can’t imagine the school holidays starting any other way and we always plan the rest of our summer around this trip. I’m sure the rest of the gang all feel the same and the kids most certainly do.

Apart from the occasional day out to a local castle or a walk in the hills the days are spent in the timeless beach fun that typifies a British summer. Sandcastles, beach games, cricket, tennis, football, Frisbee, tidepooling, swimming.  I imagine we make a fine sight with most of the adults enjoying the activities as much as if not more than the kids. If you read my blog you’ll probably have guessed I’m just a big kid at heart anyway so I’m in hogs heaven on a beach.

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The girls create a play house

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Flying disc alert

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“The Beach Ashes”

This year I wasn’t looking forward to the trip with quite the same enthusiasm. The weather in the previous few weeks had been appalling so a week spent in a tent in the rain wasn’t appealing. We were lucky. The weather changed for the better and whilst we had some overcast weather and it was a little cool, it stayed dry with plenty of sunshine.

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Across Towyn Beach to the West

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Across Towyn Beach to the East

Now, you heard me mention above that MOST of the adults join in the fun. It’s hear that I need to point out the exceptions. ED’s other half and my own dear partner steadfastly refuse to partake, preferring to look permanently cold behind a wind break buried under a fleece with a book while everyone else romps on the sand in shorts or bounces in the waves.

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My own personal Beach Funster

ED has christened these two “The Beach Funsters” and I think it’s time this little name was formally recognised. I’ve rarely seen two people look more out-of-place on a beach although I would stress they never actually look unhappy, just happier if they were somewhere else. Beach Funsters, we salute you.

One of the other abiding pleasures is of making major constructions and waiting for the tide the obliterate it. These photos show quite a monumental project overseen by the big kid that is ED. I was back at work by this time or I would have been a major contributor taking it alll far too seriously 🙂

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The Foreman and his workers

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Will it work?

Never ceases to amaze me how a beach fires a kids imagination like nothing else. All of them will often play for hours without recourse to adults (unless hungry of course)

The main beach is pretty good but just to the east are a couple of smaller pretty much deserted coves and we’ve all taken to these as our favourites. The kids like to call them the secret beaches and if there are any better small coves around within a 5 minute walk of a quiet campsite I’d like to know 🙂

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One of the 3 “secret beaches”

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ED paddles at the “secret beach”

We all have our little specialities. ED is the man for swimming and beach cricket, EWO is your coach for beach tennis. Me, I’m the king of tide-pooling and can usually be found crawling around on the rocks digging out crabs, shrimps and fish for the kids to admire. Normally I end up with badly scratched hands after a week here from digging around in small sharply protected crevices. This year we turned up this rather bizarre looking specimen. No idea what it is so if anyone has an idea I’d like to know.  The tentacle-like things were definitely moving so I guess it was the young of something but it was decidedly odd whatever it was.

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Answers on a postcard

I’ve taught the kids well and they are now starting to overtake me in terms of digging out interesting stuff. The pupils become the masters. Mind you a couple of the pupils always have my heart racing. ED’s two boys are kids without fear and are often to be found scrambling above the sharpest rocks and dizzying precipices causing me much consternation. ED is used to it I guess. Here’s a picture of S in action

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S, Rock Athlete

So we spent a another wonderfully happy week here (well, a long weekend in my case) to add to the collection.

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A, L and S above the “secret beach”

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Sunset over the VW

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A beach car I believe

We also took some time about to visit Beaumaris Castle, a walk on the Rivals and a couple of coastal walks but more posts to follow for those.

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Final sunset

For now enjoy the happy scenes of children and middle-aged adults not acting their age.For alternative view of the week check out ED’s version of events on his own blog here

Not sure how many childhoods I’ve gone through now, possible I never left the first one

Posted September 2, 2012 by surfnslide in Family Trips, Llyn Peninsula, Wales

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