So going away is a kindof imperative. Ya need to, ya have to, it makes spiritual sense. Maybe the crushingly banal “change is as good as a rest” motif tessellated somewhere in the shadowy but soft-focussed depths of your mind has something, enough truth to make it worth the effort of packing all that stuff? A picnic. Water. Information; mobile phone stuff, dog stuff. And that’s just for the journey. In our case this was up to the Llyn.
So we’re in Pembrokeshire, meaning we scoot – or creep and boot! – straight up the coast, pretty much. Over the glorious pimples – the Preseli’s – ‘cross the often really rather majestic Teifi and then up through the Mid-Wales coastline, where you can’t overtake for 60 miles, unless you get your Lewis Hamilton head on, which I do, when it’s safe, at about ten minute intervals. (Make that twenty minutes). Think about stopping at Aberaeron, which should you be slowish, educated, maybe foodie people might entrap you – so far we’re proving too young, too wild, too… on a journey. But I don’t rule it out, for the wide-street regency(?)-battenburg thing that’s going on is certainly appealing; and maybe too the marina I mean harbour. But by one principal car park the sea-wall and indeed the seaside is more concrete than abstract in its er… appeal.
But I’m being snobbish. It’s almost certainly a lovely town, Aberaeron – certainly parts of it are – but like much of the alternately low-slung/darkly brooding townie developed coast from here to Aberystwyth and beyond, compared to Pembs, it’s crap alternating with high pastures. The coast, that is. Something to do with the non-sand; and caravans; and fields. So we tend to look for kites.
I have, in this context to relate a minor but possibly horrifying tale for soulful or, perchance, twitchy members of my readership. On a recent jaunt up here in my capacity as coach to a junior regional cricket side, (I thank yo’), during a moment of coach-like joviality I bet the assembled players (12, aged 9 or 10, on a minibus) 50p I would see the first red kite. And I did. However it failed to dawn on me until the return journey that I think none of the boys had understood the red kite in question to be a bird of prey. They had (presumably) assumed I’d asked them a surreal question about… red kites. What this says about their family lives in rural South West Wales I try hard – very hard – not to be too judgemental upon. But I don’t care in the slightest if I sound pretentious in the following revelation; that my son and daughter both knew what a red kite was when they were 4. Maybe earlier.
In case you are interested, there are loads of Kites in this part of Ceredigion and beyond because a) the world is getting more wonderful and b) there’s a feeding station just up the road.
You skirt Aber ‘proper’ as you go North, into richer territory. Views of more authentic mountains and authentically twisted, bat-friendly trees. A flash of Aberdovey, of a river, of a railway. Less kites but maybe an osprey as Machynlleth approaches. Detour to Ynys Hir, the wetland/estuary wildlife reserve south of Mac, for a walk, a picnic, a squirrel-fest. Wonder what the posh hotel that apparently doesn’t take kids is like. Fusty and pompous? Or a relief? Imagine staying there when we’re older and foodier and all that. Wild sex and willow warblers. Maybe.
On through absurdly walled mountain flanks – Cadair Idris – passing glassy glacial lakes and pubs fit for proper trekkers with filthy boots and good taste in bitter. Down the ensuing bullet-road, who’s shamelessly exposed invitation to speed I fully intent to accept, in an Aston Martin, one day, pausing for a celebratory pint – or overnight stop! – at the Three Foxes. Then on, past stony Dolgellau.
Having stopped for healthy nosebaggings at The Quarry Cafe, Machynlleth, we were keen to (I was keen) to press on, but the Mawddach estuary is always a treasure and in the sunshine, the extraordinary railway bridge framing the view, I almost stopped. These few miles just south of and leading into Barmouth are just top. Beyond it gets caravanacious and Scousiferous and Mancunatious, as we know – and why wouldn’t it with a real, major population within striking distance? Fortunately there are the local, hoodied mountains and the views of Things Further Off; the big guns of Snowdonia proper.
Harlech is worth a proper shuftie and I always had a soft spot for the wacky little toll bridge towards Porthmadoc – a 12 year old boy inevitably fidgeting with his Nintendo between curt revolutions of the STOP/GO sign. Otherwise blast on past Criccieth and Pwhelli, both of which seem disappointing. Getting close now, to our bolthole by Rhiw. And things open up and we lose the people and the tack and the everything, except that land’s end feeling as we roll past Porth Neigwl. Second time around, we find our slot, down a gravel track, to a loose, child-friendly, animal-friendly former farmstead. Here. Let the dog out.