Thursday, 19 December 2013

Wales' Favourite Coastal Walks

By Richard Neale.
©National Trust Images/Leo Mason

The 870-mile Welsh Coast Path is one of the glories of Wales.  Did you know that 20% of it is cared for by the National Trust?

For the 2013/4 Christmas & New Year holiday, I posted a blog on my twelve favourite walks with links to the downloadable walk on our website.  Nearly 200 people clicked on the links and by using the stats, I can now share with you what were our followers favourites.

 Cliciwch ar deitl y daith gerdded ar gyfer cyfarwyddiadau, map a mannau o ddiddordeb.

Click on the highlighted walk title for directions, map and points of interest.

Walk 12. Porthoer & Mynydd Carreg

Looking down onto the Whistling Sands, which squeak underfoot © National Trust
Llyn's famous Whistling Sands only whistle when the sand's dry, so don't expect to sample this curious phenomenon on this bracing winter walk.  But there's plenty more to make this walk really worthwhile.  The summit of Mynydd Carreg, with its curious circular structure is a fine viewpoint.  Download the walk to find out what the structure was, and the story of the semi-precious stone that was quarried here.  Lle gwych i ddod i fwynhau'r tonnau pan mae 'na storm chwythu o'r gogledd.

 Walk 11. Martin's Haven and Deer Park


 The Deer Park, Marloes Peninsula © Sid Howells
A short but spectacular walk around the end of the Marloes peninsula. No deer to see, but lots of seals.  You may be lucky to spot seal pups before they take to the sea.  Enjoy spectacular rocks and sea views.  From the top you'll see most of Pembrokeshire's islands.   Mwynhewch yr olygfa ar draws y Swnt dwyllodrus i Sgomer.

Walk 10.  Menai Strait & Glan Faenol 


Bird hide at Glan Faenol on the banks of the Menai Strait © National Trust
This is one of North Wales' best kept secrets: the walled woodland that is Glan Faenol.  Look out for winter wading birds from the hand-made greenwood hides and platforms. Explore varied native woodland and ancient parkland with views of the house and gardens at Plas Newydd and the hills of Snowdonia.  Gallaf warantu y byddwch yn cael y lle i chi eich hun!

Walk 9. Abereiddi & Porthgain


Once a place for industry, now a place for recreation and sport © Andrew Tuddenham
One of the attractions of this popular Pembrokeshire cliff-top walk is the wonderful Sloop Inn at Porthgain.  When you peer into the depths of the Blue Lagoon, spare a thought for the world cliff diving competitors as they took the plunge here in September.  Explore the evocative ruins of the quarrymen's houses between the beach and the lagoon, known as The Street. Yn ddi-os, y Slŵp yw un o dafarnau gorau ein harfordir!

Walk 8. Ragwen Point


One of the massive concrete structures built by the army in the 1940s © National Trust
Burn off calories on the steep steps up from Pendine and descend to one of Carmarthen Bay's hidden gems, Morfa Bychan beach.  Can you work out what the curious concrete structures are at the back of the beach?  They're covered in the impacts of artillery shells, why?  Get the story on the downloadable walk.  Golygfeydd godidog ar draws Bae Caerfyrddin.

Walk 7. Bosherston Lily Ponds


 High tide, March 11 2008. Sea level higher than lake level! © Richard Ellis
These amazing man-made freshwater lakes are the crowing glory of the wonderful Stackpole estate.  They're one of the best places in Wales to see otters in the wild.  A small detour will take you to the amazing beach of Broadhaven, which like its neighbour Barafundle is one of the very few sandy beaches in Wales which is untouched by development.  Tybed beth yw'r enw Cymraeg ar gyfer Barafundle? 

Walk 6.  Lawrenny Woods 


 Lawrenny Wood - ancient oak trees © Marilyn Smyth

This Pembrokeshire walk is one of the county's hidden gems.  Tucked amongst the inlets of the mighty Cleddau estuary, this short but sometimes steep walk goes through some of the most undisturbed woods in West Wales. If you enjoy this walk, why not return in the summer to enjoy a bite at the Quayside Cafe?.  Dewch i fynd am dro ymysg rhai o'r coetiroedd unigryw'r Cleddau.

Walk 5. Dinas Island 


The coast path at Dinas Island © Joe Cornish
This is one of my favourite Cardigan Bay walks.  The 2 hour walk takes in breathtaking views of the coast of North Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion and the pretty, secluded hamlets of Pwllgwaelod and Cwm yr Eglwys.  View the ruins of St Brynach's church, which was badly damaged in a great storm in the great 'Royal Charter' storm of 1859.  Ynys Dinas - un o drysorau cudd Ceredigion.

Walk 4. Porthdinllaen


Tw Coch has been an inn for about 200 years © National Trust
This sheltered village-on-the-beach is a must for anyone looking for a winter walk on the Llyn peninsula.  If the tide's in, you'll have to use the golf road, otherwise, the beach is the perfect way to approach the village.  Remember to check out the opening times of the wonderful Ty Coch Inn.  Take a look at how the work is progressing on the new lifeboat station.  Lle gwell i fwynhau peint, nag yn bar clyd y Tŷ Coch.

Walk 3. Garn Fawr


The coast at Garn Fawr © Sid Howells
Another personal favourite of mine, this short walk takes you to one of the most spectacular views on the entire Welsh coast.  And if the view wasn't enough, where else can you see a combination of Iron Age and Second World War archaeology side by side?  A great place to see the rare chough.  Rwy'n credu bod yr olygfa o yma yw'r gorau yng Nghymru.

Walk 2.  Rhossili Headland

View across the beach of Rhossili Bay with Worms Head in the distance © John Millar
 This classic walk-for-all-seasons is deservedly one of Wales' most popular. Walk out to the coastguard lookout to enjoy views of Worm's Head or extend the walk by also heading up to Gower's highest point, Rhossil Down.  Its not recommended that you attempt to cross to the tidal island of Worm's Head at this time of year, so why not make a date in your diary to join one of our Walk to the Worm guided walksPen Pyrod yw'r enw Cymraeg ar gyfer yr ynys.

Wales' No.1 Most Popular Walk:  

Pennard Cliffs & Pwlldu


Southgate, Pwll Du, Wales © Sian Musgrave
The perfect combination of dramatic sea views, a hidden beach and a cosy cafe to warm up over a cream tea.  Make sure you've got boots or wellies for the puddles.  This is one of my favourite circular walks on the Gower.  Dyma fy hoff daith gerdded ar arfordir Gŵyr.

For loads more great Welsh walks, visit our Walking in Wales web pages. 

Please let us know your favourite Welsh coastal walk by using this blog's comment facility.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Mary's prizewinning coastal memories

Mary and her brother Maldwyn, at their Nain's house at Holyhead near Porth Dafarch
Last summer, we launched a competition which enabled thousands of people to share their memories of the Welsh Coast.

The competition judge, our Wales Director Justin Albert was kept busy reading the recollections, which were posted into our Facebook site and into special ‘message in a bottle’ signs at our most popular coastal places.

The winner was Mary Attwell, whose recollections of our beach on Anglesey, Porth Dafarch, are made all the more poignant since she is one of the Cymry oddicartref (Welsh abroad) living thousands of miles away in Tennessee, USA. Her prize, a guided kayaking expedition at our Pembrokeshire Stackpole Centre, will be claimed by her niece and family.

We were so captivated by Mary’s winning comment, we asked her to send us a bit more of the story, which I would like to share with you here:

“Hiraeth mawr a hiraeth creulon! [a great and cruel longing]. How I dream and long to return to the beach of my childhood when I would visit Nain [gran] in Holyhead during the summer holidays.”

“Most days would start with great activity in the kitchen, with cakes and biscuits in the oven and sandwiches in the tin. Off we would go in the Austin 7 to Porthdafarch where we seemed to have a special place to claim for the afternoon. It was an idyllic place for children, set in a cove with cliffs on either side, a good setting for adventures, and rock pools with seaweed and fish to fill our buckets. Parking was no problem, as not many came by car those days. Come rain, it was just as exciting to watch the rough seas while sitting in the car eating our sandwiches and biscuits.

It’s hearing humble memories such as these that remind me how priceless our work is, as custodians of so much of the Welsh coast. Caring for “places of historic interest and natural beauty” is important enough; but looking after the source of a nation’s cherished memories? Well, that’s a responsibility beyond all else.

Mary at a more recent visit to the coast

Porth Dafarch still retains its wild beauty

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Rediscovering Pembrokeshire's hidden wildlife paradise

Freshwater West and Castlemartin Corse.  Photo courtesy of Richard Ellis
With the first of the winter’s storms beating against my office window, I’ve been reflecting on the places I’ve visited on my travels around the Welsh coast through this year’s late chilly spring and long warm summer. 

A couple of contrasting visits to one particular place stand out. The first visit took place during one of winter’s cruel last gasps; the second was during spring’s first flush of lush growth. But it was the contrasting nature of what I saw during these visits that that comes to mind, rather than the weather. 

Hidden Treasure 

You probably haven’t heard of Gupton Farm, on Pembrokeshire’s south coast. It’s just one of those English-sounding farms that nestle in the folds of ‘little England beyond Wales’: that verdant tapestry of rolling farmland south of Pembroke, which is dotted with the curiously un-Welsh square castellated towers of a score of fine Norman churches.

But you are more likely to have heard of one of this area’s finest beaches, Freshwater West: a surfers’ paradise near the huge military range at Castlemartin. The name of this popular beach hints at a hidden treasure that the beachgoers seldom notice – tucked behind the range of dunes that borders the beach. That is the wildlife haven of Castlemartin Corse. This 2.5 km long marshy floodplain (the name includes the fossilised Welsh word for marsh: cors) is a relic of a once great wetland. The Corse – together with about a hundred acres of arable fields and pasture – make up the tenancy of Gupton Farm.

Future vision 

My first visit to Gupton Farm was made during the last days of this tenancy, when the retiring farmers were about to leave and we were seeking the advice of a group of conservation experts on a future vision for the farm. The second, springtime visit was after the 500 or so overwintering cattle had left and the bare brown soil of my previous visit was starting to green-over with a carpet of grasses and wildflowers. The farm’s conservation vision was beginning to become a rather scary reality. 

I say scary because the process of converting from a commercial to a conservation style of farming isn’t as simple as you might think. The heavy trampling by cattle and frequent ploughing of what was once pristine flower-and-insect-rich dune grassland has unexpectedly resulted in an exceptional number of different, arable, wildflowers in the sandy soil and this in turn attracts huge flocks of overwintering farmland birds and, in summer a wealth of butterflies, bees and other invertebrates. To bring back the highly desired dune grassland would risk losing all this farmland wildlife, some of our advisors warned. I began to feel sorry for my colleagues, who risk upsetting at least one set of wildlife experts as they decide which group of flora and fauna should be favoured by the future farmer. 

 A new chapter 
Happily, as I read up the results of a season’s monitoring in my rain-bound office, it seems that the farm is large enough to realise a vision that can encompass the restoration of all of the farm’s habitats: an exceptional combination of dune grassland, traditional farmland, wetland meadow and marsh. 

Looking back, I’m pleased that I witnessed the start of a new chapter in the history of Gupton Farm; the beginning of a process that will lead to future generations of nature-lovers enjoying the best of all worlds at this outstanding Welsh coastal wildlife site. 

From this....

To this...?

Sunday, 3 November 2013

The rediscovered boulder

David Nash' Wooden Boulder, standing proudly on a sand bank
It’s not every day you get to see a famous work of art in the making.  

This was the privilege that transpired the other day, when I found myself up close and personal with a work that is known the world over.  But this encounter didn’t take place in an artist’s studio or gallery surrounded by crowds of fellow admirers; it happened on a seaweed-strewn sandbank on Snowdonia’s Dwyryd estuary; a pair of mergansers being my only company for the viewing.  The piece in question was possibly the most well known creation of the renowned land artist, David Nash. 

Wooden Boulder started its life a few miles upstream near the National Trust’s Coedydd Maentwrog oakwood nature reserve, back in 1978.  Originally destined for the artist’s workshop at Tanygrisiau, the half-tonne rugged sphere of oak became firmly jammed in a rocky streambed. Unable to shift it, Nash, with characteristic deference to the vagaries of his materials, hit upon the idea of allowing the huge wooden globe to make its own way in the world. 

Over the next 30 years Nash obsessively followed his work downstream, photographing and sketching it as it underwent the multifarious effects of nature’s attrition.  It eventually met the briny waters of the estuary after a great flood back in 2002 and after a few years languidly ebbing and flowing amongst the Dwyryd’s rushy creeks and banks, it was released onto the wider canvas of the Irish Sea.  Or so the devotees of Nash’s work thought.

That was until the other day, when an eagle-eyed aficionado spotted the orb sitting proudly like a full stop on its sandbank after a high tide.  A few days after I heard the news, I paddled my kayak down the river and was able to step out and reverently pat the boulder on its worn shoulder, like a venerable old friend.
Kyaking to the boulder: like meeting a venerable old friend
 The coast has always been a powerful inspirer of art; and the coastal work of artists such as Maggie Hambling and Anthony Gormley show how sculpture has the ability to enhance the environment that inspired it.  But there can be few works that have linked both land and sea as satisfactorily and in such an absorbing way a David Nash’s Wooden Boulder. Long may this unfinished artwork continue to grace the tidal reaches of the Dwyryd.

A few days later, I returned, this time with David Nash himself to record an item for BBC Radio Wales Country Focus programme.  The top of the boulder can just be seen at high tide behind us.
Article courtesy of Welsh Coastal Life magazine.

Names in the hat for Welsh Coast Competition


I hope you've used our Facebook App to tell us what you like about your favourite coastal place. 

The competition (see previous post) closed on the 31st of October and I'm now arranging for Justin, our Director for Wales to choose the most original and inspiring comment so I can contact the lucky winners to tell them that they've won a day's kyaking for up to five people at our Stackpole Centre on the amazing Pembrokeshire coast.

Look out for the results on this blog site.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Welsh Coast Competition Goes Live

Da chi'n caru arfordir Cymru? Rhannwch atgofion o'ch hoff le i ennill taith caiacio byth-cofiadwy yn Sir Benfro...

Do you love the Welsh coast? Share memories of your favourite place and win a fantastic kayaking trip of a lifetime...

Monday, 15 July 2013

How long is a mile of coast?

by Richard Neale
“So, how much Welsh coast does the National Trust look after?”

This was the question I was often asked when I started as the Welsh Coast Project Manager.  The answer – as hinted by the title of this blog post – is not quite as simple as you’d think.

Knowing that it was one of the basic pieces of information I needed, I asked – rather too casually, as it turned out – one of our mapping boffins to work it out and the answer came back as 196 miles. 

Suitably impressed, and being prone to a bit of hyperbole, I rounded it up to 200 and started to share the fact with anyone who’d listen.

But it turns out that there was a problem.  I’d omitted to give one vital piece of information to my mapping colleague. That is: what scale I wanted it measured at.   

In my defence, this was before I became aware of something known as the coastline paradox. It turns out that our coastlines are fractal in their nature.  To put it another way, the length of the coastline depends on the method used to measure it. 
The more accurately you measure it, the longer the coast gets!

I could get seriously into the science of this, but suffice to say, the National Trust has been using different scales in different parts of the Trust.  This meant that our coastal statistics have been, well…a bit dodgy.

The time has come for a standardised method to be applied.  And after a fair bit of number-crunching at our head office, the answer has now come through and I can now put the story straight.

  • The National Trust cares for 156.77 miles of Welsh coast (let's say 157). 
  • The total length of the Welsh coast as determined by the same method is 1,465.94 miles
  • This means that the NT cares for 10.7 % of the Welsh coast. 
  • The length of the refreshingly fractal-free Wales Coast Path is 870 miles, meaning that the NT cares for about 18% of land adjacent to the coast path.