A socially distanced trip through Wales
Brewster Scholarship Travel Report – Bronwyn Gavine, DPhil Clinical Neurosciences
As restrictions started to ease in August, I became hopeful that I would be able to safely explore some of the United Kingdom and started researching potential trips and accommodation options, with the aim to spend as much time outdoors and in nature, and be able to stay in a way in which was safe and responsible. After being led down a rabbit hole of mesmerising videos of travellers exploring the picturesque North Coast 500 in Scotland, only to be dismayed to find all accommodation and campervans fully booked for August and September, we had the idea to instead roadtrip around Wales in a campervan.
Before long, a campervan was booked for a week-long trip and we began to pour over the huge variety of camp sites across Wales. We had two key criteria – it had to be a small campsite and had to have good views, though these hardly narrowed down our options.
Saturday 5 September
Our trip began at 5am on Saturday, as we headed to Ceredigion on the West coast of Wales to collect our big blue quirky campervan called Flur.
After spending some time packing our belongings away in the van, we headed down to Saint David’s to our first campsite. We were thrilled to find out we had been allocated a quiet spot at the water’s edge, with superb views over Ramsey Island. Before the sun set, we took a quick walk along the coastal path before retiring to our campervan for dinner and an early night.
Sunday 6 September
After a slow morning featuring a cooked breakfast and reading in the sunshine, we set off towards Marloes in the hopes of seeing seal pups. We were thrilled to learn that we had surreptitiously timed our trip to coincide with their breeding season and were hopeful to see pups on the secluded beaches of Marloes. Unfortunately, our day took an unexpected turn when we were diverted along a new route due to road closures, got lost, tried to turn around in a drive way and promptly got the van thoroughly stuck in the mud. After trying for several hours to flag down a vehicle with a tow bar (I might add that it was a glorious sunny day and I suspect everyone else was at the beach, leaving us peering down the road for ages waiting for cars to pass and wishing we too were at the beach), a lovely couple came to our rescue. When we explained the situation to them and asked if they would be willing to try pull us out, the driver gleefully exclaimed, “Oh excellent, I’ve been wanting to test out the off-road mode of my car!”. After a few tries and one snapped tow chain, we were freed from our muddy prison and very grateful for the kind strangers who assisted us.
Without delay, we got onto tar road once more and headed to Marloes, eager not to waste anymore sunshine (and now very cautious of any mud we saw). We were certainly not disappointed – the reserve atop the cliffs has unparalleled views over the ocean and coastline, and after taking a few moments to train our eyes, we eventually started to see the small white and grey blubs of seal pups on the shores. It was a spectacular scene – watching mother seals swim to the shore and shuffle along to their pups, watching pups learning to swim in the shallows of the sea, and seeing many a pup laze in the sunshine.
After an unexpectedly full day, we headed to our campsite and watched the sunset from atop the van, before calling it a day.
Monday 7 September
We made an early start to explore the nearby village and walk along a section of the coastal path before we headed onto the Brecon Beacons. The scenery for the drive was spectacular, and we stopped at a beach on the way for a cup of coffee (we found it endlessly useful to have a kitchen with us wherever we went) and a walk along the shore.
Shortly before reaching the Brecons, we stopped at Dinefwr Castle for a long walk around the grounds and to enjoy the panoramic views from the castle mound, which features the ruins of the 12th century castle.
The weather had taken a drastic turn, and the sunshine and summery day we had on Sunday was nowhere in sight, as we were bundled up in our winter woollies.
After a day of driving, we reached our campsite nestled in the hills of the Brecon Beacons and soaked up the views.
Tuesday 8 September
Our morning started off with a quick grocery run to replenish our stocks, before exploring the town of Brecon and following the canal path into the countryside. The sun made its appearance in the early afternoon and we were thrilled to bask in it as we wandered through the hills and found a glistening river to cool off in.
Once back in Brecon, we drove onto Talybont Reservoir for our lunchtime view, before hiking into the forest to find the waterfalls. The forest walk was magical – the trails were quiet and peaceful, the trees bristled in the light breeze and as we meandered along the river, we encountered waterfall after waterfall and lush green scenery.
Our evening was spent making plans for our first big hike of the trip: to summit Pen y Fan, the highest mountain in southern Britain.
Wednesday 9 September
The weather forecast and visibility forecast for Pen y Fan were less than favourable for the morning, but promised to clear up around noon, so we packed up our van and took a leisurely drive through the Brecons. Little did we know that finding a parking spot at midday at the base of Pen y Fan would be a bit of an issue – after driving the same loop several times in search of a (safe and mudless) spot, we eventually found a spot for Flur and started the walk from Storey Arms to the summit.
The sun began to peak out and I was delighted at how friendly the fellow walkers were on the path – we loved greeting people and sharing smiles and knowing nods as we all edged towards the top. After a short but steep ascent, we made it to the top as the clouds cleared, and were awestruck by the magnificent views from every angle. We walked along the ridge to Corn Du and settled down for a well earned lunch. As we walked back to Pen y Fan, we wished we could stay longer, but needed to head onto our next stop. We reluctantly walked back down, making plans to hopefully return soon.
In the late afternoon, we headed to Snowdonia. The drive through the mountains was harrowing at parts (so many of the roads are only single track) but unbelievably beautiful at every twist and turn. Whereas the Brecons had seemed more like rolling green hills, Snowdonia was filled with dramatic peaks and valleys.
At last, we arrived at our campsite at Aberafon, which had views of the ocean to one side, and of the mountains on the other side. We were so grateful that we had booked two nights at this picturesque location.
Thursday 10 September
Our planned activity for the day was originally to summit Snowdon, but the weather forecast indicated very low laying clouds and poor visibility, and I certainly was reluctant to summit a mountain in mist and no hope of enjoying the views. So instead, we headed to Lyn Idwal, a glacial lake in the mountains. Llyn Idwal is a small lake that lies within Cwm Idwal in the Glyderau mountains of Snowdonia. We hiked the full loop around the lake and were thoroughly impressed to find swimmers and dogs enjoying the lakes, despite the ambient temperature being about 8 degrees.
This walk was without a doubt my favourite of the trip, and I cannot do it justice, so instead I have included photos in an attempt to convey the beauty of the scenery.
We took the scenic route back to our campsite after our walk, stopping along the way to admire several other lakes and dams, and to enjoy the views from mountain passes.
Friday 11 September
Unfortunately, the visibility for Snowdon had only worsened overnight, and we made the difficult decision to not hike up Snowdon for this trip. Instead, we enjoyed driving through more of the mountain passes, and took a walk around the picturesque valley around the start of one of the starting points for Snowdon (with the hopes of familiarising ourselves with the area for the next trip).
We then reluctantly headed to our last campsite for the trip, wishing we could continue our adventure for just a bit longer. Our campsite nestled on a river bank and forest, and our spot for the night was right next to the river. We took a leisurely stroll along the river, discovering an ancient aqueduct and bridge along the way, and marvelling in the seclusion and stillness of the area.
A campfire was built to celebrate our final night, and after having dinner we toasted marshmallows and drank hot chocolate at the fireside while reflecting on a truly spectacular adventure.
Saturday 12 September
Our delightful trip came to an end as we headed off early to return the campervan and head home.
This trip was certainly a once in a lifetime experience, and I am so grateful to University College and to the generosity of Mrs Kingman Brewster for this Brewster Scholarship. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to explore the beauty of Wales in such a unique and freeing way and would encourage other international students to consider applying so that they too may explore some of the many beautiful areas that the United Kingdom has to offer.
Tips for future travellers:
• A campervan is a superb way to see the countryside – it offers you the luxury of being able to stay in some of the most untouched and peaceful areas, without the exorbitant prices of luxury BnBs and rentals.
• It is worth spending time reviewing campsites and picking the small, scenic ones. We were fortunate that all our campsites offered unique and beautiful views of the local areas, and were small enough that we felt able to socially distance from others and keep safe.
• In retrospect, it would have been helpful to have taken another cooler bag or two, or renting a campervan fridge, as we struggled to keep our food and milk cold using only one cooler bag
• Don’t be afraid to adjust your plans – every area we stayed in had a plethora of walks and adventures to go on, so if you feel tired one day, adjust your plans to be more restful while still enjoying the scenery.
• If you plan to go to Wales – pack for every season, as we had warm summer days and cold winter days all in one week.
Published: 1 April 2021