It had been my intention to make a trip down to Pembrokeshire sometime during May, mainly because it is one of the best months in which to visit Skomer Island, but for various reasons I didn’t get around to it. Mentioning this to my good friend who also alternates living in Wales and Spain, she generously invited me to stay with her last week so we could make the outing together. (I have mentioned this friend before; she is the one with the beautiful house set in 12 acres of woodland beside the River Nevern). Since 2006 it had become a bit of a tradition that she, myself and another good friend from our Gibraltar/Spain ex-pat circle escape there for a few days almost each spring for some girls-only birding, exploring and walking. Sadly our number three was unable to make it this year and was much missed, so I hope the following blogs will remind her of some of the wonderful excursions we have made in past years.
The drive from Rhos-on-Sea in the north-east of Wales to Nevern, Nr. Newport, located on the west coast of the country in north Pembrokeshire is, according to the AA route map some 133.8 miles long and should take just 3hrs and 6 minutes to make. It took me nearer 4½ hours. The roads are ‘A’ class and not bad at all really, apart from the current array of roadworks with traffic lights and extra half-term holiday vehicles. Although it was a straightforward route, I confused the sat nav by taking a wrong turning somewhere around the old slate-mining area of Blaenau Ffestiniog after searching the town fruitlessly for a petrol station (there isn’t one) and it failed to pick up my error until I had driven some 7 miles across misty moorland. I also took a couple of short breaks during torrential downpours of rain in the mountains, had I but known it, early indicators of the dramatic events that were to ensue later on.
At the very end of the journey I spent a good twenty minutes trying to remember the turnings into lanes and farm tracks leading to the house as they all look very similar. It’s two years since I was there last and then I was always a passenger, so didn’t pay the proper attention you do when you drive. I was also again hampered by the sat nav., that kept insisting I turn around at the earliest possible opportunity when I was in fact only a few hundred metres away from my destination. I had no phone signal either, so just had to persevere and try all the permutations until I arrived more by luck than judgement.
Despite the frustrating bits, this must be one of the most scenic journeys you could ever make anywhere in the world. The road cuts right across the middle of the Snowdonia National Park, winding through verdant woodlands, along lush river valleys and steep-sided rocky passes then climbing to reveal panoramic vistas of mountains with bare rocky peaks and bleak upland moorlands clothing their sides. It takes you through, or closely by-passes the small market towns of Betwys-y-Coed, Dolgellau, Llangollen and Machynlleth, (it also passes the entrance to the Ynys Hir reserve where the BBc’s Springwatch is being filmed), before dropping down to the university city of Aberystwyth and the flatter coastal plains of Pembrokeshire laid out beneath the vast open skies of Cardigan Bay.
Friday, 8th June
The weather events of last night that continued into much of today have already passed into legend. Gale force winds gusting at as much as 80mph and torrential rain were brought upon us here in West Wales by the Jet Stream passing over here when it should have been somewhere over the north of Scotland. It wreaked havoc in some of the areas I had recently driven through. Strong winds and rain continued throughout much of today and some rivers, already swollen with 185mm of rain that fell over a period of just 48 hours, were then unable to discharge excess water into the sea as their low-lying estuaries were already filled by two high incoming Spring tides. When the two bodies of water met this caused back-flows upriver and having nowhere to go, rivers burst their banks which resulted in extensive flooding, the worst here since 1973.
The house is very close to the edge of the river Nevern, but fortunately it had previously been at a fairly low level and although it was now very full and flowing rapidly, it remained contained by its banks and hurtled on past for the last few miles of its journey to the Nevern Estuary at Newport.
Clearly there was to be no chance of a boat-trip out to Skomer today, but we were confined to the grounds anyway as the larger section of a divided-trunk ash tree had succumbed to the gale and fallen across the access track. An SOS was sent out to the local tree-surgeon and whilst waiting for him we took advantage of a calmer interlude and ventured out for a look at the damage.
Just before the entrance to the driveway of the house, a small bridge spans a stream that joins the river here. Usually this is little more than a few inches deep and flows at a steady trickle, but it was quite dramatic today.