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5495 miles already walked

Three Down – Three to Go

Another long estuary tramp, being forced to seek temporary shelter, more assorted donations, an ancient university town, a sweet shop with over 600 jars on display, and savage terrain have seen me reach the end of the 132-mile Ceredigion coast path.  I’m now poised to start my fourth Welsh path – the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.

With no sea bridging-point at Aberdovey, it was a two day walk to go up to Machynlleth and down the other side of the Dovey estuary.  Those two days could not have been more different. The route upwards took me onto a ridge overlooking Happy Valley in bright sunshine before more rolling hills appeared as I began the ‘Panorama Walk’ with glorious estuary views too. I briefly dropped down into a valley before striking up again through forests, later descending almost vertically into Machynlleth.

Here I was dwarfed by the town’s famous landmark clock.  Funded by public subscriptions, the clock was built in 1874 to celebrate the 21st birthday of Viscount Castlereagh: I just hope he appreciated the generosity of his neighbours and that he was always on time for any future appointments!

Next morning began grey and cloudy but strong winds soon blew in heavy rain, later turning to sleet. Despite walking in a dense forest I could get no proper shelter to turn my map. Being in a remote area, habitation was scarce so it was with relief that I came across a lone farmhouse. For the first time since the Victory Walk began, I was forced to knock on a door to seek assistance. Kate, the owner could not have been more helpful, inviting me in for a coffee while we removed the map from its cover and turned it; if I’d done this outside it would have become one soggy mess. She also provided a photocopy of a further section, placing it in a plastic wallet. I was now equipped for the rest of the day. Such a generous and thoughtful lady.

Later that day I was to meet another kind, helpful person.  Yvette had joined the ‘Wrens’ as a communicator and been one of the first women to serve at sea in HMS Brilliant.  Seeing my bedraggled state she helpfully made a chicken casserole for us to eat on that wild evening in Borth, followed by her mouth-watering bara brith cake.  Next morning she arrived with a box of free range eggs before waving me off to Aberystwyth.

Regardless of the weather, walking conditions have certainly tested my resolve on more than one occasion. I experienced some roller-coaster cliff walking on my way to Aberystwyth and again towards New Quay further along the coast.  The climbs have been severe, followed by plunges into deep ravines, before yet another ascent and the sight of more hills ahead.  Windswept cliffs tower over remote coves, jagged rocks and mighty falls if I slip on the muddy paths strewn with hailstones. Treading carefully requires a reduced walking speed, which in turn affects distances covered and timings.

Arriving at Aberystwyth was certainly a landmark moment. An ancient market town and holiday resort, it is also home to the National Library of Wales and a university with interesting roots dating back to 1860.  Then, there was a movement to establish a national University of Wales. People from across Wales made contributions, large and small, and by 1867 £10,000 had been raised to purchase the former Castle Hotel. 

Known then as University College Wales, it opened in 1872 with just 3 staff and 26 male students. Twelve years later women were admitted, although initially the men and women students were not permitted to socialise or talk to one another. Today there are approximately 8,500 students at Aberystwyth University’s new campus but I was lucky enough to walk by the Old College buildings and also witnessed the local  custom of someone ‘Kicking the Bar’; this is reputed to have originated from the university’s early days.

This tradition involves people walking the length of the promenade and kicking the railings at its northern end. There are two theories about its origin. Firstly, male college students used to ‘kick the bar’ to attract the attention of female students lodged in nearby Alexandra Hall, once a female only college hall of residence. The other story is that all students were encouraged to walk the length of the Promenade to ‘kick the bar’ to get fresh air and exercise in order to reduce the spread of tuberculosis in the college. I believe the first story is more likely!

Recognising that the coast path guidebook has been written with terrain and local amenities in mind, I have continued to follow the suggested walking legs in the knowledge that the Victory Van can retrieve me at the end of each day. What hasn’t been so easy is finding suitable overnight stops, as most campsites remain closed at this time of year. 

As before, we have received practical assistance from various sources including the RNLI and Aberystwyth Sea Cadets, where we ended up staying an extra night – all thanks to the predicted snow which never arrived. Morrison’s store at Aberystwyth was also kind enough to make a donation to the Victory Walk coffers, as did the lovely Wrens who later cheered me on at Aberporth. 

Walking into Cardigan was a great moment, knowing I’d conquered my third Welsh Coast Path, the Ceredigion. I’ve now only three to go.  The best part of the day was walking into the Yum Yum sweet shop which has 600 jars of sweets on display, a further 300 choices in pic ‘n mix, and a 4 metre display of chocolates – reputedly the longest in Wales. I couldn’t leave without clutching a bag of sweeties and I think I might never leave Cardigan!

See Photo Album Numbers 64

  1. Aberdovey Estuary 
  2. Ceredigion Coast Path 
  3. Heading to Cardigan
  4. Lunch Stop at Mwnt 
  5. Three Down – Three to Go