1 – 12 July, back safe in Wales…
I say safely back in Wales, but mid-Wales early July felt pretty bleak. It’s tough up here and I’m thinking I need something a little milder for food growing. Somerset and Devon on the agenda for a week or two… Being here at the height of summer and it feeling pretty wintery is a healthy reality check.
So after Shropshire I headed to Rhayader for a couple of nights alongside a huge river that had flooded quite severely when Talybont was evacuated a few weeks back. Generally did some van settling, sorting and stocking in preparation for my adventure to the Llyn Peninsula which I had some idea would be wild and unkempt but in reality felt a bit like Cornwall, a little seaside towny but very lush. I imagine it’s a stunning part of the world but I was very much hampered by the weather though a couple of pockets of sunshine gave me a glimmer of how lovely it could be.
I camped up in a field right at the end of the Peninsula, Lleyn is apparently the English spelling and Llyn the Welsh, they are very Welsh there so I’m going to stick to Llyn. Alone in a field surrounded by sea, sky and beautiful landscape with Bardsey Island directly opposite. A couple of hours walking and looking and thinking in the sunshine, oh this is how my summer should have been, barefoot and frolicking amongst lush and beautiful.
I woke up with plans of walking all day along the coastal path crushed by thick fog and torrential rain. This was the day of the monster storm that pummelled most of the country (Friday 6 July) I couldn’t stay in the field so for the first time in 3 months I looked for a B&B. Oh the shame. Abersoch, deluged by festival refugees from Wakestock and there wasn’t a bed in the house. Phase 2 of the rescue plan involved seafood but weirdly as often is in fishing villages – quite hard to buy or eat seafood. It all gets shipped straight out. So I ate steak.
Revitalised I headed north to Morfa Nefn, both the drive that morning to Abersoch and up to Morfa were quite hairy with deep flooding. Having the engine in the back of the van is good when going through floods but not so good for getting out of muddy fields. Checked into a lovely B&B and headed along the coastal path and beach to Porthdinllaen, a National Trust village and one pub – the Ty Coch – only accessible on foot, more about the village here. There I was welcomed into the warmth by the locals. Cider and Ale were drunk, we got to chatting and I managed to talk myself onto a lobster / crab fishing trip in the morning.
Stunning day out on the Sea Quest with Did. He goes out whenever the fishing is good. So if the pots are filling then he’s out there any day of the year landing approx 150 pots a day, storing the catch in keep pots in the harbour and selling them to the buyer from Holyhead once a week.
The fish don’t like an Easterly and you can tell when the catch is coming in for the summer when the wheat turns yellow. They fish sustainably here, with every lobster and crab being checked and any who don’t measure up are thrown back to grow some more. An undersized catch can earn you a three month sentence or a £50k fine, both entirely inconceivable to someone who earns at this level and who lives everyday with the beautiful expanse of this lovely coastline. The catch can’t justify more than one fisherman so it’s all day, everyday alone out there, extraordinary and daunting.
In the name of conservation this might all be about to change, the CCW has proposed 10 Marine Protection Zones sites 4 of which will probably go ahead which will exclude all fishing in these areas but will do nothing to stop the higher impact offshore fisheries. The inshore small-scale fisheries are widely acknowledged to be low in environmental impact. So times are curious for Did who has 100 years of local fishermen in his family and who has an intimate knowledge of the coast and sea around Porthdinllaen all recorded on an extraordinary map in his head. Of course he uses sonar and depth finders, but there is a closeness, a relationship that should be cherished, especially as the local fishermen are genuinely engaged in protecting their environment, they have to be. What they don’t understand is why this extra measure is required having seen no discernable change in the inshore size of catch for 20 years.
It was a lovely day, I haven’t spent a whole day out on the water for years. I learnt loads such as that lobsters have both a cutting and a crushing claw and can be left or right handed, who’d have thunk it?
An evening in the pub, quite a lot of time being spoken over in Welsh – I know it’s their first language and I’m the incomer but if you’re in a group of lovely people who all speak perfect English and there’s one person who doesn’t speak Welsh, maybe it might be nice just once or twice to hold a conversation in English. But no. apparently not. A kind, but insular bunch, a little frontier outposty in the face of an incomer; the men welcoming but the women a little frosty. So I watched the boats bobbing on the harbour in the dark. Further stories from the peninsula are available offline…
Further rain and a gentle nudge and I headed south to Aberystwyth and the festival farm to meet up with Joe and Alice for a couple of days. I drove cross country to checkout a couple of towns further inland and discovered the lovely Llanidloes, a beautiful market town, with an amazing bookshop, which is always a good sign, and some interesting things going on. A town fancy dress party that’s been going for over 40 years, some Forest School work, and a few really interesting communities nearby. In Powys, set in a valley that feels more protected than Ceredigion over the hill. To be investigated some more I think.
Good to spend some time with Joe and Alice, then a couple of days Wwoofing with the lovely, warm, intuitive Sarah at Noddfa Dawel and Scott who was also volunteering there – amazing, what an extraordinary person. I’ve chosen not to write much about the people I meet, it leaves huge holes in this story but I don’t think it’s fair. If I choose to immortalise my witterings in digital eternity that’s my decision.
Anyways, weeding and chatting, making the ultimate layered compost heap using high purity honey filters which smell like mead as the carbon layer, sickling bracken side by side while sharing thoughts and ideas. It’s a lovely way to get to know someone a little.
Some bracken info I have had imparted to me:
- cut bracken 3 times in 3 years and you can really undermine it’s advance
- identification: ferns have multiple stems from a single point and bracken has a single stem with lots of fronds
- when the bracken spores are ready to disperse i.e. when the little dots on the back of the leaf have gone brown, the dusty spores they emit are carcinogenic so don’t rummage around in the bracken (Aug / Sept-ish depending on the weather).