An escape into the country.With the sunshine peeping through the clouds and the promise of warmer weather, my husband suggested a day out - a break in our usual routine.
Out came the big book of maps and we gravitated towards the seaside.
"What about Aberystwyth?" he asked. It was one of our regular ride-outs when we had the Gold Wing motorbike and I eagerly agreed.
The University town of Aberystwyth lies in the county of Ceredigion on the west coast of Wales in a huge bay. There is a long, sweeping promenade. Actually, there are two promenades but the north promenade is the one that we always headed for. We were anxious to see if the damage inflicted by the fierce storms and raging sea on the seafront and hotels along the front had been repaired. It had.
We live in north east Wales, so this journey would be a long one. It would also take us across country through lush, green countryside, through valleys and the Cambrian Mountain Range where the Snowdonia National Park lies. Heading south on the A483, we crossed the Dee and Ceiriog Valleys with the rivers tumbling amidst the trees far below the viaducts over which we travelled. We passed the old market town of Oswestry, onwards to the ancient town of Welshpool, before turning south-west towards Newtown to join the road to Aberystwyth. On previous visits, we had approached by a different route; a few wrong turnings now ensued and I was thankful for the street map in my little book of maps (we had decided that we didn't need the Sat Nav).
Lunch by the sea.Eventually we picked up the signs on the one-way system and reached the promenade. Finding a parking slot on the sea-front we were pleasantly surprised to find that we could have four hours parking for free. Four hours? Unheard of where we live.
The smell of the sea was wonderful and we breathed in great gulps of the sea air, filling our lungs with pleasure. Although there was a slight sea mist we could at least see the sea. (You can't always.) Two hardy souls were bathing in it.
The storm damage to the wide promenade had been repaired, the hotels were freshly painted, the outdoor diner was doing a roaring trade, and best of all . . . motorbikes were still welcome on the wide promenade. After talk of banning them a few years ago, there was now a specially corralled area where they could be parked up in safety from April to September. I suggested that we take photos for our biker friends who liked to ride in from the West Midlands.
After a very satisfying lunch of Panini, stuffed with melted Brie and Cranberry,and a cool drink at PD's Diner we strolled along the promenade to the pier and the other promenade beyond. We saw a very old building; one which looked as if it had been there for centuries. The buildings were ornate and outside were two statues of scholars in their gowns. Our guess that this was the old University was later proved correct when we looked at our town plan. In the distance was a ruined castle. Along the Welsh coast are a number of castles, built from the twelfth century onwards to protect the country from invaders. One of our favourite ride-outs some years ago was to visit all those along the North Wales western coast - Gwrych, Penrhyn, Beaumaris on Anglesey, Caernarfon, Harlech - even the names evoke visions of troubled times long ago.
Mountains and Valleys.Back at the car, I suggested that rather than head straight back eastwards we could head north along the estuary towards Machynlleth before turning westwards to skirt the other side of the Afon Dyfi (Dovey Estuary) through Aberdyfi and around the coast to Dolgellau at the head of Mawddach Estuary, so that we could savour the views of the mighty Cader Idris mountain. From there we could head straight towards Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake) and home via delightful Llangollen which lies in the Dee Valley.
Travel in a car is not the same as on a motorbike and we found it tedious being stuck behind vehicles. On a bike we would have zoomed past. Changing our plans, after going through Aberdyfi where the railway hugged the coast and rivers flowed freely in the valley below, we turned onto a minor road, the B4405, to cut through the mountains at the bottom of the Cader Idris. The Tan-y-Llyn Narrow Gauge railway runs along this part from Tywyn to Abergynolwyn.
Waking up, I was informed that, while I was asleep, I had missed the most wonderful, beautiful valley. The fresh air had relaxed me and sent me to sleep. We came out onto the A487 near Corris, the scene of St. Arthur's Labyrinth and Craft Centre. Some years ago we had visited here and ventured onto boat to travel, hard hats on and a guide leading,through the caves with the spooky figures and haunting music lurking around dark bends in caves. Well worth a visit.
Tea in Bala.Now, travelling along the length of Bala Lake we reached Bala town, it was time for a cup of tea which we found in a hotel on the main street. It was not far now to home; constantly I was awed by the wonderful countryside and the area in which we lived, especially the views across the Dee Valley from our perch on the high road [A5] below Froncysyllte. Moving to North Wales all those years ago certainly was a good move in more ways than one.