Pau

King Henri IV of France's chateau at Pau

The elegant capital of Béarn is the former home of the kings and queens of Navarre, and as such, boasts a rather impressive château. Needless to say, castle-lover that I am, I wasn’t about to miss out on an opportunity to visit Pau during our week in Béarn.

Our first port of call on arriving in Pau was the Boulevard de Pyrenees, an attractive promenade that overlooks the Gave de Pau, and on a clear day, as its name suggests, boasts excellent views of the nearby Pyrenees. After a short stroll along the promenade, we made our way to the Rue Mal Joffre, where we stopped for tea and cake (gateau Basque, a local custard tart) in a quiet, friendly salon de thé that sold exquisite chocolates, jams and pâtisserie.

Happily sated, we headed outside and continued along the street until we reached the magnificent Château de Pau. With its gleaming ivory walls, navy slate roof and red brick tower, the château looked mightily impressive and I was very excited about going inside.

The entrance to King Henri IV of France's chateau at Pau

Inside, the excitement quickly wore off when we were each handed a sheet of paper in English and ushered onto a guided tour. It turns out you can only visit the castle on a guided tour – in French. Now in France, I expect to join guided tours that are all in French and have happily done so many times before. With my rudimentary French, I can usually follow the tour and pick up on what the tour guide is saying.

However on this occasion, the tour guide droned on and on and on for what seemed like an age in each room and I couldn’t keep up with what was being said. We had the bare minimum of information about each room on our sheet of paper, which meant we and all the other people on the tour who didn’t speak French (and there were quite a few) were left bored out of our minds wondering what on earth the tour guide was saying because there didn’t seem to be that much to talk about in each room.

Everyone was also deadly silent during the tour, which meant we didn’t feel comfortable wandering around, looking at things and chatting among ourselves, as we felt obliged to silently stand and listen attentively to what was being said.

A statue of King Henri IV of France in the grounds of the Chateau de Pau

The rooms we visited were interesting to look at, with lots of grandly furnished spaces and marble staircases on display, although I got the sense we only saw a small part of the château. All the rooms had been furnished and decorated in the 19th century in imitation of how it might have looked during the reign of Henri of Navarre, and there were lots of tapestries hanging on the walls. It was essentially a shrine to its most famous resident, King Henri IV of France, but none of the contents, as far as I could tell, were authentic.

All in all, I was left feeling a bit disappointed by the château. I’d been looking forward to our visit, but once there, I found it a colossal bore and rather underwhelming. I was disappointed by how little of the castle we saw; the imitation interior, which relied far too heavily on tapestries for my liking; and the lack of information about the royal family of Navarre and how they used the château. It would also have been good to have been forewarned about the guided tour before we joined it.

The grounds at the Chateau de Pau

The tour over with, we went for a stroll around the château grounds, passing the small gardens, which were full of flowers and herbs, and briefly looked inside a tower, which featured an exhibition about the old currency of Navarre.

We then headed back towards the centre of Pau to have a look around the city’s other major sites. Given its long history, I’d expected Pau to be home to lots of medieval buildings but instead most of the buildings we passed dated from around the 19th century. The city is charming and elegant with superb shopping (there are lots of expensive-looking clothes shops and chocolatiers), but there wasn’t much in the way of places to visit other than the château.

Inside the Eglise Saint-Martin in Pau

One place we did look inside was the Église Saint-Martin, an attractive grey stone church, not far from the château. The church featured high-vaulted stone ceilings, and like so many churches in the region, an elaborately decorated chancel with lots of blues, purples and reds (above). We also briefly stopped by the winter palace, the Palais Beaumont, in the city’s Parc Beaumont. But there wasn’t much more to it than its attractive façade.

The winter palace, the Palais Beaumont, in Pau

Having walked all around the city centre and exhausted all the sites, we made our way home. My disappointment about the château aside, I found Pau to be a handsome city that boasts some excellent shops, and if I were rich, it’s probably where I’d go to do my clothes shopping. I really liked the city, it had a nice atmosphere and was a pleasant place to stroll around, and I got the impression that it would be nice place to call home if you were looking for a French city in which to live.

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Ossau Valley

View from the top of the mountain at Artouste-Fabreges in the Pyrenees

I couldn’t very well spend a week in Béarn, in the shadow of the Pyrenees, without spending at least one day exploring the majestic mountain range. So we set off on a road trip that would take us through the Ossau Valley, one of a number of valleys cutting a swathe through the Pyrenees.

The Ossau Valley is the third largest Pyrenean valley in Béarn, starting just south of the regional capital Pau and running all the way to the Spanish border. We followed the D920 and then the D934 into the valley, passing a number of small towns along the way, the most notable being the charming town of Laruns.

After Laruns, we began steadily climbing as we continued to follow the road along the side of the mountain.

The spa village of Eaux-Chaudes on the banks of the Gave d'Ossau

At Eaux-Chaudes (above), we stopped briefly to stretch our legs. The small village is situated on the side of a mountain above the Gave d’Ossau, and in the 19th century was renowned for its hot springs. The pretty, peaceful village is still home to a spa, but there were few signs of life during our visit.

With no cafés or bars open, we hopped back in the car and continued our journey, passing the town of Gabas and a fair few hydro-electric stations, before reaching our destination, Artouste-Fabrèges. The Pyrenean village is essentially a mini-tourist resort and is home to a large dammed lake (below), shops, restaurants, a cable car and a tourist train.

Artouste Dam and Lac de Fabreges in the Pyrenees

The village was busy, far busier than anywhere else we’d been in Béarn, and there were quite a few bus loads of tourists milling about. Our plan, after we’d had a spot of lunch (goat’s cheese and tomato crêpe), was to take the cable car to the top of the mountain and to hop on the tourist train. The little yellow train claims to be the highest train in Europe and runs from the top of the mountain to the picturesque Lac d’Artouste, which is otherwise only accessible via a three-hour long walk.

The only snag in the plan came when I went to buy the tickets and found they were sold out for the day – at 1pm! Undaunted, we decided to take the cable car to the top of the mountain and have a look around instead.

The mountain was very steep and I was glad the cable car was doing all the hard work for us as I wouldn’t have wanted to climb it. From the window, I spotted a number of furry creatures, which looked like mountain beavers, running along the side of the mountain. They were super cute and I later found out they were marmots, which are a familiar sight in the Pyrenees.

View from top of the mountain at Artouste-Fabreges in the Pyrenees

After alighting the cable car near the top of the mountain, we decided to keep going until we reached the top so we could get an even better view of the valleys and peaks around us. The views were spectacular and it was an incredible sight. The mountains and lakes were stunningly beautiful, and we spent quite a while soaking up the sights and watching the cows and horses milling around the mountain top.

We then made our way back down to the café next to the cable car station, where we stopped for a hot chocolate, which we sipped on the outdoor terrace overlooking the valley below. Having soaked up our fair share of glorious mountain views, we travelled back down the mountain in the cable car (and saw more marmots), before making our way back up the Ossau Valley and home.

Looking ahead to 2019

The Monastery at Petra

New Year’s Day is that time of the year when I like to look ahead to the forthcoming year, and make a lot of travel and blogging predictions that probably won’t come true.

Last year, I made a number of predictions and a surprising number materialised. I passed my driving test and bought a car, I made it to Brittany (below) and spent four days in the glorious city of Porto. I also blogged about my trip to Costa Rica and the area around Poitiers in France, and wrote a couple more travel guides (Jordan and Edinburgh).

The Cote Sauvage on the Presqu'ile de Quiberon in Brittany

Predictions that failed to come true included buying a house (still on the cards for this year but Brexit has a lot to answer for), lots of blogging plans and trips to far flung destinations.

What’s coming up in 2019?

On the travel front in 2019, I’m off to Malaysia in March, as well as the Loire and possibly Paris in June. I’d then like to round out the year with a city break somewhere in Europe, and now that I have a car, spend some time exploring parts of the UK I rarely visit. Any tips on where to go, what to eat, etc, in Malaysia, the Loire, Paris or the UK will be greatly appreciated.

In March, I’ll be spending a fortnight in Malaysia, starting in Borneo, where I’m hoping to see lots of incredible wildlife (orangutans! tarsiers! sun bears!) and spectacular geology, before moving onto the Malay peninsula, where I’ll be taking in Kuala Lumpur, Malacca and Georgetown, before finishing in Langkawi.

In June, I’ll be touring the Loire region of France for a week, where I expect I shall gorge myself silly on splendid chateaux, patisserie, cheese and wine. I’m also toying with the idea of flying home from Paris and using that as an excuse to spend a few days in the French capital. I’m not the biggest fan of Paris, so we shall see whether that happens.

Regular readers may have clocked that I’m ridiculously slow at blogging my trips (thankfully I keep super detailed diaries while I travel), so if you’d like to keep up-to-date with my comings and goings, check out my Instagram (@thislittleoldworld).

The Douro River at dusk in Porto

Because of the above, I’m also really behind on blogging a number of my big trips, so first up this year will be a series based around my week long trip to Jordan. I’ll also hopefully get around to blogging about my city break in Porto (above) and my 10-day long stay in Brittany. I’ll probably also put together a couple more travel guides (Cuba is likely, as is Vietnam). If anyone has any preferences, let me know in the comments.

Thank you!

Finally, I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who has read, liked, shared or commented on my posts over the past year. I write my blog for my own amusement, so I’m still gobsmacked that other people take the time to read and comment on what I write. It’s very much appreciated and I really enjoy reading your comments.

I’d also like to thank a number of other bloggers whose blogs I read on a regular basis and who provide a lot of travel and food inspiration. I’m forever reading other people’s posts and thinking I have to go there or try that restaurant/dish. So thanks for the inspiration!

Happy New Year! Have a wonderful 2019!

Bx

Madiran

Grapes growing on the vines at Aydie in the Madiran wine region

Being partial to the odd glass of red wine, I was keen to spend some time touring the Madiran wine region while I was in Béarn. The area is known for its full-bodied, robust red wines, and produces a less well known white, the Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, too. Following a map of the Madiran wine region in my guide book, we set out for a road trip around the vineyards.

Grapes growing on the vine at Aydie

Our trip started in the small bastide town of Lembeye and followed the D13 through the villages of Castillon, Arricau-Bordes, Cadillon and Conchez-de-Béarn. The countryside was pleasant enough during this part of the route, but I was surprised by how few vineyards we saw. There was field after field of corn, but only the occasional grape vine, and if it wasn’t for my trusty map, I wouldn’t have known we were in wine country.

A field full of grape vines at Aydie in the Madiran wine region

After the first leg of our journey, we crossed the hills to the village of Aydie and we finally started to see lots of vineyards (above). We briefly stopped in the tiny village to look around, only to find there wasn’t much more to it than a few houses, a church and a château, but it was very quaint and delightful. Plus the outskirts were full of vineyards!

The charming 11th century church in Madiran

We continued along the route and decided to stop again in the region’s namesake town, Madiran, which turned out to be a very charming little place. Sadly, pretty much everything in the town was closed when we arrived, including the lovely looking church that dated from the 11th century (above). So after a brief tour of the deserted town, we hopped back in the car and continued our journey.

The wine merchants at Crouseilles

Our next and final stop was Crouseilles where the Crouseilles-Madiran wine co-op is based, and where we planned to sample and buy some wine – the only problem was finding it. We got horribly lost following the D648 as instructed by the map, when the road seemingly turned into a dirt track with lots of crossroads and no signposts. After a few wrong turns, we eventually made our way to Crouseilles and found the local wine merchant in the château (above).

A bottle of Madiran wine bought from the wine merchants in Crouseilles

The wine shop was full of bottles of Madiran and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh at prices to suit all budgets – some were cheap, others were wildly expensive. The wine merchant was really friendly and let us try various wines while we decided which ones to buy. Armed with a good few bottles of Madiran (above) and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, our road trip was over, and it was time to head back towards the main road and our gîte.

Lourdes

The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France

Nestled at the foot of the Pyrenees, Lourdes is France’s most famous pilgrimage site. Having been to Santiago de Compostela in Spain some eight years ago, I was keen to visit Lourdes during our trip to Béarn to compare the two sites and to find out why this Pyrenean town attracts some five million Christian pilgrims each year.

The miracle around which the town’s fortune was built occurred in 1858 when an 18-year-old shepherdess named Bernadette saw 18 apparitions of the Virgin Mary. The miracle allegedly took place in a small grotto on the outskirts of town, the Grotto of Massabielle. A small spring is then said to have appeared where Bernadette saw the Virgin Mary and this water is reputed to have miraculous healing powers, which is partly what has attracted so many millions of pilgrims over the years.

Lourdes photographed from the town's chateau

It was a grim, grey day when we visited Lourdes and the rain was chucking down. Having parked in the town centre, we headed to the Tourist Information office where we were given a map by a cheery man who helpfully pointed out the main areas of interest – namely the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, which was built on the rock above the Grotto of Massabielle, and the castle.

We decided to make our way to the sanctuary first and followed a walking trail through the town, which took us past shops selling all manner of religious souvenirs, including statues, fans, fridge magnets and candles. As we neared the sanctuary, the number of pilgrims increased massively and there were lots of people in wheelchairs or who were old and infirm who, I’m guessing, were hoping to be healed by the grotto’s waters.

The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes

The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes (above) is situated within a large oval park and I was blown away by how enormous it was. It’s ginormous and mind-bogglingly ostentatious. The sanctuary consists of a tall, grey stone structure with a basilica at the bottom, huge flights of stairs and ramps on either side, a crypt above the basilica and a church on top of that. There are also lots of statues dotted around the park, including one of the Virgin Mary and another of Bernadette with a flock of sheep.

Inside the basilica at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes

Not quite sure where to begin, we made our way to the basilica, entering via a set of ornate gold doors. Inside, we found a massive cavern boasting a white stone ceiling, red marble walls engraved with the names and dates of those apparently cured by the site’s waters, and above the altar, a gorgeous gold and blue domed ceiling (above and below). Around the sides, there was a series of small chapels featuring lots of gold and paintings depicting different scenes from the Bible. It was very elaborate.

The ornate gold and blue patterned domed ceiling inside the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes

When we walked back outside, we found the rain had stopped so we decided it was a good time to visit the grotto where Bernadette experienced her visions. Situated under the huge rock on which the sanctuary was built, there was a long queue to get to the grotto. Once in line, we were quickly shepherded to the tiny grotto and filed past it in no time, with the pilgrims around me touching the rock as often as possible. The small miraculous spring was partitioned off behind a pane of glass.

The crypt and the church at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes

We then made our way up the stairs to the crypt where some of Bernadette’s remains are interred in a small chest. There were lots of small plaques in the crypt, too, with people giving their thanks for the miracles that happened to them after visiting the grotto. One was from a formerly childless couple who conceived following their visit.

Inside the church at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes

From the crypt, we nipped upstairs to the church on top of the sanctuary. Once there, we found there was a service taking place, so we only stayed briefly, before making our way back down the stairs and through the park to the town’s Boulevard de la Grotte. Part way up the street, we stopped at Eleanor’s Salon de Thé, which was run by a friendly woman from the West Midlands, for a warming cup of tea and a bowl of vegetable soup.

Happily sated, we then walked through the town’s narrow streets to find the entrance to the castle, which is perched high on a rock in the centre of town. At the bottom of the rock, there’s a small office where you pay your entrance fee – from there, you can either take the stairs or the lift to the castle on top. We took the lift.

One of the stone buildings and the keep that make up the Chateau-Fort at Lourdes

At the top of the rock, we discovered that the castle isn’t so much a traditional castle as a series of buildings and ramparts that are also home to a museum where you can learn about the traditional way of life in the Pyrenees. The elements of traditional life on display included life in a Béarnaise kitchen, an exhibition of black and white photos of agricultural workers taken between 1965 and 1980, and models of the various animals you can find in the Pyrenees.

View over Lourdes and the Pyrenees from the ramparts at the town's Chateau-Fort

My favourite part of the castle was the Pointe du Cavalier Sud, high on the ramparts, which offered incredible views over Lourdes and the Pyrenees (above). The low lying grey clouds had lifted by the time we reached the ramparts, so we were able to see parts of the magnificent mountain range for the first time.

After the ramparts, we continued our tour of the museum. The exhibits included one room that was a recreation of a traditional Pyrenean bedroom, displays about local games, ceramics and agricultural tools, and a fascinating exhibit about the region’s costumes.

A recreation of a traditional Pyrenean cottage inside the museum at the Chateau-Fort in Lourdes

Towards the end of the tour, we learned about the history of the castle, before climbing a narrow 104-step spiral staircase to the top of the keep. I’d expected the top of the keep to have amazing views of the Pyrenees, but unfortunately it was covered and home to a rather dull display of granite and other building materials. The climb to the top of the keep was far more exciting than the exhibition within.

The tiny chapel at the Chateau-Fort in Lourdes

The next building we ventured inside was home to a series of artworks, including a genteel set of paintings of Lourdes by Louis de Bondidier, as well as a temporary display about the various castles that have inspired artists. We finished our tour with a peek inside the castle’s stone chapel (above), which looked rather simple from the outside but turned out to be ostentatiously decorated inside with statues and lots of gold and marble. By now we’d seen all there was to see in the castle, so we headed back down to the town via the lift.

The magnificent Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes

I really enjoyed our day trip to Lourdes – there was a lot more to the town than I was anticipating. We spent around five hours in Lourdes and could easily have spent longer as there were parts of the town, such as the parish church, that we didn’t get a chance to visit.

The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes (above) is huge and an incredible piece of architecture, while I hadn’t expected to find a large castle perched high on a rock in the centre of town. Lourdes is a fascinating and classy town with lots to see and do, and very friendly people. It was well-worth visiting and, I have to say, possibly preferable to Santiago de Compostela.

Oloron-Sainte-Marie

The Gave d'Aspe in Oloron-Sainte-Marie

On our first full day in Béarn, we decided to spend the afternoon in the nearby city of Oloron-Sainte-Marie, the capital of the Haut Béarn region. The town is situated around the point where the Gave d’Aspe and the Gave d’Ossau meet, and has been a major trading hub in the region since the 11th century.

Our first port of call in the small city was the Quartier Notre Dame, and on our way to the quarter, we passed a plaque commemorating 19 young resistance fighters who were captured and sent to concentration camps in May 1943 where they died from hunger. It was a sobering and poignant reminder of the terrible impact the Second World War had on families in the region.

Continuing our walk, we came to the Église-Notre-Dame (above, left) and when we stepped inside, we found the place deserted. Wandering around the church, which was painted a pale cream and light grey, I was struck by how pretty the sanctuary was. Its walls and ceiling were delicately painted in shades of red, purple, green and gold (above, right), and its pink and purple stained glass windows were also delightfully pretty. It was a beautiful, peaceful space, if a little shabby and neglected in parts as some of the paintwork desperately needed touching up.

The Gave d'Ossau in Oloron-Saint-Marie

From the church, we made our way towards the Hotel de Ville and followed the signs to the Quartier Confluence. The path took us over the two rivers, the Aspe and the Ossau (above), and walking over the bridges that spanned them, we got a real sense of the potential combined power of these two rivers as we watched gallons of water pouring down the rivers and over the weirs.

We continued along the path until we reached the town centre again, which was pretty much deserted. We decided to stop for coffee in the only café we could find open where we were rudely and brusquely told we couldn’t only order drinks and had to order food, despite the fact that other people were sitting outside with nothing more than coffees.

With nothing else to see and all the other cafés and shops closed, we headed back to the car. On the way out of town a car beeped its horn at us angrily when we stopped at a red traffic light and then overtook us at speed, with the passenger sticking two fingers up at us as they drove past.

Gave d'Ossau in Oloron-Saint-Marie

The incident rather summed up my feelings about Oloron-Sainte-Marie – I didn’t like it. There wasn’t much to see in the city, it was oddly deserted and the few people we came across weren’t particularly pleasant. Needless to say, during our week in Béarn, we only revisited the city to go to the supermarket and otherwise avoided it like the plague. Easily the most disappointing place we visited in Béarn – everywhere else, luckily, was lovely!

Béarn

Artouste Dam and Lac de Fabreges in the Pyrenees

In the shadow of the Pyrenees, lies the ancient region of Béarn. A wild, untamed land dominated by its stunning scenery, it’s an area of myths and legends, and has an otherworldly, spiritual feel. It’s a collection of rugged, impossibly tall mountains, and lush green forests and fields, and is home to an abundance of wildlife, including magnificent birds of prey and adorably cute marmots.

The village of Eaux-Chaudes in the Ossau Valley in the Pyrenees

Having spent childhood holidays on the eastern and western fringes of the Pyrenees, we decided it was time to explore the central part of France’s natural border with Spain and booked a gîte for a week in Béarn.

Henri IV's chateau in Pau

Our week was spent following the pilgrim trail to Bétharram and Lourdes, and sightseeing in the region’s capital, Pau, home to Henri IV’s elegant chateau (above). We also spent time touring the wine-growing areas of Madiran and Jurançon, going underground at the Grottes de Bétharram, and of course, exploring the Pyrenees themselves in the Ossau Valley.

A wooden board with cheese and bread

Given the varied, and at times, imposing terrain, the region’s food revolves around hardy mountain animals. Goat’s and ewe’s milk cheeses are abundant, the local standout being the delicious Ossau-Iraty, which is made using unpasteurised ewe’s milk and has a slightly nutty taste. We were lucky enough to be staying near a fabulous fromagerie and had great fun picking out cheeses. Tomme de Pyrenees and a wonderful blue goat’s cheese from the region were among our favourites.

Grapes growing on the vine at Aydie on the Madiran route du vin

With all the great cheese the region produces, it stands to reason that it also needs some good wine to help wash it all down, and luckily, the Madiran and Jurançon regions provide just that.

We spent a day driving around the small towns and villages of the Madiran region on the look out for vineyards producing the robust, earthy red and ended up sampling (and subsequently buying) a number of bottles in the local wine co-op. I’d never heard of Jurançon, a white wine produced in the region around Pau, before visiting Béarn, and being a fussy white wine drinker, I was surprised to find I rather liked the dry version, Jurançon Sec.

Lourdes photographed from the town's chateau

Béarn might not be top of most people’s list of places to visit in France, but I found a region steeped in history with excellent food and drink, lots to see and do, and of course, breathtaking scenery. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Lourdes (above), Pau (the shopping’s superb) and Bétharram, and all in all, I loved my week in the region. If you’re looking for somewhere to go in France that’s a little off the beaten track with unspoilt landscapes, great hiking and a fairly traditional way of life, you can’t go far wrong with Béarn.

Dinefwr

Newton House seen through the trees from Dinefwr Deer Park

Nestled among the trees and woodland of the Carmarthenshire countryside, Dinefwr is a grand estate boasting a medieval castle, a stately home and a 100-acre nature reserve that’s home to a host of wildlife including deer, otters and badgers.

Looking for somewhere to stop on my drive back to Cardiff from Pembrokeshire, I stumbled upon Dinefwr, and as it was almost at the half-way point between the two, I decided it would be the perfect place to stretch my legs and have a spot of lunch.

On arriving at the estate, which is maintained by the National Trust, I parked my car and made my way to the information hut to get a map from the friendly staff. There are a number of walking trails around the estate and I chose a route that would take me up to the castle, then through the nature reserve to Mill Pond and returning via the deer park.

Dinefwr Castle

I set off from the car park over a field and entered the Castle Wood, following the woodland path uphill until I reached the castle (above). Perched high on a hill overlooking the River Tywi, Dinefwr Castle was once the home of Lord Rhys and the princes of Deheubarth, the ancient kingdom of south-west Wales.

Only the outer shell of the castle, which is maintained by Cadw, remains, but you can walk all the way along the ramparts and they offer spectacular views of the Carmarthenshire countryside, the River Tywi and Dinefwr Park (below). The big round tower is still intact, too, and you can climb to the top and walk around it. There isn’t a huge amount to Dinefwr Castle, but what remains is in excellent condition and it’s a lovely place to explore.

View over Dinefwr Park and beyond from the top of Dinefwr Castle

From the castle, I headed back down the hill, cutting through the woodland, and continuing to follow the path over a field until I came to the deer park entrance. I passed through the metal gates into the park and followed the boardwalk through Bog Wood until I came to the picturesque Mill Pond.

Wooden sculpture of a bird of prey in the deer park at Dinefwr

From there, I carried on walking through the deer park, and was surprised and delighted when I saw two young deer sprint past me on the path ahead. I hadn’t expected to see any deer, despite the park’s name, and was thrilled to see not one, but two of these magnificent creatures.

Deer just visible on top of a hill in the Deer Park at Dinefwr

I continued through the deer park, and as I neared the metal gates at the end of the path, I looked to my left where I saw a row of deer relaxing on top of the hill (you can just make out them out in the photo above). Most were lying down, but some were standing around or eating.

It was an incredible experience seeing so many deer so close. I thought the deer would keep themselves hidden, away from the footpaths, and so hadn’t expected to come across any. The only other place I’ve seen deer is in Richmond Park in London, so seeing the deer made my visit to Dinefwr quite special.

Newton House in the grounds of Dinefwr

Feeling elated from my encounters with the deer, I continued on the path towards Newton House (above), the stately home at Dinefwr. The house was closed so I couldn’t look around, but The Billiard Tearoom inside was open, so I stopped there for lunch. The tea room sells a variety of soups, light lunches and sweet treats, and the staff were incredibly warm and welcoming, and made my visit all the nicer. Starving, I wolfed down a steaming bowl of red thai squash soup, followed by a slice of toffee gateau.

View of the inside of Dinefwr Castle from the ramparts

Dinefwr is an exceptional place, full of history, wildlife and beautiful scenery, and having lived in Wales most of my life, I can’t believe it was my first visit. Seeing the deer in the deer park was particularly memorable, and as I was walking around, I was already planning my return visit. I may only have just discovered Dinefwr, but it’s a place I’ll be returning to again and again.

Info

Dinefwr Castle
Free
Open 10am-4pm every day
cadw.gov.wales/daysout/dinefwrcastle

Dinefwr Park
Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, SA19 6RT
Adults £7.60, children £3.80
www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dinefwr

 

Ceredigion coastal path – Gwbert to Mwnt

The sandy cove of Mwnt in the distance, spied from the Ceredigion coastal path

Earlier this month I was in Pembrokeshire, west Wales, for a wedding. The morning after, feeling a little delicate, I decided I needed a healthy dose of sea air to blow the cobwebs away and so embarked on a seven-mile circular walk from my hotel in Gwbert to Mwnt.

Gwbert is a tiny village perched high on the cliffs overlooking Cardigan Bay. The Ceredigion coastal path (part of the Wales Coast Path, a free to access footpath that runs along the entire Welsh coastline) passes through the village. Having done a spot of research online, I found that if I followed the path to the north, I’d end up in the picturesque sandy cove of Mwnt, just three-and-a-half miles away.

The wild and dramatic Ceredigion coastline from Gwbert

Before I set off, I paid a quick visit to the clifftops at the end of my hotel’s grounds to have a look at the spectacular stretch of coastline I was about to explore (above). Joining the coastal path, I walked firstly uphill along a wide country road, and then followed the signs over a stile through a series of (at times muddy and wet) farmers’ fields.

View of Cardigan Island in the distance from the Ceredigion coastal path

The path through the fields took me right down to the shore where I had good views of nearby Cardigan Island (above), and from here, I followed the jagged, curving pathway along the edge of the coast, through fields and quarries, and along narrow clifftop pathways.

The path was mostly well-trodden, but it was muddy, slippery and perilously close to the cliff edge in parts. The signs warning that clifftops could be deadly did not help reassure me and I was very aware that if I tumbled at certain points, I’d fall straight over the edge of the cliff onto the craggy, forboding rocks below.

Looking down on the sandy cove of Mwnt from the Ceredigion coastal path

After around an hour or so, I finally spied Mwnt’s compact sandy beach in the distance (above). And as I got closer to the cove, the path became increasingly muddy, rocky and slippery, and there was one section where I struggled to keep my footing. But I soon made it down to the beach where I enjoyed the beautiful views over the coastline I’d just walked (below).

View of the Ceredigion coastline from Mwnt

Being November and a little drizzly, the beach was unusually quiet (it’s often heaving on a sunny summer’s day) with only a few other walkers around. I spent a little while at the beach looking out for any signs of seals, pups or dolphins, which frequent the area, and then headed up the hill to the small Church of the Holy Cross (below), which overlooks the cove.

The lonely Church of the Holy Cross in Mwnt

From there, I headed inland up a long, winding, uphill road, where at the top, I turned to the right, and walked back to Gwbert via the roads, passing the tiny village of Ferwig along the way. My return journey wasn’t anywhere near as scenic or as pleasant as the coastal path, but it was a much easier, more sure-footed walk. And some three hours after setting out, I arrived back at my hotel where I collapsed on my bed with a warming cup of tea and some ginger biscuits.

I really enjoyed my walk along this incredibly scenic stretch of the Ceredigion coastal path, it’s a great route and the views over the coastline are breathtaking. It was the first time I’ve deliberately walked a good stretch of the Wales Coast Path, and having completed this walk, I’d like to explore more of it.

Tips

  • Take a map – there’s no phone or internet signal in this part of rural Wales and while the coastal path is well signposted, the road signs are sporadic and there are a number of junctions that aren’t marked.
  • Take plenty of water and snacks – there are no cafés or shops en route.
  • There’s a small toilet at Mwnt that’s open all year-round, but bear in mind these are the only facilities along the walk.
  • Wear waterproof hiking shoes with good grips – the coastal path is muddy and very slippery in parts so good footwear is essential.
  • Be aware that once you join the coastal path at Gwbert there’s no way of turning off it until you get to Mwnt.

Info

Get more information about the Wales Coast Path.