A Holiday in Wales; Cardigan Bay, New Quay, Aberaeron, Llangrannog and Spotting Dolphins
We see our first Welsh dolphins!
There was silence as the engines stilled. Overhead gulls circled in a cloudless blue sky, and in the distance grey seals lay sunning their bulky bodies on the rocky seashore. The boat rocked gently in the water, and, scanning the ocean around us we waited in eager anticipation. Suddenly the silence was broken, ‘There it is! Look, there!' All eyes turned to follow the pointing finger. Sure enough a distinctive fin was cutting through the water along-side us, a dark shape visible beneath it. A moment later we heard a plop and a splash as the dolphin leapt up out of the water, and disappeared back beneath the waves, whilst we all sat mesmerised. This was soon followed by a second splash as another bottle nosed dolphin arrived to join in the fun. Soon the two beautiful creatures were treating us to a wonderful display, sunlight glinting on their backs, and their tails playfully smacking the water. Who would have thought it? All this excitement just off the coast of Wales, in Cardigan Bay!
Wales has long been a favourite holiday destination for us. We love the rugged scenery, sandy beaches, the mountains, the clean air, and the beautiful lilting Welsh voices. People moan about the unpredictable weather there, but we've always been reasonably lucky on that score. Our holiday in Cardigan Bay was no exception. Inspired by my daughter's love of dolphins, we booked a week in a cottage at Canllefaes, just outside Cardigan town. Although our boat trip from New Quay was a wonderful experience, the holiday was a great success on all fronts, including the weather, which was well-behaved for the entire week.
The Welsh bottlenosed dolphins are one of only two pods in Britain, and they provide a major tourist attraction for the region. If you're lucky, you don't even need to take a boat out to see them, as they're often to be seen frolicking quite close to the shore. Favourite places for sightings include New Quay harbour, and Cardigan Island Coastal Farm Park with it's fabulous cliff top walks. This year we saw dolphins just a little way off-shore in New Quay harbour, as we sat in the sun-shine eating a picnic lunch on the very last day of our holiday. They are bold and friendly creatures who do not seem at all perturbed by the many little vessels bobbing around close to the coastline. Apparently there are around 130 dolphins in residence in Cardigan Bay throughout the summer months, and there are regular boat trips from New Quay harbour for would-be spotters. including the regular dolphin survey trips that record sightings at their office behind the lifeboat station.
A reading from Under Milk Wood, by Dylan Thomas
New Quay, Dylan Thomas and Under Milk Wood
As magical as the dolphins may be, however, New Quay holds other attractions for me, for it is the prim Victorian terraces, cobblestone harbour, and the warren of steep, narrow streets that are so beautifully evoked in Dylan Thomas's play for voices, 'Under Milk Wood'.
'It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestones silent and the hunched, courters'-and-rabbits' wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea.'
Dylan Thomas lived in the town with his wife and family throughout the latter part of the Second World War, and his cosmopolitan behaviour and poetic manner were not always well accepted in the close-knit community here. The eccentric local characters were richly mined for Dylan Thomas's masterpiece, 'Under Milk Wood', and the fictional town of ‘Llareggub' bears a striking resemblance to New Quay. Reverse the name ‘Llareggub' and you get an idea of Dylan Thomas's cheeky sense of humour! The Thomas's sojourn in New Quay came to an abrupt end in 1945 after some scandal involving a rumoured ménage a trois with the wife of an absent soldier ended in an unfortunate shooting incident. Fortunately there were no serious casualties, but the Thomas family moved on soon afterwards.
The town itself is not a traditional bucket-and-spade seaside town, although it's popular enough with surfers and day-trippers, and it has a full complement of beach shops, pubs and cafes. If, like me, you're a fan of Dylan Thomas, there's a Dylan Thomas walking tour available from the tourist centre which takes you to places the poet lived in and frequented.
The New Quay cliff path which inspired the poem ‘Quite Early One Morning', offers a steep but rewarding walk around the bay, giving excellent views on a clear day, towards Cader Idris and Snowdonia in the north. Bird watchers regularly report sightings of stonechats, choughs, red kites and peregrine falcons along this path, and below the crumbling, treacherous cliff face, Atlantic grey seals can often be seen bobbing in the water, and occasionally dolphins leap and splash in the sunshine on summer days.
Llangrannog beach at sunset
LLangrannog, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, goes for a paddle!
Cardigan has long had the royal seal of approval, so it comes as no surprise that the Prince of Wales has a holiday home here, not too far from beautiful Llangrannog. Delighted locals were treated to a very informal royal visit in June 2008 when Camilla, Duchess of Cormwall, accompanied by a female friend and two detective bodyguards, went for a paddle, followed by a bracing stroll across the headland (no doubt keeping a weather eye out for dolphins!) and finally enjoyed an ice-cream whilst sitting on a wall in the sunshine.
The Daily Mail reported the visit, and has a delightful photograph of the Duchess taken by a local lady, on the highlighted link.
A little round the coast at Georgian Aberaeron, and pretty Llangrannog
Pretty Aberaeron, seven miles up the coast from New Quay has a very different air about it, with it's large deep harbour surrounded by gaily painted Georgian houses. Of the two beaches here, the South Beach is the more pleasing, although on the whole we prefered those at nearby Llangrannog , Tresaith, and Penbryn, but the town has other attractions for the holiday maker. The Sea Aquarium at Quay Parade has a tide pool of local fish, plus displays of other marine oddities, and a photographic exhibition on old Aberaeron. You can book boat trips from here. A little out of the main town at Clos Pengarreg is a charmingly eccentric collection of craft shops housed in old converted farm buildings. Over all, Aberaeron, with it's many listed buildings and attractive architecture, is a lovely place to just potter about in on days when you don't want to be on the beach, or when the legendary Welsh weather takes a turn for the worst!
On days when the sun does shine, visitors could do worse than to head for any of the pretty sandy coves, along the coast here, and take out their buckets and spades for some traditional seaside fun. At the gorgeous village of Llangrannog we enjoyed a perfect day of fun and sunshine, paddling round the cove, exploring shallow caves in the cliffs, sketching the scenery, and strolling over the cliff top path to the next little bay. It was here we encountered the mad shoe-thief dog, who kept the children royally entertained with a game of chase involving the theft of one of my son's trainers. The dog either had no sense of smell, or was determined to have a game at any price! The shoe was eventually retrieved only when a lady arrived on the beach with an attractive looking bitch on a lead. The trainer was abruptly abandoned in a puddle, as cherchez-la-femme replaced catch-me-if-you -can!
Llangrannog is accessed by steep and winding narrow roads, and there is only limited parking available near the beach, so on busy days, do consider using the park and ride car park at the top of the village, which despite having a regular minibus shuttling back and forth, is actually only a pleasant ten minute stroll away from the seafront. The glorious sandy beach here is divided by a pretty brook which tumbles over stones and trickles towards the waves, providing the children with endless extra entertainment. It's a bit like a built-in water feature! When you tire of the beach, there's several cafes and pubs close at hand as well as a well-stocked beach store, and handy public conveniences.
Holidays- Village Girls at LLangrannog by Christopher Williams 1915
Accommodation, hotels, b&bs, self-catering holiday cottages and campsites
As you might expect in an area where tourism provides a substantial contribution to the local economy, there is indeed a plethora of holiday accommodation available. We stayed in a rented self-catering holiday cottage at Canllefaes that we found on the internet. We were really, really lucky in our choice, and couldn't fault our comfortable holiday home, one of a cluster of converted farm buildings sharing a lovely heated swimming pool. There are, however, any number of alternatives in the Cardigan Bay area, and the internet has a good selection advertised. The coastal towns of Cardigan, New Quay, Aberporth and Aberaeron amongst others all have a wide selection of hotels, guest houses, and Bed and Breakfast establishments. There are also caravan sites and camp-sites a-plenty.
In Llangrannog the proprieter of the fish and chip shop assured us that Cardigan Bay will soon be as popular as Cornwall. She may well be right!
Dolphins follow a boat launched from Llangrannog
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Our visit to a cheese factory at Caws Cenarth
On one of our sorties inland we came across a small,family cheese making business not too far from the beautiful county town of Cardigan. The tiny factory has a shop where we were able to sample the delicious cheeses, and a viewing area where we could watch the age old process of cheese-making first hand.
Welsh speaking Gwynfor and Thelma Adams have been farming for over 42 years at Cenarth, and the cheesemaking business was established in April 1987 as a response to the E.C milk quotas which had threatened the viability of the family farm. Thelma and Gwynfor led the revival of Welsh Farmhouse Caerffili and Caws Cenarth is now the oldest established producer of Welsh Farmhouse Caerffili.
Gwynfor remembers helping his mother to fill the large 40lb moulds as a small chid, and Thelma has fond memories of watching her mother turn the surplus milk from the two family cows into a wonderful white Caerffili cheese using very basic cheesemaking utensils. Drawing on these childhood memories they have brought those traditional skills up to date in their tiny factory. The Adams now have the benefit of modern steel equipment, but the cheese is still made by hand, in the time-honoured way and is even pressed in cast iron presses which are now over a hundred years old. Some of these presses still bear the names of local towns such as Carmarthen and Cardigan. The cows which provide the milk graze in the lush fields surrounding the factory, and all the cheeses are approved by the Soil Association.
The little shop has some treasured photos on the walls taken during a visit by The Prince of Wales, and there are also photos of the family's corgis, a traditional breed of Welsh dog favoured by Queen Elizabeth.