Sunset watching at Newborough beach and Llanddwyn Island, Anglesey

When a beach is the number one Trip Advisor attraction on Anglesey you know it’s going to be special. You also expect it to be overrun with people. And perhaps, on a sunny summer day, Newborough beach and Llanddwyn Island are. But visit on a cool spring evening and you might well have the sweep of golden sand to yourself.

The car park at Newborough Forest is huge. Presumably testament to the number of day visitors who come to enjoy the beach, search for red squirrels and cycle the woodland tracks. There are toilets, marked trails and an ice-cream van in high season. But, aside from a couple of cars and campervans, it was almost empty at 8pm.

Watching the sunset from Llanddwyn island
Watching the sunset from Llanddwyn island

We parked and climbed the dunes to the beach. A perfect crescent of sand greeted us. Oystercatchers calling out. And a huge dead fish down on the shoreline that had both kids poking it in excitement.

Our target was Llanddwyn island, a mile or so along the sand from the car park. The island is cut off at high tide so check tide tables before you visit. Unless you fancy being marooned.

Beach walk out to Llanddwyn island
Beach walk out to Llanddwyn island

As we reached the island the clouds parted and a few rays of sun broke through. We were treated to the magical golden glow you get just before the sun sets.

Walk out to Llanddwyn island, Anglesey
Walk out to Llanddwyn island, Anglesey

Tŵr Mawr lighthouse, Llanddwyn island

For such a small finger of land Llanddwyn Island, named after St Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers, has more than its fair share of things to see. Away from the beaches there are historic lighthouses, the remains of a church, crosses and a terrace of houses once used by pilots guiding ships into the Menai Straits.

Tŵr Mawr lighthouse on Llanddwyn Island, Anglesey
Tŵr Mawr lighthouse on Llanddwyn Island, Anglesey

I thought we were the only ones on Llanddwyn. Until I realised I was about to walk into a photo shoot. Several professional looking photographers had set up their tripods and cameras to record the perfect sunset shot. Feeling guilty about spoiling their photos I decided not to visit Tŵr Mawr lighthouse. Instead I joined them on the rocks to bag a shot of my own.

After the sunset, Llanddwyn
After the sunset, Llanddwyn

Leaving the island we raced the darkening skies back to our car. As we drove home through the woods we scared the kids with tales of mutant giant squirrels attacking the car. They’re old enough for a few scary stories. But it was funny how they both locked their passenger doors!

Newborough beach

Newborough beach sunset, Anglesey
Newborough beach sunset, Anglesey

Our second sunset visit was unplanned. We’d set off on an after dinner walk to a different stretch of beach. All started well until I climbed a sand dune expecting to see the sea. The water was a good mile away, separated by rolling sand dunes. Realising we wouldn’t reach the beach for sunset we turned around and retreated to the car.

Newborough beach sunset, Anglesey
Newborough beach sunset, Anglesey

Undeterred we drove on to Newborough beach, arriving just as the sun dipped behind the trees. There was no time to walk far from the car park. Once again the tide was out. But this time so was the sun. It was stunning.

View over to the mainland from Newborough beach, Anglesey
View over to the mainland from Newborough beach, Anglesey

Over on the mainland the sky above the mountains of Snowdonia and the Lleyn Peninsula turned pink. Inspired by this view we headed there later in the week to climb Yr Eifl, the hill on the right in the picture above.

Newborough beach sunset, Anglesey
Newborough beach sunset, Anglesey

Returning my gaze to Anglesey I watched the most incredible sunset. As the sun sank below the horizon the clouds turned from yellow to orange to red. The colours reflecting in the pools left by the retreating tide.

Brent geese flying from Newborough beach
Brent geese flying from Newborough beach

With impeccable timing a flock of Brent geese flew up from the shoreline, silhouetted against the orange sky. I couldn’t have  imagined a more perfect ending to the day.

Newborough beach sunset, Anglesey
Newborough beach sunset, Anglesey

Another five minutes and the colours were gone. It was time for us to leave.

We didn’t return to Newborough beach again; there was no need. I’ll remember this sunset for the rest of my life. And if you’re looking for the best sunset in Anglesey, perhaps even Wales, you should visit too!

If you’d like to find out what else we enjoyed on the island more pop over to 10 things to do on the Isle of Anglesey.

More info:

  • Newborough Nature Reserve is on the southern tip of Anglesey. Car parking costs £4 during the day but the barrier is up and it appears to be free during the evenings.
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Four family walks in the Quantock Hills, Somerset

The only good thing, from my perspective, about our impending winter is that it gives me a chance to catch up on blog posts. Take our trip to the Quantock Hills for example. We visited in late summer, the August Bank Holiday weekend to be exact. Remembering the weekend we spent walking the hills, eating cream teas and searching for fossils cheers me up no end on a wet and grey November day.

Located in north Somerset, the Quantock Hills cover an area of 38 square miles. They’re less well known than their nearby neighbour, Exmoor, but on a Bank Holiday weekend that’s a bonus. As usual we chose to explore on foot, walking along the coast, through heather moorland and wooded combes. We squeezed in four short walks, not too strenuous and all less than 4 miles so perfect for families.

1. Kilve beach and East Quantoxhead

Whilst some people enjoy golden sand and blue seas I prefer interesting beaches. Give me rockpools, fossils and shells any day. Kilve beach ticked these boxes. Whilst it isn’t the most beautiful to look at, particularly on a grey murky morning, it’s a fantastic place for fossil hunting.

Rock strata, Kilve beach
Rock strata, Kilve beach

The cliffs at Kilve beach are formed from oil rich shale, with the different layers of rock clearly visible. Back in the 1920s, plans were afoot to extract the oil but fortunately proved unprofitable. I hope it remains this way.

We spent a good hour mooching around the beach, turning over the rocks in our search for fossils. We found plenty but what impressed me most were the huge ammonite fossils; it’s incredible to think these are 200 million years old!

Ammonite on Kilve beach, Somerset
Ammonite on Kilve beach, Somerset

The kids were disappointed to leave the beach and go on a walk; they wanted to carry on fossil hunting. Tearing ourselves away we headed up onto the cliff to continue our walk along the coast path. All around us were the gifts of late summer; blackberries, golden fields and swallows.

View from Kilve beach walk
View from Kilve beach walk

Turning inland we passed through the tiny village of East Quantoxhead with its manor house, duck pond and mill house.

As we neared the end of the walk a small ford offered some fun. We all had a go jumping over the stream; much more exciting than walking across the bridge.

No need for the bridge! Jumping the ford near Kilve
No need for the bridge! Jumping the ford near Kilve

It was a fortunate coincidence that our walk ended back at Chantry Tea Gardens. How on earth did that happen?! Sitting outside in the sun we enjoyed sandwiches and a cream tea, accompanied by a cheeky robin demanding crumbs.

2. Beacon Hill

Our second day started wet. The forecast was an improving one so after a lazy morning we headed to Beacon Hill. The rain wasn’t quite done with us so we lingered in the car park waiting for the showers to pass.

View from Beacon Hill - between rain showers
View from Beacon Hill – between rain showers

I’d originally planned a longer walk but decided a quick trip up to Beacon Hill summit would be drier. It didn’t take too long to climb and from the top we had great views in all directions. Of rain clouds that appeared to be heading towards us. We didn’t stop to admire the views! Straight back down to the car. Just before the rain arrived, again.

3. Lydeard Hill and Wills Neck

Fortunately the weather cheered up as the day progressed. Aside from the threat of one further heavy shower where we decided to take refuge in a house offering cream teas. Two cream teas in two days, yum.

Heather path up to Wills Neck, Quantock Hills
Heather path up to Wills Neck, Quantock Hills

Our afternoon walk took us onto the highest point of the Quantocks, Wills Neck. This was another straightforward out and back route, up and down a hill; good job really as I didn’t have a map. From the car park we walked to the left of Lydeard Hill, down into a small plantation and up again.

The colours of the Quantocks really are stunning in late summer. The pink and purple heathers and the yellows of the gorse. At least I think it was gorse; the problem with writing a post three months after a visit is that I cannot see from my photos whether there are prickles on the bush (and is therefore gorse) or not (and is therefore broom). Either way, it’s beautiful.

View from Lydeard Hill, Quantock Hills
View from Lydeard Hill, Quantock Hills

4. Holford Combe and Woodland Hill

This was my favourite walk. The weather, in contrast to the previous day, was warm and sunny. Perfect for sitting on the M5 looking at the back of car bumpers queuing for miles. But I’ve jumped ahead to the afternoon. Our morning was idyllic.

The first part of our walk took us through Holford Combe, a steeply wooded valley. I was surprised to learn the video for the Bryan Adams song, Everything I do (I do it for you), was filmed around here. Back in 1991 it was number one for a gazillion weeks so in the interests of blog research I watched the video again. After the initial shock of how young Bryan Adams looked I could immediately spot Holford Silk Mills. Sadly not passed on this walk, but Kilve beach features too.

Crossing Holford Combe stream
Crossing Holford Combe stream

Two hundred years before Bryan some very different wordsmiths, the poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Dorothy and William Wordsworth lived and wrote in these hills. As our track opened out into a sunlit glade it was easy to see where they got their inspiration. The stream sparkled in the sunlight and I could easily imagine whiling away afternoons relaxing on the grassy bank. It was magical; if  I believed in pixies this is where they’d live!

On top of Woodland Hill, Quantock Hills
On top of Woodland Hill, Quantock Hills

We followed the stream until it reached Ladies Combe then headed out of the woodland up a steep track onto Woodland Hill. Along the familiar heather and gorse covered slopes to the top of the hill. There are fabulous views from the summit, if you exclude Hinkley Point nuclear power station (far right in the picture above) from your field of vision.

Descending Woodland Hill, Quantock Hills
Descending Woodland Hill, Quantock Hills

Walking back to the car park we found a large muddy pond teeming with tadpoles. I know very little about the frog breeding cycle but it seemed very late in the season. Indeed, as I sit here on this November night I start to wonder what happened to them. I do hope they reached frog-hood!

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A family walk around Lepe Loop, Hampshire

“Are we near the sea yet?” my son asked as we drove into the beach car park at Lepe Country Park. “Er, yes, look in front of you”. To be fair, the drive down hadn’t provided any of the tantalising sea glimpses that normally precede arrival at a beach. But now the Solent sparkled just a few metres away from us.

Walking towards Watch House, Lepe
Walking towards Watch House, Lepe

The weather forecast was perfect for a weekend outing to the seaside; a day out to capture the remnants of summer. The busy car park informed us we weren’t the only ones with this idea. Although we were missing one essential item, a dog. You cannot take a dog onto Lepe family beach during the summer months. But from the start of October everyone brings their pooches for a paddle!

Family tradition dictates that we start our days out with a visit to a cafe. Fortunately Lepe had a beach cafe, albeit heaving with ramblers, families and day trippers all making the most of the autumn sun. We shared a couple of slices of cake, fuel for our morning walk.

Lepe Loop

Our route for the day was the 5 mile Lepe Loop. The circular trail runs west along the beachfront before heading inland along footpaths and gravel tracks. It’s an easy route to follow, both in terms of terrain and navigation. The walk is marked throughout with Lepe Loop signs.

Turnstone on Lepe beach
Turnstone on Lepe beach

As we set off along the seafront a small flock of turnstone ran back and forth, flying off whenever we got too close only to land again a few feet in front of us. They entertained us for quite some time and I even managed a couple of photos during one of their rare standing still(ish) interludes.

The Isle of Wight looked deceptively close. So close that if it wasn’t for the busy shipping channel you could almost imagine swimming over (well, not me, I’m a terrible swimmer). There were a couple of hardy swimmers taking a morning dip closer to shore. Evidently the sea is at its warmest tempersture in late summer but rather them than me.

Walking along Lepe beach
Walking along Lepe beach

Along the waterfront we found clumps of pampas grass. I hardly see them nowadays but I’m old enough to remember when every house in the 1970s had a clump in the front garden. Although in my naivety I’ve only just discovered that it was evidently a signal for couples who enjoyed other activities too!

Lepe Lighthouse

Our route took us past the small, but perfectly proportioned, lighthouse. It’s officially a Millenium River Beacon, and looks much older than it actually is. Only built in 2000 its job is to steer seafarers into the Beaulieu River fom the busy Solent.

Around Lepe lighthouse
Around Lepe lighthouse

We coincided our walk with high tide so followed the detour onto a country lane near Inchmery House. As we walked past we were intrigued by the extensive CCTV signs. Minutes later a police car cruised slowly by so we decided it was time to Google the owner. This turned out to be the historian and TV presenter Dan Snow. Just as interesting were its former owners, mercenary Simon Mann and the Mitford and de Rothschild families. If walls could talk!

Picnic site on the Lepe Loop
Picnic site on the Lepe Loop

Although high tide scuppered plans to eat our picnic on the beach we managed to find a spot on the edge of the salt marsh at the junction of the high and low tide routes. With the warm October sun shining on us and calm water lapping at our toes it was an idyllic place.

Living inland, the huge appeal of walking the Lepe Loop was the first mile or so along the waterfront. Whilst the remainder of the walk was pleasant enough I can trek through fields and along tracks almost any day. That’s my excuse for realising I’d taken lots of photographs of the beach, but none of the rest of the walk!

View from Lepe Country Park over the Solent
View from Lepe Country Park over the Solent

D-Day at Lepe

After the main walk we wandered east along the beach to look for the World War II remains. The beach was used for loading heavy equipment in preparation for the D-Day invasion, and some of the structures are still visible. There’s an information board that explains the various items; the rusty platforms below are known as dolphins and were used to help load the departing ships.

World War II ruins, off Lepe beach
World War II ruins, off Lepe beach

We also found chocolate bars. Don’t get too excited, they’re made of concrete and although they appear to be modelled on Dairy Milk they were actually used to stengthen the beach so the tanks could be loaded onto the departing ships.

Elsewhere in the park there is a Cold War underground monitoring bunker which is being restored. Strange to think that when I visited Lepe as a child this was probably in use.

Returning to the car park we stopped for a while to watch a huge container ship manoeuvre itself out into the Solent from Southampton. It dwarfed the Isle of Wight Red Jet ferry and reminded me just how busy this stretch of water is. Although perhaps quieter than our M3 journey home!

More info

  • We followed the route in the Lepe Loop walking leaflet. Available via the online link and as a printed copy (costs 50p) at the visitor centre in the car park.
  • It cost £6 for a day’s parking at Lepe Country Park. It’s cheaper out of season although Hampshire County Council still classify October as summer. There’s a cafe, small visitor centre and toilet facilities.
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10 things to do with your family in Côtes-d’Armor, Brittany

Are you thinking of a family holiday to Brittany? We stayed for a week in the Côtes-d’Armor department and discovered just how much there is to see and do in Brittany. Read on to find out our top ten suggestions for a family trip.

1. Visit the Pink Granite Coast, near Ploumanac’h

The Pink Granite Coast is one of Brittany’s premier tourist attractions. The coastal walk, which follows a former coastguard footpath, from Perros-Guirec is very popular and a great introduction to the pink rocks.

Pink granite coast, near Perros-Guirec
Pink granite coast, near Perros-Guirec

Many of the formations are named after the shapes they resemble, including a rabbit and a witch. I’ve no idea if the large rock below the lighthouse in the photograph is an ‘official shape’ but it looks like a sideways face to me!

2. Eat a crepe

It would be hard to come to Brittany and miss out on crepes. There are creperies everywhere, with traditional lemon and sugar fillings plus the ever popular Nutella option.

Crepes, Guingamp market, Brittany
Crepes, Guingamp market, Brittany

My favourite was a takeaway from a market stall eaten on a rainy morning. We ate posher crepes, with knives and forks, but nothing surpassed the simple joy of eating a crepe, oozing warm chocolate spread, direct from a paper bag.

3. Chateau de Tonquédec, Tonquédec

This is possibly my favourite castle in France. Built in the 15th Century, it is still owned by descendants of the original family. If you like your castles intact and perfectly restored this is not for you; it’s definitely a work in progress.

Château de Tonquédec, Côtes d'Armor
Château de Tonquédec, Côtes d’Armor

There are lots of interesting areas to explore; dark stairways to venture down (if you’re brave!) and towers to climb. Children will love it but do keep an eye on them as some parts resemble a medieval building site. Watch out for the local goats too; on our visit they were sitting high up on top of one of the walls.

Château de Tonquédec, Brittany
Château de Tonquédec, Brittany

4. Hisse et ho, Plelo

My kids loved this! Think of giant nets suspended from trees, rather like a cross between Go Ape and a trampoline park. There are slides, balls and hoops and bouncy nets to jump around on. Definitely a place to wear off some energy.

Hisse et ho! Char à bancs, Brittany
Hisse et ho! Char à bancs, Brittany

It’s not just for kids either. I enjoyed it too although the bounciness made me feel travel sick after a while. I was happier sitting and watching from the picnic table.

5. Watch the waves at Site du Gouffre, Plougrescant

Coastline, Le Gouffre, Brittany
Coastline, Le Gouffre, Brittany

The peninsula is probably most famous for Castel Meur, a house situated between two huge granite rocks, which features on postcards and tourist literature across the region. However, I enjoyed walking the coastline and watching the waves force water through the nearby gouffre. Although relatively peaceful during our visit the power of the waves was very evident. I’d love to return on a stormy day.

6. Centre de Découverte du Son, Cavan

The Sound Discovery Centre may sound a tad boring but it’s the complete opposite. It’s a quirky and unique attraction, which I highly recommend. Visitors follow a trail through the woodland where musical instruments are ingeniously incorporated into the surroundings. There are strings to strum, drums to tap and plenty of tubes to blow (mouthpieces provided).

Sound Discovery Centre, Cavan, Brittany
Sound Discovery Centre, Cavan, Brittany

After the woodland trail there’s a garden designed in the shape of the ear, along with a few more sounds to discover. The whole place is cleverly put together and great fun for all ages.

7. La Vallee des Saints, Carnoët

If, like me, you have an (unrealistic) yearning to visit Easter Island then a trip to the Valley of the Saints might just suffice. Perched on a hill there are currently more than 60 granite statues dedicated to Breton saints.

Valley of the Saints, Carnoët, Brittany
Valley of the Saints, Carnoët, Brittany

Visitors are free to wander around the saints, all of which are funded by donations from local communities and organisations. Over the next 50 years the project aims to create 1000 statues; a definite Easter Island contender.

8. Abbaye de Beauport, Paimpol

Founded in 1202 Abbaye de Beauport was once a centre of monastic life but in recent years the buildings have housed apartments, schools and a farm. Although parts of the abbey have been restored I preferred the atmospheric ruins. Pink and purple hydrangeas brightened up the grey stone walls. Very photogenic.

Abbaye de Beauport, near Paimpol, Brittany
Abbaye de Beauport, near Paimpol, Brittany

There’s plenty of information available in English, including a discovery trail leaflet and multi-lingual information boards. There are grounds to explore too, including a walled orchard and marshy coastline.

9. Explore Dinan

We arrived in St Malo on the overnight ferry and had a few hours to fill before our campsite was available. A visit to the medieval town of Dinan, with its half timbered houses and extensive ramparts, proved the perfect stopover.

Dinan
Dinan

We spent most of our time wandering through the picturesque lanes and browsing the shops. However, we exerted ourselves a little climbing to the top of the clock tower for a view over the roof tops.

Dinan, Brittany
Dinan, Brittany

I’m glad we managed to get some exercise as Dinan is also notable for providing our first, and best, taste of  Kouign-amman. This heavenly Breton cake consists of 30% sugar and 30% butter so I’m rather glad it’s not readily available in the UK!

10. Île de Bréhat

Having holidayed in Guernsey and Jersey I was keen to visit Île de Bréhat which is marketed as the French Channel Island. The island is just a mile off the Brittany coast, but after a ten minute ferry ride you feel miles from anywhere.

Île de Bréhat consists of two main islands. Both are car free so visitors either walk or hire bikes to see the islands. We chose to walk which I think was the best option to access the more remote beaches. Although it was a rather warm day for too much strenuous activity!

Île de Bréhat, Brittany
Île de Bréhat, Brittany

The island is incredibly beautiful although in August it was also incredibly busy. I felt rather sorry for the locals but I guess they also rely on the summer tourist invasion.

Have you visited Brittany? Where else would you suggest visiting?

More info:

  • Chateau de Tonquédec costs 5 euros for adults, 2.5 euros for children. It is open daily at varying times from April to September, and weekends only in October.
  • Hisse et Ho is open daily in July and August and weekends from March to November. Adults cost 12 euros, children cost 10 euros.
  • The Sound Discovery Centre is open 1-7pm from March to November, every day during the French school holidays. Entrance costs 7 euros for adults, 3.5 euros for children.
  • Boats to Île de Bréhat depart from Pointe de L’Arcouest, near Ploubazlanec. The return journey costs 10 euros for adults and 8.50 euros for children aged 4-11 years. From April to September boats generally depart every hour, there is a less frequent service from October to March. Futher details from Vedettes de Bréhat.
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