What’s the best way to reach the Isle of Skye?

I first visited Skye in 1993 when the Skye Bridge was a mere glimmer on the horizon. Back then we took the ferry for the short journey from Kyle of Lochalsh to Kyleakin. When the Skye Bridge opened in 1995 it used the same crossing and signalled the end of this ferry service.

Since then the Skye Bridge has proved a huge success in increasing tourist numbers and allowing quick and easy access to the island. Yet as a holidaymaker I’m drawn to the idea of a ferry ride; it makes me feel like I’m on a proper journey. Fortunately there’s another option, the tiny community owned Glenelg ferry. So which is better – the bridge or the ferry?

Glenelg-Skye ferry

The Glenelg ferry is the last manually operated turntable ferry in the world. It crosses the straits from Glenelg to Kylerhea on Skye every 20 minutes between 10am-6pm.

If it’s scenery you’re after then the ferry wins hands down! From the A87 turn off at Shiel Bridge it’s about nine miles to Glenelg, a drive of around twenty minutes.

View over Loch Duich and the Five Sisters of Kintail from Bealach Ratagan
View over Loch Duich and the Five Sisters of Kintail from Bealach Ratagan

The first section is a steady climb, around hairpin roads and through woodland, until you reach the Mam Ratagan viewpoint. The vista over Loch Duich and the Five Sisters of Kintail is stunning, and worth the detour even if you don’t plan to get the ferry.

The panorama was ever changing, with rain, clouds and sun throwing up different shadows on the mountains. Annoyingly, the dreaded midges were also out and about, limiting the time we spent outside the car gazing at the hills.

Rain clouds on the road to Glenelg
Rain clouds on the road to Glenelg

The road itself is quiet and easier to drive than I expected. Although I was unnerved at one point by a logging lorry coming up fast behind me. Fortunately it’s easy enough to pull over and let locals pass. That said, even if I was a local I think I’d want to stop and saviour the scenery.

The road to Glenelg
The road to Glenelg

Heading on through gloriously green pasture land we experienced what we came to call ‘Skye weather’ (despite still being on the mainland). This consisted of sun on our faces and torrential rain just behind. You’d never realise from the photograph above just how ominous the weather was right behind us!

We arrived in Glenelg just as the MV Glenachulish departed. It didn’t matter though as this gave us a few minutes to browse the small gift shop and watch the turntable ferry. The car deck is rotated around during the crossing so that drivers are able to drive on and off easily. Not something I was really aware of when we were on the ferry so good to see it in operation.

 

Queuing for the Glenelg ferry
Queuing for the Glenelg ferry

A few minutes later the ferry returned and we were directed on. The ferry takes a maximum of six cars and twelve people. Even though Skye was extremely busy when we visited there were only a couple of other cars waiting to travel.

Glenelg ferry arriving in Skye
Glenelg ferry arriving in Skye

The journey across the Straits took less than ten minutes. There’s not much space to move around on the ferry so we sat in the car, keeping an eye out for the sea eagles that inhabit the area. No luck though.

Once on Skye we drove up to meet the main road towards Portree. I found this road trickier than the mainland side. It’s single track with a couple of stomach lurching blind summits. Added to this, the rain had finally caught us which meant reduced visibility despite my window wipers being on double speed.

The downsides to the ferry? Firstly, it only runs between Easter and October so if you’re visiting outside these dates use the bridge instead. It doesn’t run in inclement weather either; check the sign at Shiel Bridge to see if it’s open before you make a wasted journey. There’s also a £15 cost (car and four passengers) which means the Skye Bridge is the way to go if you’re on a budget.

Skye Bridge

There’s not much to say about the Skye Bridge. There’s none of the anticipation or adventure that you get with the ferry crossing. Despite the obvious presence of water you hardly realise you’re crossing to an island, just carry on driving along the A87. But it’s almost always open, it’s free and fast. It does its job.

Skye bridge
Skye bridge

Which did we prefer? The Glenelg ferry won hands down for us. But try it yourself, take the ferry one way and the bridge the other.

The third way – Mallaig to Armadale ferry

There is one further option from the mainland, the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry from Mallaig to Armadale. The boat is weather dependent but runs year round and is a great option if you plan to visit southern Skye. A single journey for a car and two passengers costs approximately the same as the Glenelg ferry.

More info:

  • Check the Skye Ferry website for service dates, times and fares.

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A family walk up Yr Eifl, Llŷn Peninsula, Gwynedd

I’d never heard of Yr Eifl before our recent holiday to Anglesey. It was only as I stood on Newborough Beach looking over to the hills on the Llyn Peninsula that I knew I had to visit.

A couple of days later I discovered the range of hills that comprise the three summits of Yr Eifl make a great half day walk. We only climbed two of them, missing out Garnfor (Mynydd Gwaith). I’d been put off by its granite quarry and telecoms tower; of course I regretted this decision part way through the walk.

Yr Eifl

Our walk started from the car park on the road leading to the Welsh Language Centre at Nant Gwrtheyrn.

Looking towards Yr Eifl from the car park
Looking towards Yr Eifl from the car park

The track, initially alongside moorland, to the summit of Yr Eifl was obvious. This was fortunate as I’d taken a cavalier approach to route finding and hadn’t bought a map with me; not something I’d recommend. In my defence the day was clear, the walk straightforward and I had a screenshot of the route on my phone.

At 564m Yr Eifl is the highest of the three hills; technically a few metres short of a mountain. That said, it became progressively rockier as we climbed and that’s always a mountain sign for me.

Looking south from Yr Eifl
Looking south from Yr Eifl

The best thing about Yr Eifl? The solitude. We’d driven through Snowdonia a couple of days previously and it was incredibly busy. Drive a few miles south and you’re alone again.

Ascending Yr Eifl
Ascending Yr Eifl

In fact, we only met four other people on our walk. The first two were descending Yr Eifl. They’d set out to climb Tre’r Ceiri but somehow ended up on Garnfor instead. Not sure how but I’d guess they were also without a map!

Trig point on Yr Eifl
Trig point on Yr Eifl

We had no problems finding our summit. It’s hard to miss the trig point when there’s a large metal number four on top of it. Google doesn’t have an explanation for this but I found a comment suggesting it was a local blacksmith declaring his love for his partner (H 4 A). A sweet story; I wonder if it’s true?

Aside from the trig point there’s plenty to see with Cardigan Bay to the south, Caernarfon Bay to the north and the mountains of Snowdonia just a hop, skip and jump away.

Descending Yr Eifl
Descending Yr Eifl

We descended off the summit in a westerly direction, picking our way across the rocks. The path wasn’t always clear but fortunately our next hill, Tre’r Ceiri, was easy to see.

Descending Yr Eifl towards Mynydd y Ceiri
Descending Yr Eifl towards Mynydd y Ceiri

Tre’r Ceiri

Tre’r Ceiri is one of the best preserved Iron Age hill forts in Britain. An impressive feat given its exposed location. The fort is surrounded by stone ramparts, inside are the ruins of around 150 houses. At its peak, during the Roman occupation, up to 400 people lived here.

There are, evidently, information boards. I looked in vain for them. How did we manage to miss them?

From the summit of Mynydd y Ceiri
From the summit of Mynydd y Ceiri

We ate our lunch perched on the edge of one of the hut circles. Thousands of people had probably sat there before us. Indeed, one of them had left a banana skin. My pet hate.

Descending Mynydd y Ceiri
Descending Mynydd y Ceiri

After lunch, and with added banana skin, we explored the fort before heading back downhill. There was an assortment of paths criss-crossing the heather but with good visibility it was easy to follow one heading in approximately the right direction.

Nant Gwrtheyrn

Back at the car park my eyes alighted on the sign advertising a cafe at the Welsh Language Centre. Only a few minutes away.

Beach path at Nant Gwrtheyrn
Beach path at Nant Gwrtheyrn

A word of warning. Unless you are in dire need of more exercise do not walk from the car park. It’s a steep downhill trek so you know what that means!

Sensibly, we drove and after cake and coffee found some extra energy to walk to the beach. A fine beach with lots of stone skimming opportunities. Followed by a drive in second gear up an incredibly steep road!

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Revisiting Llangollen and a walk on Llantysilio mountain, Denbighshire

If you’re a regular blog reader you’ll have probably seen my posts about our walks around Llangollen and over the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Little did I know when I booked our earlier trip that I’d be returning so soon!

Every year I treat myself to a walking break with Country Adventures, usually in the Lakes or Peak District. But this time the destination was Llangollen, staying a mile or so from the holiday house I’d rented with the family two months earlier. I had mixed feelings about heading back somewhere so soon but I needn’t have worried. The walks, the weather and of course the people were all different.

Our base was the White Waters Country Hotel in Llangollen; a step up from the usual youth hostel accommodation. I met the rest of the group for a welcome talk the first evening; lovely to catch up with some familiar faces from previous holidays before settling down to our evening meal.

Day 1 – Llantysilio hills

Icy feet!
Icy feet!

The day started with a minibus journey along the Horseshoe Pass to the Ponderosa cafe. We’d driven up here on our previous visit but only stopped briefly, rather put off by the sights and sounds of a hundred or so motorbikes. This time we were walking along Llantysilio mountain, a range of hills running from the Pass, before dropping down into Rhewl and back to Llangollen.

View from Llantysilio towards Llangollen
View from Llantysilio towards Llangollen

Leaving the minibus behind we headed towards our first peak, stopping frequently to enjoy the glorious views of the mist settled over Llangollen. Although the sunny picture above doesn’t manage to convey how cold it was!

Heading down Llantysilio Mountain
Heading down Llantysilio Mountain

Our route ahead was plain to see; an up and over track taking in the summits of Moel y Gamelin, Moel y Gaer and Moel Morfyyd. We’d already started from a high point so the walking wasn’t too strenuous. However there were a couple of steeper downhill stretches to negotiate, complete with icy patches, which slowed some of the group.

View from the trig point on Moel Morfydd
View from the trig point on Moel Morfydd

We eventually reached the far summit of Moel Morfyd. Looking back from the trig point I tried to work out the ramparts of the Iron Age hillfort on Moel y Gaer but had no luck. Although it’s immediately obvious when you look at aerial photos afterwards.

Moel Morfydd summit (Llantysilio mountain)
Moel Morfydd summit (Llantysilio mountain)

The summits of Snowdonia were much easier to spot. It’s rare that I’ve seen them bathed in sunlight and clear of cloud. I’ve walked in Snowdonia many times and can barely remember a trip where it didn’t rain!

Walking from Moel Morfydd towards Rhewl
Walking from Moel Morfydd towards Rhewl

After a lunch break we headed downhill towards Rhewl, passing near some paragliders taking advantage of the weather. It was great to chat with the group members as we walked; both those I already knew from and others who I hadn’t met before.

Walking from Rhewl to Llangollen
Walking from Rhewl to Llangollen

Our route took us along an old drovers track. In years gone by drovers moving their livestock would stop for a drink in the Sun Inn at Rhewl. It’s a pity it was closed when we passed as it looked like the kind of place where you could easily while away an afternoon.

The view whilst walking from Rhewl to Llangollen
The view whilst walking from Rhewl to Llangollen

We paused for a while to peer down the driveway of Llantysilio Hall, a large Victorian house once owned by the locomotive designer Charles Beyer. Rather fittingly he’s buried in the graveyard at nearby Llantysilio Church, which he’d helped restore and modify.

View over to Castell Dinas Brân from Trevor Rocks
Frosty path between Rhewl and Llangollen

We’d been spoilt by the glorious sunshine up on Llantysilio. It was a stark contrast as we walked through the fog that cloaked Llangollen. How different Horseshoe Falls looked from my previous visit!

Horseshoe Falls in the fog
Horseshoe Falls in the fog

Fortunately the warmth of our hotel was only a short  walk from the Falls. Plenty of time to relax before one further walk; a trip to The Corn Mill in Llangollen for a tasty curry and an evening of enjoyable conversation.

Day 2 – Trevor Rocks

Our walk on the second day covered some of the places I’d visited on my previous trips so I’m focussing this report on Trevor Rocks, my favourite part.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

We started out from Ty Mawr Country Park, initially walking to Pontcysyllte aqueduct and then onwards through Trevor Hall wood towards the limestone escarpment of Trevor Rocks.

View near Trevor Rocks
View near Trevor Rocks

I hadn’t realised how popular the area around Trevor Rocks would be. With the dead. After spotting several memorial plaques it became apparent that a lot of people have enjoyed the views during their lifetime.

View over to Castell Dinas Brân from Trevor Rocks
View over to Castell Dinas Brân from Trevor Rocks

It’s easy to see why as they stretch for miles in all directions. If you live in Llangollen I guess this is your local beauty spot. We stopped for lunch and to enjoy the views too but when it became obvious that a family group were meeting to scatter ashes nearby it was time to move on.

View from Trevor Rocks over to Dinas Castle
View from Trevor Rocks over to Dinas Castle

We worked off our lunch with a short uphill climb. It was worth the effort when we reached the top, being treated once more to views of Dinas Castle, on the hill opposite.

Trevor Rocks, near Llangollen
Trevor Rocks, near Llangollen

This ruined medieval castle stands on top of an Iron Age hill fort. Climbing to the castle from Trevor Rocks gave me a completely different perspective from my previous visit when I’d walked from the town centre. It certainly seemed much steeper!

View from Dinas Castle
View from Dinas Castle

After mooching around the ruins and experiencing the buffeting winds we returned to Llangollen where the group split and we headed our own ways for coffee, photographs and a spot of shopping.

View from Castell Dinas Brân
View from Castell Dinas Brân

Day 3 – Llangollen walk

Some of the group were leaving early on day three so it was a depleted number who set out for a morning stroll from Llangollen.

Looking down over Llangollen
Looking down over Llangollen

It was only a short walk, from the town up into the hills and back down to Berwyn but a perfect leg stretch before a long drive. The sun didn’t make much of an appearance but this didn’t seem to bother the kayakers on the River Dee. Rather them than me, the water must have been freezing!

Kayakers on the River Dee, Llangollen
Kayakers on the River Dee, Llangollen

The highlight? Finding the cafe open at Berwyn Station and enjoying bara brith before an impromptu trip on the steam train back into Llangollen.

A little later we headed our separate ways, another excellent break over. Roll on next year!

More info:

  • If you’re looking for a guided walking break in the UK I highly recommend Country Adventures. Joe, the owner, runs day and weekend trips primarily  in and around the Lakes, Yorkshire, Peak District and Welsh hills. Pop over to their website for further details.
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2016: a year in review – my top 10

It’s almost time to say goodbye to 2016. What can I say? It’s been a mixed year. Huge political shake ups, continuing civil wars, the Rio Olympics and Paralympics and Planet Earth II.

Personally, there have been sad times and happy times. I’ve had some great adventures and ticked off a couple of long held ambitions. Focussing on the positives, and in no particular order, here are my top 10 of 2016:

1. Running the London marathon

The first three months of 2016 were spent pounding roads and muddy footpaths in preparation for running the London marathon. My once in a lifetime challenge.

Finished!
Finished!

The day itself was incredible and by far the most physically demanding thing I’ve done. There were tough parts (the last six miles), amazing parts (spectator support and running over Tower Bridge) and emotional parts (finishing). Would I do it again? No way! But I’m very glad to have completed it.

2. Walking the Yorkshire Three Peaks

View from Pen-y-ghent descent
View from Pen-y-ghent descent

We spent a week in the Yorkshire Dales and were blessed with ideal walking weather. Perfect for tackling the Yorkshire Three Peaks – Pen-y-Ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside. Often walked as a day long charity challenge, we chose the easy option and spread them over three separate days.

3. Family backpacking adventures

Rest break near the gallops, Lambourn
Rest break near the gallops, Lambourn

I’ve cheated here and combined two trips into one. At the start of the year we decided the kids were old enough for backpacking. We bought a couple of lightweight tents and chose a couple of weekend routes close to home.

Swinford Lock camp fire, Eynsham
Swinford Lock camp fire, Eynsham

It wasn’t all plain sailing. I oversetimated the mileage we could comfortably walk on our Lambourn Valley Way weekend. And the weather was just a tad too warm on our Thames Path walk. But both weekends were fun, we rewarded ourselves with lovely meals out and made some great memories.

4. Going underground at Zip World Caverns, Blaenau Ffestiniog

My scary but exciting birthday present. Zip lining in caves, crawling through tunnels and scaling the side of the caverns. Are you brave enough to tackle Zip World Caverns?

Zip World Caverns training
Zip World Caverns training

5. Watching a Midsummer’s Night Dream, Creation Theatre, Oxford

“Quick, follow me. Walk in zigzags and blink your eyes really fast. Get in the van, hurry”. Think of Shakespeare and you don’t generally think of being bundled into a van in a public car park. Or taking part in an audition. Or popping into the printers to pick up wedding invites.

Part immersive performance, part treasure trail around Oxford this was an incredibly imaginative version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from Creation Theatre. It was simply the best production I have ever seen.

6. Descending into Gaping Gill

Waiting for the Gaping Gill descent
Waiting for the Gaping Gill descent

This was an unplanned, but welcome addition, to our Yorkshire Dales holiday. After spotting an advert in a local cafe we siezed the opportunity to descend 100m by winch into Gaping Gill, a large pothole. We had to contend with an early start and a couple of hours queuing but it was worth the wait!

7. Finally finding a bee orchid. And then another. And another.

Bee orchid, Warburg nature reserve
Bee orchid, Warburg nature reserve

You know the saying about waiting for buses? Well this year I could have substituted the words ‘bee orchid’. I was so happy to find my first bee orchid at Warburg Nature Reserve, closely followed by several more discoveries. I even found one on a roadside verge whilst out on my lunchtime walk. How could I possibly have missed them in previous years?

8. Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim

Giant's Causeway
Giant’s Causeway

I’ve wanted to visit Giant’s Causeway for many years. It has been on my bucket list forever. With expectations so high, thank god it lived up to them!

9. Watching coypu at our campsite in France

Coypu at Milin de Kerhe campsite, Brittany
Coypu at Milin de Kerhe campsite, Brittany

Whilst on holiday in Brittany my favourite activity was watching a family of coypu living near our campsite. I’d head down to the river every evening, about half an hour before dusk, and wait patiently for them to appear. I was childishly excited at the first glimpse of the coypu each night, and even more so whenever the young appeared.

10. Starlings and moon rise at Otmoor

Moon from RSPB Otmoor
Moon from RSPB Otmoor

Over recent years we’ve made an annual pilgrimage to watch the starling murmuration at RSPB Otmoor. This year, in addition to 40,000 starlings, we were treated to the most amazing moon rise. Two spectacular natural sights in one day!

What are my plans for 2017? We’re keeping things flexible at the moment but I have a very long UK bucket list which I’m hoping to make a dent in. How about you?

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