Cruising the length of Cardigan Bay in a caravan
Stunning beaches, breathtaking scenery and adrenaline-fuelled activities for all on a seven-site tour through beautiful West Wales
By: Andrew Ditton | 24 September 2019
The Italian-style village of Portmeirion which is at the northern end of Cardigan Bay ©Phillip Roberts/Alamy
I hadn’t been at Shawsmead Club site for long before I was sitting in the sun and chatting to a new-found friend outside his awning. “Don’t tell anyone about this site! It’s our secret little bolthole!” said my new acquaintance, Jonathan. Sorry Jonathan.
You could argue that Shawsmead lies off the beaten track. Although it is nestled between the popular resort of New Quay and the elegant Georgian seaside town of Aberaeron, both of which sit on Cardigan Bay, other parts of Wales tend to draw more holidaymakers. Those in the know – such as Jonathan – are happy with the status quo.
New Quay is an obvious draw for its bustling quayside, from which you can enjoy dolphin-spotting boat trips. The village can get busy, as can its equally delightful and less well-known neighbour, Llangranog, a few miles south. Still, even the crowds can’t spoil a fish supper spent looking out to sea.
No visit to Wales would be complete without a trip on a steam train or two. Twenty miles up the coast from Shawsmead lies the university town of Aberystwyth, home to the famous Cliff Railway funicular, and also to the Vale of Rheidol Railway - don’t forget to take discount vouchers from the Club’s Great Savings Guide!
There are 675 steps to negotiate at Devil's Bridge Falls but the effort is worth it ©Robin Weaver/Alamy
We had an enjoyable day riding the steam train up to Devil’s Bridge, the locomotive puffing, panting and toiling up an incline of up to 1 in 50. At Devil’s Bridge you can relax and take refreshment at the Two Hoots Café, or spend an hour or so discovering the Devil’s Bridge Falls.
If you’d prefer to stay a little closer to Aberystwyth in order to enjoy its many attractions, consider the delightful Penygraig Farm Certificated Location, just two miles south of the town. Its proximity to the Ystwyth Trail cycle track means you can ride to ‘Aber’ in about 20 minutes. There are no mains hook-ups and dogs are not permitted, but as recompense the neat-lawned field commands spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.
The next stop on our itinerary was Gwern-Y-Bwlch Club site, 10 miles east of Machynlleth. What a gem! If you need somewhere to unwind, book a stay here without delay. The lack of toilet block and play area ensure that the site remains peaceful and quiet even during the peak summer months.
Gwern-Y-Bwlch Club site is a peaceful and picturesque site
A leisurely hour’s drive from both Gwern-Y-Bwlch and Shawsmead sites is Bwlch Nant yr Arian Forest Visitor Centre. Red kites are fed here at 3pm daily in the summer, and up to 150 of these magnificent birds of prey swing by for a snack. It’s easy to spend the whole day at the centre given the wide choice of marked walking trails and mountain bike routes on offer. The red-graded ‘Pendam Trail’ is one of my favourite mountain bike trails in the UK; in places it really is just like a single-track roller coaster for bikes.
With the natural world and the state of the environment in mind, I decided to visit the Centre for Alternative Technology. No matter what your interests, you are bound to see something that will open your eyes and mind to how to reduce our impact on the planet.
If you fancy staying in the area of Gwern-Y-Bwlch but would prefer a site with facilities, look no further than Dolgadfan CL, just a few miles away. Open all year, this popular and friendly full-facility site has built up a loyal fan base of returning members.
Next on my itinerary was the popular, family-friendly Affiliated site at Min Y Don. This luxury destination really does have it all. Harlech’s expansive sandy beach is about 10 minutes’ walk away. The railway station, allowing access to the Cambrian Coast Line, is also about 10 minutes on foot. There’s also a smashing dog- and family-friendly bar serving great food, and that is also – you guessed it – about 10 minutes’ walk away.
Min y Don Affiliated site is only a short walk from a beautiful stretch of beach
The beach is, of course, Min Y Don’s main draw, and if the weather is kind you could spend your entire holiday enjoying the sands. If you can tear yourself away you’ll find plenty more to do in the area, and the station’s proximity goes down a storm with motorhomers who enjoy days out in Barmouth, Porthmadog and Pwllheli. Meanwhile, the local leisure centre (yes, it’s a 10-minute saunter away) features an indoor climbing wall and a swimming pool for family days when the weather is not so kind.
Just a few miles inland lies Coed-Y-Llwyn Club site which features mostly hardstanding pitches and offers full facilities including a children’s play area and a dog walk. No matter how long you stay at Coed-Y-Llwyn, it won’t be long enough. Families, couples and single members all flock to the area for the many outdoor and adventure activities on offer.
“Snowdon is the big draw,” explains Gail, one of the site staff. “The site is on the south side of Snowdonia, so a visit to Snowdon does involve a drive from the site.”
When I last visited the site back in 2017, it took me about an hour to drive to Llanberis in order to climb Snowdon for an article in the Club magazine. “Bear in mind that you cannot take a dog on the Snowdon Mountain Railway,” Gail reminds me, “and members are also surprised to discover that they cannot take dogs into Portmeirion”.
Portmeirion is an intriguing attraction close to Coed-Y-Llwyn Club site ©Sebastian Wasek/Alamy
This news prevented me from visiting the latter on this occasion, but I have been seduced by its charms before. Most popularly known as the setting for the 1960s cult TV series The Prisoner, Portmeirion is a colourful village built in an Italian style. It really is the last place you’d expect to find in North Wales – well worth a visit in order to wander around both the village itself and the surrounding 70-acre tropical sub-forest, offering 20 miles of pathway.
Beyond Portmeirion lies the delightful harbour town of Porthmadog. Here there’s a variety of dog-friendly cafés, interesting independent shops, and it’s home to not one, but two more steam railways. A great way to reach Porthmadog from Coed-Y-Llwyn is to drive to Blaenau Ffestiniog, and take a scenic ride on the delightful Ffestiniog Railway.
From Porthmadog you can also catch a steam train on the Welsh Highland Railway to Caernarfon, where you’ll find one of the largest fortifications in Wales. It’s only possible to make a day trip from Blaenau Ffestiniog on the busiest days of the year, when an enhanced ‘red’ timetable is in operation – otherwise you need to start in Porthmadog.
In more recent years, this corner of Wales has become known for a very different kind of attraction, which has captured the imagination of the nation. The Slate Caverns near Blaenau Ffestiniog have undergone a huge revamp, and are now home to Europe’s longest zip wire course and an all-weather underground attraction called ‘Bounce Below’. Using a system of nets, trampolines, slides and walkways, participants bounce and slide their way around a disused mine. Nursing a damaged knee, I could only look on with envy at the children (of all ages up to about 60) bounding, falling and laughing their way around.
Mountain bikers of all levels and abilities will find a trail to suit them at the impressive Coed-y-Brenin centre ©Andrew Lloyd/Alamy
My dodgy knee didn’t stop me from going mountain biking again, though, and one of the best centres in the UK, Coed-y-Brenin, is about 15 minutes’ drive from Coed-Y-Llwyn. Every kind of ride, from ‘green’-graded leisurely family cycle trails to ‘black’ technical tracks for the seriously skilled (or bonkers) is on offer. I played it safe with the ‘blue’-rated ‘MinorTaur’.
In need of some relaxation before the long drive home, the final CL on the tour fitted the bill perfectly. Gilfachwydd is the kind of place that many members crave: peaceful and rural, while discreetly offering the facilities that make life easier, such as electric hook-ups and neatly-mown grass pitches.
The CL is ideally placed for Coed-y-Brenin and the bustling resort of Barmouth, but the closest attraction is the town of Dolgellau. An utterly delightful place, I found myself just wandering around and trying to soak up its charm and relaxing vibe as much as possible.
It was time to go home, but luckily Wales isn’t going anywhere, and this magnificent part of the country is the equal of anywhere to the north or south. You should make the journey and fall under the spell of this beautiful, enchanting, fun-filled and friendly part of the world.