Wet, windy woods and waterfalls in Wales
This time last year, during the “heatwave" summer, we were in the midst of training and trying out equipment ahead of a multi day hike on the Swedish High Coast Trail. We hiked for 3 days, carrying Benji, our then almost 2 year old son in his Osprey carrier, wild camping along the way. We suspected at the time it might be our last chance to put in some serious hiking miles for a while; his weight becoming a burden to lug around and his little legs not strong enough to carry him very far. As a much wetter, cooler summer rolled around this year we were itching to get into the hills but knew a grand adventure was out of the question due to a lack of funds and time and the added challenges that come with parenting an energetic nearly 3 year old child. We spotted a brief window of opportunity during a busy period with the Studio and hastily hatched a plan to head to Wales; the nearest place to us that could satisfy our desire for something a little more rugged than the South Downs.
We had planned to camp for a couple of nights and then find a cottage or cabin that would be our base for a few days, allowing for day hikes to waterfalls and short forays into higher country before camping again at the end of the week. We were excited at the prospect of using our van for the first camping trip of the year, trying out the improvements we had made over the winter and found a beautifully basic campsite situated on the edge of ancient woodland. As soon as we talked about finding a cottage, I remembered I had seen one somewhere in Snowdonia on our Instagram feed; a quick scroll back and it turned out to be Nook Snowdonia which was just the very thing we had in mind and we jumped at booking a slot that fortuitously lined up with our plans. Turns out that Instagram can *occasionally* be useful alongside its more regular offerings as a source of frustration, anxiety and isolation.
And so, we bundled Benji into the van at 5am one sunny morning, headed north and west until the faint silhouettes of mountains appeared on the horizon. We wound our way through and over the hills, nervous all the time of how the van was behaving; this was its first true test since we replaced the cylinder head ourselves in December. Many stressful uphills with one eye on the temp gauge and joyous downhills later, we found the campsite to be empty apart from us and we set up camp beside the swift flowing stream. A glorious sunny evening followed, and we cooked a light, fresh pasta on our new Primus stove in the van kitchen before the three of us snuggled into our tent, lulled to sleep by the gurgling stream. It was however a restless night; perhaps the sound of streams is not soothing to toddlers? In truth though I did’t mind; I like being awake in a tent at night, listening to night noises and slinking ever deeper down into my sleeping bag. It seems a shame to camp only to sleep through the whole experience.
A breakfast fritatta (recipe below) and hot coffee were eagerly consumed followed by a brisk dip in the stream to wash away the previous day’s travelling weariness before we packed up and headed out in search of our accommodation for the next few nights. Nick and Charlotte from Nook Snowdonia provided extremely good written instructions and our OS map was in hand, yet as you venture further and further along the narrow track that winds towards the cottage you can’t help but wonder occasionally if you’re going the wrong way. But sure enough, the little white stone cottage came into view and as we crossed the bridge and drove up to the house Nick was there ready to greet us. Nook is a wonderfully cosy traditional welsh cottage, rugged and charming with thick slate floors, low doors (mind your head), two wood stoves for winter warmth and equipped with everything you might need yet uncluttered and simple, somehow capturing the spirit of the surrounding landscape. Nick and Charlotte live in the converted barns next door with their two young sons and were always on hand to help us out with recommendations of hikes and places to visit; this was especially useful to us on this trip as they hike regularly with their boys, their youngest the same age as Benji, so it was good to have some insights into local hikes achievable with a toddler in tow. We’d definitely recommend checking them out if you need somewhere to stay in Snowdonia.
We are fortunate to live where we live in our rented woodland home, but we couldn’t help but feel a touch envious of what Nick and Charlotte have been able to achieve with their place; set in 90 acres of land complete with its own small mountain, pockets of ancient oak woodland and a beautiful river rushing by, it’s the perfect base of operations for a couple wanting to share their love of the outdoors and we found ourselves wistfully wondering if one day we might have the opportunity to do something similar.
After our one sunny day camping, the weather rapidly deteriorated. Our plans weren’t seriously affected as we had already decided to stick to lower levels, seeking damp ancient woodlands, waterfalls, rivers and coastal paths even though we love the challenge of hiking on the mountains. Wales is one of those places where it’s hard to ignore the poor state of nature, especially in the uplands which suffer from a shocking lack of biodiversity thanks to overgrazing and are increasingly becoming dominated by invasive species, so we purposefully tried to seek out the fragments of temperate rainforest, mossy woodlands and the steep sided gorges and rivers where nature has managed to find a place to take hold.
On this mini trip, we had to learn to balance our own desires to get into the hills with allowing Benji to explore at his own pace and develop his confidence, walking and climbing over rugged ground on his own two feet. We took our Osprey child carrier but fought the temptation to sling Benji on our backs so we could go further and faster, apart from on one day where we had planned an 8 mile circular hike starting at the cottage. It’s a challenging time, but also a rewarding one as we watch him feel proud of his own achievements and experience the joy that we feel when hiking or exploring new places.
On our final day we planned to walk around Cym Idwal; an easy walk for us but one we thought Benji could tackle, although we took the Osprey, just in case. As he joyously hiked all the way up, around the lake and down again, climbing over rocks, splashing in streams and saying “hello" to every passing walker, we felt easily as stoked as we do on longer, harder journeys and also a touch proud of ourselves for raising a rugged, adventurous little guy. Although we sometimes miss hiking and travelling on our own, taking Benji along on all our trips and including him in our outdoor work brings a whole new level of enjoyment (and many new challenges) and he is constantly teaching us about ourselves and helping us to find new ways to have adventures.
We were sad to leave our cosy cottage and knew a busy working week and an overgrown vineyard awaited us, but we felt refreshed and reset for a few days of exploring and hiking. Often we come back from trips excited to get back to our work, full of ideas for new products and projects, eager to get stuck in. This time we’ve returned feeling a little flat, unsure of what’s next for us and Miscellaneous Adventures, and pondering what we can do to change things up. Whatever we do, we know we’re already hoping for a few more trips this year and can’t wait to get back in the mountains again.
Van Cooked Breakfast Fritatta (serves 2 adults and a hungry toddler)
Cherry tomatoes (3 handfuls)
Mushrooms (3 handfuls)
3 eggs, lightly beaten
Grated hard cheese (cheddar/parmesan/gruyere, etc)
Salt and Pepper
Tabasco to serve
Chop the tomatoes and mushrooms into quarters and fry gently in olive oil until the tomatoes start to caramelise a little. Lightly beat the eggs and pour over the mushrooms and tomatoes so it evenly covers the base of the pan. Sprinkle paprika and grated cheese on top. Cover with a lid or plate and turn down the heat, cook for a few minutes, checking every now and again. Once the cheese on top is melted, it’s ready. If you like a crispy frittata, flip it and cook for a few minutes on the other side. Otherwise, serve right away (goes very well with HP sauce or Tabasco).