All Roads Lead to Machynlleth: A Welsh Adventure (Part 3)

Visiting Staylittle, mid Wales

I’ve spent the last few blog entries writing about everything we saw and did while in mid-Wales, which probably isn’t that surprising—after all, isn’t that the point of going on holiday? Yet none of the things I’ve mentioned were in our original plans for the trip, which simply involved wireless-free resting and relaxation.  To that end we each brought a bag of things to keep us occupied: books and magazines to read, non-wired activities to do, and computers to type on (we may not have had WiFi, but I saw no harm in jotting down notes!). Yet the bags were barely touched; instead, we ended up getting outside and just playing each day by ear. This led to a far more active experience than I had bargained for … and helped me realise several things I was missing in my normal life.

For example, our last full day was also grey and misty and would have been perfect for staying tucked up indoors. However, Helen needed us to swap rooms for the last night as she had other guests arriving, so we were turfed out and had to find a way to kill an hour or so. So we started walking up the lane towards the top of the hill.

Outside of this trip, it had been a while since I’ve walked without a purpose. I’m either out picking up litter or walking home from the office or trying very hard to get from point A to point B as quickly as I can. This walk was very much the opposite. It was meandering. There were pauses to appreciate the view across the valley—even with the low-lying clouds and threat of rain, the landscape was incredible. This activity—not exercise for the sake of it or walking as a form of transportation, but rather getting out and simply enjoying nature—is one such thing I want to incorporate into my routine as it helps clear the cobwebs from the mind.

Cloudy day in Staylittle, mid Wales
Visiting Staylittle, mid Wales

On the descent back to the B&B, we stopped for a moment to take a photo.  I started to move on but noticed MrElaineous wasn’t following. Instead, he had frozen in place with an intense look on his face. I was concerned—was he okay, was this a stroke? But no, he was listening for something—maybe a frog, or perhaps it was a bird—and it couldn’t be heard if we were moving. Only in complete silence was it possible to make out the sound.  “It’s amazing how much noise we make,” he commented as we continued on.  

This highlighted to me the importance of getting away in the first place.  The sheer noise we are surrounded with—whether from being in an office 9:00am-5:00pm, from the telly, from the radio, from telephone calls, from people in general—can be incredibly draining.  Perhaps it’s not for everyone, but speaking for myself as an extreme introvert, finding the opportunity to enjoy stillness and quiet has also moved to the top of my list of things to make time for.

Visiting Satylittle, mid Wales

Once we returned from our walk and settled into the new room, I turned my attention to making a start on these blog entries and beginning to organise my thoughts. Yet before long, it was time to set off for Bwlch Nant Yr Arian Visitor Centre (no, I don’t know how to pronounce it either). Every afternoon they feed red kites, who appear from up to 15 miles away for this chance at an easy meal.  

The red kite is one of the 20th century’s great wildlife success stories. After facing extreme persecution over the centuries, they became extinct in England in the 19th century, with only a handful managing to hold on in the valleys of central Wales. Yet these were carefully managed and now the numbers are rebounding, with efforts in place to reintroduce them in England and Scotland. Several locations run feeding programmes like Bwlch Nant Yr Arian, the goal of which is to supplement (not replace) their normal food and natural behaviour, especially during the winter months.

The birds have gone from “vermin” to visitor attraction, with the Visitor Centre doing everything possible to celebrate the bird of prey. We settled into a spot across the lake from the feeding area thirty minutes before show time and watched as benches, tree trunks, and the bird-watching hide itself began to fill up. The action and anticipation wasn’t limited to the spectators on the ground. The sky whirled with the distinctive silhouettes of red kites as they too waited for 3:00pm to roll around.

Finally someone came out with the food, offcuts of meat and scraps donated by a local butcher. The amount was far less than I was expecting. Having seen documentaries about a similar feeding programme where wheelbarrows of food were provided, just a bagful seemed far more modest. Yet the effect of the food was electric. Once the feeder spread the scraps on the ground and retreated, the kites began to dive in. A few at first, then building in number as each dove in an attempt to retrieve its prize.  Meanwhile, a small group of crows hung out on the outskirts of the feeding area, trying to keep out of the way of the bigger birds of prey while still dashing in to help themselves to a free lunch. Literature at the Visitor Centre said that on a good day up to 150 red kites could be seen. This was a very good day.

I have to say this upfront: this is a very bad video. MrElaineous is making comments about corvids and snapping away with his camera, I keep trying to zoom in and out to capture the red kite action, and it all gets very messy because I wasn’t using a tripod. 

But I think it does accurately capture the excitement of witnessing over 150 birds of prey swooping in for a bite to eat at Bwlch Nant Yr Arian

Red kites at Bwlch Nant Yr Arian Visitor Centre, mid Wales
Red kites at Bwlch Nant Yr Arian Visitor Centre, mid Wales

After the avian feeding frenzy, we continued westward until we hit the sea, arriving in Aberystwyth a few hours before sunset. We weren’t sure what to expect. The noir mysteries read by MrElaineous gave him a very different set of expectations than I had, which was more along the lines of a Welsh Weston-super-Mare.

But I think we were both pleasantly surprised by what we found. We walked along the well-kept promenade (I admired the number of bins) and enjoyed the architecture along the seafront, most of which had been given a facelift after recent winter storms. The further we walked, the more surprises Aberystwyth had in store, including what can only be described as Hogwarts-by-the-Sea: Old College. Its decorations, engravings, and turrets seem completely out of time and place, but one cannot fault the architect for picking a location directly on the seaside with such a fantastic view.

The wonders did not stop there. Just beyond Old College stands the remains of a 12th century Norman castle that has been turned into a park.  After exploring the area, we retraced our steps and returned for our final night in Staylittle. This kept us on our toes as the new room had low beams, but after a few calls of “Mind your head!” we quickly settled in for the evening.

The following morning we said good-bye to Helen and Rock Villa and began to head south. The further we went, the greater the density of people and cars (and litter). In addition to recognising that I needed to get out into nature more often and to find time to savour peace and stillness, I also realised that a few days away was just not long enough. 

Sunset, statue, and seagull in Aberystwyth
Norman Castle, Aberystwyth, Wales
Off the Beaten Track Wiltshire

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MissElaineous Travel Blog: Escape, Explore, Discover, Enjoy