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Reflections on Leaving Wales and Moving On

 

Pen y Fan sunrise in winter

Pen y Fan sunrise in winter

 

I published my last post almost a year ago! Many things have happened since and I needed some time off, especially that I haven’t really had a proper “base” to work from.

It’s the second time I am wrapping up my life for new beginnings. Hundreds of thoughts are racing through my mind, moving to another country is such a rare opportunity to rethink your actions, ideas, hopes and plans for the future. 11+ years ago I left Poland for Wales, to become a support worker in a small residential school for young people with learning disabilities. Little did I know where my life was going to take me, and that as of today I would officially be living in Bavaria, Germany.

 

 Carmarthen Fans - Bannau Sir Gaer with Picws Du in distance, Black Mountain, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales. April 2013

Carmarthen Fans – Bannau Sir Gaer with Picws Du in distance, Black Mountain, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales. Apr 2013

When a young girl, I always dreamt about visiting the UK, possibly spending there a few months to learn the language and experience the romantic vibes of the country. Like from Jane Austen’s or Charlotte Bronte’s novels: rainy moorlands, green hillsides and purple heather blown in the wind. (Not mentioning a handsome man with shaggy hair riding a horse in the background…)

Years later, after finishing my supply English teacher post in a primary school in Poland, I started looking for possible jobs in Great Britain. An advert of a support worker position at a school run by a charity seemed a perfect solution for me, combining my two passions: education and social care. I was even more happy when, after receiving a job offer, I could choose between two locations: either close to Oxford and London, or in a rural English/Welsh border countryside. You should know by now which one was my choice.

 

 Llangorse lake from Mynydd Llangorse, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales, April 2014

Llangorse lake from Mynydd Llangorse, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales. Apr 2014

 

I won’t lie, the beginnings were difficult. New place, new housemates, new job, new language (with what seemed like a hundred accent variations). Now I am able to look back with a smile at some situations which seemed scary and/or embarrassing at the time. Imagine a grown-up woman who feels (and probably behaves) like a schoolgirl trying to make new friends.

But most of all, I wasn’t fully aware that people with learning disability might choose to display aggressive behaviour as their means of communication. I had to learn how to safely deal with being punched, kicked, bitten, verbally abused and spat at. And in spite of that, there was a number of students I was fond of; witnessing their even smallest steps forward made me so happy and proud. I can’t even explain how it feels seeing a boy who kept hurting himself and us, turning into a young man who could fly on a plane to Lapland! With the promotions, my responsibilities changed. I still enjoyed what I was doing though, even with some staff members being the most challenging of people I had ever met!

Without going into too much detail, as I should not be talking about certain issues, the school I worked in got closed. For someone not knowing much about social care, you don’t know about all these crazy regulations that needs to be followed, even if it often means that paperwork is more important than people. Somehow the mountain was created out of the mole hill, and because of a few potential mistakes, many of great staff lost their jobs, and students lost a great place to learn and thrive.

I went through good and bad with so many great people. I learnt a lot about how to appreciate the uniqueness of others. I made friends for life, had my heart broken, fell in love with Scottish and Welsh landscapes, hiked my legs off and found my man (though not British and without a horse, but thanks to him photos of me were published even in Nat Geo!).

 

 Berneray, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. January 2013

Berneray, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Jan 2013

Summit of Glyder Fach with Tryfan in background, Snowdonia national park, Wales. June 2013

Summit of Glyder Fach with Tryfan in background, Snowdonia national park, Wales. Jun 2013

 

Closing off the school pushed me to make a decision: ‘should I stay or should I go’ – I could keep working for the company and just move within the UK. But I knew that it was time for me to leave, to explore new places. I really love travelling, but what I like the most is long-term experiences, the familiar and the foreign interwoven with each other.

It took me about a year to be where I am now, I have travelled through Europe to Norway and my beloved Lofoten, then went to USA, Poland, back to Lofoten and Wales, and finally here to German Bavaria. The most exciting part of my travels was to meet a great British couple who were travelling Europe in their van (check out their website VdubVanLife), and now we are planning together a really cool project!

 

Sitting around a campfire with Bee from VdubVanLife, northern lights above us, Storsandnes, Lofoten, Norway

Sitting around a campfire with Bee from VdubVanLife, northern lights above us, Storsandnes, Lofoten, Norway. Sept 2014

 

The big unknown ahead of me, thrilling and scary at the same time, not only due to starting in a new place and learning a new language, but also because of changing my area of work quite significantly and jumping into self-employment. (I even learnt to design eBooks, check them out).

I just wish that the school would still exist and I could sometimes check in to say hello…

 

Berneray, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. January 2013

Berneray, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Jan 2013

Sunset from the summit of Markan (602m), Lofoten, Norway. Sept 2014

Sunset from the summit of Markan (602m), Lofoten, Norway. Sept 2014

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Weekend on Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Fishguard-08

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Fishguard-08

My time in Wales is coming to the end. My workplace is being closed, I will try to write a post about my UK and Welsh experience, but I am not quite ready yet. It’s a very emotional time but it is also a beginning of something unknown to me. I am going to travel for a few months, and maybe I will become a “proper” travel blogger one day. I will start with a road trip to Norway, my first time driving a British car on the right side of the road, so can be fun! After Norway I’m going to say goodbye to Scotland, I hope the weather will allow me to explore its beauty. My last planned destination – USA, haven’t been there for 2 years and I have really missed the big open landscapes of California and Colorado. I’m back in January and I will see what time brings, the most likely scenario is moving to the Alps next spring…

But it is Wales which has been my home for almost 10 years, and today I would like to write about one of my favourite Welsh places – Pembrokeshire. And to be precise – the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. Last year I spent a few days on the western part of the coast (you can read about my trip here). This July I went with a friend to Fishguard. To be honest, Fishguard became our choice mostly because our trip to Pembrokeshire was quite a last minute decision, and it was where I found still available and affordable accommodation near the sea.

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, West of Fishguard

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, West of Fishguard

If you want to explore the Coast Path, you can pretty much start anywhere. Taking a car means that I usually walk for a few hours and then back the same way. If you would like to, there is an option of going further and catching a bus, but somehow I don’t trust the timetables. And what if I don’t get there on time?

On the first day we decided to walk West, passing the harbour and emerging into the wilderness. Beware of the horses, they really scared us on the way back blocking the path. Just stay calm and slowly make your way through… Below a nice horse ignoring us, I was too afraid to get the camera out when they became a bit less welcoming later on.

Horses on Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Horses on Pembrokeshire Coast Path

We were lucky again with the weather, the sun was shining and kept us full of energy almost to the end. My friend walked in flip-flops, but I would not recommend it, especially when the path is not dry, as the trail can be pretty steep and slippery. There are a few up-and-down sections which mean not a bad workout. I must admit that getting back to Fishguard was quite painful, I had cramps in my legs and had to hold the rail when using the stairs to the town centre. Never been so happy to get to the hostel and have tasty Indian food in the restaurant.

Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, West of Fishguard

Hamilton Backpackers Lodge – a great place to stay. The kitchen would need a bit of a tidy up, but overall it is really nice. It’s funny how I often meet social workers from around the world during my travels, this time a girl from Australia. Apparently social care jobs, although can be rewarding, can also be quite draining, and one needs to recharge their batteries…

Hamilton Backpackers Lodge, my friend trying to keep a serious face...

Hamilton Backpackers Lodge, my friend trying to keep a serious face…

The following day we walked East, the path is a bit easier. Being tired from the previous day, we walked just beyond the Fishguard Bay Caravan and Camping Park (with a much needed coffee, muffin and ice cream break). The day became hotter and we drove to the beach to enjoy the Sun. Unfortunately I can’t spend much time being fried on the sand, and off we went to New Quay for dinner. So if you fancy coming to Wales and you are not sure what to do, drive to Pembrokeshire and hike as much (or as little) as you would like…

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Fishguard

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, East of Fishguard

 

New Quay, Pembrokeshire

New Quay, Pembrokeshire

Fishguard, Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Fishguard

My friend walking on the beach

My friend walking on the beach

Hot sunny weather in Pembrokeshire

Hot sunny weather in Pembrokeshire

Friendly cow

Friendly cow

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Fishguard

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, East of Fishguard

 

    Pembrokeshire Coast Path, East of Fishguard

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, East of Fishguard

Lower Fishguard, end of walking...

Lower Fishguard, end of walking…

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Fishguard-08

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Fishguard-08

Hamilton Backpackers Lodge, my friend trying to keep a serious face...

Hamilton Backpackers Lodge, my friend trying to keep a serious face…

Beautiful views on Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Beautiful views on Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, West of Fishguard

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, West of Fishguard

Pembroke-Coast-Path-03

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Fishguard

 

 

 

 

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Hay-on-Wye: Town of Books and much more

It was a gloomy day in Wales yesterday. I could hear the rain drops hitting my windows with a great force. The wind sounded like a wounded giant dog howling endlessly. It made me think back about when and why I moved to the Welsh countryside…

Hay-on-Wye: Sheep on the field

Hay-on-Wye: Sheep on the field

Well, I decided to move to Hay-on-Wye a few years ago. The main reason was that I needed a change of scenery, the English town I had lived in was nice but a bit boring. I wanted to live in a magical place, a bit further from my workplace and memories of a broken heart. I learnt how to read when I was 3 years old, since then books have become my dearest friends. Give me a day off and a good book to read and I will not bother you till I finish it. No place seemed more suitable for m to live in than Hay-on-wye (Y Gelli Gandryll in Welsh), a small town with the population less than 2,000, which is beautifully situated in the Brecon Beacons National Park. It is called “the town of books”, which translates into heaven for bookworms (both human and insects)…

Hay-on-Wye, Cinema Bookshop

Hay-on-Wye, Cinema Bookshop

Hay-on-Wye Booksellers

Hay-on-Wye Booksellers

I first heard of Hay because of its famous festival which brings hundreds of visitors every year. It all started with Richard Booth, and Booth’s bookshop is still the largest one in Hay. I used to come to Hay from time to time to enjoy being surrounded by books. If you also love reading and browsing through hundreds of books, fancy sitting on the sofa and inhaling the written words, Hay-on-Wye is a perfect place to visit. It can literally take hours to wander around the town and check out all the bookshops. There are a few big ones which look more like libraries, but there are also smaller ones which often specialise in certain areas. I suggest bringing the list of authors or titles you are interested in as you can get lost and overwhelmed quite easily.

Hay-on-Wye, Booth's Bookshop

Hay-on-Wye, Booth’s Bookshop

Booth's bookshop - don't worry if you are too short

Booth’s bookshop – don’t worry if you are too short

Hay-on-Wye, Booth's Bookshop

Hay-on-Wye, Booth’s Bookshop

You can also find a few so-called honesty bookshops. They are basically the shelves full of books situated outside and therefore “open” 24/7. You usually pay 50p for a paperback and £1 for a hardcover book using the money boxes.

Honesty bookshop in Hay-on-Wye

Honesty bookshop in Hay-on-Wye

What makes me love Hay even more is that it has its unique character not only due to the bookshops. There are also many other shops worth a visit. You can browse through antiques, local products, fair trade items and handmade stuff, etc. It is so refreshing to see original products not only from big chain shops, windows displays full of things often forgotten in other places. I must admit that I have spent quite a bit of money on footwear here (nice pair of red shoes recently…), it is not very expensive but very comfortable and often with a funky finish.

Hay-on-Wye

Hay-on-Wye

 

Hay-on-Wye Booksellers - bigger inside that you would expect

Hay-on-Wye Booksellers – bigger inside that you would expect

Winter Sunrises on Pen y Fan

Corn Du and Pen y Fan in background, Brecon Beacons

Corn Du and Pen y Fan in background, Brecon Beacons

I talked about big adventures in my last post, how inspired I was by Leo Houlding’s story. But I think that we can all define what adventure means to us and we can set ourselves some challenges on a much smaller scale. Winter is coming, so this is a post for you about my super-early-morning winter hikes on Pen y Fan and maybe you will try as well. Strangely enough, some people look at me with the mixture of respect and doubt in my mental health state when they hear my answer of how I spent the weekend.

Pen y Fan in winter, Brecon Beacons

Pen y Fan in winter, Brecon Beacons

Pen y Fan is the highest peak in the Brecon Beacons range in South Wales. It is only 886m above the sea-level and the hike is quite easy, especially if you skip a short scrambling section to the top of Corn Du (often mistaken for Pen y Fan). For a winter sunrise I would start at the parking lot just off A470 as the smaller roads might not be accessible. There are two car parks close to each other, I prefer the one more in the forest (with the toilets), not the one opposite the Storey Arms. The route from the latter one is more up and down, up and down and so on… I am not too keen on hiking up just to go down again to loose all the height I have gained. My usual route is easier, you just go up all the way. It is not too steep for most of the way which usually makes my knee ache on the way down though.

Corn Du at dawn, winter in Brecon Beacons

Corn Du at dawn, winter in Brecon Beacons

What you need:
– Check the forecast, the hike is easy but not in a snow storm.
– Get up far too early. It is the most difficult bit as to experience sunrise at the top, you need to start at least 30-45 minutes before. Plus driving to the car park (which takes me about 50 minutes).
– Have appropriate gear: headlamp (as you start in darkness), windproof jacket (I love my Mountain Hardwear soft shell for how it isolates me from the wind), insulated jacket (to put on when on top), hiking boots (when it’s snowy and icy) or shoes when warm (but not high heels which I have seen on Pen y Fan not once, it is a mountain for god’s sake!), trousers (avoid jeans as they just freeze).
– Some food and drink if you want to. I usually take chocolate and a thermos of tea to keep me warm. Maybe an apple. But it is not a long hike and you can get something from a food van at the parking lot after coming down.

Fighting the wind in my favourite soft shell, winter in Brecon Beacons

Fighting the wind in my favourite soft shell, winter in Brecon Beacons

Looking cold on summit of Corn Du, winter in Brecon Beacons

Looking cold on summit of Corn Du, winter in Brecon Beacons

To be honest every time I do it, I curse myself a bit on the way up. It is cold, slippery, often windy and sometimes cloudy or foggy. I have to pose to the photos taken by my dear photographer. I am not a graceful model and more often then not you don’t see my face in his photos. Because according to him I look cold. Why would I look cold when standing on the edge of the mountain covered in snow in temperature below 0 degrees? Anyone?

So why do I still do it in winter and at sunrise? Well, if you take photos (or your beloved one does), you know why, the light is awesome at this time of the day. But even if you’re not into taking photos, it can still be the best time of the day, the air is cold and crispy, everything around you is waking up for the day. You can almost inhale the beauty around you. It is not very often when I can experience real winter in the UK and being on top of Pen y Fan reminds me of home. And I absolutely love the feeling of hiking down when I feel so good and I still have the whole day before me. I know that I have accomplished something and I can look at people just starting the hike with a bit of superiority…

Pen y Fan sunrise in winter

Pen y Fan sunrise in winter

Pembrokesire Coast Path

Pembrokeshire Coast Path from Dale to St. Anne's Head

From Dale to St. Anne’s Head

 

The sunny and hot weather is not a common occurrence in Wales so I decided to spend one of the July weekends in Pembrokeshire. As I am not much of a “lying-on-the-beach-and-doing-nothing” person I thought I could walk some of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path sections. I had already spent some time near Cardigan before and really liked it so to explore more I chose to check out the area around Marloes. I invited one of my friends and off we went, straight to Haverfordwest and then a few turns to Marloes. We wanted to grab some lunch in the Clock House (recommended everywhere). Well, planning and researching beforehand does not always help, the Clock House was closed. Hungry and angry I noticed a pub sign and I sighed with relief. Too soon, “sorry no food served” we’ve heard (we found out later that the chef was sick).

Beach near Dale, Pembrokehisre Coast Path

Beach near Dale

We went to Dale then where we finally had something nice to eat. Dale is a nice little place and a good start to walk towards St. Anne’s Head lighthouse. Lovely views, steep cliffs, green grass, blue ocean waters and a windy path ahead made my day. The path was not very demanding, just a few steeper sections often with a wooden steps to make walking even easier. I guess it could be more difficult, were the path muddy. But unusual for Wales a few weeks of sunshine made the trail a pleasure to walk. On the way back we stopped at a lovely small beach at the Mill Bay with the remnaints of the wreck. This was also the place where Henry VII landed in the 15th century, and as I have been watching “The White Queen” series on BBC, seeing the place added to my understanding what he and his troops had to fight against.

The remnants of HMS Barking on the beach at Mill Bay, Pembrokeshire Coast Path

The remnants of HMS Barking on the beach at Mill Bay

 

Not wanting to risk another disappointment in the pub in Marloes, we drove to Haverfordwest for dinner. We chose an Indian restaurant Taj Mahal and it was a very good decision. Lovely interiors, nice customer service but what was the most important, they served delicious food. I had a mouthwatering salmon dish, one of the best dishes I have ever tasted.

On the following day we chose to walk from Marloes Sands to Deer Park with its Iron Age fort. This is an extremely beautiful section of the Path, steep cliffs with the blue or even turquoise ocean background. Again not an overly demanding path. I enjoyed it the most though when it was just two of us walking without too many tourists around. The closer to the car park, the more likely we would encounter groups of people with big hiking boots, backpacks and maps. I could not understand why they were studying maps so intensely as there was actually no possibility of getting lost on the clearly marked path in such a good weather…

Gateholm - a tidal island, Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Gateholm – a tidal island

Deer Park waters, Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Deer Park waters

We then turned back to Marloes Sands to admire the famous Marloes Sands beach. It is an amazing sandy beach which gets bigger and bigger when the tide gets lower. Being in such a beautiful place I could not deny myself swimming again. The water was really cold but I didn’t mind (at least not after a few minutes of very slow going in and very fast coming out). My friend wasn’t as brave as me and just chose to be frying on a rock.

Marloes Sands beach, Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Marloes Sands beach

After a lazy relax on the beach we drove to Little Haven, a cute fishermen village. At low tide one can walk on the beach all the way to Broad Haven. It doesn’t seem very long but believe me it is quite a good workout. Be careful when walking in or close to the water as you might step on jellyfish.

Broad Haven to LIttle Haven beach walk, Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Broad Haven to LIttle Haven beach walk

To finish our day we drove to St David’s stopping on the way in Solva which was recommended to us by the lady we met in the hostel. The “high street” in Solva was worth to stop by so we wandered around a little bit. St. David’s is nice with a great cathedral and abbey ruins if you like a bit of history. I didn’t go inside the cathedral as there was a service there at the time when we arrived. I didn’t want to end up like my friend who went in and was then led to the bench and handed in a songbook… If you look for a place to eat in St. David’s I would recommend The Grove. I ordered chicken with lemon & courgette rosti, green beans and lemon thyme jus. All I can say is that never mind the chicken, but I would become a vegetarian if I could prepare veg like that.

Click here for Pembrokeshire Coast Path info