Country diary: a muddy climb is rewarded with sweeping views

The narrow lane down to the beach was edged with the yellow flowers of celandines, huddled at the base of the hedge. After days of rain, the field drains jetted water from the steep, saturated fields above, giving the overgrown brook an unusual urgency as it tumbled towards the water-rounded cobbles of the shoreline.

Storm surf driven by recent gale-force winds had stirred up sediment and detritus from the floor of the shallow bay, leaving the seawater discoloured and turbid. Breaking waves still pitched and roared over the dark, outlying skerry rocks and hissed across the wave-cut shallows, while oystercatchers wheeled uncertainly above their usual perches.

The steep and unforgiving route of the coast path

The coast path towards Borth, steep and unforgiving as it loops around the scalloped cliffs, climbed muddily between shoulder-high banks of gorse. The stonechats that often sing here were absent, perhaps deterred by the strong wind, but on the hilltop pastures lambs raced in groups around the stolid ewes. They were clearly enjoying the warmth of the sunshine, for what was probably the first time.

At the crest of the path, the view to the north opened up dramatically. A broad line of surf picked out the sweep of the beach towards Ynyslas, while the hills of Gwynedd beyond lay half hidden in cloud and murk. Between the two, the sand-banked and marsh-fringed estuary of the Afon Dyfi reached inland towards Machynlleth.

This spot, Craig yr Wylfa, is well named – translating roughly as the lookout rock. On a good day, you can see the whole breadth of Cardigan Bay from here – a horizon 50 miles across. This was not one of those days, but the strategic advantage gained by anyone who held the cliff in historic times was still evident.

Dropping out of the wind, the grassy slope towards Borth gave me time to look across the expanse of Cors Fochno, the great peat wetland beyond the Afon Leri. Beneath towering clouds, the patches of open water within the mosaic of mottled vegetation looked almost black in the afternoon sun, but the light suddenly softened. Glancing westward, I could see the next bank of high cloud begin to obscure the sun. More rain was on the way.


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