CREDIT: QUALITY UNEARTHED
It’s remote, wild and, off season, pretty much empty. But if you are prepared to make the journey here, the beauty of this corner of west Wales will captivate you. It certainly shook my family out of its comfort zone in the most delightful of ways. Never have we spent so much time together outside ( it was not warm over February half term; even now, before Easter, the temperature tops out at about 10C).
We skimmed stones, we climbed, we explored caves, we foraged for seaweed, we built a dam on the beach, we canoed, we walked, we drank hot chocolate in a forest. Our 11-year-old son and his friend happily forsook the superfast wifi in our accommodation for more exciting adventures outdoors.
Ceredigion? Embarrassingly I had never heard of it, although its anglicised former name, Cardiganshire, did sound vaguely familiar. The furthest into Wales I had travelled was the Brecon Beacons – something I now wildly regret. This coastal county looks west over the Irish Sea. Its 50 miles of coastline are peppered with sandy beaches backed by wild countryside and ancient hill forts. It is one of only two places in the United Kingdom with a permanent presence of bottlenose dolphins. (Alas we “only” saw seals.) Red kites? Tick. For Londoners like us, it was a wilderness of great beauty.
Our home for four days was Ty Cwch Beach House, a bolt-hole right on a pebbly cove made entirely from shipping containers. With three sleeping cabins and two bathrooms upstairs, plus a kitchen and living room downstairs, it proved to be one of the most eccentric places we have ever stayed in. Tucked away in the mouth of a quiet valley in the hamlet of Cwmtydu, it sits right on the Ceredigion coast path and offers not only access to hiking along the cliffs but a huge range of outdoor activities.
Enter Rhydian Wilson, our ex-Army adventure instructor, who took over our schedule for the next few days. I was not convinced by the idea of being babysat by a guide. But we dutifully ceded control to our host and were really glad we did. On our first day, Rhydian took us on a magical walk along the coastal path, on a route we would never have found ourselves. He made the kids hot chocolate over a fire in the woods, after instructing them to collect twigs and branches for kindling and showing them how to make a fire for his Kelly Kettle(quite an event for a pair of townie kids).
Later he organised for us to learn how to forage on the beach with Jade Mellor, a professional forager who teaches people how to identify and gather wild food. Sticky Willy, anyone? Scurvy Grass? Almost all seaweed is edible, a fact that totally captivated and rather thrilled the boys.
On our second day, Rhydian took us canoeing on the nearby Teifi River. Never one for voluntarily stepping off dry land, I nevertheless did as I was told and totally loved our Lord of the Rings-style, four hour journey with Chris and Rhod, our guides. We rode rapids, picnicked on the river bank, tried not to get competitive and wondered at the quiet and the beauty of it all.
There were other treats to come. Nearby New Quay, a beautiful, small fishing town with a stunning beach and the inspiration for Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, offered good locally-sourced food and dolphin-spotting opportunities. It was empty in February and locals assured us this was the best time of year to be there. In the summer, they told us, it was overrun with tourists.
Back at Ty Cwch, with our newly-acquired zest for the (cold) outdoors, the boys spent hours swinging on the outside hammocks, playing catch on the beach and building dams in the stream flowing into the sea. We even ate al fresco, with a little help from some high-tech heaters. Why go in season when you can have such fun off?