Wow, my last blog entry was almost a year ago. Not much holiday or trips happening thanks to that stupid pandemic. No wonder we both have been craving for a break recently.
But things have changed since last July. We’re now a family of three with Merlin our six month old Lab X Collie a companion on our travels. This limits what we can do at the moment. Hiking for hours is impossible, but we’re raising him carefully to build up strength and endurance without overdoing it. So that same time next year he can go on day-long adventures with us.
After what felt like two weeks of constant rain the weather finally turned right in time for a camping weekend in mid-Wales at Elan Oaks a lovely campsite near Rhayader and at the outskirts of Elan Valley. We’d been here before and thought it would be a nice first camping trip for our boy.
Drove the 2.5hrs Saturday morning with some light rain showers but arrived in the dry at Elan Oaks. I did a short but well needed walk with Merlin whilst Rich unloaded the car. We had recently upgraded our gear adding a new gazebo and camping furniture. At least we could now sit outside comfortably and be sheltered from the weather (and not cramped in the porch for hours waiting for the rain to stop… which pretty much was what we did last time at Elan Oaks.)
Once pitched we chilled a little bit and Merlin settled in. All the sounds around really kept his attention. The tether we had bought before the trip worked a treat and so did the chain lead as he tends to chew his lead when bored or frustrated.
Headed just a ten minute drive into Elan Valley and parked at the second dam near a church. Picked up a path through a plantation which was a bit of a leg buster but offered somewhat decent views.
At the top we entered wide open hill side with a few sheep in the distance but enough of their droppings around to have Merlin darting around trying to eat as much of it as possible. Yuck. It was hard work to keep him from stuffing his face even on the lead so we turned around and walked back through the plantation.
Woodland is normally a good opportunity for him to be off lead with no lifestock or any danger nearby. What we hadn’t expected was that there were indeed sheep amongst the tree stumps on one side. Eventually Merlin spotted two, walked slowly towards them and by the time we realised what he was looking at they decided to run and Merlin immediately in hot pursuit 😖😖😖. So we ran after him, calling him, hoping we were running in the right direction as we couldn’t see him or the sheep between all the tree stumps and generally treacherous and uneven terrain.
It felt like 10 minutes but was probably only two when we spotted him not too far away and the “oh look what I’ve got” voice did the trick to lure him back to us. Phew. No sheep harmed, no dog lost on the vast hillside. That gave us a bit of a scare as he’s never shown any herding behaviour really. We are well aware of the issues careless dog owners cause with livestock and we certainly don’t intend to be such owners. This taught us a lesson for sure.
Back at the car we made the short way back to the campsite after more adventure than necessary. Had a BBQ chilling under the gazebo feeling generally content and relaxed. Merlin hadn’t slept at all since 7am and was chilling again listing and watching. Good boy.
It was bed time eventually and would he sleep on his bed in the porch? Hell no. Instead he stomped around us lying on our mats for a bit looking for the right spot, then squeezed between us, curled up and fell asleep as if these were the most normal circumstances. Fine by us.
Got up as late as 7:30am on Sunday (trust me, this is late for me) and walked Merlin along the cycle path that passes by the campsite. With the birds singing all around us, it was quite peaceful and only the two of us around as the early sunlight started breaking through the overnight mist.
BBQ breakfast was had – why not – and by mid-morning we were headed along the always stunning B4518 following Nant Gwynllyn towards Devil’s Bridge.
Arrived at a picnic site called The Arch with hillside woodland and three different circular walks. Just right for a short shaded walk with Merlin.
The Arch is one of those places I’d driven past a few times now and never bothered to stop. Glad I chose it for our walk this time. We walked through lovely woodland onto open hillside at first on a well defined path. Had a break in the sun on a bench with views far and wide. Then back down into the woods to finish the loop after maybe an hour or so.
Drove back to Rhayader for some well earned cold drinks in the beer garden of The Elan Hotel. Merlin too tired to want to say hello to everyone just chilled under our table in the shade and even scored left over burgers from the people one table across. Result.
Got some more bits and pieces from the shops for… yes, another BBQ. Showers, beers and chilling at the tent after a sunny and warm Sunday before the meat went onto the grill.
Merlin did another stomp around in the tent at bed time but eventually settled on one side where we had laid out his sleeping bag. That’s better.
Night two was shorter, me and the pooch got up at 5:30am for a toilet run, then back in the tent he actually settled on his bed in the porch. Good boy! And we both snoozed for another two hours.
Where did the time go? Already Monday it was time to pack. Left the campsite half ten to explore yet another roadside place we’d driven past and ignored before. Once more we were delighted by what we found.
Gilfach Nature Reserve is just five minutes north of Rhayader and a former working hillfarm alongside the river Marteg. There were once more a few signposted routes, but even the shortest was a bit too long for a now very tired pooch. So we opted once more for a shaded woodland track enjoying the smells and sounds all around us almost as much as Merlin darting left and right nose on the ground.
Found yet another bench with lovely views across the valley after half an hour. Wee break enjoying the sun, then same way back.
Coffees and cakes in Builth Wells as we chilled by the river. Then the remaining two hours home with Merlin snoring on the backseat.
Gosh we really love mid-Wales! There is something about it. Even when it’s busy it’s never rammed anywhere. It’s full of little gems you have to know or just take the map and look for the nature reserves, reservoirs, car parks and you’ll sure find something lovely you rarely have to share with anyone beyond the starting point.
Merlin’s first camp could’ve been stressful in many ways and it really wasn’t. No need for constant entertainment, no issues sleeping in the tent, no chewing on guy lines or sleeping mats. So we could really relax and kick back and just enjoy being away from home sitting outside with a cold drink listening to the birds and the rustling river nearby. It was my third time here and Rich’s second and I’m sure for neither of us it was the last.