Wales Trip - Part 2, Pembrokeshire & Ceredigion
Updated: Sep 15, 2020
Well, hello again everyone :) I hope you enjoyed part one, my guide to the waterfalls of Wales, Part two isn't a guide but more of an account of my experiences and where I went for my week in Wales.
I also hope you have got a good few minutes spare as it's a long one this week !
First of all I need to say how lucky I was here and that I landed firmly on my feet and karma had paid back in full.
The main reason being I had a week off and wanted to originally go to Wales and shoot around Neath and Glamorgan and I would have probably just crashed in my car for a few nights and then come home.
What I really wanted to do was to go to Pembrokeshire and cover that but felt it was a bit to far and was a complete unknown for me so I wasn't to sure of the idea if I was going to overnight it in the car.
I had recently done some design work for a good friend who was starting up a business and I hadn't charged for it as I really wanted to see her succeed as she really deserved too, plus being a good friend you know how it is....
Well, Karma had noticed that and decided to really help me out. Unbeknown to me my good friends Eirwen & Ian have a caravan in the Sarnau area of Ceredigion and when I mentioned my plans they very kindly offered me the use of it, Fantastic I thought somewhere cheap to rent for a week and with electric to charge the batteries etc...
Imagine my surprise when they told me I could have it for free ! I nearly fell over frankly and can't thank them enough for this as it meant I could now alter the plan and do something i'd always wanted too, Shoot Pembrokeshire and Snowdonia as I was slap bang in the middle of them both !
So the trip had started in a very good way, I thought the best plan of attack was to drive up to Neath, shoot the waterfalls then trundle down to Sarnau to meet up with them and get the info on the Caravan.
Well, the Waterfall trip you already know about which was a great success so it had started on the right foot, so all the trip was going to cost me was a bit of fuel and some food over the week.
Having driven through the Brecon's and the beautiful Welsh countryside on route I finally arrived at the caravan to a fantastic greeting, having had a good look around inside it was obvious this was going to be a very comfy week and far from the usual uncomfortable sleep in the car.
Not only did the caravan have all the mod cons, Heater, shower, comfy bed etc... but open the fridge and BOOM, there was a weeks worth of home made dinners in there for me ! Curries, Spag Bol, Soups, you name it, it was in there ! Lucky or what ?
Not only was I fully catered for the week, it was dam delicious too as Eirwen just happens to be an amazing cook !
So this week had got off to a flyer, my luck surely couldn't keep up right ?
Well, I had toyed with the idea of going totally blind to Pembrokeshire and just walking the coastal path to take in everything and take pictures as and when I saw fit too but ever the planner I had noted several locations I wanted to visit as a safety net.
The first on my list was the Green Bridge of Wales, their equivalent to our Durdle Door. A stunning natural arch that stretches out into the sea but will sadly one day erode into a stack but not for many years hopefully. I did have another reason to go here as well, almost right next to the Green Bridge are the Elegug stacks, Two huge rock stacks that tower out of the sea. These were a more exciting prospect than the Green Bridge for me to be honest and if I only got one picture on my trip these were the ones I wanted to get.
The Green Bridge of Wales and Elegug stacks are located on a Military firing range and access is very limited which I had found out before hand while doing some research.
Weekends were fine as it was open all day and night but I felt as it was a popular location these would not really be in my favour to visit then. I found out that the range was also open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, However it was also available to walk on the other days as long as you were off the range by 9am.
No problem I thought as the sunrise would be roughly 7.35am so I could shoot both areas and be off before the tank shells started flying. After taking a look at the weather forecast I decided Monday morning would be my best chance at this venue so it was penciled in.
However it was Saturday and I had been up since 3am so something a little bit closer for today was needed.
Local knowledge proved invaluable here and Eirwen suggested a few places that I hadn't heard of so I eagerly went off to check them out.
The weather forecast wasn't especially favourable and the forecast was heavy rain around sunset so I was in two minds to go or not but I was assured by Eirwen & Ian that the BBC weather app was never ever correct in this area and whatever it said, plan for the opposite.
Well, I have to say I put a fair bit of faith in it usually and took what Eirwen had said with a pinch of salt, how wrong I was as the week unfolded and the weather app was correct on just one day but only for a period of around 3 hours, way to go weather guys !!
I headed for an area recommended to me called Gwbert (pronounced goobert I think ?!)
It was a nice little peninsula that had plenty of fishing boats lining the shore and after a good scout around I found an inlet area that looked worth a shot or two, as a back up I drove to the other side of the peninsula to see what it could offer and while it was a beautiful flat sandy beach which I'm sure tourists would love it wasn't quite what I was looking for and the weather was starting to look better so I headed back round to Gwbert to await the sunset.
The tide was out a fair way and there was some very odd light floating about so all was looking good, I checked the weather app and it said it was raining heavily there for the past few hours and would continue to do so, However there was no sign of it. As the sun went down I did my best to capture the beautiful sunset that had unfolded in front of me and once again I couldn't believe how lucky I had been and felt my luck would run out any minute.
I was absolutely shattered after the long day so I headed back looking forward to Beef curry and a popadom or two (dribbles) ! Day one over and off to sleep a very happy man :D
On the Sunday I had decided to do more of a drive round and see what was there and just explore areas I was unfamiliar with. This however was proving slightly difficult as when you get to West Wales you might as well throw your mobile phone out of the window cause you won't be able to use it anywhere, in my entire trip to this area I found just one place where I could get internet and one other where I could get phone signal but I have to say it was quite nice to be out of reach of work for once.
It does bring me to another point though, If you intend to navigate this area by sat nav then you may well have a lot of problems as getting a signal to start with was almost impossible, I had brought a map and i'm fairly good at finding my way round so it wasn't much of an issue for me but be warned leave a map at home at your peril !
I decided after looking at the very unfavourable forecast that I would take Eirwen & Ians advice and still go out for sunrise. The area I fancied was a fairly long drive away to an area known as St.Davids and a small spot of coast called St.Nons. There was a very craggy looking bay there and a small church next to a retreat and the sun was coming up in front of the bay so I figured it was as good a place as anywhere to start.
Cue the early morning 4 am start as the journey wasn't especially far in miles (only around 50) but it was on a lot of back roads so I knew it would take me longer to get there, couple that with having never been to the area before and I figured I could use the extra time to be safe.
This turned out to be a good plan as after several missed turns and pull in for that all important morning coffee I had only just made it in time.
I pulled into the car park and hurried to find the pay meter to get a ticket, this was strange as there wasn't one. This unsettled my a bit as everywhere in Dorset seems to have a charge for one but I couldn't see any signs so I hurried down the track to the coast having to negotiate a field of cows which I am shamefully scarred to death of having been chased by them once before !
I managed to get through without any problems and found myself on the coastal path looking over a breathtaking bay and watching as the very heavy cloud started to part.
I quickly got my camera out and found a nice position nestled into some coastal bracken looking over the bay.
A funny point here but the greens and browns of ferns in Wales is actually a different colour to those that I'm used to in Southern England. They seem to be far more vibrant and really pop in colour and I was very pleased to be amongst them.
As the sunrise started to unfold there was a curtain of red spreading upwards and you could literally see it moving up into the sky, I got a few pictures and then moved further down to a big spiky rock that made a nice lead into the sea. The sunrise was fantastic and once again I found myself wondering how I had got this lucky ? It was at that moment that I knew I was falling in love with Wales and that this journey would never ever be over.
I raced down the coastal path keen to get to the small church I had seen before the light went but when I got there it was on private land so I didn't really get the shot I wanted but I wasn't worried as I was more than happy having watched such a lovely sunrise unfold. I guess I could have sneaked in and shot it but it felt very disrespectful and just plain not right so I passed it by.
Sunrise Over St.Nons
I drove back in a bit of a daze after witnessing such a gorgeous morning but decided to check out a few other locations on the way for future shoots.
There were several locations I fancied and looked at Abereiddy and Porthgain, This is a beautiful little fishing village that I took a few snaps of but it had gone very clear and they weren't really up to scratch but I made a mental note to return again.
Abereiddy had however really peaked my interest and I really fancied a return trip to here for a sunset shot as it went down right in front of what can only be described as "rock porn"
I had the feeling I had seen the location before but couldn't place where or why, I was later informed it was used for the Red Bull cliff diving contest and had also featured on the SAS who dares wins documentary.
So it was back to the caravan for a nice hot shower and a bit of food plus a chance to charge up both the camera and my batteries.
No sooner had I got back then it was almost time to go out again, the forecast was looking spot on so naturally it started to rain heavily and no pictures were taken but several locations were noted for next time and an Ice cream on the beach was had instead !
So it was Monday, the big one ! Green bridge was planned and the weather forecast wasn't looking to favourable, naturally I wanted to change it to Tuesday which looked a little better but the advice I had been given kept ringing in my ears saying go anyway.
It was roughly an 80 mile drive to get to Green Bridge and I was wondering if I would make a big mistake and it would have been a huge journey for nothing, well I decided to go for it partly cause I was itching to see this site for myself and partly cause of the advice I had been given which was proving correct so far.
An early start and through some serious hills on the journey down while driving past some misty looking areas which looked very very tempting to stay but I was too focused on Green Bridge and Elegug stacks.
The closer I got the less I fancied it, It had gone really clear and those of you who know me know this is the worst thing for me and it looked like a huge drive for nothing was on the cards.
I was a few miles away and there was a glimmer of hope as a small amount of high level cloud had started to form and I arrived past the army check point roughly an hour ahead of sunrise.
The soldier who was on the gate was on his first day and didn't know what the Green bridge was or if he was allowed to let me pass ! Eventually I got through and proceeded down the gravel track to Stacks Rock car park.
I got out of the car and it was cold, really cold ! Winter felt like it was in full swing and I was glad I had a pair of gloves with me. I took a walk to the Elegug stacks and they were everything I had wanted them to be, stunning and standing proud and the light was going to hit them within the hour.
I decided to go to Green Bridge first and then down to the stacks to get them as the light hit them.
Once again a bit more high level cloud had started forming and it was starting to look like it might actually happen.
The Green Bridge of Wales
Then it happened, a small dash of colour on the horizon, which just got bigger and bigger and had the most beautiful pinky orange glow to it, I happily snapped away a Green Bridge and got what I had wanted so I decided to go to the stacks as there was some nice colour forming in the other direction so after a short walk down the bank I again got another shot that I had craved and was a happy man. It was now 7.30 am and the sun was about to crown so I raced back to the Green Bridge of Wales to get that shot, it was then I noticed another car pull up and a couple of people jump out who were dressed in camo and fluo vests (make up your mind guys, do you want to be hidden or seen ?!) This rang alarm bells with me and I hurried to get my pictures.
They walked over and told me I had to leave the range, I explained to them I had phoned in advance and was assured that I could be there till 9, I explained I had driven a long long way for this (I might have used my Essex accent at this point) ! but to no avail, I was told that I would have to leave as, and I quote "the army are about to shell the shit out of this place boyo" after a bit more begging for just 5 or ten minutes to shoot the rock stacks he agreed I could have 5 so I ran over and caught the light just hitting them.
I rushed back to the car threw the gear in and was ushered off the range.
I was a happy man but I couldn't feel the best of the light was still to come and i had possibly missed out a little and I also made a mental note to tell the range officer who I had spoken too on the phone to learn her facts before sending people there when they shouldn't be !
The Elegug Stacks
I had planned to walk further down the coast to St Govans Chapel but due to the early exit this was no longer the case so instead I decided to divert and check out Carew Castle which I had driven past on the way with the chance of some mist over the water in front of it.
However before I could get there petrol was the order of the day so I headed into Pembroke and the light looked fantastic and I cursed myself for not being able to stay for longer on the coast, then out of nowhere in a city centre I saw on my left a huge castle with morning golden light pouring all over it, I pulled into the conveniently placed car park like a rocket and raced to get my gear out and quickly catch the light hitting Pembroke Castle and was made up with my bonus shot. I rushed to get a better angle further down the river bank but alas the light was fading and the castle didn't look as good as it first had.
I was still made up with an extra bonus shot, got fuelled up and headed to Carew Castle, It was without doubt a beautiful place and one I really would like to return and shoot but the light just wasn't right for it and the tidal river was at an all time low so the shot just wouldn't have worked so I decided to leave it and retreat back to the caravan eager to have a look at the mornings results.
Once again Wales had blessed me with good luck and an epic morning that just seemed to get better and better. This trip was turning into a trip of a lifetime and I was still only 3 days in.
First Light at Pembroke Castle
On the drive home I checked out a couple more places that had been recommended to me and found some absolute belters that had seascape written all over them and I noted them for later sessions.
The weather forecast for the evening looked perfect, lots of cloud and sun and I eagerly planned a trip to Strumble Head. This was an area of stunning heathland with a fabulous lighthouse sat on a Very large rock formation out into the sea which could only be accessed by a bridge and I wanted this picture badly when I saw the location.
The drive was once again about 50 miles from my base camp and I set off full of enthusiasm because of the forecast and then it hit me, Would it actually happen ? Or would it happen in the way I had been warned about, the complete opposite ? Well, I was on my way now so it was too late and i'd soon find out.
The drive to Strumble head is up a VERY steep hill, the sort of hill that will kill your car but the old girl hung on and just about made it, following the path through an estate and eventually onto the headland my worst fears were confirmed. The weather was indeed changing, The cloud and sun that was promised had started to disappear instead going very very clear and bright, This was bad news as the location looked superb.
There was one bank of cloud left that was drifting towards the light house and I prayed it would make it there before the sunset but it didn't really get there and failed to light up so I consoled myself with an image of the sun just going behind the lighthouse but in truth I wasn't really happy with it and knew it could be so much better if the conditions were right.
I decided if I got time I would come back to this spot and try and nail it but for now it was a drive home with thoughts of what could have been, Never mind it was Spag Bol tonight and a cheeky grin soon was back on my face.
Strumble Head Lighthouse
I was unsure where I was going to go for the next sunrise so a bit of a look around and a check on the obviously wrong weather conditions was in order.
It looked like it could be quite good which in reality meant it would probably be terrible.
I thought it best to stay local as I was unsure and I headed out to Tresaith beach which has a lot of nice rocks at low tide and a coastal waterfall, sounded perfect as long as the weather played ball.
It didn't and I didn't even get the camera out, another check of the weather app still showed perfect conditions, alas the actual conditions were far from it but I had found a location I really wanted to shoot so I would be back.
Further exploration of the local area and on the advice of Eirwen & Ian I visited a small bay called Llangrannog and I have to say my first impression of it wasn't great, it was "just another bay" but it was high tide and not really that interesting but it was noted for a future visit at low tide as it was close to where I was staying.
I was starting to feel pretty tired at this point as I was up around 4 most mornings for the long drives to each of the locations, I think I clocked up roughly 1500 miles from start to finish on the trip.
I contemplated having an evening off or even a morning but I thought to myself, how often am I going to get a chance like this so I dug deep, maned up and got on with it scouting out a few new locations.
I found a fabulous area called Cenarth which was a beautiful town and it had a small Mill and cracking waterfall by it which was apparently a well known Salmon run and I wanted a shot of it but the light was far too harsh at this time of day so a mental note was made and a return visit noted on the "to do" list.
By now it was getting close to sunset and I hadn't really decided on where to go and the weather forecast was heavy rain and grey clouds which sounded horrible, but again I heard Eiwens voice saying "it's always the opposite of what they say here" so I decided I would go for it but again stay local so it wasn't too much of a loss if the weather men actually had it right.
As I pulled into yet another free car parking space (so many free coastal ones in Wales, brilliant for tourism so take note greedy Dorset Council) I was convinced I had come to the wrong place cause it looked beautiful and there was rock porn everywhere. Langrannog at low tide had revealed untold wealth of rocks and new areas to explore and I quickly fell in love with this bay and rushed to get the gear. It was looking good, really good in fact and the weather curse had proved once again to be correct. I managed to get round to the next bay which is usually cut off by the tide and found an area with some great rocks going into the water. The sun kept staying out of the path of the clouds and made exposing so dam difficult it was very frustrating. I was presented with a beautiful location, clouds full of colour but I was unable to catch it just right.
Now I know there are a million ways to get round this with double processing, exposure blending etc... but in my mind if you can't take it as a single picture then it isn't there to have so I probably missed the best part of the scene in terms of a picture while it was all coloured up but I waited until the sun was hidden so I could expose it properly and was still rewarded with an image I was happy with.
Wales had once again surprised me and paid in full, I was really starting to get this place and it was there I had a realisation that I felt at home here even though I had never been and pondered a future living here.
As if by magic a dolphin popped his head out of the water in front of me, followed by another then another. There was a whole pod of them and as I watched in awe with the local residents they told me they had never ever seen them here in all their years although they were common further up the coast in New Quay.
It was truly a special moment, dare I even say it a spiritual and deep one, Llangrannog had got me.
Llangrannog at Sunset
I had decided I needed to scratch an itch that had been niggling away at me, Snowdonia.
I had seen many pictures of this fabulous area and I really wanted to visit it but I hadn't really done my homework on the place, I wanted to have an adventure and just wing it and see what would come my way.
There was one lake that I had seen that I did want to visit but that was it.
So I had the option of driving up to Snowdonia for sunrise, but to where ? I just didn't know where to start so I figured id go to New Quay for sunrise on the way up, conditions looked good for the weather, Which of course meant I should have avoided it like the plague but this was West Wales and normal rules don't apply.
I woke up to clear sky, It wasn't what I wanted to see but I went anyway just in case. Today turned out to be the one day when the weather men called it right, on checking the app it said it would be clear and it was, law of averages says they must get it right and well, this morning they did, dam it.
New Quay wasn't quite how I expected and to be honest despite the conditions I really didn't want to shoot it anyway as it just wasn't doing it for me.
I decided Snowdonia was the way forward, and even if it stayed clear as was forecast I felt some nice light on a big mountain could still be worth shooting so I headed back for a shower, loaded up the car, equipped myself with a breakfast roll from the local shop and headed off into the wilderness.
On the way to Snowdonia I passed a sign for Devils Bridge Falls, an area that Eirwen & Ian had mentioned and well lets face it I'm a sucker for a waterfall so I took the road and headed towards it.
The drive there was simply amazing, right across the ridge of big hills (not quite mountains) and the weather was changing, there was clouds and sun rolling in. The weather mans prediction of a completely clear day all day had lasted 3 hours, way to go you legends !
Light was raining down over the green landscape in front of me and I was stopping every 5 minutes jumping out of the car to try and catch it.
I seem to really struggle with this type of shot and found it frustrating that I couldn't seem to capture it just the way it looked, especially as I have a friend who seems to nail these shots with ease.
I was shooting with a wide angle lens and it wasn't really doing me any favours so I switched to a Canon 70-200mm F4 which gave a much better result but it still wasn't quite right.
I continued on to Devils Bridge and when I got there I was surprised to see it was a charged attraction (all be it a measly £1 !!) But that was rare for Wales to charge from what id seen so far.
So I went down to the falls and I have to say I was deeply unimpressed, merely a trickle and there were far better ones in Neath, The bridge itself was quite good but I just didn't fancy a picture of it as I couldn't really do it justice so I decided to move on.
There was another waterfall on this stretch which is apparently much better but by this time I was eager to get to Snowdonia and I was right on the edge.
It was here that the frustrations really started, from the roadside there were some simply amazing views but there was never anywhere to pull over. When I did eventually find a pull in point it was surrounded by heavy trees or something else blocking the view. This went on for miles and miles and Snowdonia had started to give me the hump !
Eventually I came to a large lake which looked promising but by now the sky had completely clouded over in think black sweeping clouds, the weather men had surpassed them selves with their still clear forecast, impressive.
I waited at the lake for a while and hoped it would clear and a few patches of light would shine through but it didn't happen.
Again I got into the car and went further on, deep into Snowdonia and still not really a picture to show for it.
I had seen a sign for Betws Y Coed and suddenly realised how far up I had come, I was practically in North Wales ! This was not how I had planned things, Huge distances had been covered and I had been getting lost in the scenery around me and time had gone, I decided I needed to get back quickly and find somewhere for sunset as I had hardly taken a picture all day.
The drive back I took a different route and I'm dam glad I did because I managed to find a few pull ins and get a few shots of the light kissing the mountains. While these shots are ok at best I was still pleased that I had improved upon my first shots of this style earlier.
I had come to the conclusion that I would head back to Borth beach and where I felt more at home shooting the coast, I had enough time to make it just about and then I saw a lake in the distance. Curiosity got the better of me and I headed for a look at it, it was looking pretty special and there was some good light about.
It looked familiar but I couldn't place it and then it hit me, this was the very lake I had seen and wanted to visit but that i'd completely forgotten due to my preoccupation with capturing light on hills, This was the mighty Tal y Llyn and it was everything and more that I had imagined.
Tal y Llyn Lake
The light was kind to me here as dark skies formed over the lake but allowing beautiful golden light to pour over the surrounding hills.
The extra special touch was that the boats in the scene were either gold or green, the very colours that were pouring all over the landscape and I was really pleased to get this image.
The light was fast and fleeting, It had gone as quickly as it arrived and I cursed my luck for not finding it sooner but that is life.
There was a roar in the skies and a jet fighter went over head on route to the "mach Loop" a bit further down the coast, somewhere i'd also like to explore but not today.
Snowdonia had given me a huge kick firmly in the family jewels and I knew it was my fault, I had not done my homework and I didn't deserve to be successful here, I had not followed my usual plan or my own advice and I had paid dearly for it, However I had taken home a reward at the last gasp which has firmly secured the place in my heart and a planned return trip will be happening in the future.
I need to have at least another week to explore the place and with my full attention, a harsh lesson had been learnt.
There was still time to get to Borth Beach for sunset if I was quick, having zero traffic helped a lot and I arrived to Borth just before sunset and I have to say I was totally uninspired.
It really didn't look very special to me, I had heard many photographers tell of its wonders and what a special place it was, I must have missed it cause it just didn't do it for me.
Now I was in panic mood, sunset was looming and I wasn't anywhere !
A quick drive further up the coast brought me to Ynyslas beach, again a very straight and sandy beach but with some great big areas of Marram grass, I'll have a bit of that I thought.
The sun was setting in front of me and it was rapidly going clear but there was an area of cloud behind me and it had the look that it might just go so I decided to put my efforts here.
The Marram grass looked great as the sun light hit it and made it glow and I got a few images all very similar but I was back in my world now and felt more in control and able to work the light.
I finished up with an image that most people won't ever go WOW over but it really worked for me as it had the elements I like in it so I was a happy man. The clouds did colour up quite nicely after this shot was taken but the light wasn't on the grass so I felt this was the better image.