Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Day 10 – Wales Coast – Royal Welsh Show – Wales vs New Zealand Test

Nope, not a rugby test. It’s a sheep shearing test. Ever year, several countries’ best sheep shearers gather at The Royal Welsh Show to see which nation is best.

I know this topic is a bit off the subject of my coastal trip of Britain, but while driving to Abersoch, I was listening to BBC Wales in the car, and heard the latest from the Royal Welsh Show. One comment from the Welsh presenter stuck in my head: “The New Zealanders are World Champions, and looking very strong, agile and skilful this year." Just to be clear, he was talking about the New Zealand sheep shearing team.

Apparently, shearers are scored by points being deducted. So competitors start with maximum points, and for every mistake/misjudgement made, points will be deducted. For instance, shearers should never have to cut twice over the same area – apparently, that’s not very skilful. The winner is the shearer who has the least points deducted. The presenter interviewed one of the New Zealanders, and his best time for shearing a sheep was exactly 18.08 seconds.

Random fact of the day: There are 10 million sheep in Wales, compared to a human population of three million. That's a lot of lamb chops to get through...

A YouTube clip of the final of the All Nations Competition from 2008. To the uninitiated, it looks like the poor sheep is being roughed up quite a bit, but on the BBC Radio Wales program, the New Zealander competitor says they actually enjoy the rough stuff.

Day 10 – Wales Coast – Abersoch and Lleyn peninsula – Island of 20 000 Souls

King Arthur died here, and so did 20 000 Christians...

Bardsey island, two miles long, off the western tip of Lleyn, must be one haunted place. Back in the 6th century, the Pope decreed that three pilgrimages to Bardsey was equal to one pilgrimage to Rome (because the journey to Rome was too dangerous). Over a period of time, thousands and thousands came to the island, which eventually became known as the Isle of 20 000 Saints, because as many as 20 000 pilgrims came and died here.

Make your own way there with Colin Evans of Bardsey Boat Trips, which offers boat trips to the island from the town of Aberdaron. Besides the historical aspect, the island is noted for its nestings of Manx Shearwater and Peregrine Falcons.

Pic of Bardsey Island, courtesy of Bardsey Boat Trips.

Day 10 - Wales Coast - Abersoch and Lleyn - Mad adventurer now bespectacled chef...

The town of Abersoch lies on the Lleyn peninsula (also spelt Llyn, and pronounced “khleen”), sticking out into the Irish Sea. Like the Gower Peninsula further south (see my post from a few days ago), this has been decreed an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Panorama of Abersoch, a small village on the Lleyn Peninsula in North Western Wales. This area is considered the stronghold of Welsh culture. Click on the image for full screen version.

You are never far from the sea, and it is less populated – it was great to be one of the few cars on the smaller roads. And people seem more laid back here than anywhere else I’ve been so far (maybe it’s just me though!). Even though you can't compare, Cornwall, for all its plusses, was one big traffic jam and had a bustling energy. Lleyn is a bit slow, in a good way, if you're slow like me.

What makes Lleyn special and unique, I think, is the amount of Welsh spoken. It is the first language of most locals, and you’ll hear it on the streets and in the shops. When I went to the Welsh Heritage Centre at Nant Gwrtheyrn (near Nefyn), it was closed for renovations, but apparently there is an excellent exhibition on Welsh language and culture. Open or not, go anyway, because the drive down from the main road (the B4417) to the town is spectacular. The road zigzags steeply down a mountain, to end with great views over cliffs to the sea. And if it’s raining, there’s a very long waterfall that’s visible all the way down.

I stayed in Abersoch on the south west end of the peninsula. Only a 1000 people live here, but during tourist season, according to John Gosling at Gosling’s B&B and Bistro, up to 10 000 people can visit the greater area. Not that you’d notice it. It is peak tourist season now, and the area doesn’t seem overcrowded.

There’s a shortish main street, which leads down to a fishing and sailing harbour, and a number of restaurants, delis and clothing shops. A long beach (rated as Blue Flag) extends in front of the harbour at low tide. The area has plenty of activities, and because the Lleyn peninsula is long and thin, you’re never too far from any of them.

A quick aside...When I met John Gosling, he was in his chef's outfit, getting his bistro's kitchen ready for dinner. We had a good long chat about our respective laptops giving us trouble, then got talking about Lleyn, then went back to our laptop discussion, then we started chatting about canoeing on Mount Everest...hold on! How did we end up here?

John might look very comfortable in his middle aged years, settled, chilled and bespectacled, but that's just a front. Because he's actually a closet adventurer. In 1976 he was part of the team that helped set the world altitude record for canoeing, of which a film was subsequently made: "Dudh Kosi - Canoeing Down Everest".

John's also been on K2 doing similar sane things. Okay, 1976 was some time ago, but John's still got that mad look of adventure in his eyes. Check out more on Wikipedia...where John is described as "the troubleshooter of the team". No doubt those skills come in handy when things in the bistro get hectic.

Here are a couple of John Gosling’s other suggestions:

Go walking. There are more than 50 miles of coastal walks on Lleyn. Edge of Wales is a respected company that specialises in guided walks, including a 75 km trek along the north shore of Lleyn.

Visit Porthdinillaen, which is not even a village, with seven or so houses, and a great pub restaurant on the tiny beach called Ty Coch (Red House). It is 1 mile from the village of Morfa Nefyn.

Go surfing at Hell’s Beach, a three minute drive to the west of Abersoch. Also good for surfing is Porth Oer (near Methlem), on the north-west coast.

Play golf at Nefyn Golf Club, acknowledged as one of the ten most beautiful golf courses in the UK.

Go for sailing lessons at Abersoch’s sailing school.

For panoramic views of the area, walk to the top of the hill at Llanbedrog, a few miles east of Abersoch (see the panorama pic from my post yesterday). And go see Criccieth Castle, a 13 century ruin that sits on top of cliffs with a vista of Tremadog Bay. In summer there is an arts festival that ends with fireworks over the castle.

Among the several events held near Abersoch over summer, the most particular must be Wakestock, a rock festival for wakeboarders, who descend on the peninsula because of its protected bays and skiing opportunities. 15 000 watersport fans come for four days to Llanbedrog (a couple of miles east of Abersoch) to listen to some top bands (Moby played this year). The festival in 2010 is from 2nd to 4th July.

Finally, learn Welsh! The Welsh Heritage Centre at Nant Gwrtheyrn offer courses for all ages and sizes.

For more ideas, check out Abersoch and Llyn’s tourism website.