Salmon Leaps is a nature spot near Michaelston-le-Pit. I discovered it a couple of weeks back during a 54km hiking loop, which took in some of the Wales coast path from Cardiff Bay to Sully, Dinas Powis woods and castle, Salmon Leaps, Tinkinswood Burial Chamber, and St Fagans. You can watch the video which I created about that day at the bottom of this post.
I've since been back to Salmons Leap via a shorter route - so I thought I'd share that with you here (unless you want the 54km version??)
I'd describe Salmon Leaps as a magical little wooded valley, with a chalky blue stream and pools that look full of wildlife. The pools link together via cascading steps. It's only accessible on foot, and at this time of year (winter) is very (very, very, very) muddy. So boots or wellies are advisable!
The route is just short of 15km when starting from Cardiff Castle. It takes you up through Leckwith Woods, which is very muddy and steep (so get your grippy shoes on), but good fun. If you don't live in Cardiff Castle then you'll obviously need to adjust your start point accordingly. Here's a downloadable GPX file for the route:
Alternatively, you can use the link below to view the route on the OS maps site. I use my OS maps app to plot all of my routes. If you have a subscription you can save it – if not then you will still see the route for free, but in order to save/download it and follow it via the app, as well as change to an OS map (instead of standard map) view, you’ll need to have the OS app. This is an affiliate link so if you choose to subscribe I’ll get a wee tip. It’s honestly the most affordable way to get OS maps of the entire UK at your finger tips – and has been a life saver for me in lockdown.
It has similarities to the National 3 Peaks challenge, in that, there are 3 lumps which stick up from sea level and you walk over them. But, that's about it. It's roughly a 34km loop, starting and finishing in the centre of Cardiff (other start and end points are available if you don't live in Cardiff Castle - obvs).
At this point in time we're in lockdown 3.0. This time around I've decided to accept it. Rather than having a constant narrative about how unfair it is streaming through my head, I've chosen to live by one of my favourite sayings - 'it is what it is'. And do you know what... it feels great. It's freed me to enjoy the things that I CAN do within the restrictions, and to be creative with my time. I took a hike a couple of weeks back, and named it the Cardiff 3 Peaks. Then I thought "hmmmm, other 'Cardiffians' might want to know about this". And here we are.
Definitely the sunrise on Garth Hill - if you can get yourself there when the weather's right, it's so worth the early start. I could see the sun reflecting on the Bristol Channel. It was beautiful.
Other highlights include; the woodland on the way up to Garth Hill, my epic snacks (can't guarantee that for you), a splatter of snow on Craig Yr Allt (again, not guaranteed), and getting stuck in a sea of brambles by Caerphilly common and making it out alive!
Where's the route at then?
Download the GPX file to use my route via some fancy GPS device:
The above link allows you to view the route for free on a standard map view. If you have a subscription, you can change to an OS leisure map, and save the route to access fully from your phone.
If you don't have an OS maps subscription, this is the part where I convince you it's amazing, because it is, I love it, and also because I'll get a wee bonus if you love it too (what can I say, these blogs don't pay for themselves).
I highly recommend it - it's an incredibly cheap way to have access to OS maps of the entire UK on your phone and laptop all year round. You can plan and edit routes on several different map views, as well as watch 3D fly through's of your routes - so you get an idea of the landscape before you go! I've been using it for about 4 years, and used it to plan and visualise (with the fly through) every section of the entire 477km route for my Ultimate Wales challenge. It's honestly one of my most used apps!
*The link is an affiliate link, so if you decide to subscribe to OS maps (like I do), then I will receive a wee referral bonus.
Obviously there are a million different ways to skin a cat (hate that saying - no one should be skinning cats), but a couple of my suggestions for route variations would be -
From Caerphilly Common, head back to Cardiff via the Wenallt instead of Graig Llanishen.
And, if you're not racing up Garth Hill for sunrise, there's a lovely little nature reserve between Garth Woods and Garth Hill that's worth a wonder through - you'll spot it on the OS map!
I have. In fact, it happened to me last month. As I trudged up the 4th peak of the Welsh 3000s challenge, I questioned my ability to finish what I’d started, in more ways than one. I panicked that maybe I wasn’t good enough to complete the Welsh 3000s – a fast paced and gruelling journey in which you summit all 15 peaks in Snowdonia above 3000ft, in under 24 hours. But, that was just the tip of the crisis iceberg. The Welsh 3000s challenge for me was a training exercise, preparing me for an even bigger and more personal challenge lying ahead…
Some of you may already know that I’m training to complete a unique challenge in August. The challenge involves stand up paddle boarding, cycling and hiking across Wales, from Cardiff to Holyhead. I’m fundraising for the Search and Rescue Dogs in Wales, Keep Wales Tidy, and Mind for mental health.
Training has been a hard battle to gain not only the physical ability to do this, but also the knowledge required to safely complete my journey. Particularly with the paddle boarding element, where it’s been a steep learning curve to gain the knowledge needed to journey along the Bristol channel – the second most tidal region in the World!
A couple of months back, I completed a 48km day on my paddle board; paddling from Porthcawl to Penarth. A massive tick in the confidence box. But after the high of realising I can paddle long distance wore off, the confidence crushing demons crept in. Could I cycle far enough to complete my challenge? Had I neglected the cycling and hiking elements and focussed too heavily on the paddle boarding element?
So, 4 days later I headed out on my bike, and cycled 107.5km. From Cardiff to the Rhigos mountain, to Merthyr, and back to Cardiff. Again, a massive tick in the confidence box, and enough to pacify the demons for another few days. I guess you probably know what’s coming next…
A few days down the line, the demons had forced their way back in, and were running rings around me. Would I be able to hike 15 peaks after paddle boarding and cycling??? Compared to the other 2 elements of my challenge, hiking is where my experience lies. I completed some pretty hard trails and challenges whilst part of the Officer Training Corps, and the mountains have always been where I’ve felt at home. But, the demons weren’t having it.
Next thing I know, I’m sat in Pen-Y-Pass car park at 04:30am on a Saturday morning, with a group of people that I’d never met, but who I’d get to know over the proceeding 20 hours.
We completed peaks 1-3 on the Snowdon range, and descended into Nantperis to our first checkpoint, and then onto the Glyderau range. Peak 4, Elidar Fawr, is a non-technical climb. No scrambling or technical ability required in comparison to some of the other peaks, just a long hard slog of ascent. It was at this point that I began to question my ability to complete the challenge. Not because peak 4 was going to defeat me, I knew I could push through that, but because my chimp brain was running ahead of me.
Our human brains have a nasty habit of catastrophising in stressful situations. This wasn’t about peak 4 at all, this was my mind creating beliefs that if I was struggling at this point, I would never make it to the end of the Welsh 3000s. And if I couldn’t do that, what chance do I have for my challenge in August?
I gave myself so many talking’s to on the ascent of peak 4. I got into the root of why I was there and what this was all about. My Ultimate Wales challenge has been about more than just training for the final adventure. I dreamt it up with the intention of giving my adventures a purpose. It’s been a fundraising project with an ethos behind it – to inspire and encourage more people to get outdoors, move, adventure, and explore this beautiful country. It’s been about encouraging people to take control of their own health, both mental and physical. And it’s been about my own self progression.
15 peaks in 19.5 hours, a 50km continuous journey, 4000m (13,000ft) of ascent, scrambling, sweating, laughing, blisters, burning knees… and the Welsh 3000s was complete! I crawled into my tent with another big fat tick in the confidence box, and the confidence crushing demons left out in the cold.
Next time you’re facing your peak 4, ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing. That’s the way to get through a crisis of confidence. You’ll touch on your core values, and remind yourself why the thing you are doing is important to you. And if you’re ever facing the actual peak 4, turn around now, it’s flipping horrible! (But the view is well worth it!)
If you’ve enjoyed this post, I’d be eternally grateful if you could donate to my fundraising target. Just £1 would make a huge difference in helping me to blow my target out of the water 🙂
Cardiff Bay is the area of water created by the Cardiff Barrage, in the South of the city. Supplied by two rivers, the Taff and the Ely, and blocked off from coastal tides by the barrage. It’s a great area to explore by stand up paddle board (SUP), and a perfect place to start paddling for beginners. It can also provide more sheltered areas than coastal locations – ideal for some winter SUP board training!
In early January, ready to kickstart 2018 with some Winter training, I packed my kit for a paddle boarding adventure in the bay. Usually when I go on adventures I’m heading toward the coast, mountains, or lakes. But within 15 minutes of leaving my house in Cardiff, I was sat outside Channel View leisure centre, eating a pot of porridge and waiting eagerly for the doors to open so I could pay my launch fee. It costs £5 to launch from Channel View, and they give you a little pass to show anyone who might ask; I guess in case you get stopped by the harbour authority.
The water looked pretty calm, and there were several groups arriving with RIBs, or Rigid Inflatable Boats as it stands for (I can’t pretend I knew that – I’ve just googled “inflatable speed boats”) They all knew each other, and I gathered that a day out on the water with boating friends was a regular thing for them. Chatting to a few of these boat enthusiasts, I tried to sound like I knew exactly what I was doing. But when I was assured by a skipper that there’d be plenty of helping hands on the water to rescue a damsel in distress if the weather turned, I realised that my cover may have been blown.
With no intention of ever needing to be rescued, but slightly reassured that should it go ‘tits up’ I wasn’t out there alone, I headed confidently down to the jetty. Avoiding the swan poo, and the swans themselves for that matter, I paddled my way from the mouth of the river Taff, out toward the wider bay.
If I’m honest, I hadn’t decided how far I was going. But, with one eye on the weather, and the other monitoring my energy levels, I headed across the water toward the barrage. I’d always advise beginners to stay toward the edge, I’d also advise them to paddle at least in pairs. But I’m not quite a beginner, and I also never take my own advice – so I went slap bang across the middle of the bay on my own – and it was awesome!
I turned just before getting to the barrage itself, and headed along the edge of the bay, back toward the mouth of the Taff. The wind had picked up a little, and there was a bit more chop in the water. I still managed to stop and get a few selfies with the GoPro, even though that meant floating back about 7 miles (slight exaggeration) whilst faffing with the camera.
I headed under the Cardiff Bay link road back toward Channel View, but I wasn’t done yet. Leaving Channel View in the opposite direction takes you up the River Taff, and toward the Principality Stadium. So, with plenty of energy still in the tank, that’s where I headed next.
I passed water taxis full of tourists travelling from Cardiff centre to the bay. Paddling through two dark tunnels, I wondered how many rats could be swimming nearby!
I reached the Principality stadium before turning back down river. The paddle back was leisurely, in fact there wasn’t that much paddling involved as I coasted down river.
I headed back to Channel View after what was a successful paddle session by all accounts, and only then did I realise how hungry I was!
If you want to see a snapshot of the action, check out my YouTube video…
If you’d like to try out paddle boarding, keep an eye on my website events page, Facebook, and Instagram for Introduction to SUP sessions which I’ll be hosting this spring, in association with South Wales SUP club. If you are interested – pop me a message now via social media to register your interest.
If you have some SUP boarding experience, and would like to go out in Cardiff Bay, you can hire kit from Puravida Board Riders in Penarth – and please give me a shout if you’re looking for some company!
Derwent water, fed by the river Derwent, is the third largest lake in the Lake District. With its’ glassy waters, islands and mountainous surroundings, it creates a scenic location for paddling. There is good access for launching stand up paddle boards, kayaks and canoes, with launch fees varying between launch spots (read on to see where I launched for free!)
Over Christmas, in that period where it’s totally acceptable to stay in pyjamas and have no idea what day it is (shout out to those people who work to keep the World going around over Christmas), I took the opportunity to start some serious paddle board training for my ULTIMATE Wales expedition.
Thanks to Puravida Boardriders of Penarth in South Wales, I was kitted out with the O’Shea GT inflatable SUP board. I borrowed the kit for the festive period, and prayed that the weather would play ball.
Two days after Christmas I headed off on a road trip, arriving in the Lake District that evening. The next morning, with an early start and a belly full of breakfast on my side, I headed out to the lake. Day 1 was a crisp cold day, with blue skies and chilly winter sunshine. Right on the lake shore is Kettlewell National Trust car park; small but perfectly situated for launching onto Derwentwater. There is a pay and display machine, however, when I visited it was out of use, and I think it had been for a while. I can imagine that this car park would fill up early in the summer months, so it would be best to arrive early to get a space.
This was my first time paddle boarding in Winter, and being reluctant to go out and spend a pretty penny on a dry suit, I decided to wear my wetsuit with a couple of clothing layers over the top. For winter SUP’ing, although tempting to layer up in your warmest bits and pieces, it’s not advisable to wear clothing which would become water logged if you fell in. My wetsuit alone isn’t warm enough for a cold winters day on top of the water, so extra layers were a must. I weighed up my options and decided that if I did fall in, I’d have my wetsuit to help retain warmth whilst I paddled back to land. As much as you think you won’t fall in, there is always a chance.
Launching out onto the lake was serene. An intermittent breeze gave the water a manageable choppiness. I soon found my confidence on the perimeter, and started paddling toward the opposite side. Derwentwater is approximately 1 mile wide and 3 miles long, with the town of Keswick at the northern end, and the river mouth at the southern end. There was not a person in sight, and with the mid-morning sun now shining above the eastern mountains, the scenery was epic!
Toward the middle of the crossing, the wind blowing toward the north caused a bit of a side-on wave, but it was nothing too crazy. In the summer months, I’ve paddled along sections of the South Wales coast, so I’m used to bouncing across waves. The wind drag did however slow my pace, but I was glad to have this opportunity to practice in different conditions. The wind is one of the variables which I want to understand and experience as much as possible, before I embark on my expedition in the summer.
As I got close to the other side, I started to head North toward Keswick. As well as practicing my paddling, I wanted to practice my GoPro skills – selfies are not my strong point, and neither are they my bag. I waved the GoPro around on video mode, hoping I’d have some Instagram worthy footage captured. As it turned out, I did manage to capture a few good angles of the scenery, and a few cringe worthy mug shots. Unfortunately, the battery life for the GoPro is pretty pants! So without a spare battery stash, I wasn’t able to capture my full paddle journey like I’d hoped. Here’s my first GoPro video attempt….
My paddling took me along the western edge of the lake toward Keswick, between the islands at the northern end, and back against the wind on the eastern side. Day 1 was complete, and I celebrated my first proper training day with way too much food that evening, coupled with an early night.
Day 2 of training began a couple of days later after a family visit Scotland. Back at the lakeside in Kettlewell car park, the lake looked glassy and flat. I watched a canoe head off toward the river mouth, and chatted to a kayaker who was setting up for a paddle to the other side with his dog. The weather wasn’t so bright this time, cloudy with a light breeze though, and nothing forecast to change until that night.
After inflating the SUP, kitting up, and watching the kayaker launch, I attached my leash at the water’s edge. With the water still looking glassy and flat, I set out with a plan to venture toward the South to explore the river mouth. After only 5-10 minutes however, mother nature piped up, and the lake became what felt like a wind and wave tunnel. The waves weren’t really too much of a problem, but the strength of the wind made paddling pretty difficult. In fact, when the wind gusted strongly, I could do nothing but use my paddle to hold my position, to stop me from being blown to Keswick. I didn’t feel that I could fully control my direction, and as I looked toward the middle of the lake, I knew there was no chance I could paddle against the wind strength.
I decided it was best to abandon the session, and paddled back to the shore. It took me more than twice as long to get back as it had to get out. Although I didn’t consider the situation dangerous, I knew that my worst case scenario of being blown to Keswick would mean a long walk back carrying the SUP. As I landed on the shore, I noticed the kayaker heading in. He’d also abandoned his trip, and we waited with baited breathe as his dog swam against the waves toward the shore, still with her stick in her mouth.
Despite my disappointment at abandoning the day, it was a great reminder that at times, the weather dictates to you what you can and can’t do. I love the great outdoors, its’ unpredictability, and the need to make decisions based on situations as they arise.
The day wasn’t wasted in the end, I learnt a lot, and spent the rest of my time hiking and taking in the beautiful snow topped mountains and Lake District views!
During the festive period, the staff in my workplace took part in several Christmas challenges, raising £219 for the charities being supported by my ULTIMATE Wales expedition. So, here’s a little run down of what we got up to…
We had a ‘Poop a bauble’ challenge – in which people raced each other to place a bauble between their legs; transporting it from one location to another, and dropping it into the ‘festive toilet’ (a decorated bucket). With no hands aloud, this was a good laugh, and lent itself to being a great photo opportunity.
The ‘Snow Face’ challenge involved placing an edible snowball on your forehead, and then trying to more it to your mouth without using your hands. Again, this challenge provided some pretty comical photo opportunities.
Finally, a Wheel of Fortune raffle was the star of the fundraising show. I’d like to say a huge thank you to the kind people at Miskin Manor near Cardiff, who donated the fantastic prize of afternoon tea for two. The Wheel of Fortune added an interactive twist to what was essentially a normal raffle. People paid £1 to enter, and their spin on the wheel dictated how many entries they got for the raffle.
This was a simple way to start my fundraising efforts – with more to come in the coming months.
If anyone has any ideas for future fundraisers, I’d appreciate suggestions via email, Facebook, or Instagram
On Sunday 19th November, 34 people (and a few dogs) came to Rest Bay in Porthcawl, South Wales, to help me undertake a beach clean.
The idea behind the beach clean was to raise awareness of marine pollution, to support the work of the charity Keep Wales Tidy, and of course to collect waste from the coastline.
The beach clean was the first event organised as part of my ULTIMATE Wales project; in which I aim to encourage people to get outside and adventure safely and confidently in Wales, to promote the physical and mental health benefits of being outdoors, and to raise the awareness of environmental issues. The project will culminate with an expedition in summer 2018; which will see me paddle boarding, cycling and hiking across Wales, to raise money for 3 fantastic charities who echo the aims of the project. To find out more about ULTIMATE Wales click here.
Note: This picture wasn’t staged – I actually stand like that, use stupid hand gestures when I talk, and Louie the dog was definitely that engrossed in what I was saying!
On Sunday morning with the Welsh weather on our side, myself and Brian (the area project officer for Keep Wales Tidy), set up our meeting point in the car park at Rest Bay. At 10am everyone started to arrive; maps were handed out showing the designated waste bag drop points, and the health and safety bit was done. Brian kitted everyone out with bags, bag holders, gloves, and litter pickers. Even the kids had kid sized litter pickers – bionic grabber arms for everyone!
Paul Forsyth, a local photographer, kindly volunteered to come along and capture shots of the action. We had people posing with custom made props (made by my own fair hand), which were rated as top quality by all volunteers (or I could have made that bit up!)
Rest Bay itself is one of Wales’ blue flag beaches, and with a #2minuteBeachClean station placed next to the lifeguard station, people do a good job of clearing waste. However, further along the coastal path toward Pink Bay and Sker Beach, it’s a different story. So, that’s exactly where our army of waste warriors headed.
Over the course of the morning, the volunteers collected 34 bags of waste, a fridge, a wheel, ropes, nets, barrels, and almost a few Portuguese Man O War! Some weird and wonderful items were recovered from between the rocks; including a bottle of vaping fluid which had made its’ way over from Ireland, more flip flops than you could shake a toe at, small plastic toys, and way too many plastic tampon applicators.
We couldn’t have asked for a more enthusiastic bunch of volunteers. It was great to see children getting involved, local councillors, dogs, couples, and individuals. Even those with a hangover from the night before managed to attend after a breakfast stop on the way! We all got some fresh air, moved, socialised, met new people, connected with the outdoors, made a difference, thought about the issues associated with marine waste… I could go on.
It was clear to us all on Sunday that plastic is a real issue – and coincidentally this was highlighted by David Attenborough on Sunday evening’s episode of Blue Planet. It is astonishing how many plastic bottles, straws, lids, and packets we collected. But this isn’t surprising when you consider that 8 million tons end up in our oceans every year!
To keep up to date with what events are taking place as part of my ULTIMATE Wales project, you can subscribe to receive email updates by clicking here.
I’m very pleased and extremely excited to announce that ULTIMATE Wales will be supported by Puravida Boardriders and O’Shea!
Puravida is South Wales biggest surf, SUP, and Windsurf store. The shop, owned by Jim Brooks-Dowsett, is based in Penarth – just outside Cardiff. Jim makes custom windsurf, surf, and kite boards; with years of experience in the industry and in the sports themselves.
At Puravida Boardriders you can find everything to fulfil your board riding needs, as well as SUP equipment hire, and clothing. What sets the shop apart from others in my opinion, is the help and advice that Jim and his team give – particularly with regards to the local coastline. Jim has an extensive knowledge of the South Wales coast, and offers all kinds of help and advice; from the best spots to paddle, to large scale expedition planning.
Puravida are a supplier of O’Shea paddle boards – which are manufactured here in Wales! O’Shea is a truly rider owned and operated company; designing and making boards for an array of board sports.
Founded by Farrel O’Shea, a legend in the windsurfing world, O’Shea have become known for producing quality kit. Personally, I have hired O’Shea inflatable SUP boards from Puravida on numerous occasions, and particularly recommend the GT boards!
I’m so excited to have the knowledge and experience of both Jim and Farrel supporting ULTIMATE Wales, and can’t wait to get out on the water with kit supplied by Puravida and O’Shea!
On Sunday morning, I took part in a beach clean at Llantwit Major beach, South Wales. It was a gloriously sunny day; I was outside breathing the fresh sea air, moving, socialising, enjoying the beauty of Wales, and helping to protect our coastline.
What’s the problem?
Plastic is cheap to mass produce, strong, and durable – but that’s the problem. A plastic bottle can last 450 years in the marine environment, fragmenting over time into microscopic pieces, which never properly break down.
Plastic pollution is deadly to marine wildlife; animals become entangled or mistake it for food. Around 1 million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals die every year. Marine ecosystems are being damaged – not good news when we consider that 70% of oxygen is produced by marine plants.
1 in 3 fish caught for human consumption now contain plastic – it’s pretty obvious that ingesting plastic isn’t good for human health, but the worrying thing is we don’t yet know how plastic ingestion is affecting us. We do know that plastic chemicals like PDB’s have been linked to endocrine dysfunctions, and some cancers.
On top of all this, pollution and litter spoil our beautiful coastlines.
Who’s doing something about this in Wales?
Keep Wales Tidy are the charity working across Wales to protect our environment for now and the future. One of their aspirations is to achieve a better cared for coast and marine environment.
What are Keep Wales Tidy doing?
Coast Care is their volunteer programme, which helps support individuals in making positive change and impacting marine pollution. This includes anything from a #2minutebeachclean to large community efforts.
Recently, Keep Wales Tidy have teamed up with TerraCycle, who are a global leader in recycling difficult-to-recycle waste.
This is exciting stuff. Traditionally, plastics collected through the efforts of volunteers couldn’t be recycled due to sun, sea, and salt degradation. It is fantastic when plastics are removed from local beaches, but with this partnership the waste can now be turned into new products!
Come and help me
As part of my ULTIMATE Wales expedition, I am fundraising for and supporting Keep Wales Tidy. I aim to help raise awareness of marine pollution, and of the work done by Keep Wales Tidy.
On Sunday 19th November, I will be holding a beach clean at Rest Bay in Porthcawl – a favourite spot of mine (because of the surf!)
You can turn up and collect a few pieces of litter, or fill a whole bag. Any help will be much appreciated.
Bring the kids, the dog, friends, or come along on your own. Guaranteed fresh air, although I can’t guarantee the weather (it’s Wales – bring a coat, you’ll be fine).
I have some vouchers to give away on the day, including a £10 voucher kindly donated by Coffi Co Porthcawl, where they do some awesome flavoured hot chocolates! I also have two £10 Love2Shop vouchers to give away, which can be spent in a variety of high street shops.
There will be vouchers awarded for the most obscure or interesting objects found, and for the biggest rubbish collecting efforts.
If you’re not available to help that day, or you don’t live nearby, you can still get involved by doing your own mini beach clean! Be sure to take some pictures and upload to social media – tagging @fitforadventure and using #ultimatewales