Breaking down in the motor home on a lonely country lane with diesel streaming onto the road was not the best start to my holiday in rural Wales.
We were miles from the nearest garage, it was a Sunday morning and everything in Cardigan Bay was shut. Worse still, my partner in crime Tony realised that he’d forgotten to renew the AA breakdown cover when it expired two weeks earlier.
But did we rant and rage? Were we downhearted and angry? No – we were surprisingly chilled. In fact, it turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened.
We found ourselves stranded at Mwnt Bay, an impossibly pretty beach… and the perfect place for a wild getaway from the outside world. We had limped back to our campsite on a farm a mile up the road from where we broke down.
The lovely locals had tried to help, but to no avail. We were stuck for a couple of days until expert mechanics could be summoned. Despite the air of gloom, things looked up when we spotted the stunning views over Cardigan Bay.
With the fuel problem temporarily fixed (a botch job), we parked up and grabbed our walking boots and outdoor kit… and set off down to the Mwnt or Mound (to translate its name from Welsh).
The Mwnt is a strange lump or hillock which overlooks Cardigan Bay, one of Britain’s great coastal marine reserves.
Not only does to boast unrivalled views of the coast, it is almost ‘picture postcard perfect’ with iconic views and a small, ancient, white church overlooking the coast.
There has been a church on this site since the 6th Century. The tiny Church of the Holy Cross is thought to date back to the 14th century when it was used by pilgrims making a holy pilgrimage from St David’s to Bardsey Island.
This has to win the prize for most windswept church in Great Britain. No competition.
No wonder its low-slung frame hugs the land behind the mount, clinging on for all the shelter it can get on a blustery day.
The striking image of this iconic place appears everywhere you go in Mid-Wales, but we were privileged to have a ringside view of this whitewashed chapel from our camper van lounge.
Take shelter inside and you’ll discover many treasures from previous centuries including ancient timbers and medieval artefacts. The old graveyard outside is also worth a browse.
Despite its peaceful ambience today, Mwnt was the scene of a bloody incursion in 1150 when a Flemish force landed at the cove on a raid of the Welsh coast.
There was ‘great slaughter’ in the ensuing battle between locals and invaders… which is now celebrated as ‘the Bloody Sunday of Mwnt’.
The church is overshadowed by the conical hillock of Foel y Mynt which juts out into Cardigan Bay from where there are stunning views along the coastline. No wonder the Flemish raiders wanted to seize this place.
Hold onto your hats because it’s very exposed, even on a glorious summer’s day… but it boasts stunning natural scenery with superb views of cliffs, strange rock formations and the cove below.
If you’re looking for shelter, walk down to the picture perfect bay at Mwnt beach which is a fantastic spot for a picnic. Geology has cunningly carved out handy shale rock niches to sit on!
This is one of the best places in Britain for dolphin watching and we weren’t disappointed. A small pod appeared and provided a dolphin show, complete with breaching and blowing.
The trick is to look out for their distinctive shape and fins emerging from the water… and to have a pair of binoculars to hand. Follow the movements of the dolphin watching boats which appear in the bay as they are also tracking the movement of these marine creatures. The dolphins are never far away…
Not far from the beach, there’s a small cafe and I can recommend their tasty bacon sandwiches – with locally produced, high quality pork. I can still smell the wonderful bacon rashers sizzling away.
I could sit here and watch the scenery and wildlife for hours… especially as it’s such a great sheltered spot. Families might enjoy a bit of rock pooling and stone skimming in the sea with the kids.
Visitors flock to Mwnt throughout the year to experience the gorgeous hidden cove with its golden sands and lapping waves. No wonder it’s been voted one of Britain’s best hidden beaches.
If you’re feeling energetic and want to go ‘the whole hog’ after your bacon sarnies, you can walk from here all the way into Cardigan and the River Teifi.
The walk is around 8 kms along ‘up and down’ terrain although it’s hardly what you’d call mountainous – just lumpy and bumpy. We cheated and caught a taxi into town because we needed to carry heavy shopping for our overnight meal.
Alternatively, take the walk to the top of the Mwnt hillock where you’ll be rewarded by spectacular views along the coast and out to sea. It’s well worth huffing and puffing your way through the bracken to the top of the ridge.
At the top, the grassy mound gives way to a serrated ridge of exposed rock which provides a good, if numb-bumming ledge, on which to perch.
Once again, look out for dolphins and porpoises swimming up the coast and don’t forget those important binoculars for close-up views. Also look out for small fishing boats in search of a bumper catch of sea food and fishermen setting their crab pots.
From the pinnacle, the best views are those out towards the sea, largely because the only blot on the local landscape is a small but distracting caravan park on the rear side of the mound.
Watch your step because the footpaths around the mound are slippery after rain. I nearly came a cropper and plunged to my death a couple of times!
A lower path provides an expansive panorama of the bigger Cardigan Bay area… and you can return along a lower, less steep descent to the car park below.
If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the distant mountains of Snowdonia on the far horizon on a clear day.
On a bright and sunny day, you can see forever… but the main selling points of Mwnt – for me – are its gorgeous sandy golden beach and turquoise seas.
What a place to break down in the motor home and be stuck for two days… if the van has to break down, there are few better places.
And guess what? The local Fiat garage man came out to fix the motor home and rescue us the very next day. It took him 10 minutes to get us back on the road for our next adventure.
But being stuck in Mwnt had been a really fun experience – and we’d seen the dolphins from the comfort of our broken down motor home!
Life’s a beach
Mwnt is a lovely, relatively unspoiled place, a refreshing change from the crowds further down the Pembrokeshire coast in summer.
This is the place where dreams are made… so grab your bucket and spade, binoculars and beach shoes, and head on down to the beach.
What are you waiting for?
Tammy’s Travel Guide – Mwnt and Cardigan Bay
Mwnt is located five miles north of Cardigan in Mid-Wales. If you’re driving from Cardigan, follow the National Trust signs along the increasingly skinny lanes to the coast.
Look out for oncoming traffic! The roads leading into Mwnt are tiny and winding, but there are plenty of passing places, so you’ll need to be patient.
Once you’re reached Mwnt, there’s a National Trust car park, toilets and a kiosk selling ice creams, soft drinks and bacon sandwiches.
If you are travelling by public transport, there’s the Cardi Bach coastal bus service from Cardigan to Mwnt although it’s best to check times because the service isn’t frequent.
Looking for somewhere to stay? We stopped at a small certified camper van site called Ffynnon Grog on the farm overlooking the bay. It’s quiet and peaceful with great dolphin watching opportunities. It’s a much lovelier spot than the large caravan site at the bottom of the hill.
There are self catering cottages at Mwnt if you want to stay locally. Mwnt is a decent base for exploring nearby beauty spots such as Cenarth’s waterfalls, Cilgerran Castle, Aberport and Penbryn.
Cardigan is a charming small town with a ruined castle, riverside walks and scenic fishing boats at Gwbert-by-the-Sea. There are local supermarkets if you’re topping up food supplies on a self catering holiday. There are many local cafes and restaurants in Cardigan plus an arts centre with a cinema.
Bird watchers will love Teifi Marshes as well as nearby island trips to bird reserves.
There are dolphin watching excursions and boat trips along the coast ranging from short tours to longer half-day trips. Boat trips depart from the New Quay waterfront and Cardigan.
Ramblers will enjoy taking the longer coastal walk from Mwnt to Pencestyll and Pen-Peles to the north-east, returning via the inland path through farmland through Llwyn-ysgow and Ty-gwyn. It’s around 7 kms in length and takes around two and a half hours. You can buy a book of local walks at the Mwnt shop and kiosk.