Magic end for ‘journey of counties’

Four unexplored areas now ticked off in Wales. It has taken Nigel Pickover more years than he cares to remember – but, finally, he has visited every one of the old counties of England, Scotland and Wales.

I fulfilled a lifetime’s quest in a land of beauty and enchantment.

It was to Wales I had come, after a gap of many years, and I was thrilled that my adventure ended in such magnificent surroundings.

Since childhood, I have travelled the length and breadth of our land and I adore it.

But around a decade ago, I looked at an antique RAC map of the “old counties” of England, Scotland and Wales and realised there was a gap in my knowledge; that my travelling feet had left one pocket of the kingdom untroubled.

A section of mid-Wales, containing four intriguing areas, soon became a target for a visit – but it has taken me until this year to get there.

And so it was off from the “far east” to the “far west” just a few weeks ago.

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After an overnight stop in the pleasant village of Drakes Broughton, Worcestershire, we passed through Hereford on the way to Hay-on-Wye, where the Hay Festival was in full swing.

We paid to enter Hay over a toll bridge, spanning the magnificent River Wye, and braved the throngs to explore the “Village of Books.”

Hay sounds very English but the police car had Heddlu written on its side – could I be in Wales already, and, if so, where?

The tourist information girls said we were in Breconshire, the first of the “missing” four counties!

Onward we drove, through stunning mountain and valley country, via the beautifully-named Builth Wells and soon, Radnorshire, county number two, was entered.

It was time for a break – and, thankfully, the red kite feeding station at Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, was close at hand.

Here farming takes back seat to the main priority, feeding of hundreds of red kites, once an endangered species, which swoop down from the mountains for chunks of hand-chopped chicken.

Hundreds gather, every day at 3pm, to witness the spectacle – see my video above.

The quest was now gathering pace – and we were still close to – and alongside, the Wye, as we climbed.

Over the water table, with the west coast tantalisingly close, we entered the third of the counties on the list.

Cardigan, with its main resort town of Aberystwyth, was duly visited and we started to move north towards Snowdonia.

The market town of Machynlleth was the next target on a day when the sun shone and Wales was its incredible best.

Just before we arrived at what some claim is the “ancient capital of Wales” a sign indicated we were entering Montgomeryshire – and I was a happy bunny.

Machynlleth was the seat of legend Owen Glendower’s Welsh Parliament in 1404 – some 607 years later I thought this was a great place for my own quest to end.

But the day’s journey duly continued – and we were now in the land of railways, tumbling rivers and stunning bays and estuaries.

If you get the weather, as we did, this is some place to be.

Our final destination of this day was Porthmadog, all set for an assault on Wales’ highest mountain, Snowdon, the next day.

But in the heat and constant sun this wasn’t a time for walking shoes – we were going up by puffing billy!

We arrived at Llanberis, base station for the Snowdon Mountain Railway, in early morning.

There we found out that our single carriage would be pushed to the top by a steam loco called Snowdon!

Mark my words, this is one of THE great railway journeys.

It was an utter joy as 100-year-old Snowdon propelled us to the top, in the company of guard Gareth Jones.

The fastest fell runners can race to the Snowdon summit and back in under 90 minutes – the train takes around an hour each way!

Snowdon, on a day of clarity and brilliant sunshine (very rare in these parts), was a revelation and we climbed the last few feet to the top for some lovely pictures.

We ended our four-day trip to Wales with a visit to Beaumaris, on the island of Anglesey, where we met up with our friends Dave and Chris, from Yorkshire.

Wales was captivating and such a wonderful place to end the “journey of the counties.”

What next? Well, there are dozens of islands that I haven’t been to …