Cardigan without the sweat

by Chris.Blackmore

The Fforest campsite near Cardigan, on the west coast of Wales, is the perfect place to unwind, and an ideal base from which to explore the area

Camping tends to divide people: the joy of a week under canvas, rising with the larks, getting back to nature on a budget; or the misery of trying to put up a tent in a downpour, noisy neighbours and chilly nocturnal trips across fields to the loo.
Fforest, near Cardigan on the west coast of Wales, is one of the new breed of campsites that might just please both, ahem, camps. On arrival, you leave your car on the edge of the site, and use a luggage trolley to wheel your hiking boots and flip-flops over to your chosen abode. Once you have trundled up to reception, you are led by a very friendly member of staff to your large family tent, generously sized teepee or, best of all, geodesic dome.
Fforest is a permanent camp site, so rather than bringing your own tent, bedding and kitchen sink, the tents and accompanying kitchen areas are already set up for you on wooden decking. Our delightful dome came equipped with a real double bed, armchair and wood-burning stove - you won’t need any Ray Mears bushcraft skills to survive here! If the rain does close in (and let’s face it, the Welsh coast is no stranger to rain), you can simply hunker down under the beautiful Welsh wool blankets and relax to the sound of rain on canvas rather than fretting about whether you are going to wake up in a puddle.
Fforest is a really special place, and a chance to step off the treadmill. We began to unwind from the moment we arrived - in the time it takes for your kettle to boil on the stove, you are unpacked and settled in, and the pace of life is already slowing down. There are toilet and shower blocks, a lodge (where a tasty breakfast of local produce is available every morning), a licensed bar (open on certain days) and even a cedar barrel sauna.
There’s plenty to do for the more active guests. The list of offsite activities, which the staff will arrange for you, includes (deep breath): abseiling, climbing, mountain-biking, surfing, surf kayaking, rafting, coasteering, hill-walking, orienteering, quad-biking and paintballing. If that all sounds a bit too strenuous, you can do your own thing, as we did, and head out to explore the area.
The nearest village, Cilgerran, has just a small shop, a restaurant and a couple of pubs, some of which will provide meals. So you might prefer to head into Cardigan, a 10-minute drive away, and worth a visit (check out the Fforest Outdoors and Howies clothes stores). Just beyond Cardigan is Poppit Sands, a glorious beach, and the start of the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, which stretches for a mighty 158 miles. We managed only a couple of those miles, starting high up above Poppit and walking south and west, but they were well worth it, with stunning views and the chance to do some seal-spotting.
If you want a souvenir from your time in Pembrokeshire, take a trip to Tregwynt Mill, near St Nicholas, the perfect place for high quality wool products, particularly the gorgeous blankets and throws, which you can watch being woven in the mill. Or stop off in nearby Newport, to mooch around one of the many art galleries, and wander round the Carningli Centre antique shop. You can even stay over in the stylish Llys Meddyg hotel and enjoy some fine food.
A little town further up the coast from Cardigan, New Quay, is a former haunt of Dylan Thomas and allegedly the model for Llareggub in Under Milk Wood. We were hoping to see the dolphins that frequent this stretch of coast, and the girl in the chip shop confirmed that a chorus line of cetaceans had indeed been can-canning across the bay just an hour or two before we arrived. We enjoyed our chips and ice cream on the sea wall, dodging seagulls and staring, ever hopeful, out to sea, but left without seeing so much as a flipper.
Another few minutes’ drive along the coast at Aberaeron, the Harbourmaster Hotel is a touch of luxury at the sea’s edge, with lovely food, whilst returning towards Fforest, Mwnt is worth a visit for its tiny church, secluded beach and the hill rising steeply above it, which gives the intrepid walker some magnificent views across St George’s channel. Just half a mile from home, the Welsh Wildlife Centre is a great place for the whole family, with guided walks around the Teifi Marshes Nature Reserve and a nice café/visitors’ centre.
But as great as the surrounding area is, there’s no place like dome, and it’s back on the camp site that you can really appreciate the tranquillity, broken only by the occasional whistle of a steam kettle, the laughter of children, and the twitter of birds who are lucky enough to call this lovely part of the world home.