Watching from her vantage point, the lifeguard monitored the events unfolding below. A donkey was desperately trying to eat its owner’s ice cream, kids were resisting the temptation to knock down a sandcastle and I was one of a few people attempting to play volleyball. It all seemed like the perfect British beach scene.
Except the RNLI post was an Ordnance Survey trig point 752 metres up in the Cambrian Mountains. And this was Britain’s highest beach; at least for the afternoon.
Watch the hill-arious video of Britain’s highest beach on Pumlumon Fawr, mid-Wales
Life’s a Beach
“We’re going to take a beach up to Pumlumon Fawr in June. Will you join us?” asked Dafydd Wyn Morgan. It was mid-December and there was a duvet of snow outside. I was half way into my 3,500-mile hike through British history and not even sure where I’d be the next night.
“Oh my God, yes!” I screamed, loving being involved in anything so sublimely ridiculous.
Six months later, on the drizzly June morning, I was in the car with Dafydd driving to the region’s highest peak.
“There’s a crab coming up, too,” he casually announced, “it’s in the back.” I peered behind but saw only three smiling faces of other beachgoers.
Once we’d stopped in the mid-Wales mountains, Dafydd took something from the boot. “Here you go, Gwyn,” he said as he handed it to her.
“Who made that?” Owain, another beach-hillwalker asked.
“Someone in China. They’re probably wondering who’d be so daft as to wear it!” We all turned to Gwyn, who was now dressed as a lifesized crab.
There were 20 of us going up Pumlumon Fawr including two RNLI staff, Moses the donkey, three kids, Aberdyfi Search and Rescue Team, a Welsh artist, and the rest of us. We all had equally absurd apparatus to haul up the hill. I was carrying a rubber ring, the children were toting buckets and spades, there was a deckchair, a parasol and even ice creams made from cottonwool, and of course a bag of sand.
I’d met Dafydd, who works for Cambrian Mountains, when he kindly put me up in the freezing winter as I walked through Britain. It was then he’d told me he was trying to promote the Welsh government’s ‘Year of the Sea’ in the non-coastal area. “It’d be really nice to bring the two together,” he’d smiled.
As we began up the trail, the drizzle thoughtfully stopped to be replaced by a thick, humid air and the local residents: midges.
“Oh feck! I don’t associate Wales with midges,” I said as I was bitten on my eyelid and cheek. “Aren’t they supposed to be annoying people in Scotland?”
“They’ve heard the Cambrian Mountains are so picturesque that they want to see it for themselves,” someone laughed.
They had a point. The region, sandwiched between Machynlleth and Landovery, is reminiscent of a mini Scottish Highlands. It’s exceptionally lush with crags, peaks and roller coaster hills, interspersed with lakes. When the string of mist lifted, the verdant slopes encased in the clouds’ shadows burst through. What’s more, we were the only people in sight.
“You’ll have to walk up in a specific order so I can film it,” Dafydd told us. Thankfully, my position was easy to remember, I was in front of the crab.
“Is he still filming?” asked Gwyn, “my pincers are aching.” I turned round to see her with her claws in the air looking as crustacean-like as possible on a mountain.
Moses the donkey was in a world of his own, zigzagging up the hill and stopping to munch on the wet grass.
“He loves it up here, it’s not every day he gets to eat this when he’s on the beach,” said Louise from Dyfi Donkeys.
“Is he OK to go up?” someone asked.
“If he didn’t want to, we wouldn’t be able to make him. He’d simply refuse.”
“Sounds like me,” I said as I struggled to hold my rubber ring round my waist.
Sea to Summit
A teaser of sun came out casting a glow down on the valley just as we reached the top. The trig point beckoned us and we all scrambled over the nearby cairn to devour our lunch. I hadn’t even noticed the beach scene being set up behind me.
“Right, we’re ready!” Dafydd shouted through the wind. We all took our places and four of us stood around the volleyball net.
“This is going to be a disaster!” I laughed, “I’ve not played since I was 15. How are you meant to hold your hands?!” None of us were really sure, yet surprisingly we managed to have a rally until the ball nearly rolled off the top of the mountain, taken by a gust of wind. I sprinted after it, hurdled over some rocks, knocked the net down, nearly fell over and somehow stopped the ball just in time. It was all rather comical but the camera wasn’t rolling for that bit of action.
After shivering in the wind, which caused the parasol to smack into the volleyball net (which of course fell down again), I felt like I was on the set of a Mr Bean film. Someone’s cottonwool blew out of their ice cream cone which Moses the donkey was eying up. Kona the dog was so excited by the volleyball that I thought he was going to join our team and Welsh performance artist Miranda Whall crawled across the beach on all fours dressed as a sheep. Just then, an unsuspecting hillwalker arrived on the peak, bang slap in the middle of it all. It would have made a great ad for confused.com
I was happy to have been part of such a fun and offbeat idea with a great group of people to create Britain’s highest beach (at least for the afternoon).