A vast, open expanse of sea and sky greeted us at the Ynyslas dunes. Rolling south of the Dyfi Estuary for as far as the eye can see, this dune dreamscape lifts gazes and spirits – particularly on a spring day, when a stiff breeze buffets the Irish Sea and clouds billow atmospherically in a sharp blue sky.
Driving the Coastal Way, the 180-mile route that takes in the great arc of Cardigan Bay, we had stopped hoping for a breather and a view. We were almost bowled over by the wind that came surging through the dunes as we stepped out of the car, yet who could resist the walk along the boardwalk to the beach? Not us.
A skylark was singing its heart out to an invisible audience amid the dunes. Butterflies flitted among the wildflowers. We walked in quiet exhilaration as wind parted the lush carpet of gold-tipped marram grass. Only in the name of conservation did we resist the urge to step off the boardwalk and run in joyous, childish leaps through the undulating sands.
The boardwalk soon gave way to a long, wide, wild beach at low tide, where we picked our way over pebbles, driftwood and giant cockle shells to rippled sands. Beyond that, the estuary. Beyond the estuary, the mountains.
The path through Ynyslas dunes © Kerry Walker
What to see
Wales often feels closely knit, with its tightly woven valleys and high hills, so in many ways the Ynyslas dunes feel distinctly un-Welsh. Pick a good day and you’ll be blown away (in every sense of the expression) by the views of pounding surf, the swirling sands of the Dyfi Estuary and the brooding mountains of Snowdonia National Park, thrusting up behind.
The dunes form an important part of the Dyfi Unesco Biosphere Reserve, a nature reserve attracting a rich abundance of wildlife, including wetland birds like ringed plovers and shelducks, as well as ospreys and red kites, dolphins, porpoises and otters. Summer brings an eruption of wildflowers: Marsh and Bee orchids, sea pink and sea aster.
The boardwalk through the dunes at Ynyslas © Kerry Walker
What to do
Bring your own picnic and go for a walk. This isn’t hardcore coastal walking by any means, but the boardwalk that weaves its way through the dunes opens up some spectacular views. The 1¼-mile Dune Walk leads on a glorious ramble through the dunes to the beach, while the 2½-mile Ynyslas Walk takes you from dune to seashore, farmland to saltmarsh.
If you follow the beach south you reach Borth, where very low tide occasionally exposes the petrified tree stumps of a prehistoric forest.
NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From the dunes, it’s 25 miles northeast to Mallwyd, start point for our adventurous alternative hiking route up Cadair Idris!
At a glance
How to get there: Ynyslas is around 9 miles north of Aberystwyth via the B4572 and B4353. The closest train station is in Borth, a couple of miles south, which has regular services on the Cambrian Line. Don’t take the turning to Ynyslas Beach but, north of Borth where the B4353 bends sharp right, continue straight on with the dunes on your left until you hit sand.
Parking: There’s a car park (£2 for the day) right at the start of the boardwalk, close to the visitor centre. The car park is on tidal sands, which are submerged during high tides. Take note of the tide times on the warning sign at the entrance.
Refreshments: Snacks and drinks are available at the visitor centre, and there’s often an ice cream van in the car park in summer. But this is the perfect spot for a picnic – stock up on supplies in nearby Aberystwyth.
Best time to visit: Late spring when the weather is warming up is a great time to come, with crisp light and wildflowers in bloom. Summer gets a tad busier but is good for wildlife spotting, while autumn brings migratory waders and some rich colours to the raised bog.