This week appears to have been a turning point in the weather as suddenly the rain came.
The relatively low mileage this week felt hard-earned as the going seemed to get slower. The paths were certainly muddier and slippier. So far North Wales has been full of incredibly friendly people and that has helped me no end. Even just stood on the street in Pwllheli I must have looked lost as a man came over and asked if I needed help. When he found out what I was doing he gave me his phone number in case I got into difficulty as he works from home so could easily come and help me. Michael typified my experience of North Walians so far. Diolch.
This week I have mostly been in the heart of Welsh-language country. Welsh has been the default language and I have often had to ask people to speak English. The stereotypical English view of North Wales, that people here are reluctant to speak English, has not been borne out in my case. I have had a great time in N Wales and plan to return.
I have been suffering from a sore foot for a couple of weeks now. It’s not affecting my gait, but my left foot, just in front of the heel, feels bruised. I also think my big oaf of a little brother broke some metatarsals in my right foot when he stamped on it during a family game of tag rugby on Criccieth beach almost 3 weeks ago. It is still painful. Apart from my feet, I’m fine.
Everything pointed towards taking today off, so I did. The weather was absolutely terrible: driving rain and (according to the forecast) 50+ mph winds. I was very happy to have a lie in, read the papers and enjoy chatting to Caroline, Nicola and Evelyn.
I can wholeheartedly recommend The Lion Hotel. Everyone is really friendly and very helpful. Not only did the proprietor, Caroline, do my laundry, she also found me my next B&B in Aberdaron. Evelyn cooked me a lovely breakfast (proper poached egg!) and Nicola drove me down to Porth Ysgaden in her landrover so I didn’t miss seeing the infamous ruined house and the lovely little bay. (I got completely soaked and almost blown away just getting out of the vehicle!)
I had a lovely, chilled day. A big thanks to the Lee family and staff at The Lion Hotel.
The Victoria Hotel darts team must have won last night because the party sounded like it went on until after midnight.
I caught the bus back to Nefyn. On the way we crossed the Afon Rhyd-hir and it had clearly burst its banks. No sooner had I arrived at Nefyn (having been rained on walking to the bus stop) than a patch of blue sky appeared overhead and the sun came out. What a bonus. This meant I could see where I had walked yesterday. Wow, what a view; the clouds had just cleared from the tops of Yr Eifl.
I walked/skidded along the wet, slippery, sometimes flooded path, overlooking a sheer drop down to beach below. This pretty much describes all of today’s walk. The beaches were lovely, and the bigger ones had houses on them.
Porth Dinllaen was particularly nice and I walked along the beach to the houses at the end. The Ty Coch pub (the red building in the middle on the beach) was recommended to me by a man at the bus stop, but it wasn’t yet open when I passed.
The narrow strip of headland above Porth Dinllaen marked a change in view and, almost as if the weather cleared to give me a good view of Yr Eifl, the clouds rolled in and down came the rain. I was already suited up and ready for it.
Nefyn golf course was on the headland above Porth Dinllaen and there were lots of oyster catchers monopolising the greens.
The rest of the cliff walk to Tudweiliog was conducted in the pouring rain, across very wet grass and through lots of mud. I crossed 4 streams that had become raging torrents, one of which I had to long jump across.
A mile before I arrived at Tudweiliog there was a sudden gust of wind that blew the rain away and the clouds parted again. The wind suddenly picked up to about gale force and I struggled to stay upright.
I saw a group of seals hauled-out on the rocks below, as if they had been basking in the sun all afternoon, even though it had been raining.
I felt lucky to have found somewhere to stay in Tudweiliog, the last proper settlement before Aberdaron, 18 miles further around the coast path. It saved me a bus trip back to Pwllheli.
The Lion Hotel was great: clean and comfortable. Caroline was lovely and immediately offered to do my laundry. Another bonus. I settled in for the night and treated myself to a comfort dinner of liver and onions followed by rice pudding.
I learnt of the Lleyn phenomenon that is the ‘booze bus’. Around here groups of people hire buses and do pub crawls. Three booze buses stopped off at The Lion during the evening; they didn’t affect me as I was in the lounge and they were kept in the back room.
Bad weather seems to be setting in. My head was a bit sore this morning but I soldiered on through my full cooked breakfast. From Caernarfon there is a short walk (mostly on minor roads) around Foryd Bay and then it’s a long stretch alongside the main road again. I decided to miss this out and caught a bus to Trefor. This way I would have plenty of time to complete what looked on the map like a very hilly section.
As I sat on the bus the rain became torrential and I could feel the wind moving the bus. I amused the other passengers by donning full waterproofs as we drove along.
Trefor looked to be a fishing village, although I couldn’t see much through the driving rain. The coast path keeps to the low cliffs around Trefor and, only when I reached the end, could I just about see the huge mountain (Yr Eifl) looming ahead of me, shrouded by rain cloud. The path went directly up it. Zigzagging is for wimps! I walked up this long, steep hill as slowly as I could, trying to avoid sweating. It was a good idea but it failed. It wasn’t long before I was soaked both inside and out. Oh well. Despite the appalling weather conditions, very low visibility and slight hangover, I was enjoying myself. Needless to say I didn’t meet another walker all day and I revelled in the isolation that the weather had brought. I hummed and talked to myself (and the wildlife – these days I always talk to the birds, the cows, the sheep et al) and no one was there to consider me strange. It was just me, on my own, in a wilderness I couldn’t see. I was very appreciative of the excellent coast path signs as they made navigation a whole lot easier.
At the top of the first ‘cliff’, which was actually a pass between two peaks, 350m above sea level, I joined the North Wales Pilgrims Way. This was a well-trodden path across Graig Ddu (hardy lot those pilgrims) and led me to a deserted car park. From here there was a small road that went down the steep hill (30% incline but this time there were a couple of hairpin bends thrown in). At the bottom was the Nant Gwrtheyrn Welsh Language Centre. What a location! As I approached it my first thought was that I had found what the Welsh Assembly spends its money on but, after visiting the heritage centre, I’m inclined to be a bit more charitable.
Due to the appalling weather and consequent lack of visibility I had no idea, until I arrived at Nant Gwrtheyrn, that I had been skirting a huge granite quarry. What a place; a granite valley, in the shadow of the 3 peaks of Yr Eifl, opening out onto the Irish Sea.
In the 18th Century this small valley, which looked, from the photos, like a half-bowl open to the sea, was home to 3 farming families.
In 1851 The Nant’s first commercial granite quarry was opened and construction of Porth y Nant village began in this isolated place in 1863. By 1915 demand for granite was falling, quarries began to close and the last family left the village in 1959. The Nant Gwrtheyrn Trust bought and renovated the village and it became a Welsh Language Centre in 1982. It now looks very smart.
I stopped at the caffi for a hot coffee and a scone (served with Cornish clotted cream, proving the village is no longer isolated). I was the only person they’d seen all day; however, I noticed they were gearing up for a wedding reception in the large room next door.
After half an hour I put my dripping waterproofs back on over my soaked clothes and headed out for the next instalment. The sea was loud and raging and I had another steep climb out of the valley.
The thing about days when the weather is awful is that at some point the smallest thing, or the glimpse of a view, becomes so much more special. That moment happened as I came over the top of Gwylfa just as the rain stopped and the cloud lifted a bit. There, laid out in front of me, was a great view down to Nefyn and along the North Lleyn coast. Breathtaking. I fairly skipped the rest of the way. I reached Nerfyn just in time to catch the 3 pm bus to Pwllheli (the next one was 4.30).
Cheap accommodation is relatively scarce out of season on the Lleyn Peninsula, hence having to get the bus to Pwllheli. I had booked a room but, when I arrived at the horrible-looking bar where I was staying they couldn’t provide me with what is booked on laterooms.com. After hanging around for 40 minutes, soaking wet, while the barmaid tried to sort out the right room I left. Thank goodness for 3G phone coverage as I managed to find the Victoria Hotel and the proprietor, Ross, was very helpful. This place was better and the people were friendly. My room soon looked like a Chinese laundry. (But I always leave it clean and tidy the next day.)
I left late this morning as I was still trying to update my blog and dry out my boots, which have been constantly wet since last Friday. Still, time wasn’t an issue as I had booked accommodation in Caernarfon, a mere 9 miles walk away.
Studying my map I convinced myself that I could see a footpath across the Britannia Bridge so I thought I’d walk over that one. I walked along the main road to Llanfair P.G. and enjoyed the same views of the bridges as yesterday. One small problem when I got to the bridge: no footpath to be found. There was nothing for it but to retrace my steps back to Menai Bridge. This time, however, I did at least follow the coast path along the shoreline. I might have been cursing my misfortune (or poor map interpretation) but for the lovely views and discovering the large limestone lions That decorate the bridge and are not visible from the road (only from the railway). Also in my favour was that, in spite of the weather forecast, it was not yet raining.
After completing my 3 mile round-trip I crossed the Menai Bridge and said hywlfawr to Anglesey.
Back on the mainland the path followed the shore for a bit and passed Treborth Botanic Garden. It was here that I met an old couple walking their cat. They kept calling to it as they walked so I asked them, and yes, they were taking him for a walk. I’ve never seen that before! The old man asked me about my walk, was impressed I was doing the whole of Britain and, after asking my age, told me to enjoy the memories because in 10 years time my body will fall apart. Now there’s a happy thought to be going on with!
Fortunately I was distracted from suicidal thoughts by a section of Stephenson’s original tubular bridge. The present Britannia Bridge was rebuilt in the 1970s after a fire. Stephenson’s original bridge was a wrought iron tubular bridge to carry the train line; the 1970s build incorporated the A55. (Note: maybe I am an engineer at heart?)
At 11.45 am the forecast heavy rain arrived…in bucket-loads. It was too muggy to wear my waterproof trousers so I donned my gaiters to try and stop the water from running down my legs into my boots. At this point I was walking through the Glan Faenol National Trust woodland but I was soon pushed out onto the road. The rest of the way to Caernarfon was along a cycle route that followed the main road so I decided to get a bus.
I arrived in Caernarfon at lunchtime, soggy and cooling down. Time for a cafe lunch to warm up. I walked into the main square and picked a lovely caffi. After lunch I found my guesthouse, dumped my rucksack, and headed off to the Castle.
Caernarfon Castle was built in 1283 by Edward I and was the seat of power of the Welsh Princes, indeed it was the site of the investiture of the two most recent Princes of Wales. The outer walls of the castle have been well-preserved and would be great for a game of hide and seek.
I really enjoyed spending a couple of hours looking around. The history of Welsh rule was slowly starting to make some sense to me. Of the 4 main Welsh ‘principalities’, Gwynedd seems to have been the strongest. The original Princes of Wales were North Walians; in 1267 King Henry III granted the title to the Prince of Gwynedd, only for it to be taken away when Edward I invaded. One of the reasons Caernarfon Castle looks so spectacular is that Edward I possibly modelled it on Roman buildings, hence its bands of coloured stone.
Legend has it that the Roman Emperor, Macsen Wledig ruled from Caernarfon after marrying a local girl. So Edward I was not the first foreign ruler; his son was born at Caernarfon and was the first non-Welsh (even though born here) Prince of Wales.
I really liked Caernarfon. This town was an architectural gem. I walked along most of the narrow streets within the old, walled town and stopped for a pint of local beer at The Black Boy. This rather non-PC named pub dated from c. 1522. I also climbed Ben Twthill, the small hill that overlooks the town.
It was Bonfire Night and, along with the rest of the town, I headed to the waterfront at 7 pm to watch the town’s firework display. It had stopped raining and the excellent display was 17 minutes long over the water. The atmosphere was great on the sea-side of the old town and castle walls.
After the fireworks I wandered around the town again looking for somewhere to eat. I walked past a place that claims to be the smallest bar in Wales and ended up in Osteria, a Tuscan restaurant. I had a lovely meal and then, just as I was finishing, Eric and Janice arrived. They had eaten elsewhere because Janice doesn’t like the (excellent) Tuscan food, but they always pop in for some wine and a chat with the Italian staff. I was roped in. Two bottles of wine later (bought by Eric), conversation was in full flow and Eric was trying to marry me off to Sergio, the Italian waiter. It was a great evening (even though I didn’t marry Sergio, who was as bemused as me). I left with a full stomach, a spinning head and Janice’s phone number in case I need somewhere to stay. What a brilliant example of Welsh friendliness and hospitality. I also managed to get some guidance on pronunciation of Welsh place names.
The room in the pub I was staying at was newly decorated and clean, and breakfast was pretty good, so I was happy to stay a 2nd night. This meant I could walk with a lighter pack today.
I caught the bus back to Newborough, just along the road from Malltraeth. It was another damp and grey day so I decided not to bother walking through Newborough Forest and down to Llandwyn Island; there wouldn’t be any views and it would just add 5 wet miles to my day.
I walked down to Newborough Warren to see the large expanse of dunes (a common theme on this section of coast). After that I followed the coast path across numerous muddy fields on its protracted route to the actual coast.
I arrived at the Menai Straits opposite Caernarfon. There were remnants of an old pier where the ferrymen used to cross the Straits before the bridges were built.
As usual, there were plenty of wading birds about so I didn’t feel the need to go in the Sea Zoo that I passed.
The coastal path headed inland again to get around a large estate and I walked past another chambered cairn.
By mid-afternoon the cloud was lifting a little and I saw some blue sky and sun. This was just in time for my arrival at the town called: The Church of St Mary in a hollow of white Hazel near to a rapid whirlpool and to St Tsylio’s Church and near to a red cave, otherwise known locally as Llanfair P.G..
Naturally this small town, which is the first one in Anglesey across the main Britannia Bridge, is quite a tourist Mecca. At the entrance to the town is the old Toll Gate, with its charges still visible: only 4d for every horse, mule or other cattle drawing a coach or carriage with springs!
Llanfair P.G. also has a 27m high monument known as the Marquess of Anglesey’s Column. It was built in 1816 to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo and a bronze statue of Henry Paget, First Marquess of Anglesey and second in command to Wellington, was added in 1860. It is possible to climb the monument (for a fee) and the views would be stunning. It was closed when I arrived and it wasn’t a great day for views anyway.
The main road between Llanfair P.G. and Menai Bridge affords some of the best views on the whole of Anglesey I think. You get to admire both bridges, the Menai Straits and the mountain backdrop.
The Ynys Gored Goch island sits between the 2 bridges. Gored means tidal fish trap and there is a stone wall around it to trap the fish as the tide recedes.
At Menai Bridge I walked past the Welsh equivalent of Coronation Street (I only know this because Elise told me and there were camera crew lurking about). Good job I didn’t try and go in the cafe!
I also saw a great barbers.
The best though had to be the stunning views of the wonderful bridges. A great way to end my walk around Anglesey.
It was a grey day and I struggled to leave Elise’s. Finally, after my 2nd cup of tea, at 10.30, I decided it was now or never and I headed out.
I had gathered from mentioning Rhosneigr to a few people that it has a reputation as a nice place, and there were certainly a few large houses. The best thing though is the lovely beach with dunes behind it, not that it was great beach weather.
I followed the path around the headland and stopped to look at Barclodiad-y-gawres, a Neolithic chambered cairn from circa 2500BC. It is secured behind a locked gate due to vandalism but what I saw reminded me of Skara Brae in Orkney, except this was apparently a community burial chamber rather than a house.
There is a motor racing circuit on the next headland before Porth Cwyfan with a small, stony promontary that hosts St Cwyfan’s 12th Century Church.
I walked up the River Ffraw to Aberffraw, once the capital of N Wales.
Between the 9th and 13th centuries Aberffraw was the seat of the Princes of Gwynedd and Anglesey was the power base of Gwynedd. In 1230 Llywelyn The Great declared himself Prince of Aberffraw and Lord of Snowdon. There was once a Llys (palace) here that was dismantled by King Edward I and its timber was used to help build Caernarfon Castle. This was after the Last Prince had been killed in war against Edward’s England in 1282. Fascinating history for a small town that is nestled in sand dunes.
I wandered around the town and then crossed the old bridge (built 1731) to the large expanse of dunes the other side of the Afon Ffraw.
There was a small road through the dunes and then I headed inland to Malltraeth; another interesting place. It lies alongside the Afon Cefni, another river with a big flood plain. The 1km long Malltraeth Cob was built to prevent tidal flooding and reclaim approximately 4200 acres of land. It was completed in 1812 and the Afon Cefni was canalised.
Thomas Telford designed the clever tidal doors, built with Green Heart Timber, and one set is still in use, hardly worn at all.
I wandered a little way along the Cob and was disappointed that the grey light meant I didn’t get any sight of the mountains that should be visible from from here.
It was already after 3 pm and my feet were sore so I decided to stop here and catch the bus. I could only find accommodation in Menai Bridge.
I was away by 8 am and walking alongside the Marina. I passed the 1.75 mile Breakwater that is the second longest in the world (after San Diego) and took 28 years to build, starting in 1845.
Holyhead came to prominence after the 1801 Act of Union between Britain and Ireland. Holyhead became the British town that linked the two countries and road and rail networks were built to serve it. This is why the A5 goes from London to Holyhead. Admiralty Arch, intended to mimic London’s Marble Arch, was built at the Holyhead end of the A5 (unfortunately I couldn’t find it – I think it’s buried within the port).
The coastal path heads part way up Holyhead Mountain (not an actual mountain at 220m) and it didn’t take me long to walk to North Stack.
I met a couple on the way who had come from Bangor this morning, where it was sunny; only mist here. The only other people I met were a pair of climbers heading to climb the ‘A Dream of White Horses’. Holyhead Mountain is a bit of a climbers’ Mecca – even I have been climbing here before on a work adventure training trip.
I walked from North to South Stack and admired the lighthouse from high on the cliff as there didn’t seem much point in climbing down the steps when it wasn’t open.
Just as I arrived, so too did a shepherd and his herd of sheep. He walks the Mountain with them every day. I recognised Manx sheep in his flock (he has 6 of them along with Hebridean and Welsh varieties) and I chuckled to myself that I’m now recognising varieties of sheep!
I stopped at the South Stack cafe for coffee and a cake before heading back to Holyhead along the road. I had made the decision not to walk the South part of Holy Island because it was too far without transport or accommodation.
I wandered along Holyhead high street, which wasn’t hugely inspiring, and then across to the train station to get a train back across the Stanley Embankment to Valley. This way I skipped 5 miles and got to see the other side of the embankment wall that I walked along yesterday.
Amazingly I arrived at Valley in brilliant sunshine; the mist seemed to be confined to Holy Island.
The path meandered alongside the Afon Cleifiog estuary towards RAF Valley. As I walked past the airfield’s runway lights I was overflown by a Hawk. A nice welcome.
By the time I had walked around the airfield a thick fog had rolled in (a Welsh haar?). I could barely see the tip of Holy Island, even though it was only a few metres away across the sea.
It was a long and eerie beach walk in the fog before I headed over the dunes to the bridge that crosses the Afon Crigyll on the edge of Rhosneigr.
I was staying with Elise, who I worked with in my last job. She had invited Nik Nak around for dinner as well so we had an FPP Progs reunion (just missing Scott). It was a good evening.