The sea! The sea!

The edge of the sea is a strange and beautiful place

Rachel Carson

Picking up yesterday’s walk where I left off, I startled a feeding curlew and an oystercatcher by appearing unexpectedly over the Malltraeth bridge parapet to take a photograph of an estuary which could not have been calmer and more serene this morning.

The mighty view was hidden almost almost immediately, however, as the path proper commenced with a series of snickets,

and twittens snaking through the bowels of Malltraeth,

and boardwalks tunnelling through reeds,

until finally the estuary opened out. I took care not to slip, but I was pleased to feel my knee holding up well, so I could appreciate the sounds of curlew whittering somewhere beyond the path lined with gorse and evening primrose, against an aural background of the roaring breakers, visible in the far distance at the mouth of the estuary as roiling white and turquoise lines.

I was eager to get to the sea after having seen so little of it yesterday; howsoever beautiful the Straits had been, they seem domesticated, different in character to the thinned and flattened lines of the estuary, and so much of yesterday’s walk had been inland anyway. Frustratingly, the view of the estuary expanse was once again snatched away today by a long road section, mainly uphill, skirting the Bodorgan estate. But it was good to stretch out the muscles this early in the morning. My efforts to get into my stride were hampered by the pure necessity of feasting off the hedgerows, small, tart apples and fat, glistening blackberries. It was almost morally impossible to pass them by without picking them, and the crop this year is the best I have ever seen.

It would be a crime to leave them on the bush

The whole of the first hour and a half was inland, and on tarmac. The road offered the occasional high level view back out over the estuary to the Snowdon range dark against the grey sky and capped with white clouds. The island seemed absolutely silent apart from the distant and constant roar of the unseen sea. The atmosphere was close, submerged under a grey sky, the woods gloomy and dripping after last night‘s rain. There was none of the frenetic humming of wild bees as yesterday, and none of the scent of their wild honey in the air. Turning eventually away from the estate walls, the road opened up onto high flat fields partially divided with dilapidated dry stone walls and studied with outcrops of gorse-covered rocks.

With delight, I realised that yet another long straight stretch of road with a grey and white village at its far end was the one which bisects the Aberffraw dune system through which we have meandered in the early summer on the way to the beach, hunting, sometimes successfully, for bee orchids. The Coastal Path makes a bee-line along the side of the dunes straight down to the beach, and I fairly strode along it, eager to get down to the coast proper, through mats of small-leaved mint and silverweed, the nest-like seedheads of wild carrot, and burnet rose with its strange purple-black hips, accompanied by twittering clouds of chaffinches under the echoing boom of jets from RAF Valley circling invisibly above the veils of cloud.

It was worth the long road walk, worth the delayed gratification.

The tide was receding, and I got straight down to the water. By a stroke of incredible luck the cloud-cover cleared at this very moment, letting the sun through to create a series of extraordinary reflections of the clouds in the wet sand. It was like walking across the sky. Beyond the wavelets the breakers smashed the water into boiling white froth, and a collie’s owner and I, chatting and both exhilarated by the light effects, were dumbfounded to see through the haze of vapour one solo surfer struggling away in the chaos.

Aberffraw beach gives way at its northern end to a tidal river, with strong and deep sucking currents at the point where it curves round the last set of rocks.

The path accompanies the river a kilometre up its course, crosses at a bridge and then trails all the way down again, a scant few metres across the water. The sun was fully out and I tried on my stylish new sunglasses: clip-on flip up shades chosen for their extreme lightness rather than their fashion credentials. I’d ordered them off the internet and the tint turned out to be uncomfortably dark; also, every time someone came towards me down the path I felt embarrassed enough to unclip them and hold them. And no there isn’t a photo.

The next section followed the contours of the coast quite as satisfactorily as one would wish, sometimes descending to cross shingle beaches with interesting rock pools, sometimes looking down onto rocky coves.

Useful windbreaks were provided by thorny brakes sculpted into aerofoils,

and bleached wooden gates weighted with perforated beach cobbles swung shut behind me.

A succession of cheery female walkers all for some reason offered to take pictures of me – and I wasn’t even wearing my flip-up shades. But they were also taking comedy photos for their friends of a well-endowed stallion standing minding its own quite impressive business in a field, so I’m somewhat suspicious of their motives.

The easy path which required no thought came to an end at Porth Cwyfan. From above, the waves entering the cove created the same kind of patterns spreading out in several directions that I have seen in a watertank in a lab at school. However it was awkward underfoot, with large uneven rocks and stones sitting on unhelpfully jagged rocks, and I really needed to look down at my feet rather than at the scientific poetry in motion out in the bay. Looking down had its upsides: the geology of this cove is surprisingly varied. I lament the demise of the wonderful British Geological Survey’s iGeology app: there’s now a web-based version but it’s not nearly so detailed or good to look at: it’s no longer layered over the OS maps at various scales, and no longer gives notes on the superficial geology as well as the bedrock. As a consequence I have no idea what these spectacularly contrasting rock layers are, the one grey and fracturing in geometric planes, the other a startling green, igneous-lookIng, with swirls of a third, rusty-orange rock and chunks of quartz folded within it.

Today’s
Mystery
Rocks

The cove is made up of a single beach, divided by an eroding peninsula into two bays. The tiny tidal island of Cribinau at the peninsula’s end is ringed by stout sea walls protecting the 14th century church of St Cwyfyn which, in the vernacular style, is immaculately whitewashed. I didn’t visit it, although it would have been nice to do so, and equally nice to sit awhile and watch the birdlife on the shoreline: I snatched a quick look through the binoculars and identified a common snipe towering over the busy, diminutive dunlin and ringed plover. I was catching a lift at 1 o’clock in Rhosneigr and needed to press on.

Saved for another day

The path’s second detour of the day, round the Anglesey racing track, saves a bit of in and out headland walking. The hedge walls of the track were groomed to perfection and I soon saw how, as a tractor crawling at a snail’s pace shaved the green side walls sheer and vertical. It was also providing the closest of shaves to the blackberry bushes. A highly efficient and 100% wasteful mechanical harvest.

I pushed on, and my body was definitely feeling the deleterious effects of staying up to 1:20 to finish the blog this morning. I can’t sustain that day after day! Hopefully because this is a shorter day’s walk, I will have a chance to complete today’s account in good time to get an early night and a bit more rest. My knee was ok although the all-too-familiar feeling of pounded feet and pressure of time prevented me from lingering at a prehistoric site I had actually intended to visit: the Barclodiad y Gawres chambered cairn on the final windy headland before the path descended to the 2km sandy beach to the south of Rhosneigr. There were too many people milling round waiting for their turn to stare through the grills at the inner chamber, and I know from experience that the interesting concentric circle decorations for which the cairn is famous are not visible from the outside. I will just have to admire the designs inspired by the Neolithic marks on my friends’ jewellery, the fabulous views of the coastline,

Another day that decidedly outperformed the weather forecast

and the markings on the butterflies that obligingly sat still long enough to photograph.

Common Blue or Silver-Studded?

Although I had only come 18km I was tired now, on the back of a poor night’s sleep. I stumbled ungratefully the last couple of kilometres through the dunes to the outskirts of Rhosneigr, ruefully feeling that the large letters on the road were all-too-descriptive of me.

But I had walked the whole route today without a break. And just as I notched up the 20th km, at 1pm precisely, my brother’s car drew up beside me. Another satisfyingly well-timed end to the day. Home to ice my knee again, enjoy a luxurious nap, and begin to pack my large rucksack for five days of camping.

Video of today’s walk

Day 2: Malltraeth to Rhosneigr

STOP PRESS: expert geology update from Dr Sophie Wood, just in: ‘I’d say both your rocks are heavily metamorphosed igneous rocks. The grey one looks like your mica schist and the green one is a chlorite rock, probably originally a basalt or andesite and then subjected to very high temperatures. Well and truly crunched!

2 thoughts on “The sea! The sea!”

  1. Gorgeous scenery Sophie. I’m so enjoying your walk, your wonderful commentary and the gems of natural history and nature info 💚. Very keen to visit Anglesey!

    Like

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