Monday’s walk was going to be different in character for many reasons. At the end of the day I would be starting a full 36 hours of blessed rest; I’d woken up with my knee miraculously discomfort-free (you will be glad not to be hearing any more of that dreary topic); the weather was due to be unsettled all day, and, most importantly, I was going to have company. My cousin Frances and our friend Sarah were providentially up on Anglesey for a long weekend, and were saintly enough to think that walking in the rain with me was a fun way to spend their holiday. Sarah in particular, blessed with a car, was earning extra saint points for transporting my heavy pack from the campsite to my brother’s, meaning that I could walk unencumbered for a whole day.
Included in the number of saints of course was Gareth, owner of the marvellous Dolydd campsite. He offered me another cup of tea this morning – so kind!
In return I donated the rice from last night’s inedible Indian takeaway to his chickens, along with the remainder of the crackers I’d carried round the island from the parlous Trearddur Bay Spar shop, thinking that they might make a useful snack. In reality they were flimsy and dry with almost no nutritional value and not worth the carrying thereof. The Indian takeaway had been extraordinary. I could eat the sag aloo (half last night and half this morning cold for breakfast, although Gareth had offered to heat it up for me in his microwave) … but that violently beetroot paneer masala… urk! 😟 I couldn’t even face chewing my way through its enormous tough lumps of cheese.
I did say that Gareth’s immensely well-constructed and beautiful cylindrical wood pile had to be seen to be believed, so before we left I remembered to take a photo of it so you might see for yourselves. Gareth hadn’t intended for it to be permanently like this, but before he could stack the logs away behind the house, birds started nesting in it. I think the rotunda form is really attractive and should be kept as a sculptural feature.
Once again the rain had contrived to blow through overnight, and we started the walk in the drive. The coastal path takes you out through the little coastal town of Cemaes, nestled in its tiny cove
with its dinky harbour and small but perfectly-formed beach, and up onto the headland, where we had wide views of a flat, green-gray sea stretching for miles north over the horizon to the Isle of Man.
Such a different experience of the coast, walking with others! Talking of (walking) shoes and (wrecked) ships, and (sea) cabbages and (newly-created) kings, although not on this occasion of sealing wax. Frances and Sarah had climbed Snowden on Saturday and were enjoying the opportunity to stretch out the muscles. This part of the route is in fact one of the most up and down sections (even in comparison to the mountain section), with narrow zawns and interesting rock formations. It was a novel and cheerful experience for me having someone to talk to about the things we were seeing, and catching up with each other’s lives – although it’s also fair to say that I have been very happy in my own company, walking solo.
Very soon after climbing up onto the headland we encountered the little church of Llanbadrig, the oldest in Wales, clinging to the top of the cliff next to the little island where, the story goes, Saint Patrick was shipwrecked in 440 A.D.
Saint Patrick is said to have founded the church then, in gratitude for his survival and the shelter he found in a cave with a well at the bottom of the cliff. Both cave and spring are still extant and their history commemorated with a plaque, although they are difficult and dangerous to access over the deadly rocks. The original wooden church was rebuilt in stone in the 12th and then again in the 14th centuries with a radical refitting in the 19th century, but the church still conserves some very early features, such as the ancient font.
The section of the coastal path from Cemaes to Bull Bay features two sites of industrial archaeology. They are all the stranger because of the lack of ready access, and it’s surprising to come across them in the middle of nowhere, clearly significant 19th-century factories, with no other apparent infrastructure such as access roads of any kind.
The first is a porcelain factory, constructed at the bottom of a plunging zawn to exploit a seam of China clay 60m up on the headland above it and abandoned after a serious fire in 1920. The shelter of the steep cliffs on either side is perhaps the reason why the factory’s high walls with the dramatic once-glazed window panes have survived even without its roof, along with the chimney to carry away the fumes from the factory, and the curving walls built to protect the factory from storm surges.
It was here that Frances and I said farewell to Sarah, who needed to head back to her car. Frances and I toiled on at our own pace, Frances determinedly powering on up without a break, and me going slower even with my walking poles, taking a breath with the excuse of being interested in the number of plant species growing in the microhabitat of a single step.
Despite its exposed position, the headland of Dinas Gynfor where the China clay was once mined felt domesticated in comparison to the wilder and rockier cliff tops.
The rain was still holding off, although the air was very damp and a drop of water clung to each delicate seed of the rough meadow grass by the side of the path.
The bracken and deep heather were beautiful although the same could not be said of the dilapidated lookout monument erected for the coronation of Edward VII. Its faintly brutalist design seemed at odds with the general wild and open spirit of the place.
The other side of the headland slopes steeply down towards the old brickworks at Hell’s Mouth, looming suggestively out of the sea-mist that was gathering in the bay and being visited by sightseers in a small boat as Frances and I passed by. It too was sited to exploit the natural resources of the area: quartzite rock used to make firebricks to line steel-making furnaces.
According to the Wikipedia article on the Porth Wen brickworks, the brickmaking process began with the quartzite being crushed into small pieces in a knapping machine and then further hammered into a powder by workers likely wearing iron covered gloves. I imagined medieval gauntlet-type affairs.
I knew that the next headland looked out onto a particular section of the coastal waters where are porpoises liked to rest, and there is a bench perched on the rocks where are you can sit and watch them.
Today they were all elsewhere, but Frances and I appreciated having turned the corner of the island and were now heading south east down the more populated side of the island. The first thing we saw at the end of the narrow track coming down into Bull Bay was a construction crew demolishing the historic Bull Bay Hotel where my family had often sat in the sunny garden eating chips, and where Stephen had successfully bought lobsters from a local fishermen. It had gone under years ago, and on our last few visits to the area we’d felt depressed by its progressive dilapidation. It’s good that the area will be cheered up with a set of new buildings.
The tide was up and I reminisced about holidays spent in Hen Graig holiday house, now a private home again, where this had been pretty much our view:
It is not a very long walk from Bull Bay down the coast to the historic port of Amlwch. My friend Ros and I had once spent a fantastic week together exploring this part of the coast, spotting porpoises every day and hares in the field, falling asleep on the warm pebbles of the shingle ridge at Cemlyn amongst the sea kale and, most memorably, discovering the mining heritage of Amlwch.
The tiny port seems insignificant now, but in its heyday it was the centre of a global trade in minerals, based principally on the mining and transport of copper ore from nearby Parys Mountain – in the 18th and 19th centuries the largest copper mine in the world. Ros and I visited the Parys Mountain open-cast mines with a fantastically characterful Liverpudlian tour guide and were astounded at the scale of the mining which dates back to Roman times and beyond, when slave workers teetered on deadly wooden gantries to prize the ores from the rock. The café in Amlwch harbour has an excellent exhibition upstairs (closed at the moment because of rotten floorboards), and since our visit a dedicated museum, the Copper Kingdom, has relocated here with striking copper cladding (also closed today).
Sadly unedified on the subject of Amlwch’s mining and ship-building history, Frances and I continued down the coast as the fine drizzle closed in. The coast was no longer wild now, the flora responding to the comparatively sheltered aspect by growing higher and denser, vertical growth unchecked by the wind off the sea. We wound our way through copses of rowan and waist-high bracken, which, together with the rain, contributed to us getting wetter and wetter.
We passed a pale, dead seal cub washed up in the crack of an inlet, and climbed to the second of the holy wells on the route – this one a spring dedicated to Saint Eilian who is said to have travelled here from Rome in the 5th or 6th century. A small statue of the saint was lodged in the spring.
The first holy well I had encountered on this walk had been just before my brother and I had met Coastal Watchman Wes last Thursday: Saint Gwenfain’s Well near Rhoscolyn Head, a cross-shaped construction with steps leading down into a pool of the kind one might lower oneself into for spiritual cleansing (‘wearing only a shift’, said my brother).
Frances and I did not have such clement weather for our visit to Eilian’s well, but good company is excellent waterproofing and good conversation eats up the miles. Today’s walk was due to end in the estuary of City Dulas, a misnamed scattered hamlet of a few houses where there was no accommodation to be found. My brother nipped out of work in saintly fashion to collect us, and to intersect with him we tracked inland up a green lane
and through a ruined farmstead to meet him on its track. A welcome sight!
We were soaked through to the skin.
Alexander dropped us in Benllech and the plan was for Frances and I to order a cab back to his house where we could dry off and hole up in a café while we waited. One problem: it was 4:05, and all the cafés in Benllech close at 3pm.
Enter the final company of saints of the day: Kane of The Shed café unlocked the door and let us in. He phoned for a taxi and made us cups of the hottest most delicious tea which heated us from the inside no less than their warm and welcoming conversation while we waited. Kane’s two-year old daughter entertained us with her plastic stacking ice-cream cone antics while his father Stuart told us how he’d set up the café during lockdown and how it had become something of a local social hub, especially since it’s the only one that stays open until 4pm. Katie, another member of the family, showed us the collections of vintage number-plates and other quirky decorations which, together with the eclectic furniture and upcycled fittings, and above all the kindness of the staff, give The Shed its easygoing and convivial atmosphere.
Video of today’s walk
Despite the numerous saints encountered today, there was no miraculous walking on water that the video seems to suggest… I simply forgot to unpause the recording again.