My mark today was the lighthouse standing just off Black Point at the easternmost corner of the island, at which the coastal path turns in a south-westerly direction heading directly for the finish down the Straits. I was well rested and well fed after another comfortable night with my family, having reached the closest geographical point to them at Red Wharf Bay yesterday. I was carrying a lighter pack as I only needed one last overnight camp, so I had stripped out everything I didn’t think I would need. I hoped that, rounding the mark today and lengthening the walk to 24km to get a few kilometres of the Straits done before the end of the day, I would put myself in a good position to finish the walk tomorrow.
Thursday is my brother’s day off, so we had planned on exploring the section of gigantic Red Wharf Bay together first thing in the morning. Just as we arrived at the car park his phone rang, his carpenter reminding him of their appointment. It would have been entirely too cruel to disgorge me in the car park and then drive the poor dog back home again, so I offered to pretend to be a dog person and walk Nel halfway round the bay to the car park which marks the point where Red Wharf Bay morphs into Llanddona beach. I had a quick lesson in how to use the retractable lead and off we set, Nel glancing confusedly back, looking for my brother.
She was great company on the tidal flats, and obeyed all my commands, delivered in flawless Welsh (she doesn’t speak English).
My favourite bits were when I called ‘Tyd yma!’ and she came haring back at top speed like a greyhound after a rabbit.
We met a couple of kilometres further around the coast, and I hadn’t lost the dog. Result! Zand had brought coffee back, and we meandered about in the vast expanse of sand between the criss-crossing water channels, throwing sticks for Nel, admiring the reflections of the clouds in the water,
examining isolated patches of glasswort, and standing stones,
and, nearer the shore, saltmarsh hags covered in glasswort and sea purselane, with an unbelievable number of razor clams washed up in the creeks between them.
Once back on the coastal path which runs the whole length round Red Dwarf Bay, we motored along the seawall and the boardwalk
and said farewell right at the end of the beach and my brother walked a couple of kilometres back to get on with his day.
I have loved my two walks with him, and our extended conversations, and indeed all the time I’ve spent over the past two weeks with his family. They’ve been so generous with their hospitality and their logistical support, and this walk would have been much more gruelling and uncomfortable without them. I turned north to climb off the beach and up around Bwrdd Arthur, the plateau at the top of headland known as Arthur’s table.
‘The wind has swung round to the north’, my brother had said when he arrived back. ‘What does that mean?’ I asked. ‘Well, it’s colder’ replied. And in fact I had been walking all morning with my ultralight windproof, Invaluable on the windswept beach. As soon as I got off the beach and started climbing, not only was it sheltered, but I also started to generate a lot more heat of my own. On the way up I had a nice chat to a fisherman out of Liverpool who had come to teach his newbie friend how to fish for bass. The largest one he’d ever caught apparently weighed 10.5 pounds – the size of an extremely large baby.
The top of the headland was pastureland screened from the sea winds by dense scrub. It was something of a microclimate here, and bees were still feeding on heather still in its full flush of colour.
The headland jutted so far out that I had views back along the whole of the coast I had walked yesterday, and even further round to the coast I had walked with Frances. The scale was immense, set off by the hundreds of meters of rolling waves whipped up by that stiff north wind.
On gaining the height I could see, north -eastwards, gleaming and far away in the sunlight on the horizon, an enormous offshore wind farm. The Great Orme at Llandudno and Ynys Seiriol, known as Puffin Island, were hoving into view, and this feels very much like the last of the sea panoramas before I turn right back into the Menai Straits to complete my journey. More and more of the mainland was coming into view now, the north end of the national park, the peaks of Tal-y-Fran, Foel-Fras and the Carnedds Lewellyn and Dafydd.
A set of rough steps carved out of limestone and signalled by a rather beautiful waymark
lead down to rough pasture enclosed by sizable scrub, in some places proper woodland with hazel, hawthorn, sallow and ash, In other places more open scrub of gorse and blackthorn breaks. The air was alive with a net of birdsong lying over the deep bass boom of the incessant sea at the bottom of the cliffs. cliffs. I was nearing the National Trust reserve of Fedw Fawr, a SSSI ‘for its geological, botanical, ornithological and marine biological features‘. It definitely felt more autumnal than it has hitherto, and I was noticing more berries on the hawthorn, more ropes of scarlet bryony, blacker elderberries, and the first of the hazelnuts emptied out by mice or perhaps even red squirrels.
The path turned inland, climbing up the heath that was being grazed by a small herd of black and brown belted Galloways, lying peacefully a way away.
At the top of the hill the path disappeared into a small wood through which the path continues over wet ground on helpful stepping stones over the cow wallow.
The source of the water for the mud was revealed to be a pretty little spring, enclosed and planted up with our native waterlily, the frogbit. The place seemed special, so I left a peanut to propitiate genius loci.
As I left the glade I noticed above my head a red squirrel nest box high up in a huge and beautiful mature sycamore – perhaps the squirrels are themselves the genii here.
The path winds through a series of settlements here, and as I crested a rise I had a sudden unexpected view of the Straits – I not turned the corner yet, but it was a sign that I soon would, and it served to quicken my pace.
The wilder land turned more domestic, passing up long drives to grand houses, and past a cheerful woman weeding the wall of her chaotic garden, bright with pots of flowers and little statues. I rested a while on her bench and she gave me the very glad tidings that there was a café waiting for me at Penmon, at the corner of the island. Time would tell whether it was open, but I hoped so because she tantalised me with the word ‘pizza’. I was particularly pleased because on the face of it I had not thought I was going to be able to pick up any food anywhere on this walk, and tonight’s campsite wasn’t in a town or village either. I walked down the road with my fingers firmly crossed… the ones I wasn’t employing to pick blackberries that is.
The path was some way away from the coast at this point, making a pretty straight line for the tip of the island. A lane took me past houses with beautiful gardens, one with a tractor parked in the middle of its immaculate lawn, two professional gardeners tidying up the flowerbeds. The houses here were a diverse mix of grander dwellings (one hidden from the hoi-poloi by an actual bastille-like wall)
There were more traditional houses, once humble: one young woman, helping her mother unload her car, explained to me that the unusual roofline was because the homeowners had extended this original Welsh longhouse upwards in the 1970s.
The path wound through the edge of a tiny nature reserve, trees encroaching onto the path over the years. One ash tree had begun to swallow up a kissing gate.
Hilary and Paul and their silky-eared dog Sidney Sprocker were genial company for the last couple of kilometres to the point, making light work of the last few fields.
The last house of the settlement before we came out into the final headland was a better preserved single-storey longhouse, painted the traditional white and postcard-pretty.
The point itself when we came to it was exhilarating. The tide was in, fully covering the access to the lighthouse, and the stiff wind whipped white horses on the top of the swell, pulled along by the 5-knot current.
A small shingle beach contrasted with the arctic green waves as they crashed ashore
but it was the striking lighthouse which commanded most attention. It was my mark – the furthest east point I would be, and the point at which the route turned for the finishing point at the statue of Lord Nelson.
But first – lunch. The Penmon cafe is the most warming and welcoming place. The diner-style menu provided not only lunch, but also supper and breakfast packed up to take away with me, solving my refuelling problem in one stroke. There was a gigantic woodburning stove pumping out heat next to which I sat and charged my phone for the afternoon.
I set off reenergised with a smile on my face at the thought of a swift though, as I anticipated, quite boring walk to the campsite 5 km away, mostly on road with a short beach stretch.
However, I had not consulted my map, and so it was with enormous surprise that I came down the hill to see in front of me an extraordinary stone building which turned out to be a 17th century dovecote.
Inside there are nesting holes for about 930 pigeons who could fly in and out through the circular hole right up high in the corbelled roof.
There is a strange central stone pillar with steps, which must have originally allowed access of some kind to the nests.
Although the first building I noticed was the dovecot, there was a whole cluster of buildings here, originally a very early monastery founded by the Welsh Saint Seiriol in the 6th century. Seiriol’s well and hermit’s hut lie on the north edge of the later Augustinian priory complex.
The priory was converted to domestic use by the Bulkeley family after the Dissolution. Many of the ecclesiastical buildings still remain, but the Bulkeleys also constructed a beautiful house inside the cloister.
A small chapel at the side of the cloister is now a parish church – I met one of the parishioners, who had come in to water the beautiful flowers from her granddaughter’s wedding here last Saturday. The back of the church has been turned into a small museum housing two carved stone crosses from the 10th century, weathered from their years as the centre of outdoor worship, but with their platted Celtic designs still evident.
It was a totally unexpected interlude, And a lovely way to spend the early afternoon.
The Bulkeley’s landscape interventions were still visible as I continued down the road, in the high wall they had constructed to create a deer park. No deer here now, only cows, and, down by the river which meanders slowly through the bottom of the erstwhile park creating a small water-meadow, three herons, a handful of oystercatchers, and ten white egret, shoulders hunched.
As I watched, an absolutely enormous silent flock of what I initially took to be seagulls descended. But I then noticed their distinctive curved beaks and realised they were curlews – more than a hundred of them. They landed by the curve of the river, every bird standing completely still and facing the same way. And they were all silent. If this was a parliament, I don’t know who was doing the talking. I had decided this morning that because I had stripped back my pack so much, I could afford to carry my binoculars, and I was so glad that I had!
It was a short walk from there along the beach, admiring the views opening up of the national park on the other side of the water.
I finally arrived, much later than I had expected because the walk had been so interesting, at the enormous though quiet and beautifully-kept Kingsbridge park, and pitched my tent for the last time on this long walk.
Video of today’s walk