Day 49 – Aberdaron to Abersoch

a goat, a bull and a dead calf, a subterranean landscape populated by the Cornish, brought to tears twice, and lost four times, and end in the land of private

miles walked: 21
miles completed: 516.3
miles to go: 544

Although it is a reasonable walk this day I take a very leisurely breakfast at Gwesty Ty Newydd, looking out over the sea … and making the most of their WiFi!  The checkout time is 10:30, and I think I am a little late leaving, but no-one minds and they direct me to the best shop to get myself a pie for lunch.  Unfortunately the little bakers is closed, so I go to the Spar across the road. At the cash desk I count out my coins in Welsh, as I normally do, and the lady at the cash desk instantly repeats the amount in Welsh for me.  I explain I only have school Welsh, "Oh, that doesn’t matter," she says.

North Llŷn is definitely very Welsh.  Before turning off Menai Bridge into North Gwynedd I had heard little Welsh spoken.  In Anglesey I think this is largely because I was on the tourist and retirement coast, whereas inland I would have heard far more.   However, once west of Bangor, I was clearly in deep Wales with overheard conversations in pubs and shops, and parents talking to their children in Welsh. I occasionally see the red dragon on a black background, the symbol, I am told, of the Free Wales Army and aggressive nationalism. If I had known that as a child … Sometimes, I get a slight feeling of being classed as English, but being from Cardiff is not much better.  "A different country," I joke to one bartender, "Definitely," he replies with no hint of humour.  However, at Aberdaron while every other person at the bar orders in Welsh, I notice no trace of a shift of welcome.  I think here, at the inaccessible far West, tourism is sufficient to be important, but not so much as to be a threat.

Stocked up for the day at the Spar, I set off up beside the small river that runs out into the sea at Aberdaron. A party of schoolchildren are on a field trip, in red sweatshirts and baseball caps to protect them from the sun, now 11 o’clock and already hot.  The teacher is explaining something in Welsh, I pick up ‘afon’ (river), but that is all.

As you leave the river valley, there are a set of stone steps with a non-coast-path footpath sign, which I almost took before noticing the Coast Path symbol was on a different stile a short way off. In fact, when I got to the road on the far side, I worked out the steps are right and the marker on the stile is wrong! I assume the council worker putting up the markers had a bad day!

The Coast Path is mostly inland, but takes a dive to the coast literally touching it for 50 yards before heading inland again. I thought this might be just a touch of WCP OCD taking you down for such a short coastal stretch. The way down is through National Trust land (which always means good signage!), past an old large farmhouse with a wall half collapsed and a tiny new house next door, a couple of goats tethered nearby and a tiny car park at a pound a day, which is not signposted. There is one car there and in the little cove down below a single family enjoy the beach all to themselves.

Now I can see why they bother to take you here. You get a view of a part of the coast that would be completely hidden once you get to the next place where you can reach the coast, beyond the next big headland.

As you round the small point ready to head back inland up a shrubby valley, you see winding gear at the top and bottom of the cliffs that turns out to be connected with levels and mines. The spoil heaps at first look just like a quarry for building stone, but then you see the sides of the small valley pock-marked with small hand-dug caves, levels cutting deep into the rock to extract minerals or ores. I have no idea how far they go, and did not explore. The stone looks very solid, so roof falls are unlikely, but they are low – the miners must have walked along bent – and I’d guess would soon degenerate into a warren of paths. My SPOT device would not be helpful if I was lost in solid rock. Some, perhaps the most dangerous, have been half walled up to try to prevent people going in … maybe they have lost the odd tourist before!

It is odd that this, at first sight ‘unspoilt’ verdant landscape is in fact a post-industrial relic.

On the way back up, on a path partway up a small stream valley side, I meet a small herd of cows and calves amongst the mine shafts.

When you next hit the coast you soon see Hell’s Mouth (Porth Neigwl) opening out in front of you. Hell’s Mouth is a vast sandy beach, around three miles long, backed by soft sandy rock and facing south-west to the sea. It looks idyllic, but I imagine the sailing ship in winter in a raging sou’westerly, the prevailing wind direction. There are deep headlands at either end, so once within its maws there is no escape: slowly and inevitably you are blown landward until the keel drags on the sand and the ship begins to break up. If you are lucky you may manage to swim to shore, but then have to clamber up the soft crumbling cliffs, the waves pulling you back with every shifting handhold. Hell’s Mouth indeed.

The path over the headland is good, but I manage to catch a stray bramble branch and cut the back of my ankle. However, I know I will soon be down on the beach at Hell’s Mouth and will walk its length (strictly the Wales Coast Path joins it partway along, but the Llŷn Coastal Path shows access right at the west end). I can bath my bloody ankle in salt water.

Before that there is a walk down a small country lane, which is pleasant enough, until I see a Coast Path symbol pointing to the left. I still don’t know why they didn’t simply follow the lane; it was quiet, safe, and closest to the coast. I think the path planners try to maximise the off-road time. The path cuts past a farmyard and along a field, before coming to a gate that appears blocked by two football-crowd like barriers with an arrow pointing left into scrubby dappled woodland, quite an idyllic spot were it not for the dead calf that had been left to rot, fly coated, amongst the trees.

Coming to the far side it is clear I should have been the other side of the fence and so backtrack and realise that the barrier can open at one side, and so make my through a sheep field back to the road. Just before getting to the final gate the way turns boggy and my injured foot ends up ankle deep in sheep-dung-laced mud.

It seemed so unnecessary, this apparent feeling of the planners that walkers must, by disposition, feel disappointed if a day does not include a knee-deep wade through mud. Clifftop streams are one thing, or clinging estuary silt – they are part of being ‘coast path’, but when inland why not make things easier? I think also my blood sugar was low as I’d not eaten since breakfast and (although I didn’t notice until a short while later) it was already after 2pm. So, torn between self pity and cursing of all who planned or executed the Coast Path, I burst into tears.

I resolved to ignore any further signs and follow this lane down until I passed the next Coast Path sign and saw it ran through National Trust land – safe 🙂 Plas-yn-Rhiw is a small property that was left to the Trust by the McKeating sisters in memory of their father. As I was late already I did not visit, but did go into the shop and have an ice cream and drink; suddenly the world seemed brighter. It is so easy to let energy reserves drop and then on top of the general physical and mental tiredness after so long on the road, the simplest thing becomes a major disaster.

So eventually, through a woodland and ignoring the Wales Coast Path arrows that would take me parallel to the coast for half the length of Hell’s Mouth, I drop down to the long sands and walk.

I know that in Australia there are beaches 70 miles long, but, here in Wales, three miles is almost Sahara-like in its feel. A way off I spot something that at first looks like an old oil drum, but then is clearly a far larger cylinder and appears to be made of concrete. When closer still the concrete turns out to be a thick layer of barnacles over rusting metal. Instead of being a complete cylinder, it seems to be semi-cylindrical, or maybe broken in half, with a smaller cylinder, perhaps half the diameter, running through it and then a matrix of even smaller tubes, each 2 inches across. It looks like some sort of heat exchanger, but how did it end up here, far from anywhere?

At the end of Hell’s Mouth the path mounts the headland in what, on the map, seems a see-saw like swing, but I assume is traversing the contours. The way off the beach is (for once!), well marked, but after that several paths mount the headland. As the path on the map appears to head near south I take the rightmost, and most well-trodden, path, but, uncertain, I scan in all directions for further markers. Some time later, when I come to a locked gate with barbed wire wrapped along its top I realise that this may not be right, and turn back along the field boundary, following a beaten-out path, presumably from others who went the same way. The path gets less distinct and the grass higher, until eventually it hits the top of a bluff, but from its vantage I can see a marker post. I’m still uncertain whether I followed the path on the map, and the path on the ground is different, or of it was simply that the swing is slightly less extreme than it appears. However, for the second time that day I simply wept. It was odd, so minor compared to many other wrong paths, but I guess I’m simply more exhausted.

Having battled through the remaining knee-high grass (happily with no nettles, thistles or brambles) and regained the path, at the edge of the field was a clear sign. Another footpath was signposted off to the left, where trodden grass showed it was a frequent route, and the coastal path was signposted sharp right … straight up a steep gorse-filled bank with no signs of a beaten path through it.

My confidence in the Path hit a new low, and I almost took the well-trodden path, which would cut off a chunk of the coast, but was clear on map and ground. However, for some reason I persevered. I did not climb up the slope where indicated, but further on it was clear of gorse, easier to climb and signs of what could be sheep tracks, but could be human, mounting it in various places, so I scouted up there and sure enough saw another sign. I still don’t know whether formally the path is in the direction shown, or whether the signpost should have pointed slightly at an angle.

After this, until I hit the sea and the walk around the first of a double headland before Abersoch, the way was clear, wide and easy, wonderful late afternoon walking … except that once in the open grassy country above the sea, the path bifurcated again and again. I kept to the main, most well-trodden one, but multiple smaller paths cut off to right and left, with no signs visible at all.

Eventually the well-trodden path was blocked by a locked gate and a wall that appeared to run all the way down the cliff to the sea. The path was supposed to continue around the coast, but I thought, "maybe further up there will be another open gate". On the headland there was good signal, so I rang Fiona to say hello and she watched where I was using the SPOT tracker and satellite images. "you are going almost back the way you came," she said. Sure enough, looking back on my track for the day, I followed a route that took me within half a mile of the point with the bluff.

By turning right as often as I could, the wall-side path became a farm track and eventually a small lane and road. I still do not know whether if I had scouted down towards the sea when I hit the gate and the wall, maybe there was a way round the seaward side of the wall.

Eventually, the route I took along small roads joined an inland section of the path: I had missed some of the coast, but not too much; and then headed back towards the sea once more. Down a small path past a campsite and car park, you overlook a small but lovely beach with a long flight of wooden steps taking you down the steep cliffside to the sea. At the top of the cliff is a large metal signpost. One finger points right back along the coast, one points inland, along the path I had just come down, and one points down the steps to the beach. None have Coast Path arrows, but the only one of the three possibilities is down to the beach, and I assume there will be an equivalent set of steps at the far end. Down at sea level it is lovely, and not a bad excursion, with a small number of both families and surfers enjoying this slightly out-of-the-way beach. But there is clearly no other stairway up the increasingly sheer cliffs at the far end.

After trudging back up (in surprisingly good mood!), I get back to the clifftop, look right along the clifftop and spot, about 30 yards away, a small stile with Coast Path stickers just visible. "Silly me", I think, "why didn’t I notice them?". But then I retrace my steps to where I would have been coming down the path, turn around, look at the large, obvious fingerpost with no Coast Path sign on it, then look to the left, and realise stile and certainly stickers are completely obscured by a large gorse bush, which must have been there last year when the Coast Path signage was first installed.

By the sign was a man collecting those little black, grey and green dog-poo bags into a box. I had noticed before that after bagging their pets’ excrement, many people simply deposited the bag beside a gate or stile. I can understand that some thoughtless people do not collect at all, or others might bag, then throw into deep bushes, but why go to the trouble of bagging and then leaving it where others will find it? The man, the local campsite owner, found that at the top of the steps, once one person deposited their bag, the next person dropped it in the same spot until there was a pile. He had contacted the council and National Trust to get them to provide either a bin or a sign, but had failed. He was collecting when no dog owners were about in case the fact he collected from there further suggested it was the right place to dump!

We talked about the signage. He regarded the Coast Path as slightly more a ‘work in progress’ than an accomplished fact!

He also advised me on the remaining way. It would take a few hours to go round the last headland, but it was an easy walk; however I couldn’t follow my original plan to have a quick rest at Machroes before the last miles to Abersoch. "There’s nothing in Machroes," he informed me, "but about a mile inland there is a lovely pub where the locals go".

As I get to the end of the final curve of the last headland, I see two things.  First a small round tower, barely 10 feet tall, with a small tree growing through it, which, if I had seen inland I might have taken for a railway tunnel airshaft.  The other was a small farmhouse with what looked, if it had been up in the {Borders}}, like a small pele tower.  I also see a man, wearing a salmon-orange sweatshirt and a bright blue rope tied round his waist, walking a small and, when I approached, barking spaniel.  In his hand he held a small plastic glass of beer.  It turns out that the blue rope is the long end of the dog lead, I assume wrapped to keep it out of the way when only a short leash is needed.

He was local and didn’t know what the round tower was precisely, but ventured "I think it is an explosive store, there are a lot around here, although they are usually rectangular."  The ‘pele tower’ has a different story.  "The Cornish built it," he explained, "There is a street below called ‘Cornish Row‘, where they lived, they were brought over as they knew how to mine."  But he didn’t know if they were mining tin here or some other metal.

The official Coast Path route takes you into Abersoch along the back of a golf course, but, if the tide is not too high, you can drop down onto the beach at the slipway at Machroes (a tiny unmarked lane off the road) and walk to Abersoch along the beach itself, crossed at the Machroes end with wooden groynes to hold the sand.

The initial view of Abersoch across the sands is beach huts; they stretch in a multicoloured row around the arch of the bay. Some are striped; some have paintings on their doors; some palatial, some tiny.  And, beyond the beach huts, what at a distance I first took to be a complex of beach-side apartments, but turn out to be more beach huts, but of a reinforced concrete and brick kind, perched above the sand on pillars, some on timber, some, where the timber has rotted, on brick and concrete columns.  All locked.

On the steps to each of the beachside ‘chalets’ (a step above beach huts), painted in black letters on white background, a single word:

‘Private’

This, I will learn, is to define Abersoch.  I had heard that it was a town of yuppies; what I had not realised is that this is the land of private.

My first inkling was when I tried to get off the beach.  The Coast Path makes a loop of the small headland, but the official route round the back of the golf course comes to this from the land side.  It seemed a simple matter, surely, to get from the beach to the headland road.  I saw some steps, but they just led partly up the cliff, giving access to a tiny sea-filled inlet.  However, there was also a large slipway, which must surely lead to the town.

As I get to the top I see a big gate, ‘car park CLOSED 8pm–8am’; the pedestrian access to the left also had a chained gate across it, but there was a way through on the right.  I see more stairs, ‘key holders only’, but I make my way across the empty car park to the far side where I see another closed gate. This time there is no way through for pedestrians, but the chains on the gate are loose enough to squeeze through the end, ducking under the taught chain.  This is clearly the normal form of access, as three young girls pass me, heading for the same ingress point.

Just outside the locked gate I see a Coast Path sign, one way pointing to the town, the other around the headland.  I follow it past the back of a yacht club, and other buildings with their own car parks: ‘Private Land’, ‘No Unauthorised Parking’, or simply more ‘Private’.

I cannot imagine a more uninviting seaside town than Abersoch.  It is not run down or down at heel like many of those in North Wales; in fact; the opposite; it is yuppie town with flash cars and wine-bar-style restaurants.  But, like an Italian resort, every foot of sea frontage is owned by someone, access denied, shut off, private. I had expected that the headland and harbour area would have bars, cafés or restaurants, instead there were simply the locked back doors into cliffside properties, each with ‘Private’ – but always in English, never Welsh.

The contrast with Aberdaron could not be more sharp.  I guess Aberdaron is still a village that happens to be by the sea, whereas Abersoch, as the campsite owner said is, "just another seaside town".

To be fair, my own impression is partly because of the way I came to town. If you came by car, settled at your accommodation, and only later went down to the beach you would see it quite differently. At sensible seaside times of day, the gates I squeezed through would be open, with laughing children, and parents laden with coolbox, parasol and beach chairs, streaming back and forth to the beach. It would be obvious from the town plans there was no clifftop walk and so you would never try to visit the private-no-entry-headland.

Also the people I met here could not have been nicer.  On my way up from the beach a man standing outside one of the pubs gave me directions to the Angorfa B&B and Breakfast Café (‘angorfa’ means ‘anchorage’), told me about shops, including a Spar that is below eye level as you go into an estate (maybe where local people live), and as he gave directions used another B&B as a landmark, "but don’t stay there," he said, but never explained why.

The restaurants all seemed very wine-bar-ish and the fish and chip shop was already closed, so I ate in East meets West (EMW) a Balti House where the waiter and a man I took to be the proprietor (Abul it says on the card, so I will call him that) were very interested in the walk, "If I walk four minutes," said the waiter, "I get tired." Abul asked whether I’d come from Flint, and I said, "I’ve even been through Connah’s Quay."  We talked about the railway, seeing the Duke of Lancaster from the train and some of the other sights along the way. Talking, I assume, now about driving, Abul said, "as you go on toward Ruthin, Bala way there are lovely scenarios."

So, by the end of the evening, I’m feeling more positive about Abersoch than at the beginning. It is, as the man said, "just another seaside town."  It has large beaches, flat access behind, dunes to build holiday parks upon, everything that goes into the great British seaside holiday.  Well, not quite; if I imagine going as a child there would have been nowhere we could have afforded to eat that I could see, none of the formica-topped seaside cafés.  It is a prosperous town, even an outlet for Fat Face and similar brands, I hope bringing money through council taxes and wages into the Llŷn economy, even if no one from Llŷn can afford to live here.

The campsite owner also suggested that it was worth going inland from Machroes.  There is nothing in Machroes itself but houses, but slightly inland he said there was a good pub, I assume at Bwlchtocyn, from the map, where all the locals go. When I mentioned Aberdaron, "that’s lovely," he said and instantly mentioned Ty Newydd where I stayed.

So, Aberdaron I would like to visit again, but Abersoch, well I’ll leave that to the sports cars and speedboats.

One thought on “Day 49 – Aberdaron to Abersoch

  1. “By turning right, as often as I could the wall side path became a farm track and eventually a small lane and road. I still do not know whether if I had scouted down towards the sea when I hit the gate and the wall, maybe there was a way round the seaward side of the wall.”
    Just back from our 5th trip from Canada, hiking the Wales Coast Path, I have only just discovered your web site.
    My wife Johanne and I made exactly the same mistake last September, and followed the wall/track/lane/road as you did. On reconnecting with the WCP we went back along it before continuing to Abersoch, back to the wall where we had wrongly turned left. As you wrote, the wall really does appear to run all the way down the cliff to the sea, but it does not – there is a turn just before the cliff edge and, if I recall correctly, a WCP marker at the turn. Too little, too late.

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