Day 42 – Rhosneigr to Malltraeth

a simple coast walk involving bovine encounters, an ancient burial, a church in the sea, and the seat of princes, and, although we miss on the path, picnic dinner with a fellow coast walker

miles walked: 14
miles completed: 412.3
miles to go: 648

After the penetrating rain of the last night, the morning could not be more different; glorious sunshine awoke me. The forecast was to turn less good later, so as soon as I could make my way round the sodden clothes from the previous day I set off.  A sandal day, as my boots were still soaked through.

It is interesting the way Rhosneigr feels as much a village as seaside, whilst Trearddur (Arthur Town ?) felt purely holiday resort. Happily, being a village, there is a Spar, where I buy some pork pies and chocolate bars to feed me through the day if needed.

Walking along the beach I first record some long audio logs about the previous day, when I could not record or photograph because of the rain.  However, this morning I am soon unzipping the bottom of my trouser legs, and only keeping the jacket on because of the wind.

The path runs along the beach for nearly a mile, and on the headland overlooking the south end of the beach, Porth Nobia, there is a grassy mound with a large rectangular entrance.  This is a Neolithic chambered cairn, built to bury the dead, and, according to the information boards, brew strange Macbeth witches-like stews.  The Coast Path runs very close, and it is possible to see right inside, although the very inner part has a railing door.  Anglesey has many archaeological sites, but few close to the Coast Path, so I was very glad to see this one. The mound itself is a reconstruction, a grass-buried concrete dome, preserving the shape of the stones as they would have been exposed on the clifftop, whilst giving some of the sense of enclosure, albeit without bending double to get in.

The tiny horseshoe-shaped bay beyond the cairn is called Porth Trecastell. ‘Trecastell‘ means ‘castle town‘, so I wonder if in days gone by, the remains of the cairn looked like the remains an old forgotten fortress from the days of the Mabinogion, or maybe the substantial farm, ‘Trecastell‘ itself was the site of a long buried fortified farmstead?

Beyond this, the path is on grassy clifftop, where, from the muddy tracks, the cows walk as close to the edge as possible, just like the coast-path-er.  Although the hoof prints make the way hummocky, I take heart in knowing that if the cliff path can take the weight of a herd of cows, it can take me.

Just a short while on I find the cows, only not cows, but a herd of bullocks.  Bullocks are more flighty than cows, and either gather trying to stare me down, or, if I move, skit off along the clifftop field.  One bullock, with long curved horns, seems to stare particularly intently as if taking exception to my invasion of their field, in general, and taking photos of them, in particular.

Worried, that, like Gabriel‘s sheep in Far from the Madding Crowd, they may end up lemming-like flowing over the cliff top, maybe with me caught in the flood, I try to keep well below them, but a Coast Path arrow (yes, they do exist), points vaguely up towards the fence.  I can see a gateway there, but it is where the herd has gathered; fifty bullocks gathered for safety, ready to make a bolt for it should the frightening walker get too close.  I give them a wide berth, and notice a stile at the end of the clifftop field, maybe it is that … but no, no sign on it and definitely entering the MOD danger area if I go over; it is definitely the bullock-jammed gate.

I approach along the fence line, hoping they will part, and as I get closer, they start to push and shove each other to get through the gate.  A brave few, including one beautiful white beast with curved horns, ideal for the Minoan circus, try to stare me out, but they too either push back into the cliff field, or follow the last of their brethren through the gate.

As the bullocks move, I see that indeed there is a labelled pedestrian gate beside the large farm gate, and negotiate this rather than the mud churned gateway, entering the large field where they continue to pour across in front of me, the stragglers in the cliff field making their way through the, now safe, walker-less, gateway behind.  It is almost as if they are deliberately taking my direction, as if I were a drover of old herding them on their way across Wales. However, as I get towards the end of the field, I see them pouring though a gate at the far end into another large field on the left, so they are simply following a standard daily migration prompted by my passing.  Happily I do not have to push past them and wade through the field-entrance mud as the path arrows (more!) take me to a stile at the opposite corner.

Later, when I meet a few fellow walkers at the chip shop in Malltraeth, I ask whether they encountered the bullocks on the clifftop.  "Bullocks, no the fields were empty," they said, "wait, there was a herd we saw, but in the field to the left."  They had obviously come after the drover.

The path continues inland, after a while joining a road, then branching down a lane.  After passing a bluebell-filled cottage garden, the lane is edged with high barbed wire fence; I spot danger signs and what looks like klaxons … more of the rifle range, I think, but then see a notice declaring the Anglesey Circuit, and catch a glimpse of a car roaring past on a test drive.

Soon after, the path rejoins the sea, and as it does, Avalon-like, in the bay a tiny rocky outcrop atop which stand a manmade walled, grassy, level-topped mound and a white church, St Cwyfan’s Church also known as the ‘Church in the Sea‘.  The island is reached by a tidal causeway, and as I cross I wonder how many hermits were drowned clinging to its sea-washed rocks before they built the mound1.  For the hermit, I can see that there is something special about being on the island as the sea comes in, shutting you off from all but GodKeith said just the same about Holy Island, Lindisfarne, in Northumbria, larger, but likewise a tidal causeway where the tide that strands, traps, or maybe cuts you free, is part of the experience of visiting.

If you approach from the south it is easy to miss, simply looking as if it is a church or even farm building on the opposite shore, and it is here that I think I missed Rosie going in the opposite direction on the path; while I was on the island looking at the church, she, coming from the south, had not noticed it at all.  The church itself is small, although nothing on the scale of St Trillo’s and somehow, despite its location, did not capture me in the same way, maybe because it is locked so I could merely peek through its whitewash splattered windows.

The way to Aberfraw is then straightforward, along the rocky shore and then estuary edge.  It is about a mile inland along a small river estuary, with its beach backed by huge, windswept and marram-grass-fringed dunes.  Maybe it was once on the sea edge and the sand has gradually taken it inland, albeit the opposite of the general movement in the area.

Aberfraw was the seat of kings, the palace of the princes of Gwynedd including Llewelyn the Great, until their defeat by Edward and the end of true Welsh freedom except the brief rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr in the fifteenth century.

However, forget the history, all I wanted at that stage was some lunch.  From the river side I see ‘The Goran‘, a ‘Free House’, and head up.  As I approach I see a sign mentioning menus, this looks promising, but the door is closed, the lights are out.  I ask a local, "ah, he opens when he likes," I’m told.  However, I am then directed to the Llewelyn Fawr heritage centre, craft shop and café.

The heritage centre has exhibitions.  Some boards tell the old history of the kings of Wales, although none mention Glyndŵr; maybe they feel he was a borders upstart, and that the true line of Wales died with Llewelyn?  Some are about more modern times, fragments of documents, old photographs, but sadly no booklets to take away. I realise just how special Tiree‘s An Iodhlann is in terms of its level of archiving and Dr John‘s annual exhibition booklets.

I chat to the lady in the craft shop for a while, but unfortunately, the man who knows most about the heritage is away.  She asks me about the walk and recalls Christian Nook, when he came round the previous summer, but I emphasise I’m just doing Wales!  "Why Wales," she asks.  "Because I’m Welsh," I answer, "born and raised in Cardiff."  "Sorry," she says, I think for assuming I was English, and then repeats in Welsh, an invitation to continue in Welsh, if I could, and the first time I have been addressed directly in Welsh, I just wish I could say more than "diolch", as I left.

The café is also good and does an all day breakfast 🙂

From Aberffraw there is a landward and seaward route.  The former is more direct, the latter the best part of two miles longer taking me down the sandy south side of the river estuary, onto a glorious beach, which reminded me of Tiree, and then back along the edge of the dunes.  As is evident I took the longer route, but after this the only way does cut inland across to Malltraeth, I assume access problems with property on the coast.

Not far inland is an abandoned farmhouse, a substantial rendered property, but only reachable by tracks over fields, I guess the reason it has not been snapped up as a second home. Even the round straw bales in its yard seem abandoned, each growing its own crop of grass, and behind the ranks of straw bales, deep piles of scallop shells. They must have been dumped here by the lorryload from a seafood factory, but I couldn’t work out why.  Maybe to be crushed as calcareous fertiliser for the land, but now also abandoned, monument of forgotten plans.

The final way into Malltraeth is uneventful: my first encounter with a massive bull, although he ignored me and I realised after I should have exited the previous field a hundred yards to the left and not passed him at all; a portion of path along the riverside that cuts through the end of people’s gardens, some have put plants or fences to separate themselves from the right of way, some mow open to the water edge, whether to lay claim or show welcome was not clear; and in the final alleyway between houses, one homeowner made it very clear with not just barbed wire wrapped along the top of their fence, but a rusting iron garden gate with tiny thorn-like barbs paint-softened on the top rail.

And so into Malltraeth, its pubs also closed – does no pub open in Anglesey?  But happily its tiny fish and chip shop welcoming, where I meet a few walkers doing a managed tour around the island, baggage and taxi pickups managed for them.  The rain started, so remembering the van still filled with drying clothes, I rang for a taxi, and only then saw texts from Rosie saying she had got to Rhosneigr and had her car.

So eventually Rosie and I meet by the seafront at Rhosneigr and have a picnic dinner of the bits and pieces we have between us.  Rosie is planning her own memoirs of the trip, indeed has already arranged a publisher (so organised!), and has so many stories, she seems to have an art of meeting unusual people, or getting herself into unexpected scrapes.

When I first encountered Rosie through her Twitter feed, I thought she was a naive young walker with her 34-kilo pack.  Then, through the landlady at Nash, I found she was anything but, a seasoned trekker from Brazil, used to surviving in the jungle where, if it wasn’t in your backpack, you would die; and furthermore, now in the UK with a family of five grown-up children.  However, since those early walking days (a month or more ago!), she has decided that she can dispense with some of her pack, although her camping knife with its fire flint is never far from her side.

Rosie is walking for Water Aid, and spends all her time charity fundraising.  Before she left she had curated an exhibition of donated art back in Folkestone, where her gift of being able to gently, but persuasively, ask for contributions had allowed her to gather work of several major artists.

I also find that she was very early in producing websites based on user-contributed content, a Web 2.0 forerunner … I guess after she spent two years living by an airfield in the Amazonian forests listening to rain on the corrugated iron roof, the monkeys’ dawn chorus and leopard cries in the night.

  1. Later I found out that St Cwyfan’s Church was originally on the mainland, but the cliffs and land around have been eroded, rather than being built up out of the sea, it is an extreme example of coastal defences at work.[back]