Day 48 – Tudweiliog to Aberdaron

round the end of Lleyn: fishing, orchids, ham and eggs and a pilgrimage

miles walked: 17
miles completed: 495.3
miles to go: 565

2013-06-04 08.54.15I make an early start, leaving the Gerwen B&B by 8:30, as I am uncertain how difficult the terrain will be coming round the end of Llŷn. (In fact it turns out easy, so I will arrive at Aberdaron at 5:30 after a relatively uneventful day.)  Gwenda, the landlady at Gerwen, tells me that there is a beach café at Whispering Sands, so that is my target, about halfway along, for lunch.

I walk the short way from Tudweiliog to the coast at Towyn, where the path leads for a short way across the sands.  It is good to feel sand beneath your feet.

The path from Tudweiliog to Whispering Sands is almost all exactly along the clifftop except for a short excursion inland just before getting to Whispering Sands.

On a headland I spot a small shack, but as I approach I realise it is one among several shacks above a small sheltered cove, Porth Llydan, where some fishing boats are moored. On the opposite side of the small headland a sandy cove, Porth Ysgaden, has a slipway, where more boats are launched and, from the tractor and trailer on the slipway, one just recently.  The gabled end ruin of a once substantial house suggests this has been a port for many years.

2013-06-04 09.11.16

The boats that go out are small craft, I think mainly dropping creels, very like the fishing boats from Tiree.  The previous night Caroline, the landlady of The Lion told me about the proposals to turn the coasts around Llŷn into a ‘highly protected’ area, I guess range like the proposals for Barra.  This would have ended the traditional fishing industry around Llŷn as well as some tourist activities.  Caroline showed me the noticeboard with copies of protest letters and official responses. Although the number of fishermen is small, they are part of the culture of Llŷn, as well as each having families to look after.

“It seems to have passed,” she says, but that also means the rich ecosystem is unprotected. We wonder why it seems beyond the wit of Whitehall bureaucrats to create conservation plans that prevent large-scale trawling (by boats from far away), but allow small-scale fishing to continue.

2013-06-04 10.28.25Further on, along an orchid-fringed cliff path, I come to another small cove, where an old lady sits stitching outside a postcard cottage, ‘Glan y Mor‘.  Out to sea two men in a small boat are having problems.  From the shore a man wearing a baseball cap proclaiming ‘skipper’ shouts instructions.  He thinks they have forgotten to loosen the cap on the petrol tank for the outboard, which lets air in as the fuel is pumped out.

“Remote debugging”, I suggest, as he shouts again.   “Yes,” he replies, “I don’t know whether to dial 999 or 111 for them.”  “Well, at least they have oars”, I say, and as I continue I see the men at sea rowing for shore, where I’m sure skipper will relish their discomfort.

On a stile a scallop shell is fixed.  As I stop to photograph it I see a notice, posted by the Penrallt Coastal Campsite:

Pilgrims are Welcome
to camp here or
use our  facilities.

One bright spot (or at least less dim spot) of the road detour I had taken at the end of the Caernarfon to Nefyn day, was that I passed another holy well, the well of St Aelhaiarn, in Llanaelhaearn.  I say “less dim” rather than “bright” as the well was roofed in 1900 and this included adding a lockable, and locked door.

However, the well and the welcome at the campsite are reminders that, as I go down Llŷn, this is a not just a coast path, but also a pilgrim route.  Later I also notice a post with a simple cross carved in it.

2013-06-04 11.42.11In some ways the Coast Path is pointless, or destination-less, compared to the pilgrim routes, such as this one, taking you to Bardsey Island.  I started at Cardiff and will end up in Cardiff.  Am I going nowhere?

Of course, this journey is a sort of pilgrimage as the spatial endpoint may be where I began, but the point of pilgrimage is not the spot on earth where you end, but the change within.

Eventually the path takes its inland detour, happily well signposted, and drops back just at the end of the whispering sands … and they do whisper, or almost sing, as you step on the dry sand, or rub your feet with a high-pitched squeak.

And the beach café is indeed open and so, stocked up on ham and eggs, and my feet bathed with a quick paddle, I proceed on the second part of the day towards the end of Llŷn.

After some more clifftop walking, the path leads up toward Mount Pleasant, a name that always makes me think of a funeral parlour, but is a small farm huddled under the slopes on Mynydd Anelog.  The path does not go over Mynydd Anelog itself, but skirts its coastal edge until, having crossed a small bridge over one of many small streams leading to rock coves, the path fragments into numerous criss-crossing sheep paths that cover the sloping cliff slides like a spider’s web, or maybe a labyrinth.  Some look more well trodden than others and I wander sometimes higher, sometimes lower until ahead I see a last bridge and spot a marker post.  I realise I should have been following the uppermost path, beside the fence, rather than wandering aimlessly below.

It would have been better to have followed the right path, but, in the end, all the paths, both the right path and the others, lead to The Bridge, and after The Bridge there is but one path, and it may be hard, but it leads ever upwards.

These are almost the words I spoke into my voice recorder and as I heard myself it seemed they were a parable for the pilgrimage route.

2013-06-04 13.25.32Often I have heard the metaphor of the cross as bridge between humankind and God, and this seems not a bad model for the journeys we take.  There are many paths we take on our own pilgrimage through life.  Not all are equal, but when we cross the bridge, whatever path we have taken is forgotten; the way onward may not be easy, but it leads upward.

Well, it sounds good, but in my experience of footpaths and Christian life the criss-crossing sheep paths do return.  Maybe I should take my moral compass out of my pocket more often?

Well maybe this is different as on the pilgrimage route this is the final ascent, with just the boat journey to Bardsey on the other side of the last mountain.  I hear the strains of Cwm Rhondda in the bass and tenor voices of a valleys male voice choir: “Land me safe on Canaan’s side“.  Checking the words on Wikipedia, I see a ‘verbatim translation’ (transliteration?) that translates the Welsh “Fi, bererin gwael ei wedd” into “Me, a pilgrim of poor appearance“. Amen to that!

At the top of Mynydd Mawr, the ‘big mountain’ (less than 200m, but big for the end of Llŷn), is a coastguard station, which was also a defensive lookout during the war.  Dropping down the far side I see the concrete bases of further wartime buildings, with a family having a picnic beside.  I’m reminded of the playground in the killing field of Beaumaris Castle, and the demolished WWII concrete that holds the dunes together on Tiree.  Although when we see conflicts today it seems impossible that the pain will heal, the land does eventually forgive and the heart forget.

2013-06-04 15.40.46Bardsey itself is a strange island with a large hill facing the Welsh coast and the low, flat, habitable land facing west into the Irish Sea.  You can understand the hermits’ logic, shunning the world as they sought God in the open horizon; and subduing their bodies as they faced the January gales.  But it is perhaps also significant that it faces West, the place of magic in the Celtic soul.  I do not understand, but I cannot resist the drag of the western ocean: Tir-na-nÓg, the lost cantrefs, cry out. Celtic Christianity seemed to be able to take hold of the best of the old ways and old knowings and then flood them with the new wine of the kingdom.

On the way back I pass the ruins of an old cottage, huddled between pathway and rock face.  A ruin, like many other ruins, except one of the walls contains a six foot slab of rock that I assume was already in place and the rest of the walls built around.  I feel there is another parable there, but it is late, so a parable for another day.

Finally into Aberdaron where the solid stone church sands firm against the elements and a sign says:

A Parish Church
A Pilgrim Place
A House of Prayer for all People

It is locked.

Happily the lovely pub on the quay next door is not locked.  I resolve to go in, drink a cool pint below the falling sun and get directions to my accommodation for the night and wishing that it were this lovely place by the sea.  And then I see the sign, ‘Gwesty Ty Newydd‘ – it is my accommodation for the night.

One thought on “Day 48 – Tudweiliog to Aberdaron

  1. Hi Alan great to meet you this morning and now have a fuller understanding of you journey – so good luck with the rest and enjoy- and as I said I’m quite envious !

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