I have now completed the Wales Coast Path and this is the third of 4 blog posts covering the entire 870-mile route from Chepstow to Chester, completed in stages over a year as time allowed.
Summer is over and I must set out again to complete the WCP in a calendar year. The original intention had been to walk continuously from Chepstow to Chester, but severe blisters had curtailed that ambition. Hopefully that issue has been solved, thanks to a diagnosis of stiff hips by a local Physiotherapist.
After a lengthy train and bus journey I’m back in New Quay, walking along the harbour past a sign that marks the half-way point of the path – I have to get my head around walking for another 3 weeks as the nights draw in. The sun is out and a dead calm suggests I walk into the evening to Aberaeron. A beautiful sunset over the Irish Sea would seem more at home in the Pacific Ocean, made all the more realistic by the sight of Dolphins feeding offshore.
A manage a good nights sleep in a tent that needed to be reassembled in the dark and set off at dawn. This is a time of year when you can enjoy the ‘golden hours’, ideal for photographers capturing the light of early morning and late afternoon. It soon reaches 20C in the calm air and clear skies. I can hear the music on the fishing boat radios clearly as they check the lobster pots.
I meet two ‘section’ walkers, who aim to complete the WCP over several years, who report good conditions ahead. Aberystwyth comes into view after a glorious cliff walk. The town is full of new students during freshers week and the hotels and B&Bs are full. I manage to find one on the seafront to avoid a walk to Borth, placing me ideally to reach Machynlleth the following day.
The Indian summer forecast is set for another day as I climb a zig-zag path alongside the funicular railway. The engineer is walking directly up, checking the rails. I have barely reached the summit when the path descends sharply into Clarach Bay and yet another holiday park, which seems empty despite the glorious weather.
It is time to leave the coast for a few days to walk up the Dyfi estuary across marshland and wooded hillsides. The views are superb. I keep my eyes peeled for the possible sight of Ospreys, which I know nests near Dyfi Junction station, but I suspect they have departed for a warmer climate in Africa. I reach ‘Mach’ early and find a nice note at the Independent Hostel, inviting me to make myself comfortable. I’ll stay another night, catching the train back from Tywyn after the following days walk, which ascends steeply into the mountains before the path arrives in Aberdyfi. I’m now in Snowdonia National Park.
No trains are running on Sunday that fit my schedule, but the weekday service would provide a nice solution to more permanent accommodation, with the joy of a beautiful train ride to reflect on a days walking. A bus provides an option, full of chatty locals visiting relatives to the day it seems. I’m soon back on the trail, picking blackberries from the brambles. They are deliciously sweet and far cheaper than the £3 per punnet I see later in the store.
The path ascends again before dropping into Llwyngwril, decorated with knitted flags and posters, celebrating a community craft that is clearly popular. The route takes one more climb to almost 250m along clear farm tracks, which have been commandeered by 4×4 offroaders, who seem at their most content when up to their axles in mud. I can see Barmouth laid out before me and take a short-cut through old mines tracks to the rail/cycle/foot bridge. A troll demands payment at an unmanned booth. It seems only fair to make a donation to a structure that has probably saved two-days walking up the Mawddach estuary.
After fish and chips at Barmouth, it is a long road walk towards Tal-y-bont and a very pleasant campsite. I am greeted by lively gun-dog puppies and an unconcerned mother, before the owner arrives back from town to collect the usual £10 fee.
I can see the Lleyn Peninsula over Tremadoc Bay as I walk along Morfa Dyffryn beach the next morning. The huge expanse of lonely sands have been a highlight of the walk, with firm sands and complete absence of reference points. My mind empties and I enter an almost meditative state until a new feature appears. In this case it is Shell Island and a huge maze of a campsite in the dunes around the former RAF base at Llanbedr. The beach continues at Harlech below the famous castle that once had direct access to the sea.
A long walk along a seawall follows until I can cross another welcome bridge, to walk into Penrhyndeudraeth, a place name I have been trying to pronounce all day, having heard it spoken without effort in the shops and cafes. I catch a bus to Porthmadog to stay in a B&B, and return to walk past through Minffordd and Portmeirion. The former a delightful railway that I can smell for miles around, a sweet liquorice perfume of coal and steam for the narrow gauge railway. The latter a collection of architectural Italian buildings that flow down to the estuary like some fairytale town.
I have never visited this part of Wales before, so I am looking forward to losing myself along the coast in an area where Welsh is the first language. My feet are toughening up and I am gaining fitness, so progress is good into Criccieth and Pwllheli along road and low lying coastal paths. The campsite owner at Abererch refuses to take my money, a fellow WCP walker, who reels off campsites and section information for the days ahead.
Sure enough the railway cafe serves a monster breakfast that fuels me for the rest of the day, as I reach Abersoch before the rugged walk around a headland to the sight of Hell’s Mouth (Porth Neigwl), an exposed, defiant 3-mile stretch of beach facing squarely at the Irish Sea, its danger self-evident in the violence of the surf. I am happy to be camping inland at a farm, snuggled between unoccupied caravans, away from the prevailing winds. The Indian Summer is over now.
I spend a days tough walking into prevailing winds, building strength as I reach for shelter in Aberdaron. I break a walking pole as I place it to arrest a fall, the carbon fibre tears at each pole intersection as if worn at fracture points where the poles meet. It is upsetting. These poles have carried me perhaps 2,000-miles and have been dear friends. I feel like I have an arm bandaged to my chest as I set off with the remain pole, readjusting my balance to a new asymmetric walking style.
Bardsey Sound is wild. The sea boiling below eating away at the cliffs. I can just about stand upright as I climb Mynydd Mawr to the viewpoint and shelter in the lee of a hillock to regain my hearing and nibble at what I have left in my backpack. Fortunately I can time the need to put on waterproofs as the showers race across the sea, clearly intent on soaking landlubbers into submission. It is a relief to reach a lovely bunkhouse to shower and rest. I’m joined later my an expat couple from Taiwan, who are walking the WCP in sections. We spend a pleasant evening in deep conversation.
The wind has not eased, but at least now it is on my back, pushing me along a rugged, hard-going, muddy and exposed section of wild coastal path. This is a remote section. My only human contact that day is from a farmer on a quad-bike, who is concerned his cattle have strayed onto the coastal path through an open gate – never a good situation if you are walking that same path, with limited options to walk around them. Fortunately I can sneak across open field to reach Porth Oer, to see the surfers enjoying challenging conditions. I keep walking to keep warm, until he sun emerges at a lunch stop, a welcome rest from the intense concentration of walking exposed slippery paths.
It is an easier walk to the spectacular golf course at Morfa Nefyn, where I meet the cafe owner from Pwllheli, taking a day off for a round or two. Porth Dinllaen is picturesque, a tiny fishing village nestled in the lee of an outcrop of rock. Its a short walk to Nefyn and a lively hotel that caters for the golfers and others away for a weekend break. I need a rest, as I have a long day ahead to reach Caernarfon.
It is a tough walk through an industrial mining landscape and quarries, followed by a ridiculously steep ascent to what must be the highest point on the WCP, near an unnamed summit topped with a communications mast at 444m. The visitors centre is gearing up for a wedding, perhaps an explanation for the packed hotel the nigh before, but I’m off into the wilds of Yr Eifl into the clouds until I descend steeply to Trefor.
I have been warned of an road section which now follows, some 10-miles along the A499. It is dull and potentially hazardous, so I choose to catch a bus instead. Purists may say I am cheating, but I have more than 10-miles in the bank from walking inland high-tide routes around estuaries to compensate, so I do not feel guilty about it. This allows me to reach Dinas Dinlle in good time and Caernarfon for accommodation, which is otherwise scarce. I walk around an airport, home to the coastguard and then Foryd Bay, full of wading birds, to reach the mouth of the Menai Strait. Anglesey is across the water, almost in touching distance.
The Independent Hostel is comfortable and cosy, with excellent facilities and a crowd of like minded travellers. I meet a Canadian walker, who has travelled extensively and we talk late into the night about routes in Europe and the UK. His greatest challenge seems to be working around the Schengen Agreement, which restricts his visa options when undertaking long walks in Europe.
Now I face the challenge of walking around Anglesey in a week. My gear is starting to wear out, but that I can replace. My legs and feet are in good shape and I have lost weight. I’m ready to start the final section of the walk.