I have now completed the Wales Coast Path and this is the last of 4 blog posts covering the entire 870-mile route from Chepstow to Chester, completed in stages over a year as time allowed.
It feels as if I only have a short walk along the north coast of Wales to complete my journey, but I have yet to walk around the coast of Anglesey – an unbelievable 125-miles. I’m not encouraged by the sight that greets me at the end of the first days walk from Caernarfon – the same castle walls I walked past at 07:30 that morning, across the Menai Strait. Progress nonetheless.
The villages are deserted that morning for a the reason that can be heard in every street. Wales are playing Australia in the Rugby World Cup. They seem to be doing well judging by the screams of joy emanating from the living room windows. A favourable score is confirmed as I cross the second bridge onto the Isle of Anglesey and pick up the path signed by probably the most beautiful way mark in Britain – a symbolic Arctic Tern. It could equally have been a Kingfisher, for the number of times I have heard the shrill alarm call followed by a blue flash darting up the creeks that morning.
High tide makes progress along rocky woodland shores difficult. The ferocious tide leaves no doubt as to when inland routes are preferred, but I choose to wait by a statue of Nelson, chatting to a few fisherman, for the hide water mark to ease. I can just about pick my way along the shoreline without filling my boots with water, but it is hard going through hard angular stones covered in slippery seaweed. I’m happy to return to roads and paths as I enter Dwyran, where a local lady offers me apples from her orchard. I fill my pack with a range of delicious varieties, of different colour, texture and taste. You would never see these beauties stacked on a super market shelf. Why?
The campsite is muddy, to be expected at this time of year, but the extra ground sheet does a good job of keeping damp and slugs at bay. The evening draws to a close as huge flocks of Greylag geese fly in V-formation overhead. The dawn awakens the same flocks, flying in the opposite direction as I weave my way through farmland and across a slippery set of stepping stones, extensive dunes and empty beach to Llanddwyn Island. A couple have just returned before high tide denies access.
It is a lonely quiet day, walking through forests and farm lanes to Aberffraw, in the hope of finding food. The cafes are closed so the emergency Snickers Bar fuel me to Rhosneigr. The coastline is familiar now, complete with a sound track of breaking waves and sea birds. The village has a few options for food, desperately needed before I retire to the local hotel. I’m soaked through, my waterproofs perhaps on their last legs, so a deep hot bath is in order – a luxury I rarely enjoy, preferring showers.
I’m up before the first morning training flights at RAF Valley. The Hawk jets are fuelling up and the bird scaring vehicles are sounding eagle like screeches from their loud speakers. Another lovely shoreline gives way to grassy marshland borders that navigate around tidal estuaries to Four Mile Bridge, where I cross onto Holy Island, dipping under the approach to the main runway.
The coastal path gets more rugged and dramatic, lit by corpuscular rays in an umbrella of light above the Snowdonian mountains to the south. Small sandy coves are clearly popular in the summer, but at this time of year they are deserted, as are the paths to Trearddur and the caravan sites battening down the hatches for winter. I’m grateful the Sea Shanty cafe/restaurant is open. I’m ahead of schedule and treat myself to a decent meal before reaching the Sea Kayak Centre and few miles further north. If I am saving money on accommodation, I spend it on food.
Anglesey is mostly flat, but bookended by Holyhead Mountain and South Stacks. The path glances past the summit at 220m giving fantastic views across the Irish Sea. Is that the Isle of Man I can see, or even the Mourne Mountains in Ireland? Both are plausible on a crystal clear day as I follow the direction of the cross channel ferries, lit crisp and clean by the sun as they head west. The light houses and signal stations stand sentinel to guard the busy harbour at Holyhead.
The town is quiet when the lorries and cars are not pouring into the ferries, life is conducted to the tune of arrivals and departures. I stock up with food and can’t resist a McDonalds Burger before leaving the island across “The Cob” causeway built by Thomas Telford. High tides defeat me again, leaving no option other than an awkward road walk to Llanfachraeth to reach the shoreline that brings me to a good campsite, where I am made welcome. They too are in shutdown mode for the coming winter months.
My tent is dry as I pack up at sunrise, setting off along a glorious stretch of coastline that is rudely interrupted by a path closure at Carmel Head, which seems odd given that this is National Trust land. It means an inland walk, missing the two iconic navigational towers until I reach Cemlyn Bay. A group of lady birdwatchers are snuggled behind a wall, drinking tea, like a row of Beryl Cook characters, happily arguing over winter plumages and a possible rare waders on the shoreline.
Such a wild and natural landscape seems at odds with the brutal architecture of Wylfa Nuclear Power Station ahead, its cubist buildings hiding Magnox reactors that once pulsed with energy. The local hotel at Camaes is charging high prices, restricted supply against the regular demand from contractors maintaining a facility that will take decades to decommission.
The forecast is dreadful and I am resigned to getting soaked again on the route to Moelfre along a remote section of path. Cute black Zwartbles sheep cheer me up with their comic wagging white tails. The path is muddy, slippery and exposed at times. requiring careful concentration and balance. The entertainment continues with numerous Harbour Porpoises as I navigate a 9″ sheep track in size 12 boots, with one pole – never easy going.
A early lunch at Amlwch is necessary as there are very few options ahead. I turn southwards and walk through a lodge, breeding hundreds of dumb pheasants that are easily driven into the corner of a field, before panicking and launching over the fence line. These poor birds will soon be blasted from the sky when the shooting season starts – dumb easy targets.
I’m delighted to find a busy community fish and chip shop at Moelfre. They make a soaked walker welcome and very happy as I dry out and steam up the windows, scoffing haddock. I pitch at the local campsite, where the farmer refuses to take my money, after we finish a long chat about the path, cattle, weather, dolphins and quicksands. He has cows to milk and wakes me again in the morning to start another long day. We are both synchronised to daylight hours now.
For once, it is low tide, which allows me to walk for hours around Red Wharf Bay, stopping first for a full welsh breakfast at a lovely cafe. I meet an elderly gentleman walking his dog, who was once a ranger in the area. He gives me insight into the landscape around us, distilled from years of experience. I walk along the tideline, unable to resist crunching the razor clam shells underfoot, like a kid with a roll of bubblewrap.
After a brief inland walk, through fields of cattle and sheep I arrive at Penmon Point for lunch. The lighthouse, just off shore, gently rings a bell every 30-seconds. It is the only sound you hear on a calm quiet day. The eerie tranquility is shattered as a drone flies overhead, filming a wedding couple walking down to the beach. Unintentionally, I follow the entourage along the road west, as the photographer seeks other romantic backdrops for their special day. One last rocky shoreline brings me to Beaumaris and The Liverpool Arms (a popular pub name in this area) and a room which quite literarily has my name on it. Room 8 – Admiral Howe – how did they know!
I leave Anglesey on the same bridge I walked across 6 1/2 days ago to reach Bangor. The sea front seems to have been taken over by tyre fitting stations and the pier is closed. This doesn’t meet the expectation set by Fiddlers Dram classic folk song “Day Trip to Bangor”. I’m struck by an ear worm that I can’t shake for days. Inflation would suggest it is far more than a £1 now.
In my eagerness to leave I make a colossal mistake of attempting to undercut Penrhyn Castle along the shoreline. Before too long I am in too deep and carry on along a rocky slippery shoreline only to find my way blocked by a fast flowing river. I sneak across a bridge and get lost in woodland, which I finally escape, battered and bramble torn, back onto the coast path again. What an idiot, I’m being too casual in my navigation again. It is a relief to reach a rustic bunkhouse in Llanfairfechan, situated a few yards from a stunningly good Indian takeaway.
I can’t say the walk east fills me with excitement, following a dual carriageway and railway line, but in reality the contrast to the rugged coastal walk is a relief and brings perspective to such a long journey. Conwy is quaint and busy, but would go unnoticed to a car driver, eager to get home using the tunnel under the estuary. They might miss Orme Head too – one last outcrop of limestone, peppered with copper mines and caves. The views of Anglesey and a vast array of wind turbines are dramatic. Seal pups are bleating on the isolated beaches. Kashmiri goats cling to the cliff face, nonchalantly chewing the grass.
Victorian Llandudno is a welcome sight, its character maintained and preserved to the extent that its pier and promenade have been commandeered for a film set that evening. The hostel is comfortable and the evening meal options overwhelming in the busy town.
I am fortunate that my feet are now battle hardened to face endless cycle tracks eastwards on National Cycle Route 5, which shares the WCP route. Oh for a bicycle, I dream, but progress is swift into Rhyl and then Prestatyn, the end of Offa’s Dyke. I can now declare that I have walked around Wales as I touch the sculpture which marks a beginning (or an end) as it is so named in Welsh – “Dechrau a diwedd”. But my end is a few miles further in Chepstow.
My accommodation is dire, but cheap, and will be my last bed, as I will return for another night by train after days walk along shoreline to Flint, through the villages and docklands. Only the lighthouse at the Point of Ayre is noteworthy. The coastal path is coming to an end as it merges with the commerce and industry.
I’m now properly homesick after 3-weeks and almost 450-miles of walking, so leave the hotel early without breakfast to catch the train to Flint. The estuary narrows to the River Dee, past Connah’s Quay power station and along the riverbank. The last long walk, along a paved cycle track to Chester seems endless, with only the flight movements from the Airbus factory at Broughton to amuse me. The final marker stones are an uninspiring finish to 870-miles of the Wales Coast Path, but I walk into Roman Chester with a huge sense of achievement.
The girl at the ticket office at Chester Station picks up on my desire to find a split ticket option home, and goes beyond the call of duty to find the lowest price. I depart on an over-50s, Transport for Wales, super-saver deal home. Like all TfW services, the conductor is a happy soul, chatting to customers they know well. The rocking train might easily lull me into a deep sleep, but I end up playing music and singing silently with joy as I read my journal and reflect on the walk; the wonderful people I have met; and the stunning landscape and seascape of the Wales Coast Path.