After two days of glorious walking, I guess I shouldn’t complain about a not-so-good day. It starts badly when I park in the wrong place and, even worse, forget to pack my OS map. And then there is the boring trek along a road, under a dull sky…
… for three miles (it seems like longer) before I get the chance to leave the main road.
After tramping around a house and eventually discovering a hidden stile, I continue across fields and realise today is going to be a day of climbing over dry-stone walling.
Through a kissing gate and I find myself in a very muddy field.
The cause of the mud? Cattle.
I take a hurried photograph – blurred because I have to keep moving to stop myself sinking into the slurry, and also blurred because I’m nervous in a field with cows and young calves.
Beyond the field, and over the railway line, I walk through an endless holiday park. There are no holiday makers about, but there is plenty of maintenance activity. I hate this section, knowing I must have lost the path, irritated by the lack of scenery, and expecting to be challenged for trespassing at any moment.
I find a road and am pleased to pick up the Wales Coast Path again, only to lose it as I wander through another maze of static homes.
After backtracking, and walking in a complete circle, I still can’t find the path. But I know I have to head inland, as there is a river ahead and the only way to cross it is via the bridge at Tal-y-bont.
Feeling despondent, and wishing I had my map, I regain the road and walk inland, crossing over the railway line at the unpronounceable Tyddyn Goronwy. I cheer up when I manage to snatch a photo of one of the very-infrequent trains passing underneath.
When I reach Tal-y-bont bridge, I’m pleased to catch sight of the familiar Wales Coast Path symbols once again. You can see the signpost just to the left of the photo below, where the path emerges from a side alleyway to join the road. Where’s it been?
The path soon turns off the main road and finds another holiday park to navigate. After passing some rather nice wooden lodges, I walk through a city of tin boxes.
This time I manage to stick to the correct route and don’t get lost.
Just beyond the park I join a track which takes me back under the railway line. The bridge is very low, barely high enough to pass under without bending my head.
The sign carved into the concrete says:
“NO CARS. EXCEPT FOR ACCESS TO TENT.”
I wouldn’t want to try to drive through here.
The path continues, and runs along tracks through fields. I’m pleased to find myself walking next to the river. On the other bank is the holiday park I was wandering through half an hour ago.
There are low sections in the bank where the river runs shallow – possibly old fords. If I’d known I might have waded across and avoided the inland detour to find the bridge.
I climb over another rickety wooden stile and then… and then my path peters out. It’s a dead end.
Where’s the coast path gone? Frustrated, I turn back and find a private track heading vaguely in the right direction, but with unwelcoming “Keep Out” signs. That can’t be it.
Continuing back along the way I’ve just walked, I spot a Wales Coast Path post poking above the dry-stone wall – and realise I’ve missed a stile. Well, would you have spotted it? It’s cunningly disguised as a piece of the wall.
The next mile is a meandering walk through a grassy landscape crisscrossed by dry-stone walls. There are numerous stiles to climb over, many of them again so cunningly disguised that several times I lose the trail and am forced to backtrack.
From the top of every stile, I catch tantalising glimpses of the sea. It’s just behind a line of dunes to my left.
It’s infuriating not to be so near and yet so far from the shore.
In the final field, I come across this flock of sheep. They look comical, like clowns, with back-ringed eyes and black noses.
I think they’re Beulah Speckled Face Sheep, a Welsh breed. But I’m not sure.
Now I’m back on a road. Another mile of boring walking, nowhere near the sea.
Past another holiday camp… and then a car park and… I’m standing at the end of a long wooden walkway. It carries me up and over the ridge of dunes and, suddenly, there is the brilliant sea.
I stop at a handy picnic bench and have lunch, along with a quick self-portrait. You can see how pleased I am to be back on the coast again.
To the north dark clouds are gathering ominously over the hills of the Lleyn Peninsula. But shafts of afternoon sunlight slant in from west and light up the dunes. I’m looking forward to a wonderful three-mile walk along this beach.
I look back towards Barmouth. It’s not far away. I seem to have walked for hours this morning without making much progress.
The tide is out and I cross the sands to walk close to the water. On the vast expanse of beach I only see two other human beings.
Number one: a man riding his bike close to the dunes. The photograph below was taken on full zoom. In reality, he looked like a tiny insect crawling across the sand.
Number two: another man, who walked past me while I was eating lunch and strode briskly up the beach. I thought he might be a proper coastal walker, but a short while later I see him walking back again. Only a stroller, after all.
The sunshine of yesterday has gone, but the views are still staggeringly beautiful.
After a wonderful hour of beach walking, the dunes give way to low cliffs, and the sand gives way to shells. Thousands of shells. All sorts and sizes.
The official Wales Coast Path veers off the beach, crossing the dunes and heading inland to Llanbedr. But I’m reluctant to leave the beach. I see a man sitting high on the bank and ask him if I can continue along the shoreline. He says yes, it’s possible if the tide is out.
I stumble on, but the ground becomes rocky and difficult, and I can’t see the way ahead due to the curve of the shore. Without my map I’m not sure what lies around the bend. But I do know the tide is coming in.
After a while, I chicken out and decide to climb up the bank, at the top of which I find lawns of green grass, threaded with narrow roads.
I follow a road up a hill and reach a complex of buildings where workmen are hammering and machinery is growling. I realise, with sinking heart, that I’ve stumbled into another holiday park. Shell Island. But strangely I can’t see any mobile homes. Maybe it’s only for campers?
I need to get to Llanbedr, inland, but am separated from the village by a wide area of marsh. To avoid the boggy ground, I stick to the park’s roads, but their routes are confusing, as they loop around, never following a straight line. After wandering around in what seems like circles, I’m very pleased to see the familiar coast path sign up ahead.
Everything seems better when I know I’m back on the right track. I follow a lane, and then follow path signs. Now I’m walking on a tarmac path through marshland, heading northwards The reeds are tall and crowd on either side.
My path becomes a raised walkway above the grasses. It curves across the marshes, taking me – I hope – towards Llanbedr and the train station.
This morning I drove to Llanbedr in order to catch the train to Llanaber and the start of my walk. But the walk from the car park to the train station was somewhat further than I had anticipated from looking the map. When I got to the platform, I noticed the name on the station sign was completely wrong – Dyffryn Ardudwy – what?!
I suddenly realised I must have pulled off the main road too early and parked in the wrong place. Now I was standing at the wrong station. And at this point I realised something else. I’d left my map behind.
What an idiot! I’m really not a morning person.
Anyway, with the train approaching, I only had a few minutes to make up my mind, and I decided to catch the train to Llanaber and start my walk as planned.
Walking across the marsh, in the late afternoon, I know I must now catch another train to get back to Dyffryn Ardudwy and my car. I check my watch. Plenty of time.
My path joins a road and I realise this is the main route to Shell Island, but it’s a tidal causeway. They haven’t bothered to chalk up the opening times.Would I have got through if I’d continued my walk along the shore? I don’t know.
The road takes me inland, past sheep, cows, and a small airfield. It’s over a mile and I walk quickly, not wanting to miss the train, relieved when I see the railway-crossing signs ahead.
Llanbedr is another tiny, request-stop-only station. I arrive 25 minutes early, but the train arrives 20 minutes late. It seems a long, long wait and I have plenty of time to think about the walk I’ve just finished.
It’s been a funny old day. Nothing went quite as planned.
Distance walked today: 12 miles
Along Wales Coast Path: 659 miles
Total distance around the coast: 2,266 miles