Llanbedr station really is in the middle of nowhere. It’s a request stop and I’m the only person who leaves the train.
The Wales Coast Path runs just inland of, and parallel to, the railway line, passing through an area of wet grassland. According to my map there are some standing stones near here, but I don’t see them.
I follow the path towards the footbridge and the reason for the path’s inland diversion. It looks brand new.
On the other side of the bridge, I cross a field and join a path that runs alongside the road (the A496). As I pass through a gate, and onto the road itself, I see a shoe hanging from the gate post. I wonder how it got here, and why.
[It’s amazing how many odd shoes you come across while walking. How does it happen? Do people walk home with bare feet? Or limp with one shoe on and one shoe off? It’s a weird phenomenon.]
After a short amble along the side of the road, I follow footpath signs down a little lane, cross over the railway line again, and walk past yet another little station in the middle of nowhere. Pensarn Station.
Over the railway line and the path’s route isn’t clear, but seems to pass straight through a residential centre. I walk past the buildings and notice these homemade hammocks, filled with shoes.
Are these shoes intended for kids without trainers, or for those who lose their trainers? Is this where my lone shoe belongs?
I walk on and follow the path along the bank of a sea wall. Looking towards the mouth of the estuary I can see the marina and the sand dunes of Shell Island, and remember getting lost while walking there a couple of weeks ago.
Looking inland, I see the meandering river shining blue beneath a range of mountains.
This area may not have the rugged cliffs of the Pembrokeshire coast, but the distant mountains create a perfect backdrop.
I reach a line of dunes, pass over them, and find myself on a lovely beach, covered in a mix of sand and shingle. This is Llandanwg beach. Hidden among the dunes (not visible in the photograph) is a half-buried ancient church.
It doesn’t look as if I can continue along the shore – the beach deteriorates and become rocky and muddy – and so I am forced to turn inland again, following the Wales Coast Path signs.
I join a road and, passing over the railway line above another tiny station – Llandanwg station – begin a long, slow climb up the hill. Below me are fields of sheep, a collection of houses, blue sea, and Shell Island in the distance. You can just make out the tidal causeway linking it to the mainland.
After a mile of road walking, the Wales Coast Path leads off to the left. But I stand and gasp at the amazing view.
Below me spreads the dune system and nature reserve of Morfa Harlech. In the distance is a long, white-capped mountain. Is that Snowdon?
I follow the path down to the beach, crossing over the railway line once again. Despite the beautiful weather, the sands are almost deserted.
I walk along the beach for a mile or so, enjoying the peace and solitude. I’m not sure how far I could get if I continued around the dune system, but the official Wales Coast Path takes a right-angled turn and heads inland towards the town of Harlech. Good, I’m hungry.
Following the quiet road, I walk past a golf course and see Harlech Castle perched like a brooding grey giant above the links. When it was built, in the 13th Century, the sea would have lapped around the base of the cliff on which the castle sits. But the coastline is constantly changing and now the castle lies a good mile inland.
Harlech turns out to be a disappointing place. I manage to find a pub that’s open, but it doesn’t serve food at lunch time. I must make do with a packet of crisps and a 1/2 of cider. It’s 1:30 pm and I’m the only customer.
After ‘lunch’, I face a wearying trek along the main road, before I pick up the coast path again. It leads through the Morfa Harlech nature reserve, but on the inland side of the dunes, with no view of the sea. Despite the disappointing route, the countryside is glowing in the sunshine and I enjoy this section more than I expected to.
I walk past forestry areas. What a mess! I’m pleased to see evidence of new planting.
And I hurry past a field of gigantic red cows, some with sharpened horns. I’m glad they’re on the opposite side of the fence – even more so when I realise they’re not cows after all, they’re bulls!
The path follows a straight forestry track for a mile, before meandering through more farmland.
I meet some stocky sheep with enormous heads. Is it just me, or do all the farm animals in this part of the world appear to be over-sized?
[Later, I look up Welsh sheep breeds, and believe the sheep above is a Beltex sheep, a double-muscled breed imported from Belgium in 1989. I’d never heard of double-muscled sheep before but apparently it’s caused by a gene mutation that allows muscles to become abnormally large. I’m not sure if this is a good thing for the sheep, but I imagine it’s profitable for the farmers. ]
Further on, and I meet a pig. He (or she) is normal sized apart from rather prominent ears, and seems very nosey.
A short while later, I come across this large Suffolk sheep. [We used to keep Suffolks and they never looked as hunky as this. Is it a Beltex-Suffolk cross? Or just a big Suffolk?]
I leave the sheep behind as the path climbs up to higher ground. The Wales Coast Path heads inland now, along the southern bank of the Afon Dwyryd estuary. I love the colours of the landscape – the bronzed-gold of the bracken and the pale green of winter grass.
Across the river is a little village perched on the slopes above the water. Its towers and brightly-coloured buildings catch my eye, against the stunning backdrop of Mount Snowdon.
I check my map. Yes, it’s the famous Portmeirion. I’m looking forward to visiting the village tomorrow.
My path meanders inland, and I descend into a wooded valley…
… before climbing up the other side and passing in front of a small cemetery. There is a handy bench outside the graveyard wall, and I stop for a snack and a self-portrait.
Then I follow the path down through fields and reach a small lane. Two signs are fixed to a wall. One gives the high-tide time. The other says ‘NO JET-SKIS’ on the orders of the Hon Lord Harlech.
Lord Harlech? Does he really exist? [Later I look him up on the Internet and discover he does exist – or he did exist. He died 5 weeks ago. His obituary in The Telegraph is both fascinating and tragic.]
Onwards. The path takes me around the periphery of a large expanse of marshland.
Ahead I can see the tidal island of Ynys Gifftan. I was half-heartedly thinking of going over to explore it – there is apparently a footpath route across the marshes which is accessible at low tide. (Ynys Gifftan is the low mound on the left hand side of the photograph below.)
I continue to follow the walk along a raised bank, and see a bridge ahead. It looks fairly new and built solely for the purpose of taking the Wales Coast Path over yet another little stream. What a wonderful path this is!
Just inland from here is another tiny railway station. Tygwyn Station. It makes the 5th railway station I’ve encountered this morning. And I have another 3 to go before the end of the day.
Once over the bridge, the path rejoins the shore and runs along the top of the raised bank.
But the ground on the bank is uneven underfoot, and I’m worried about stumbling into a rabbit hole and twisting an ankle. I’m also worried about my slow progress. It’s already late afternoon and the sun will set soon. I don’t want to get caught in the dark.
I realise I would make better time if I walked along the track that lies just underneath the bank, close to the shore.
I come to the point where I could walk across to Ynys Gifftan. But I’m not sure if the tide is low enough, and I’m short of time, so I decide not to visit the island and hurry on by.
Just inland is another tiny railway station, serving the village of Talsarnau, where I am booked into a B&B. It’s tempting to end my walk at this point, but I need to continue further to get back to where I’ve parked my car.
Now I’m approaching the place where the path crosses the railway line – again. As I get nearer, and right on cue, the little train rattles past. I see it heading for the Pont Briwet bridge.
[When I planned this section of the walk, I expected to have to walk further up the estuary to another bridge. This longer route is shown on my current OS map, but in July 2015 the new Pont Briwet was opened to pedestrians. I’ve lost (or gained) an extra day of walking!]
I cross over the railway line and follow the path as it skirts around the sheep-covered hump of Y Garth.
The ground here is very marshy and I temporarily lose my way, before picking up the path again and joining a small track. Ahead is the road that runs along the causeway to the newly opened bridge.
I pass another station – Llandecwyn Station.
Actually, I planned to park here to catch the train for Llanbedr and the start of today’s walk, but discovered the station has no parking space, and you are not allowed to park on the causeway. So I was forced to drive further on and park at the next station, Penrhyndeudraeth. (I’m ashamed to confess I was trying to avoid this station, primarily because I have no idea how to pronounce its name!)
There is only a mile to go along the causeway, but my legs are tired and the pavement is hard under my feet. Meanwhile, the sun is sinking low and the light is fading. I take my last photograph of the day, looking out towards the mouth of the estuary. The hump in the middle is Ynys Gifftan island.
Shame about the pylon spoiling the view. A necessary construction, but irritating all the same.
I reach the end of the bridge and have another few hundred yards to walk until I reach the station and my car.
Number of stations encountered = 8
Number of railway crossings = 7
Highlights: Views of Snowdon and Portmeirion, and meeting some enormous sheep.
Miles walked today = 13 miles
Wales Coast Path so far = 672 miles
Total distance around the coast: 2,279 miles