This morning the mountains of the mainland are clearly visibly beyond the vegetated dunes of Newborough Warren. It’s wonderful to see the three peaks of Yr Eifl and to remember how much I enjoyed climbing over the pass and down to Trefor.
Today I’m walking in the company of a couple of old friends, who happen to live on Anglesey, and I’m feeling surprisingly nervous because I usually walk alone. I meet them in a car park. Nick and Lynne. They seem harmless enough.
In order to create a pleasant walk for my friends, I’m missing out a section of my planned walk, and will return this afternoon to complete it. The reason? The route consists of a long, straight trudge across the dunes to get to the tip of the dune system, and it may not be passable until the tide recedes. In fact, it isn’t included as part of the official Wales Coast Path.
We walk down a path that runs along the southeast border of Newborough Forest. It’s very pleasant and I enjoy the calm peace of the trees.
At one point, we enter the dune system, but soon get bogged down in mud, and are forced to return to the woodland path.
When we reach the beach, the views are magnificent. I can’t resist taking yet more photographs of the Llyn Peninsula and Yr Eifl. I wonder how long I will continue to see their familiar silhouettes.
We turn right and begin to walk along the shore. This is Traeth Llanddwyn (Llanddwyn beach) and it’s a wonderful stretch of sand. Lynne remembers swimming along the bay as part of a triathlon some years ago.
(One of the reasons I’m nervous about walking with other people is because people assume I’m super fit, but I’m not. I walk slowly and my distances are short. Lynne, on the other hand, has swum the Menai Straits and completed triathlons. Nick is going to run the London Marathon in 3 days time.)
We are approaching the peninsula at the end of Llanddwyn Bay, called Llanddwyn Island (or Ynys Llanddwyn). I’ve never heard of it, but Lynne tells me it is very beautiful and reminds her of Enid Blyton, for some reason she finds hard to explain.
When we reach the end of the beach I realise it’s not a peninsula at all. Ynys Llanddwyn really is an island. A tidal island. And, since the tide is high, we are faced with a stretch of water.
I suggest we procrastinate and wait for the tide to recede some more – we can almost see the water going down. My friends share some delicious cake with me, and we wait. But Lynne grows impatient, takes off shoes and socks, and wades across.
Nick and I take a drier – but possibly more dangerous route – climbing over the recently exposed causeway of rocks.
Apart from one lone dog-walker, who splashed across ahead of us, we are the only people on the island.
As we near the tip, I realise what Lynne meant about it being an Enid Blyton place. It’s a child’s idea of what an island should look like. There are small, hummocky hills, hidden coves, some interesting ruins, a huddle of tiny houses, and two perfectly formed – but miniature – towers.
The ruins are the remains of a church dedicated to Saint Dwynwen, apparently the daughter of a king who lived in the 5th century. After being thwarted in love, Dwynwen devoted herself to spiritual life and became the Welsh patron saint of lovers. Apparently you could test to see if your love was true by visiting a well on the island and throwing bread to the eels that lived in the water.
Like many Welsh ‘saints’, Saint Dwynwen isn’t recognised by the Catholic church. But I loved her island. It is a wonderful, mystical, magical place.
One of the towers sits on its own mini-island, linked to Llanddwyn Island by a concrete causeway. It might once have had a light, but probably has always acted as a daymark navigation aid.
The second tower looks like a sail-less windmill and may also have been a daymark navigation aid in the past too. Now apparently it does have a light, although only visible from the sea.
We walk along the spine of the island and stop on a raised piece of land for a picnic lunch. My friends have brought sandwiches and offer to share. But my appetite is still dodgy and I stick to my usual snack of fruit, nuts and a chocolate bar.
A buzzing sound fills the air. On a nearby hillock, a man jumps to his feet and begins leaping about and swatting his head with his hands. Is he being attacked by a giant wasp? He obviously thinks so! But the buzzing is actually coming from a drone that someone is flying nearby.
By now the island is slightly crowded (well, at least 20 people are strolling around). As we walk back to its base we can see the tide has gone down and the island is no longer an island.
We walk over onto the mainland and head northwest, along another beautiful stretch of beach, more isolated than the last. Traeth Penrhos and Malltraeth Bay, according to my map.
This is truly glorious. Miles and miles of empty sand.
We come across a starfish. I’ve never seen one washed up so freshly before on a British beach. A few yards further, and we find another one.
The wind is blowing into our faces, and I can feel myself beginning to tire. I wonder how my friends are feeling, but don’t dare to ask. They’re probably bursting with energy.
‘Are we going to walk through the forest?’ they ask.
‘Yes. Eventually. But we have to follow my walking rules and stick as close to the coast as we can,’ I explain.
I’ve planned a circular route which will cut through the forest further up, and should take us back to the car park. This relies on a minor footpath being (a) visible and (b) passable, so I’m feeling a little nervous.
We look back at the silhouette of Llanddwyn’s island with the mountains of Snowdonia behind. One lone walker is just visible some distance away. And nothing else, except the trail of our footprints across a vast empty tract of sand.
It’s time to cut across the dunes and join the path that runs around the edge of Newborough Forest. After some meandering, we realise we can see a track through the trees.
But then we come across an obstruction that’s not marked on my map. A small stream bars our way. Actually, it’s a stagnant ditch. The water is green and slightly stinky. Too deep to wade.
If I was on my own, I’d have walked along the bank looking for a way across. But my friends have other ideas, especially when we find a rudimentary ‘bridge’ built out of logs. The structure is highly unstable, with the logs rolling and sinking when we cautiously test them. Undaunted, we find more pieces of wood and heave them into the water. None of the logs are long enough to properly bridge the gap, but we manage to form the equivalent of a bobbing raft.
Nick strides across first and, despite the logs twisting alarmingly beneath his boots, makes it safely to the other side. Lynne follows.
Then it’s my turn.
You can guess what happens next? The wood twists and sinks under my boots, dumping me in the water. I put my foot down, slip in the slimy mud and fall up to my armpits in the mucky water.
And, as Nick reaches out and grabs my hand, I pull him halfway down the bank and nearly into the water with me.
I’m not hurt, but my clothes are soaked and everything is coated with mud and slime.
I empty the filthy water out of my boots, take off my sodden fleece, and zip off the lower legs of my walking trousers (they’re the sort that convert into shorts). Luckily my electronic devices remain dry.
After stripping off my outer clothes, I look reasonably presentable from the front. But there is no disguising my soggy bottom.
Just as I’m recovering from this experience, we see the walker who was behind us on the beach, about a 100 yards further on from where we’re standing. He approaches the line of the ditch and appears to stroll – effortlessly – across!
So, there must have been a proper bridge, or a dry bank, further along after all.
Onwards. Through the forest.
I must say I find walking along these forest tracks rather boring. Cycling would be fine. But this part of the walk goes on for ever.
My friends are convinced I’m lost and have gone very quiet. I told them the walk would be about 8 miles, but it’s turning out to be longer. Are they tired? I worry that I’m exhausting Nick – or may have hurt his back when I pulled him over. And he has a marathon to run in a few days time.
I’m relieved when I find the footpath that I was relying on to take us back to the car park. Luckily it is marked and has a proper stile (what a nice surprise). Unfortunately it leads across a field full of cows and young calves. I march across, pretending I have no fear, and bravely put myself between my friends and danger. The cows watch us warily, but don’t come close.
After a short section, walking along what appears to be someone’s private drive, we reach the familiar track that should lead us back to the car park.
By this stage my trousers have dried out – that’s the wonderful thing about proper walking clothes, they dry quickly. But I feel very grubby and am desperate to have a wash and change into something clean.
The car park is decorated with weird, yellow structures – pieces of sculpture – which I eventually work out are designed to look like marram grass. I’m very pleased to see them.
My friends climb into their van and we arrange to meet for a meal later. Nick still has a short run to complete – part of his marathon-training schedule.
At this point, my plan for the rest of the day was to trek across Newborough Warren to reach the far point of the dune system. But I decide to leave that adventure until tomorrow. I smell of stagnant water and slime. It’s definitely time for a bath.
High point: discovering the wonderful Llanddwyn Island.
Low point: falling into a ditch.
Miles walked today = 10.5 miles
Wales Coast Path so far = 846 miles
Total distance around the coast: 2,353 miles