I pass through the archway and into another world – a long stretch of path, surrounded by trees, running above a stream and threading the length of a secret valley. I wasn’t expecting to find this. A lovely surprise.
I’m walking along the beginning of the North Wales Path, a 60 mile long-distance trail that meanders all the way from Bangor to Prestatyn. For the next couple of miles the Wales Coast Path follows the same route.
A river, called Afon Cegin carved this valley, called Dyffryn Cegin. The path follows the line of an old railway track that once transported slate from the quarries in the hills down to Porth Penrhyn. This path also forms part of Cycle Route 5, a long-distance cycleway linking distant Reading with Holyhead on Anglesey.
Although it’s a Sunday morning I only meet a few dog walkers and cyclists. Not exactly crowded.
After a couple of miles my route leaves the valley path and climbs up to join a narrow lane beside a ford.
Now I’m out in the open, I can see dark clouds are rolling in from the west, and I realise a rain storm is hammering down on Bangor behind me.
For the next mile I walk along the quiet road, but I haven’t got very far before the rain reaches me. Not ordinary rain. Massive blobs of water come hurtling down and the tarmac turns into a sea of bouncing pellets. I shelter under a tree (the one overhanging the road in the photo below)… and wait.
After ten minutes the rain settles into a grey drizzle. I pull up my hood and carry on, wishing I’d brought my umbrella.
A little further along, and the paths (both the official Wales Coast and the North Wales Path) leave the lane to pass across a meadow of tall grasses. I’m filled with dismay because I realise the grasses will spray my legs with rain water, which will trickle down my legs and fill my boots. I hate getting wet feet!
I’ve brought neither my waterproof trousers nor my gaiters, as I hate both the process of pulling them on and actually walking while wearing the wretched things. But now I’m beginning to regret that decision.
I pull out my map. Yes, it’s possible to avoid the grassy walk by continuing along the road. Onwards.
My quiet road joins a busier one and I cross over the busy A5 beside an impressive gateway. This is the entrance to Penrhyn Castle, a 19th century mansion, now owned by the National Trust.
The extensive private grounds of this castle have forced the coast path to detour inland, but I’ve reached the furthest point of disruption. From here onwards I’ll be walking towards the coast again.
The rain has stopped. I follow a quiet lane through the village of Llandygai, where I pass a pretty churchyard. The rows of stone graves are softened by the waving heads of long grass.
A man overtakes me at a jog, carrying a child on his shoulders. The child turns round to look at me and gives a quiet smile of triumph. ‘I’m moving faster than you!’
I leave the village and join a busy road. It’s only a B road but full of fast-moving traffic. I pass a bus stop where I see the man and the child again. Waiting for the bus.
The B road runs out of pavement, so I detour into a tiny place called Tal-y-bont, hoping to pick up the official coast path again as it passes through the village. But I manage to lose my bearings and find myself back on the B road again, only a little further along. At this point there is a pavement – hooray – so I can carry on along the road without the risk of imminent death…
… until I reach a turning, and rejoin the official Wales Coast Path route. It follows a quiet lane that takes me down towards the shore.
For once I don’t resent yet more road walking. Although the rain has stopped, the hedges and verges are laden with water, and I’m grateful for dry tarmac beneath my feet.
It’s a pleasant walk, skirting the tall stone walls that guard the perimeter of Penrhyn Park. The only traffic I meet is a tractor, because there is nothing much down here – no village, just a scattering of cottages, a couple of farms, and a nature reserve called The Spinnies.
The road itself comes to an dead-end at a car park, but the coast path detours off to the left just before this, still clinging close to the wall that marks the perimeter of the Park.
At the turn-off, I come across an odd gate. I’ve met many types of gates on my walks, but this is the first I’ve met constructed like this one.
It opens by hinging upwards.
Very unusual. In fact, it took me a little time to work out how to open it, and I wonder how many people give up and continue onwards to the car park?!
Took me even longer to take a photograph of the open gate because as soon as you let go of the bars, they sink down and close again. You have to move quickly to catch the mechanism in action.
The other unusual feature of this part of the walk – although this is one I’ve come across before – is the structure of the fencing. This is made up of thin slabs of slate, bound together with either cord or wire.
The path trails around the wall, hemmed in by vegetation until, suddenly, it opens out onto the shore.
A beautiful place. Golden grass and lush vegetation. White swans gliding on grey-green water. Dark clouds rolling beneath a brighter canopy of blue and white.
Despite the lack of sunshine, I manage to take some wonderful photographs.
Turning to my right, I follow the coast path signs. From now on the route hugs the shoreline, a welcome change after a day of mainly inland tramping.
This is the best part of the walk. The sky is constantly shifting between dark and light, allowing patches of sunlight through, while clouds drift low against the hills. The rain seems to have sprinkled the countryside with colour, bringing fresh intensity to the greens and yellows of the fields.
It’s a beautiful and dramatic landscape. Hills to my right. Sea to my left. And ahead is an island… no, I look at my map… it’s the headland of Llandudno. The Great Orme.
I think the best way to illustrate this section of my walk is through the interpretation of some of the photographs I’ve taken in a series of wonderfully fluid paintings by my excellent Artist in Residence, Tim Baynes.
There’s the Great Orme, glowering in the distance above a green sea. ‘A crowd of oyster catchers invade the beach. An evening light slides under dark clouds.’
Meanwhile the fields sparkle with all the shades of green you can imagine, underneath shifting masses of clouds. ‘The impressive greens of North Wales.’
And my path continues along the wide spaces of the coast, with not another soul in sight. ‘A solitary way mark towards Great Orme. Wide seascape of North Wales makes us insignificant’.
To my left the shore turns marshy, attracting flocks of oyster catchers and gulls, who scream and take flight as I approach. The hill ahead is PenMaen Mawr, with the village of Llanfairfechan nestling on its slopes.
I’ve booked into a B&B on the edge of the village, and that’s my destination this evening.
The sky clears a little and streams of sunlight flit across the hills. Suddenly I have a wonderful view of the Abergwyngregyn valley. Up there are the Aber Falls, which I gather are spectacularly beautiful.
If I’d stuck with the North Wales Path, instead of following the coastal route, I’d have passed close to the falls. It’s a walk I want to do one day. Another one to add to the list!
Now my path turns inland, skirting around an area of boggy marsh, and joining a track. Ahead is a car park. It’s always a relief to spot my car, patiently waiting for me.
I’m pleased with my progress today. Although my leg still twinges occasionally, I’ve managed to control the limping and covered 13 miles with an average moving speed of 2.2 mph. It’s the furthest and fastest I’ve walked for some time. Almost back to normal.
Miles walked today = 13 miles
Wales Coast Path so far = 997 miles
Total distance around the coast: 2,504 miles
Route: first half of the day in blue, second in red.