I set off from Prestatyn in high spirits. My leg seems completely healed and the promenade, like the day, stretches ahead. Wide and empty. Full of promise.
As soon as I can, I jump down onto the sands. I leave Prestatyn behind. Barkby Beach says my map, followed by Gronant Dunes Nature Reserve.
I sneak up on a egret. Once they were a rare winter visitor and now they’re almost commonplace. It’s hard to believe they’ve only been breeding in this country for 20 years. Such a beautiful white bird.
The beach becomes threaded with waterways, and I take to the dunes.
I meet a handful of dog walkers, but fewer people as I get further away from Prestatyn. There is a wonderful isolated feel to this section of the coastline. I stop to take a photo of the sea holly growing along the path.
And I look back across Colwyn Bay. Despite the overcast sky, the visibility is surprisingly good today. I can see all the way across the Little Orme… no, to the Great Orme. How wonderful to see it again.
I’m about to reach the Point of Ayr – the northeast corner of Wales. Once round the bend, all these familiar landmarks will disappear. I’ve spoken about this before, this strange mourning sensation I feel when I round a headland and leave a set of familiar features behind. But that’s the nature of the type of walking trek I’ve chosen to undertake – always moving on and never going back.
Back on the sands, and striding out a long way from the land, I’m alone… apart from a distant figure. It turns out, as I get nearer, to be a serious bird watcher with an impressive camera kit.
He ignores me and so I don’t stop to talk to him. Perhaps he’s tracking something very rare…
I’m still pretty ignorant about birds.
What, for example, is this seabird? Is it a sanderling? I meet several of them, running in small groups and moving too quickly to take a decent photograph.
And I frighten flocks of little gulls that rise and flee in front of me, with a great deal of flapping and squawking.
I can, however, recognise herring gulls, and cormorants. I see plenty of these sitting on a sand bank.
Looking inland, I use full zoom to take a photograph of the top of the beach, which is almost a mile away. Dark clouds are gathering over the dunes. I watch a father and his son begin walking towards the sea, but they turn back long before they reach the waves.
The tide is almost fully out and there is an awful lot of sand out here.
Now the beach is interrupted by an increasing number of wide streams. Not fresh water, but drainage from the pools between the sand banks. And, rather alarmingly, the sand becomes brown, and feels soft and sucky beneath my boots. Quicksand?
I can’t make further progress due to a fast moving stream of water. It’s less than a foot deep, but the sand has turned very soft – almost mud – and I am too timid to attempt a wade. It would be embarrassing to get stuck in the mud and have to be rescued. Not that there is anybody around to notice me sinking or to rescue me!
Anyway, I walk back along the side of the stream, before I eventually find a place where the sand is firm enough to bear my weight and I can splash across. Feeling unnerved, I decide this is the nearest I can get to the far tip of the sands, and I turn inland, heading towards a lighthouse at the top of the beach.
As I get nearer the dunes, I realise there is a school trip going on. Young teenagers are walking around and bending down to examine pools of water. A biology expedition?
The lighthouse is wonderful, weather beaten and leaning slightly. It looks vaguely familiar. I look at my OS map. Yes, the same lighthouse is on the cover.
[Later I learn the lighthouse is almost 250 years old, and has been inactive since 1844, when it was replaced by a metal pile lighthouse and, later, by a lightship.]
The Wales Coast Path turns inland at this point. I see the familiar logo, rather nicely carved into a wooden post. It looks as if I could carry on along the sands…
… but I check my map and realise I would soon come to a dead end. So I turn off the beach.
This is Talacre. I believe there is a huge holiday park nearby, but I don’t pass through it. I do, however, stop at the beach café at the end of the road. I was expecting grease and fast food. But the café is very nice. Freshly decorated and with good, fresh, baguettes, and a good selection of teas.
After lunch, I set off along the path, now a cycle way too. Marshes to my left. Industry – a gas terminal – to my right.
Despite the dark clouds in the distance, my path remains in sunshine for most of the time.
I meet absolutely nobody for the next 3 miles.
This is another nature reserve, called, rather unimaginatively, the Point of Ayr Nature Reserve.
As well as the usual June flowers, a sign tells me I might see a pyramidal orchid. I think I spot one, and spend some time taking photographs.
I realise I’m walking down an estuary again. The water ahead is no longer sea, it’s the River Dee estuary. And over there is… England! The Wirral, to be exact.
Onwards. My path bends around the gas terminal, doubles back on itself, passes a sewage plant (no smells today) and then ducks under a railway bridge. A gravel track eventually takes me to the A548. Theoretically, I should follow this road as it runs closest to the shore, but there is no footpath and I decide it’s too dangerous.
I cross over the road to pick up the official Wales Coast footpath…
… that leads through fields and into a village called Ffynnongroyw. I have no idea how you pronounce that name!
Today is an important day because Wales are playing England in the first stage of European Cup football tournament. I’m hoping to get back to my hotel to watch the match. In the village, I see a group of men outside a pub. I would like to ask them when the match starts, but I hear them taunting another man. He stomps away, red-faced with rage. ‘Sore loser,’ they call out after him, speaking in English. I hurry on by.
[Later I learn the match is already played and finished, and Wales lost.]
I rejoin the A548, this time with a footpath. To my left is the railway line, and beyond that is the River Dee. Ahead is industry. And dark clouds.
I get some relief from the road when the footpath veers off to run through an area of trees and shrubs.
Here I meet a man with a very young, and very excitable, white terrier. I bend down to pat the dog, which turns out to be a mistake because it flings itself into my arms and covers my skin from fingers to elbows in slobbery saliva. Yuck.
The park soon comes to an end, and I’m walking along the road again. It’s not very pleasant and seems to go on for ever, although in reality its only a mile or so.
Finally I can leave the road, crossing over a railway bridge, and through a delightful area of parkland, to begin following a track along the edge of the water. Is this estuary, or is it the river Dee now? It’s still very tidal and with plenty of sand to be seen.
A three fingered signpost suggests 3 routes for the Wales Coast Path to take: ahead, back, or cutting across fields to the right. Rather confusing. Is there a tide problem? I elect to carry straight on.
Ahead is a strange sight. A ship – quite a large one – moored at the end of my track.
To my left the clouds are black, while the sun still shines – although intermittently – on my path.
I’ve been very lucky over the past few days. I’ve seen plenty of rain falling either ahead of me, or behind me, or – sometimes – both ahead and behind. But I’ve always stayed completely dry. Thank you, weather gods.
The ship is closer now. It’s a wreck. Rusting and abandoned. But still surprisingly intact, including the lifeboats, and covered in wonderful graffiti. The name on the side of the hull says its the Duke of Lancaster, only the letters have been painted over in white paint and another sign proclaims it is the Fun Ship.
This place has no name on my map. I follow the path, as it makes a right-angled turn, past the ship, and runs inland along the side of a small stream. It’s heading under the railway line (again), where I can cross over the stream via a bridge and walk back along the other bank.
From this side, I can see the ship clearly. It’s sitting well out of the water, not moored to a dock as I first suspected. What a strange place to strand a ship. Why is it here? Is it really used as a ‘Fun Ship’? It would be a wonderful place for parties.
Back on the shore again, I leave the weird ship behind and continue walking eastwards. This area is called ‘The Marsh’ on my map, although it’s not boggy. Rather annoying, I can’t walk close to the shore, whose bank is piled high with rocks anyway. Instead the path runs along a raised dyke about 100 yards inland, and parallel to the water.
The landscape is bright with afternoon sunlight, streaming across the fields from behind my back. While in front the sky grows darker and darker. It makes a dramatic landscape.
I meet a few dog walkers and know I must be approaching a car park. This is Greenfield Dock, once an active harbour which played a significant role importing copper and cotton to be processed in local factories. Hard to believe now. There’s only a handful of rowing boats lying on the mud.
I was planning on walking onwards to Bagillt, three miles further along the shore. But the sky is black with rain, and the buses are complicated, so I decide to call it a day. I head inland, walking past a rather smelly sewage plant, back to the A548 and a bus stop.
I’ve posted a selection of photos of the ship on my Ruthless Ramblings blog, because I didn’t have room to include them all here.
Miles walked today = 14 miles
Wales Coast Path so far = 1055miles
Total distance around the coast: 2,562 miles