Inevitably, I overslept – losing a whole night’s sleep always has a knock-on effect on any carefully planned multi-day itinerary. Not that I had one.
After a friendly chat with the originally Australian cleaner (‘I wish I lived in Norfolk, I hear it’s the driest place in Britain’) I ambled back up towards the trail and found that the nice bakers was open. Not only that, it was serving cooked breakfasts. Hence I wasn’t underway again until 11, far too late, even if I’d known where I was going.
I’d taken to telling people I was heading for Pwllheli, not because this was necessarily true but because it was the only Welsh place name I’d learnt to pronounce (‘Poo-thelly?’ I’d repeated, like a dim child, ‘Poo-thelly?’) When I asked a very well-organised day hiker with an OS map if he knew where the trail was, he reeled off a litany of Welsh places I’d never heard of and with much arm waving outlined a complex route back down through the town. As he was speaking I noticed the waymarkers outside the bakery door, and then felt guiltily smug as he headed off in what seemed completely the wrong direction. I got my comeuppance the next day when my phone expired and I had to buy an OS map.
Talking of navigation, both the LDWA waypoints and the OS map (Landranger 123) become totally useless trailwise once you get a kilometre east of Aberdaron. It’s really essential to get the PDF maps as the up to date route of the Wales Coast Path is completely different and far more scenic, taking walkers right round Trwyn y Penrhyn and extending further out onto Mynydd Penarfynydd.
The route into Plas yn Rhiw is also now much more direct, abandoning the former detour into the village. The optimal way, I think, to walk the Wales Coast Path is with the PDFs and the waymarkers on the ground, assuming you have a backup phone battery. I bought a map in the end only because I was heading off trail, but admittedly I was then glad of the greater context it gave me.
A virtually unused trail out of season is a nuisance for farmers and it’s unsurprising they occasionally ignore it; at Penarfynydd a live electric fence was strung directly across the route, retaining a large herd of extremely muddy cattle onto the marginally higher and drier part of a trackless swamp. There was no way round, but, with lucky timing, a completely soaking wet young woman just then zoomed on a massive quad bike down a steep track axle deep in slurry to relocate the animals. Accurately interpreting my baffled body language from a distance, she roared through the mire, sending up impressive fountains of mud, and pulled the post out of the ground for me to walk under. As if my failing to think of this simple solution wasn’t unimpressive enough, I then cheerily shouted through the wind and driving rain ‘you’re the second Aussie I’ve met this morning’. ‘I’m from New Zealand’, she said, coolly. I hate it when that happens.
Just west of the road down from Rhiw the trail passes through what about a month after my visit will be one of Britain’s most beautiful bluebell woods.
There’s a National Trust shop and café at Plas yn Rhiw but needless to day it was closed until Easter. Instead of buying a nice hot cup of coffee I randomly photographed a dead sheep and some Golden Saxifrage. That’s how we roll in Wales.
Then the trail takes a baffling and interminable diversion inland along a road. When you finally reach a waymarker and follow it out onto some of the most dismal, blasted, swampy pastureland anywhere in the wild and woolly west, littered with dead sheep, collapsed fencing and ruined hovels, you find out why. This is Porth Neigwl, Hell’s Mouth. The trail heads briefly towards the sea then away from it again, seemingly perversely. The waymarkers had fallen over so I didn’t spot the dogleg back and just headed for the water’s edge. On reaching it I realised there are good reasons why the trail keeps away from the beach at Hell’s Mouth.
For one thing the muddy cliff edge is highly collapsible and not at all easy to walk along, let alone safe. Recent Doris damage had made things even worse.
It was impossible to follow a stable path inland from the cliff edge due to multiple impassable fences, gorse thickets and dykes.
The only remaining option was to walk along the beach which is not only fatiguing but quite hazardous as for much of the way along Hell’s Mouth the high tide comes right up to the steep and very slippery clay cliffs, which it would be hard to climb in an emergency. Luckily for me in my ignorance, it wasn’t high tide and hence I had a six kilometre beach entirely to myself.
One of the wildest beaches in West Wales, Hell’s Mouth is an impressive place. Less impressive was the strandline of plastic fragments, running as far as the eye could see. At least half of the plastic, by fragment count, was nurdles; of varying shapes and colours but all clearly identifiable as primary industrial plastic rather than secondary post-consumer waste.
The wind had swung from south to easterly, blasting right into my face as I trudged along. I’d started late, the going had been rough and the light perennially poor, refreshment opportunities had been zero. Where the clay cliffs petered out into dunes I rested, ate some deeply weird dried mango that made my tummy rumble and contemplated the position. I was determined this time to camp out of the wind and the headland of Mynydd Cilan ahead would offer perfect shelter from an easterly if I stayed on this side of it. Who knew what shelter I’d find once I’d ventured around it? After the night on the windy cliff I wasn’t about to pass up such a chance for a quiet night.
Tucked into the north-west corner of the point I found a perfect nook sheltered from three sides and pitched the Stealth with its pointed end to the sea this time, just in case.
As I unrolled my sleeping bag the clouds that had lain over the peninsula all day suddenly lifted and I had my first views of now distant Bardsey. I considered cooking noodles but was still so tired I just couldn’t be bothered. ‘There’s bound to be a lavish cooked breakfast in Abersoch’, I thought, and comforted by this prospect drifted into a long, warm, silent and completely still night’s sleep; one of the least frightening nights I’ve ever spent in a tent.