Friday, 26 August 2011

Day Nine - Clynnog Fawr to Caernarfon, 16.2 miles.

The grand finale. Sort of. An uneventful 16 miles really, till near the end anyway. 8 miles of lanes and paths. 4 miles of cycle route. 2 miles of lanes to get back to the coast. 2 miles along the Menai Strait into Caernarfon.

All a bit dull compared to the previous 8 days until I got to the 3 miles to go stage. The weather started with clouds over Yr Eifl, then they disappeared to leave another lovely day, though it felt cooler with a strong breeze. Around mid-afternoon cloud started to build up to the west and over the high mountains, but otherwise it stayed clear. So with 3 miles to go I had my back to the breeze when a boy overtook me cycling and said, "You're going to get wet in a minute." I turned round to see the blackest of black skies just behind me. A quick look at the map and I spotted a hamlet about 1/4 of a mile away with a chapel marked. I tried jogging but as I went up my backpack went down and vice versa so I walked at full speed, just reaching the chapel porch in time. The thunder clapped and the rain bounced off the tombstones. I predicted that it would be just a shower as it was so heavy, and sure enough after 15 minutes it stopped. I set off again with a short walk left to the coast. After 10 minutes I could see another shower approaching. I sped up again and by some miracle another chapel appeared, standing all on its own by the coast. Again I hid in the porch but this rain had a more persistent look. I only had two miles left along the Strait so I had a decision to make, either get togged up and get it over with or wait for a glorious finish in the sun. I opted for the latter and sat there reading my book. God did seem to be looking after me today and after 50 minutes it stopped to allow me my glorious finish, though not in the sun.

As usual the finish was an anti-climax (no brass band again), despite the lovely last stretch. In fact I have no idea if there is an actual end/start, so I touched the castle and raised my arms aloft to bemused looks from the tourists who hadn't gone home. Then I met Paul, former (I think) Head of a school in Connah's Quay, and he seemed very impressed, though he didn't have a trombone on him.

And so to the car, a pub and a few reflections on the Lleyn Peninsula Coastal Path and beyond:

1. The route.
Well the intended route speaks for itself but there is still work to be done. I fully appreciate that attempts have been and are being made to buy / negotiate rights of way along the coast itself, however where the route is forced inland the waymarking has to be improved. These sections have obviously been unchanged for some time so there is really no excuse, that is if this walk is to be given the status the Council obviously wants it to have. And if the All Wales Coast Path opening next year is to be viable. The improvements to the coastal sections, however, have been considerable.

2. The towns and villages.
They really are lovely on the whole, but I have done a U-turn on Caernarfon and Porthmadog. Every visit I have done to Caernarfon has been to see the castle, the shops opposite and the park across the foot bridge. I have never delved deeper until now, and it's a dump. Porthmadog on the other hand I have always thought of as too touristy, but it's really quite lovely, especially the harbour area where I watched children crabbing for a good hour.

3. People.
It's incredible how many people I passed or spotted on this trip who were either arguing, shouting or crying. And British children are much nicer at school than they are with their parents. 4 of the 5 campsite owners gave me discount because I was a backpacker (£5 was the most I paid, except in Rhyd Ddu) and both of the B&B owners were lovely. Alun at The Ship is God.

4. Rain.
I was chatting to a few people before I set off about the weather I could expect, and I was saying that it never actually rains as much as people think it does. I still stand by this. Despite the weather being 'changeable' for much of the walk, I only had a total of 6 hours rain during my walking time over 9 days. Not much really as I averaged about 10 hours walking a day.

5. Ascent.
I wasn't expecting to be walking uphill a considerable distance on this coast path, but three of the days involved quite a lot of climbing. Two of these surprised me a bit, but the third was due to my determination to climb a mountain at some point. The total ascent for my walk was 4551 metres. The actual coast path only would be quite a lot less.

6. Day Two.
I don't know what happened to my blog for day two. Lost in hyperspace somewhere. Basically it was 19 miles, up and over into Cwm Pennant, along the valley and down to Porthmadog. Then I actually started the coast path for 3 miles and camped just short of Black Rock Sands. Weather was good, then not so good, then lovely to finish.

7. Where next? Well for once I have no favourite for my next walk. People have been telling me to get out of Wales, but there's plenty of mileage left in this fine country yet, so who knows?

8. They really do need to put some more dolphins in the sea.

-- Posted from my iPhone

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Day Eight - Nefyn to Clynnog Fawr, 15 miles.

Wednesday - the day I completely forgot what I was supposed to be doing.

Well ok, not completely, but I was severely distracted for large parts of it, which has left me with four extra miles to do to finish tomorrow, but that won't be a problem.

Last things first. After I left the village of Trefor the path totally disappeared. This was quite annoying as I wasted 50 minutes trying to find it and in the end gave up, walked along a busy 'A' road, tried an alternative path and got stuck in brambles before accepting that I wasn't going to get as far as I wanted because the sun was setting.

But every cloud has a silver lining, and in this case it's the campsite I ended up at. I'm pitched within 20 yards of the sea with mountains on two sides behind me, and a stroll of 10 yards to the beach. It's beautiful. It's also the site a woman died on a couple of weeks ago from barbecue fumes in her tent.

1025 metres of ascent today, mostly because I went a bit hypo, but now back to the start.

It rained at times last night, but after a final shower at about 7 this morning it cleared up to leave yet another beautiful day. Blue sky all the way from late morning.

The route was back on the coast for a while, but looming ahead was the biggest obstacle on the entire route, Yr Eifl (The Rivals), a three peaked monster. Not high at 564m, but it appears to be as it rises steeply straight out of the sea. As I approached I was confronted with one of the most dramatic, desolate beaches I had seen. A mile of pebbles backed by steep slopes and Yr Eifl beyond, all showing evidence of the granite quarrying that was once so important to this area. I dropped down a steep path and walked along the beach. I couldn't imagine anyone ever coming here.

Then I saw two people, then a family of four. They were walking down from my escape route, a path up into a horseshoe shaped hanging valley and a track up from there to the pass high above. I checked my map, there was nothing on it that would attract anyone here at all. Except there is.

As I climbed up into the valley I was met by several more people, and beyond them a cafe. And beyond that a number of restored buildings. I walked into the cafe and said to the girl behind the counter, "What is this place?" She replied, "It's a Welsh language centre."

Suddenly it clicked. I'd heard of Nant Gwrtheyrn but had never had any idea it was somewhere like this. They basically do residential Welsh courses for adults, but it has become a symbol of the revival of the language.

I stuck around for ages. I had a nose at the visitor centre and followed the history trail. The renovations of the old quarrymens' cottages are fantastic. I had another coffee and went to the shop, then I lost the plot a bit.

It was already 2pm and I'd not gone far. The road out of the valley was long and steep. I decided to play 'How many vertical metres can you ascend in one minute?' using my techno watch. So I would start the timer, walk as fast as my pack would allow and check my ascent after a minute. After doing this far too many times I was knackered but had achieved 17 metres, which I thought was pretty good. Then I decided I was going to walk to the top of Yr Eifl, all 3 peaks.

This took about 2 more hours but did give me some brilliant views and a look at the famous iron age stone circles on top of one peak. I also got to see a man stomping around a small car park swearing with a wet bum. It seemed that the family dog had wee'd on the driver's seat while they were out of the car.

When I finally got down into Trefor it was 5:30 and I was half way. Trefor is in a great spot, has a quite stunning headland (low but vertical cliffs) and a lovely beach, but isn't really interested. I went to the only shop for a snack before carrying on and losing the path. On the way out of the village a tourist was asking her son where he'd like to go tomorrow. He said, "That place we went to the other day. You know, that big place." After a couple of confusing minutes he said, "Liverpool! That's it, Liverpool. Can we go mum, tomorrow, to Liverpool?" this went on for ages until she shot him. Well ok, till she looked like she wanted to shoot him.

The return of dead animal of the day - a magpie, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Time for bed I think.

-- Posted from my iPhone

Day Seven - Tudweiliog to Nefyn, 11.3 miles.

"Th-Th-Th-That that don't kill me, will only make me stronger". At last a breakthrough, though I had to constantly make myself think of songs that weren't by Cher Lloyd to keep her at bay. So Kanye West featured strongly, as did Wild Horses by the Stones, though I hadn't seen any today. What I did see were seals, lots of them basking in the sun in various places during the day. And there was a seal fight which was quite exciting. Unfortunately I then had Seal songs lodged in my head.

Still no dolphins.

I saw the first batch of seals soon after starting out, and shortly a group of five people wandered along the path. I wanted to share my seal experience with them but they were underwhelmed. "Oh they're here all the time", said the grumpiest. I was incensed. Then she said, "What we'd really like to see is a chough (or chuff, no idea how it's spelt)." I blurted out, "Oh I've seen quite a few choughs.", at which she became quite excited and called ahead to the others, "He's seen choughs you know! Choughs!" Then they all got excited so I added, "and two red kites.", which wasn't true either but I'd been told that they can be seen in these parts now. At this point I made a quick exit, as I could see that they were on the verge of some sort of OAP cliff edge twitcher orgy.

The path followed the coast along low cliffs for all but the final mile. It was very peaceful and the weather was again excellent, if not quite as glorious as yesterday, and it was very warm. The stretch around Tudweiliog does have a large number of camp and caravan sites though, so early on there were quite a few people about, and I was glad to get past Porth Towyn to shake them off.

The three main north facing beaches along this stretch (Whistling Sands, Traeth Penllech and Traeth Towyn) are all very attractive, but I'd have to opt for Traeth Penllech as the standout. For a start it's harder to get to so it's quieter, but it also has the most attractive cliff backdrop and huge rocks sticking out of the sand, which make it look surreal in parts.

I found another grassy lump for lunch, then made my way back into familiar territory at Porth Dinllaen.

Porth Dinllaen is the pointy headland on all the postcards, but in my opinion it's really not a patch on others further down the peninsula. My main reason is the bloody golf course that covers the top of it and much of the land around it. It takes quite a while to walk round and it's not very relaxing, especially judging from the standard of golf on offer today. Before I even reached the course I found a man looking for his ball on a beach. A pebble beach. Even if he did find it his next shot required him to hit it 20 metres upwards.

Porth Dinllaen does though have one very good reason to visit, and possibly the reason why it's so popular - The Ty Coch. It's brilliant and right on the beach. I stopped for a pint of Purple Moose Glaslyn Ale, then another. I still had four miles to go but it didn't matter. It clouded over but that didn't matter either. The beach was crowded but that mattered even less.

Eventually I got going again and sauntered along the beach, then the cliff edge to Nefyn. Of all the beachy villages on the Lleyn, Nefyn appears to be the least interested in tourists. There is virtually nothing there bar a couple of pubs, a chippy and an Indian restaurant, where I had jaipuri chicken earlier. Meal rating 6/10.

The last mile swung inland before rejoining the coast and was a pain, on piddly little unkept paths. The campsite is almost empty which surprised me, especially as last night's was full. Both have been very basic with old fashioned metered showers that just stop when more money is needed. No queues for the loo tonight though!

-- Posted from my iPhone

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Day Six - Aberdaron to Tudweiliog, 14 miles.

As I sat eating my lunch on the grass at the best lunch spot in the world, part way round the best coastal day walk in the world, on the best day's weather ever in the world, I realised that all of the long distance walks I've done have had defining moments, and that this was probably it for this one. Eating lunch on a grassy lump by the sea.

I know I said a few days ago that my favourite Lleyn weather was big grey clouds and a strong breeze, well dawn to dusk blue sky runs it a close second. And if there really is a better coast walk than Aberdaron to Whistling Sands I'd like to know about it.

No map was needed as the route hugged the coast all the way. Aberdaron, views of Bardsey Island, Ffynnon Fair (St Mary's Well), Mynydd Mawr, Mynydd Anelog and Porthor (Whistling Sands). A classic and a whopping 786 metres of ascent today. St Mary's Well is a spring of fresh water nestled into a cliff about 10 feet above the sea. I traded all my Ship Hotel tap water for spring water before carrying on.

The end of the pilgrimage - Bardsey Island.

Whistling Sands was a culture shock. I was suddenly in the company of hundreds of semi-naked bodies, and had to join a very long ice cream queue. It was pretty tasty though (the ice cream that is), clotted cream with raspberry ripple.

There were still 5 miles to go after Whistling Sands but the fitness levels are pretty high now and I felt the end much less than on previous days. The pack I barely noticed at all today.

So everything was pretty much perfect except for..... "You can't stop lookin' at me, blah, blah, blah". When am I going to get this song out of my head? Others join it, then they leave, but Cher is still there. Today she was joined by that new one by Example about staying awake, with the line, "Should we chase the rabbit into wonderland?" which is the most blatant drugs reference in a song since "c-c-c-c-c-cocaine" by Queens of the Stone Age. Oh and I started singing 'A little respect' by Erasure for no apparent reason.

I forgot to mention on day three that I began the day utterly convinced that I would meet someone I knew. I have no idea why, but sure enough I bumped into not one, but two sets of people I knew, both from school. The first was the mum of a girl who was in my class last year, she pulled her car up alongside me while I was walking a road section. The second was a girl who was in Taliesin while I was there. She was in the pub in Llanbedrog with her mum, drinking a pint! Oh God where does the time go? Anyway, I set off walking this morning utterly convinced that I was going to see a dolphin. I didn't.

Dead animal of the day - a slug. I'm not sure there's much more mileage in this dead animal business.

The campsite is actually a few miles from Tudweiliog, otherwise I could have gone to the pub to watch United play Spurs. At it was I settled for watching the sun disappear into the sea from my tent.

Grassy lump, sea, blue sky and lunch (in rucksack).

-- Posted from my iPhone

Day Five - Rhiw to Aberdaron, 6.2 miles.

A short day and a short blog, as Jen met me in Aberdaron at 1pm and I resisted any temptation to go for a walk! Instead we sat in the sun outside the cafe opposite The Ship where we are staying. We sat there twice in fact. Then we sat in the other pub for a drink. Then we sat in the room and watched two episodes of 'Come dine with me'. Then we sat in the restaurant to eat.

Alun the landlord was on good form. I went down to ask whether we needed to book a table and he said, "No, I've got a vibe that it'll be quiet, come down when you like." Then when we came down an hour later he said, "You're quite late, What have you been doing?"

Dead animal of the day - none! God has spared them all as it's Sunday. So it will have to be my delicious lamb rump dinner. Meal rating 9/10. 1 point docked for serving new potatoes and mash together.

The day started badly weather wise. I sat in the B&B staring at the same gloom as yesterday. At 10:15 I decided I needed to go but had the option of heading straight to Aberdaron, 3 miles, or going via the Penarfynydd headland, 6 miles. Being totally hardcore I chose the latter and stuck to the coast. I didn't regret it. The eastern side of the headland was sheltered from the wind but shrouded in mist. All I could see was grey fog around me and grey sea far below me. It was totally silent and a high point of the walk so far.

As I rounded the headland I could see that the weather was changing for the better, and within an hour I was strolling down the hill into my favourite village in glorious sunshine. To relax.

End of day bonus is I got to see Match of the Day 2.

-- Posted from my iPhone

Day Four - Llanbedrog to Rhiw, 15 miles.

Oh what a day that was! A day of three halves in fact. And from what I've heard it was a fine example of the Lleyn's micro-climate in action. I have enough battery left to type but not to publish, and no signal anyway, but here goes.

Half 1: 10:00am - 1pm. Lovely weather.
I left my B&B and the next hour and a half was an absolute joy, down to Llanbedrog beach (a fabulous family beach) and around the headland immediately south of Llanbedrog. The start was tough, up 250ft of stone steps, but the headland is beautiful. It was completely covered with gorse and heather, both in flower. The sun was out though I had seen the forecast which wasn't good, and there was plenty of cloud around in the distance.

I really can't see the point of windsurfing (ie. falling in the sea at regular intervals with a piece of material on top of you). There were three lads doing their stuff in the sea close to Abersoch. They would spend ages getting the thing up, last 30 seconds then spend an eternity getting it up again. I can't think of anything else like it. No really I can't.

Half 2: 1:00pm - 4:00pm. Dreadful weather.
I was pleased to arrive in Abersoch, one of my favourite places on the Lleyn. It's surprising how small it is when you approach it from the north. Just before I entered the town there was a family in front of me. One of them was a very overweight girl opening a packet of giant chocolate buttons. As she did the packet split and they rolled all over the main road. She started screaming, "Me buttons, me buttons!" while several of us sniggered. Her dad then did the only decent thing and STOPPED THE TRAFFIC!!!!! It was quite a sight watching them pick them all up while a line of cars waited, not very patiently.

Then it started to rain.

A lot.

At which point I accepted what I had expected, that it was going to rain for a long time. Good job I'm a hardened walker, eh? Well maybe, but I'm definitely not a hardened camper these days so I phoned a B&B at my destination, Rhiw (again only slightly more expensive than the campsite), and immediately felt better about the walk ahead. I don't know why though because it was horrendous. Three hours of torrential rain, high winds and zero visibility as I rounded the large headland south of Abersoch. I suddenly had the need to see someone else, just to reassure myself that I am not insane. I didn't, so I probably am. I was just grateful that Jen and I had done the same walk from Abersoch previously on a lovely day (last Christmas!), so:
A. I did know how good the scenery was even though I couldn't see it and
B: Each time I reached a gate, stile or junction I knew which way to go without having to get the map out.

Actually the waymarking on this path is decidedly erratic. The council keep changing the route so some signs point the right way, some point the wrong way and some don't exist where they should. At least being on the coast gives some clues as to which way to go.

It was also cold for the first time (apart from Thursday night when I was cold in the tent). After coming off the headland I hid from the wind, put my fleece on, ate a late lunch as it had actually stopped raining, strode onto Hell's Mouth beach and everything changed.........

Half 3: 4:00pm - 7:00pm. November weather.
Well no it didn't, it just did in my head. I was warm, it wasn't raining and I was staring at one of the finest beaches you could ever wish to see. Hell's Mouth is not a sunbathing beach (especially today), it's a triumph of nature, four miles or so of geological majesty, etc, etc. Walking the length of it was superb, once I'd decided that I only had to pretend it was November.

I've been really lucky with the tides without planning around them. Each afternoon the tide has been going out, which has coincided with any beach walks I've had to do. So once again I was able to walk along firm, wet sand rather than dry, for just under an hour and a half (my second very long beach, the other to the east of Pwllheli possibly being slightly longer but not as dramatic).

Dead animal of the day - a very large jellyfish with superlong tentacles (or whatever it is they have).

In total there was 717m of ascent during today's walk (and it felt like it!), which is quite a lot for a coastal path. The last ascent was a steep and gruelling 190m up to Rhiw where I am staying. It's in a stunning spot facing the end of the peninsula but it's very exposed. It's late evening now and it's still blowing a gale outside, with regular showers. Still, it's my half day tomorrow down to Aberdaron where I meet Jen, so I'll cope with whatever nature throws at me.

-- Posted from my iPhone

Friday, 19 August 2011

Day Three - Black Rock Sands to Llanbedrog, 18.2 miles.

There is method in my madness. Actually most people reading this will probably think it sounds like the worst holiday ever, and I should at the very least find a B&B as tonight's forecast is poor, but it isn't the worst holiday ever, though today's blog will do nothing to change your mind. The only person I know who would enjoy this as much as me is Fatman, who is currently cycling around the Isle of Arran to get his madness out of his system.

So, the method. Last year I walked Glyndwr's Way, then walked two extra days to get back to the start (and my Mini). This year I have started with the two extra days for a good reason. The reason is my rucksack. I remembered that when I did the Pembrokeshire Coast Path the first two days hurt like mad, and I didn't want to be in pain during the main event here, so I got it out of the way doing the link walk. Simple, huh? So how was it in practice? Well for once I got it right. The pack felt much better today, on my hips and shoulders at least. As for my feet, however, they still don't know what's hit them. The last mile today was tarmac-bashing, and they were actually stinging by the end.

So I've taken your advice an I'm in a B&B. If there was one night when this was likely to happen before The Ship at Aberdaron it was tonight, because the campsite here at Llanbedrog had quoted me £25 for the night which was a joke, so for not much more here I am. Not sure what it's called but it's very nice, well apart from my room as I've emptied the rucksack and hung wet and/or smelly things everywhere.

If someone asked me what my perfect day's weather was on the Lleyn Peninsula, or any coast for that matter, I would describe today's. Before 4 o'clock. Sunny intervals with big puffy clouds and a strong breeze. This meant big waves crashing onto the rocks at high tide and, importantly, not many people about because they disagree with me entirely.

Today was tourist day, passing through Criccieth (a great place that isn't actually touristy at all (though I knew this already as I'd been loads of times), with a great WELSH castle (which the English stole as they did with everything but Owain Glyndwr got it back, hooray!)), skirting Haven holiday camp (vast) and trudging through Pwllheli (which has the worst seafront of anywhere I've been).

I noticed and carefully considered something today. For the most part dog owners are very good at scooping the poop, but owners of two animals get away with murder:
1: Cats. Now you don't tend to spot cat poo because they bury it, but it's horrendous when you're gardening, smelly and very sticky. I propose culling all cats. Or at the very least making owners follow them with a pooper scooper, all night and over garden fences if necessary.
2. Horses. This is how I got thinking about it in the first place. They do poops all over public paths and, in this case, beaches. Ok they aren't too smelly but they are enormous. I propose that anyone owning a horse must employ someone to follow them and scoop the poop as they're all rich enough anyway. Or it could pull a trailer and poop in that.

Ah yes, the walk. As I said, fantastic till 4 o'clock, when in an exact repeat of yesterday the sky went uniformly grey and it rained for an hour. However whereas yesterday it cleared to a beautiful sunset, today I was left with enormous, lumbering grey clouds.

Dead animal of the day - easy this one, a freshly squashed rabbit I came across first thing this morning. It's eyes still had a startled look and it's head was upright. Sadly the rest of it had a Pirelli look and was as flat as a pancake.

Llanbedrog is a pleasant village with a very busy pub serving standard fare. I had chili with rice which was completely in the ordinary. Meal rating 5/10.

I probably won't be blogging tomorrow as my battery level is falling, and Jen won't be meeting me till Sunday with the charger, although to be honest I'll be heading into the furthest reaches of the Lleyn and may well have no signal for a few days.

-- Posted from my iPhone