Sometimes circumstances dictate that we have to walk anti-clockwise rather than clockwise – its all to do with availability of public transport and where to leave the car. Today is one of those days where we start east of Colwyn Bay and walk west with the sea on our right.
At Abergale we are detained somewhat by a gathering of classic car enthusiasts in the carpark next to the station. For those who do not know, Damian is the proud owner of two old, not quite classic Mercedes (young timers apparently) so any opportunity to talk to fellow enthusiasts cannot be missed. I busy myself with train and bus timetables.
The path continues as expected along the shore but instead of tramping along the concrete sea wall we opt for the grassy bank that runs parallel. Over to the left a seemingly unending row of caravans stretch out into the distance. It is chilly as you can see – gloves and hat in April.
Battered breakwaters appear at intervals – I don’t know how effective they can be when they’re in this state.
And when we reach Llanddulas the path takes us over a footbridge to cross the River Dulas which by now is no more than a small stream.
A little further on we meet some very sculptural sea defences – they look like concrete anchors tipped on to the shoreline and remind me of the game of jacks we used to play as children. They are also individually numbered. Did this make it easier to position them? Who knows.
As these strange shapes peter out we reach what looks like a derelict per but is in fact a jetty for a working quarry. Limestone from the quarry on the other side of the A55 is fed down to the jetty to be transported by coastal freighter to other parts of the UK.
As recently as 2011 one of the freighters, MV Swanland, sank in stormy weather on the Irish Sea after collecting 3,000 tons of stone from Raynes jetty bound for the Isle of Wight. Two crewmen were rescued but five, all Russian, were lost.
As we get closer to Colwyn Bay the cycle path we’ve been following is diverted and we suddenly find ourselves directed down the back of houses on the outskirts of the town and a little later to a major crossroads where we manage to catch a bus to the station. Time to drive back to London.
Llandudno does have quite an impressive promenade but as soon as we can we take the opportunity to walk down on the beach – not for long however. The headland in front of us is the Little Orme but unlike its big brother there is no path to take us round it. Instead we are directed inland and onto a fairly steep and very busy main road.
There is a little to alleviate the tedious tramp but these friendly donkeys do their best – after a lot of encouragement from Damian Doolittle.
Eyes glued to the road I suddenly hear a shout from Damian who is some way behind me – in my reverie I had missed the turn off up onto the Little Orme.
With a great deal of relief we leave the roar of the traffic behind and climb a narrow path up onto the rocky outcrop which houses Rhiwledyn nature reserve. Gorse and juniper bushes line the path and there are fabulous views from the top.
After picking my way down a very steep slippery slope (wishing I had my pole) the path widens and eventually leads us through quiet residential streets and onto the seafront of Penrhyn Bay. From here there is not a lot to say – the seafront of Rhos on Sea is particularly boring so we opt to walk down by the sea defences.
Happily we soon reach the broad sweep of Colwyn Bay and climb down onto the beach to reward ourselves with a glorious walk along the sands until we reach what must be the shortest pier in Britain.
The pier was apparently much longer but fell into such disrepair that much of it needed to be demolished. After restoration it opened again in 2021.
The colours used on the decorative ironwork are taken from the results of a paint analysis that dated the colour scheme back to 1934. Salmon pink? I wonder.
From the station we take an early morning walk around the walls of Conwy Castle before heading off across the road bridge in the direction of the Great Orme.
Conwy is famous for its three bridges – the suspension bridge, the tubular railway bridge and the ‘modern’ road bridge, built in 1958.
The suspension bridge was built by Thomas Telford betweern 1822–1826 at a cost of £51,000, to replace the dangerous ferry crossing. It was part of his A5 route for a mail coach road between Holyhead and Shrewsbury. It was one of the first road suspension bridges in the world and the end supporting towers were built to match the towers of the castle.
Slavishly following the green diamonds of the coastal path we actually miss this opportunity to walk across the suspension bridge, assuming it was closed to the public – what a shame.
Anyway, at the end of the road bridge we turn left on to a footpath that runs along the east side of the river back to the coast. I turn and take a photograph but I’m too far away.
The path follows the bank of the river past the back of Deganwy railway station and on to a concrete promenade where we stop at an isolated tea hut. It is not so often I actually notice the quality of my cups of tea but this is probably the best cup of tea I have ever tasted. We ask the friendly tea lady for thoughts on the path up to the Great Orme and are told that the first part involves struggling though some very soft sand dunes. “Hard on the hips” she says, nodding sagely. We load up with two or three slices of Bara Brith and walk on.
And she was so right…………………..and then it starts to rain.
At one point I lift my head and see a very unusual sight – a man on a ladder rising out of the dunes. What is he doing? I shout up to ask him and am told that it is a way of seeing more precisely where the ball is on the green. So now you know….
About a mile later the path takes us up onto a minor road which we will follow for 4 miles all the way round the Great Orme headland. I know there is a toll to pay for cars but not at this end – this building must be a gatehouse/lodge of some sort – stately for its size.
Up the road we walk – the rain has stopped and we can peel off horrible damp waterproofs. So essential for walking in the UK, I will never stop railing against the restrictions waterproof trousers place on free movement – bit like Brexit.
On the craggy limestone rocks to our right sheep and goats nibble grassy patches in the crevices between the rocks.
And down below, to our left, a row of millionaire properties are tucked into the base of the cliffs – fabulous sea views, swimming pools and private beaches (probably) …..me? envious?
I do actually have quite a lot of time to stare at this blatant display of wealth, as Damian has left my walking pole behind somewhere down the road and has volunteered to walk back to find it.
Anyway, by now we are more than a little peckish and very pleased to find a cafe round the next headland – the Rest and Be Thankful Cafe where we (or rather I) furtively eat a sandwich from my backpack and finish off with tea and cakes. Here is a link – note the reference to EU grant aid which allowed for the expansion of the cafe in 2001. Ha!
Suitably refreshed we carry on down the road – there are very few cars and only a few cyclists.
Round the next headland we see in the distance a small knot of people peering over the cliff and out to sea – this usually means seals. And around the next bend we are treated to the sight of a colony of seals lying on the shingle – they look like slugs.
We stand and watch them for a while and then walk on. The small group of people we had seen before turn out to be a group of very smartly dressed Pakistani men, busy taking photographs of one another. We tell them that if they want to see seals they are in the wrong place and point to where we had seen them – they do not seem very interested. Ah well……..
After a while we see Llandudno and its pier up ahead…………….
And then we walk past the toll building – it costs £4.50 for a car to drive around the Great Orme – bicycles are free.
We walk down past the Grand Hotel which towers above the pier and marks the beginning of the promenade ……..
On the way to the railway station we walk past an advertisement for a tour around one of the Penderyn Distilleries that produces Welsh whisky. My father bought one of the first bottles in 2004 – a wine rather than a whisky drinker, I think he bought it to share with Damian when we used to visit my parents in Penarth.
The next train from Llandudno to Conway proves to be a complicated affair and doesn’t leave for another hour. We decide to try and find a bus and as we wander around I notice several different wooden figures that ring a bell in my distant memory.
Later I find out that Llandudno was the holiday destination resort of the real Alice in Wonderland, Alice Liddell, the girl who inspired Lewis Carroll and for whom he based his worldwide famous story on, Alice in Wonderland.
I admit I am not looking forward to this walk since the map shows a long stretch alongside the very busy A55. It is however a lovely day as we set off from the seafront of Llanfairfechan and I’m looking forward to seeing Conwy, a walled market town with what I’m told is an impressive 13th century castle.
Following instructions from a local we are directed under a railway line, through a small housing estate and across a metal bridge which lifts us above the roar of the traffic underneath us. We then thankfully leave the road for a while up a quiet cycle route which takes us away from the thundering traffic.
But what goes up must go down and soon we are back to the road and another metal bridge.
Halfway across the second one I have a bit of a wobble when I decide to look down at the blur of fast moving traffic under my feet but pull myself together and walk quickly on, staring straight ahead.
Approaching a village called Penmaenmawr we are faced with a decision whether to walk along the beach or follow the signs up into the village. It turns out to be the wrong decision but there are some quirky independent shop windows to stare into and churches and chapels to count – we walk past 11 for a population of 4,350 people and there are probably a few more. What god fearing people we used to be!
Anyway, we have lost a bit of time taking the long way round and it is getting very hot. We trudge along on a cycle route besides the road – my mood momentarily lightened by rows of flowering pine trees and gorse bushes
At some point even that joy is taken away as we approach a road tunnel that cuts through the hill known as Penmaenmawr Bach. My heart sinks when I see the tunnel as I can’t see any way for us ordinary mortals to get around it but to my great relief I then spy a cycle route sign and a narrow lane curling up and around the face of the cliff. I think you can see the traces of worry on my face in the picture.
From here on it’s a heads down half a mile trudge alongside the busy road until we reach yet another metal footbridge across the railway line and down to the beach – hurray!
Just before we start walking along the beach we find a seat and some metal statues where we take a well earned rest. Later I find out that the steel statues represent (from the left) Llewelyn The Great Prince of Gwynedd, Thomas Telford Civil Engineer and Margaret Williams Local Journalist and Author.
The path now skirts an area of reclaimed marshland called Conwy Morfa which is now being used as a golf course. Up ahead in the distance is the bulk of Great Orme’s Head which we will be walking around tomorrow.
After the hard thump of tarmac and concrete it is a pleasure to walk on the beach, even if it is stoney, which curves around and up the estuary of the Afon (River) Conwy. We walk past the affluent looking marina and into the town, where we follow the path around an unexpected patch of woodland encircled by stone walls, to our first sight of Conwy Castle.
Conway Castle and the town walls were built on the instructions of Edward 1 of England between 1283 and 1289 as part of his conquest of the principality of Wales. The walls are part of a World Heritage Site and people born inside them are known as Jackdaws after the jackdaws that live in and on the walls. It all looks like something out of a fairy tale.
Down on the quay another piece of history. The house (3.05 x 1.8 m) was occupied from the 16th century to 1900 when the then owner, a fisherman called Robert Jones, was evicted on grounds of hygiene. He was too tall to stand up inside the house!
We find a pub for a very welcome pint and sit outside watching the comings and goings of the harbour. A very fat seagull keeps a watchful eye on our crisps.
So here we are in Bangor after a seven month break from walking – goodness knows what we’ve been doing, a lot to do with a new flat in Copenhagen I think. Back to the lovely pier and its small jewelled towers.
There is a blue sky above but a strong gusty wind that propels us down the road to a point where we turn off right. Following the red diamonds of the Welsh Coast Path on the OS map we walk past rotting wharves and down at heel housing estates – to what we assume is the path but actually isn’t. We are brought to a halt in front of one of the entrances to a private estate with its own castle. Penrhyn Estate is the reason the path is now heading south, away from the coast – we have to walk all the way round it.
Retracing our steps across the bridge we spy the cheery coast path signpost which leads us through a stone arch, over another bridge and onto a peaceful tree-lined path where the only disturbance is the occasional cyclist.
It is a beautiful morning and we are now sheltered from the wind by woodland on both sides of the path – a small river can be seen through the trees off to the right. At one point the tall arches of an imposing red brick bridge spans the path. Further research tells me that this is a well-preserved example of an early railroad bridge, built between 1798 and 1800 to carry the Penrhyn railroad over the lower reaches of the Afon Cegin (the river). It is likely that the Cegin Viaduct is the oldest known multi-arched railway bridge to survive above ground in Wales and possibly the world. The precision and symmetry of the brickwork are astonishing.
Soon we come to the end of the path which then joins up with a narrow tarmac lane. A little further up the lane the Welsh coast path suggests we turn off through fields to Llandygai but we decide to stay on the road as I am hoping to find somewhere for a cup of tea in the village. Disappointingly Llandygai is simply a collection of houses with no real centre, but just outside we stumble across a pub, right into the middle of a staff meeting when they were not expecting any customers.
Out of the pub we follow the main road back in the direction of the coast. At one point we walk past what I think is the main entrance to Penhryn Castle – a photo opportunity.
We now follow a quiet road, still skirting the stone walls of the Penhryn Estate until the map indicates a turn off into a small nature reserve called The Spinnies. At the entrance to the path is a very strange looking gate which Damian has to investigate.
Dotted around the reserve are hides where one can while the time away watching for waders, wildfowl and small birds – not sure I’ve reached that stage in my life yet.
From here the path now hugs the coastline on a grassy path and occasionally right along the stoney beach. On a grey day this could be rather bleak – a dark marshy shoreline dotted with rotting groynes, but in today’s intermittent sunshine the vast expanse of mud and sand and the mountains off to the right have their own beauty.
Eventually we roll up next to the boating lake of Llanfairfechan where a solitary swan glides sedately across the surface of the still water. We now need to find the station for a train back to Bangor.
On the opposite station platform a group of young Hasidic Jewish boys are assembled, waiting for their train. The composition of the group would have made a brilliant “motif” for a painting but I’m afraid my iPhone does not do it justice and I was also a little wary of taking a photo. Anyway….
The bus driver does a double take when we get on the bus at Dinas Dille and ask for one way tickets to Saron – ” blink and you’ll miss it” he quips, I guess he doesn’t get many tourists coming here. This is the chapel and gives you an idea of what the rest of the village looks like.
So out of the bus we come and head down the very narrow minor road (I’m amazed there is even a bus service) towards the edge of Foryd Bay. This will be quite a short walk today – the last of our trip and if we’re lucky we’ll make it before the wonderful cafe in Dinas Dille stops serving lunch. Reaching the “coast” we walk for about a mile alongside the marshland of the bay and then back inland, heading south through some farm buildings where I hold my breath waiting for the sound of dogs barking and then north again up to a campsite.
Here again I am reminded of the Essex marshes but on a minor scale. ……
After walking through the campsite we start to see the buildings of Cærnarfon Airport and very soon the deafening roar of a helicopter landing. The red helicopter in the photo is for search and rescue but it’s not this one that’s making all the noise. A little way up the landing strip is a menacing looking military machine landing and getting ready to take off again – I assume it’s a refuelling stop. We watch as two men at a five minute interval come running across the field and clamber into the machine. Both of them attempt to close the door but fail. Eventually the helicopter takes off with the door wide open – I suppose they know what they’re doing.
After so much excitement we decide to go round the museum, which is curiously compelling with its stories of daring do from the Second World War and recent RAF rescue operations.
I like the lady providing tea and sympathy for the boys……….
Leaving the airport it’s a sharp left turn and a walk down the windy beech of Dinas Dille. The cafe is still open and we both have poached egg on toast accompanied by the freshest tastiest local grown greens I have ever tasted (from the local organic farmstead apparently).
We park the car behind Victoria Dock in Caernarfon and set off circling the harbour. The path is clearly marked.
From the dock we follow a tarmac lane which doubles up as a bike route, and we find ourselves jumping from right to left to the tune of bicycle bells behind us.
After a couple of miles the path merges with a main road which we cross over and then continue on a minor road until we reach the outskirts of Y Felinfeli.
Anglesey is just across the water but I made up my mind long ago that I would not walk around islands – maybe one day I’ll visit.
As we walk down into the village it becomes clear that there is some kind of celebration going on. A road block has been set up to keep the harbour pedestrian for what the official calls a carnival. We walk past stalls selling food, beer and trinkets and out of the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of the ubiquitous bouncy castle – no picture because I think it’s frowned upon to take photos of other people’s children. The unmistakable smell of hot dogs weighs heavily in the air.
We had thought about a quiet cup of coffee somewhere but it suddenly seems more appealing to catch the bus back to Cærnarfon – so that’s what we do.
In the square behind the castle we find a cafe with seats outside but we soon have some unwanted company. Aiming for the leftovers on the table next to us are two huge seagulls with dirty yellow beaks. Without further ado they land heavily on the table knocking over plates and glasses which smash to the ground and gobble anything edible before the waiter comes out and shoos them off. We leave hurriedly – I used to like seagulls!
After a coffee and a snack (inside) we get a taxi to drive us to Saron, a nondescript village about 3 miles south of Cærnarfon. We are dropped outside a row of weary council houses and start walking back up the narrow road until we branch off towards the marshes of Foryd Bay Nature Reserve.
On the way we walk past a charming restoration of some old stone farm buildings. I love the shape of the house and the small turrets which decorate the roof.
And later, another reminder of ongoing protest…………….painted on the sea wall.
It is here where the road turns right and follows the shore all the way to Cærnarfon. We jump down onto the stoney shore and walk until it gets difficult and at this point we come across this sorry sight. I wonder why……..
Gradually the ancient walls and towers of Cærarfon Castle come into view – a cloud hovers above the town like a mighty plume of smoke.
The white building in front of the castle is the Anglesey Arms Hotel where we sit on the harbour wall and have the first beer of the day – the best!
Today we are back to the good old A499 and two hours of trudging along beside it. It is times like these that I really begin to hate cars – the speed and noise of the engines is so stressful.
Leaving Clynnog Fawr there is a bit of uncertainty as to where the sign post is pointing so we ask a local who says yes the path follows the coast for about a mile up to a small hamlet called Aberdesach and maybe further. Our spirits lift but on consulting the map it appears that the path peters out after a while and then nothing. We decide to go back to the road.
On reaching Aberdesach we make another attempt to reach the coast and end up in a caravan site near a stoney beach with no sign of a path. I suddenly realise that the path is up on the cliffs and access to it has been closed, probably by the caravan site owners grrrrrrrrrr………
So back we go to the road…………..
From here there has been some attempt to shield pedestrians in the form of treelined pathways beside the road but they are intermittent and by the time we get to Pontllyfni we are hot and bothered with sore feet – walking on tarmac for a long time is painful.
Just after the bridge in the village is another path off to the left – could this be our salvation? But no – the OS map is clear, this part of the Welsh Coast Path is pure tarmac.
So that is it for today – we come off the main road onto another minor road and arrive on the promenade of Dinas Dille. After a cup of tea in the cafe we catch the bus back to our AirBnb to nurse our feet. This has not been one of the most rewarding walks.
Once more we are lucky enough to get a lift from the community minibus who take us to Clynnog Mawr where we stop to have a look around St, Beuno’s, an impressive church for such a tiny hamlet.
We would have liked to look inside but we can hear the sounds of a service so we decide to come back another day.
It is hot today and I’m not looking forward to the long stretch of main road, which makes up the first few miles of our walk. I have studied the map closely and there doesn’t seem to be any way off the A499 so we just have to grit our teeth and do it. After a couple of miles I have another look at the map on my phone and there does seem to be a service road off to the right leading down to a campsite called Aberafon. On our way down the hill a wheezy old camper passes us, obviously struggling with the gradient, and at the wheel is an equally ancient lady with long wild grey hair -the two of them remind me of the film Nomadland. Set in the American West, Frances Mcdormand plays a woman in her sixties, who loses everything in the Great Recession, and embarks on a journey living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad. It’s a great film.
The van below is a completely different creature, brand new and well equipped, it also has a trailer for extra storage. Damian stops to ask the owner if he knows whether we can walk along the beach to Trefor, which would save us the hell of the main road. Yes he says – if the tide’s out.
When we reach the beach it does look like we may be able to do it so we set off across the stones.
On our left there is a lot of bird activity – sand martins flitting in and out of their nests in the sandy cliffs.
Damian has a romantic moment………………..
The walk along the beach is wonderfully peaceful. This is what coastal walking is all about – sunshine, blue skies and the sound of waves breaking on the shore.
Unfortunately we are soon abruptly woken from our reverie by the realisation that we can go no further. The tide is going out but it will be roughly another two hours before it will clear the headland, allowing us to continue round to the pier at Trefor.
In a desperate attempt to find a path up on the cliffs, Damian disappears into the dense thicket of undergrowth from which I can hear sounds of thrashing and swearing until he appears slightly crestfallen with a tear in his beloved jeans. Oh well…..
All is not lost however as I do remember walking past a gravel path up on to the cliffs, which turns out to be a service road for a campsite. It takes us ten minutes to walk back. We then get lost trying to leave the campsite as all the footpaths marked on the map are either completely overgrown or fenced off by a farmer. – our progress is closely followed by an inquisitive llama.
Oh dear – back to the road.
Eventually we reach Trefor, a village with a small harbour and a beach, where we sit down to eat a well earned lunch. We are now well behind schedule and more than a little tired, and the sight of the three peaks of Yr Eifl rising steeply in front of us does nothing to raise our spirits.
These hills are the site of a large granite quarry which closed in 1960. Apparently the rare properties of the granite within the quarry made it the perfect material to produce curling stones for the winter Olympics. Trefor is one of only two locations where this particular granite is found, the other being Ailsa Craig in Scotland. The photo above is not mine – credit goes to the blogger Paul Shorrock who doesn’t mind as long as he is mentioned. https://hillcraftguidedwalking.com/2011/08/01/37-–-the-three-peaks-of-yr-eifl/
Anyway, off we go, into the foothills and I would like to add here that we are not aiming for the summits – the coast path takes us between the peaks up a dirt track which slowly and steadily gets steeper and steeper. At one point we run into a group of locals laying tarmac by hand so we are obliged to jump a few fences to get around them.
On the other side of the roadworks the path gets narrower and narrower and seems to sink down between high hedges on both sides – I feel like I’m in a wartime trench.
After what seems an eternity we reach the flats of the ridge and throw ourselves down on the earth to rest and catch our breath – it takes a while before we can appreciate the stunning view.
Picking ourselves up we follow a dusty path over the top of the ridge and all the way down to the familiar standing stones of the carpark from where we started two days ago.
And from here we walk down the steep tarmac road to the pub at Llithfaen where we sit outside and drink cold beer watching the local children play football. It has been a long but exciting day.
Our Airbnb in Penygroes is part of a community enterprise scheme called Yr Orsaf https://www.yrorsaf.cymru/en/, which among other things includes a community bus. Introduced primarily as a vital supplement to limited public transport in the area it has no objection to walkers using it to get from one isolated spot to another. Brilliant!
Having booked a pick up we drive our car to Morfa Nefyn and hang around in a residential street trying hard to suspend our disbelief. It does not help that the gentleman working in his garden at the address has never heard of a community bus. But here it comes the bright yellow electric minibus, completely empty! And it takes us all the way to the village of Llithfaen (6 miles) for five pounds. Wonderful……..
From the centre of the village we walk up the narrow tarmac road which will give us access to the coast path. Half way up the steep hill we stop to catch our breath.
At the top is a carpark with a centrepiece of some majestic carved standing stones and off to the right the quarry scarred landscape of Yr Eifl where we will be walking tomorrow.
From the carpark the coast path takes us down a well maintained tarmac road with some very sharp bends. The gradient is so steep my toes are banging up against the toe of my boots – the cause of many a black toenail.
At the bottom of the hill we realise we have walked into a Welsh Heritage Centre called Nant Gwrtheyrn which offers courses in Welsh language and culture.
The centre consists of rows of quarryman cottages built in 1878, now restored and used as residences – there is also a museum and a cafe. A few of the cottages are open to the public so we take a look.
After all this history we think we deserve a cup of tea even though w have a long way to go and the forecast has warned of rain later on. The view from the balcony of the cafe is spectacular as is the piece of Bara Brith (Welsh Tea Bread) that comes with the tea.
Refreshed we head off down the path which leads almost down to the sea and then turns inland past the ruins of the old quarry workings and machinery. It then starts to climb steeply upwards into an area of what I think are twisted young oak trees.
The narrow path continues to get steeper and steeper and at one point we meet two middle aged mountain bikers walking their bikes very carefully downhill. I cannot think why they would have thought cycling down this steep stony path was a good idea, but it takes all sorts.
Finally we reach the top and are rewarded with flat open country until we reach the hamlet of Pistyll served by a charming little church with a great view out to the sea. The dark granite headstone in the picture marks the grave of Rupert Davies, a British actor best remembered for playing the title role in the BBC’s 1960s television adaptation of Maigret.
From Pistyll we follow the road a short while until the coast path turns off left across farm land with plenty of sheep for Damian to talk to.
At one point we realise that we are following part of the North Wales Pilgrims Way (The Welsh Camino) which stretches from Bardsey Island to Holywell but turns away from the coast in a few places only to come back to the coast path later on.
By the time we reach Nefyn it is raining quite heavily and it is with a great effort of will that we walk out to the tip of the headland Penrhyn Nefyn rather than skirt across. On a sunny day the view would be spectacular but today not quite so impressive.
Across the bay stretches the Porth Dinllaen headland with the beach houses of Morfa Nefyn below the cliffs. We are close to our car now and even closer to the pub where we stopped yesterday – I almost hope they serve hot chocolate!