Microadventure No.4 Porth Llechog to Beaumaris
It’s difficult to determine what constitutes a ‘microadventure’, particularly when your job involves wild camping, exploring mountains and rivers and enjoying trips into wet, muddy and remote places a few times a month at least. For me it is something out of the ordinary – so trips conducted either solo or with friends and family but not clients. I love my time working with clients, but the difference between a trip as a leader and one as just an equal is marked.
For this trip we wanted to blow away the cobwebs of months of warm, wet and windy weather, cumulating in storms and flooding during the usual excess of Christmas whilst exploring somewhere we were unfamiliar with. The Wales Coastal Path is going to feature on a few of our challenge events in 2016 and 2017, and I wanted to see some of the sections that we had missed during other reconnaissance trips. After a bit of map-juggling we settled on a 35 mile section of the Anglesey Coastal Path between Porth Llechog (Bull Bay) and Beaumaris. This looked a combination of rugged coastline and narrow paths mixed with some short sections of road and even beach. We decided to wild camp, and try to cover around 17 miles per day.
Saturday 2nd January was a bit wet, a little windy and very cloudy but warm – warm enough to start the walk in just a base layer. We had been dropped off by Rhian’s aunt, having abandoned our car at their house near Beaumaris. After being plied with the offers of tea and cake and then battling the narrow lanes of this corner of Anglesey we arrived in the cliff-top car park just outside Porth Llechog, hunting out the familiar symbol that marks the Anglesey Coastal Path. We were carrying the usual navigation gubbins (map, compass etc) but I wanted to see how easy it would be to follow the route relying entirely on the waymarkers put in place to mark this coastal path. I’ve had good experiences of doing this on the South West Coastal path, leapfrogging from signpost to stile to marked post following the distinctive acorn and wanted to compare the Ynys Mon version – so we kept the sea on our left and followed the muddy trail leading away from the car park.
The first real landmark we hit was Amlwch, a mixture of decaying industrial areas and a small harbour so Cornish in appearance it could have had a piskie eating a pasty outside the Harbour Master’s office and I wouldn’t have been surprised. After losing the path for a few dozen metres around the visitor centre we picked it up again and followed a road and clear trail out to the nature reserve and rough ground between Amlwch and Point Lynas.
The thing about walking on coastal paths is that you are always walking towards a ‘thing’. A headland, a distant town, a hilltop. It means you have a constant measure on your progress as the ‘thing’ gets bigger, and for us the ‘thing’ here was the Point Lynas lighthouse, currently up for sale. If I had a few spare million and a desire to live in a remote, windswept nautical lightbulb I might consider it, but for now the ex-army bivvy bag and tarp in my rucksack would have to do.
We crossed our first beach here then climbed a steep tarmac road out to the other side of the headland. Two things became obvious here – the first was how many cargo vessels were moored off this sheltered coast (we counted to 8 before getting bored) and the second was the substantial hill that we had to cross. Trudging up a muddy field, the top layer of grass and soil loosened by the recent rain acting a bit like that travelator thing they used to have on Gladiators. One step forward, half a step back.
After a bit more trudging through mud and between high hedges we found a sheltered spot next to a bridge over a running stream. We had no shortage of running streams to cross, unsurprisingly after the 3 months of near constant rain we had seen in North Wales and finding drinking water wasn’t a problem. But as were about as low down the river system as it was possible to get we could pretty much guarantee that every sparkling waterfall we saw was full of various bacteria and pathogens that would need killing off or filtering out before drinking. Boiling and or filtering it was!
A quick lunch of noodles and pasta with oatcakes was accompanied with the smell of meths and the sound of contented food-bag rustling. Part of the fun of hiking/walking/trekking/whatever-it’s-called-where-you-are-from is that you have limited options. You can eat everything in your bag today, or you can eat it over two days – but resupplying will mean either stopping to fish/hunt/forage or, more realistically, head away from your route to find a shop or other resupply point. If you’re planning on carrying the meals for the next few days on your back (or in this case, on Rhian’s back as I was carrying the stove and pans) and want to avoid towns then you need to work out what you are eating and when. The rationing aspect to this is fun for a few days, but I can assure you it wears off after a few weeks, particularly if you are eating a combination of the same three things every night. A self-induced problem, and part of the experience.
We plodded on, water bottles filled and feet muddy over what was probably the toughest section of the trip – following an indistinct path over very muddy paths as we crossed onto the land of the Llys Dulas Estate. Our ‘thing’ on the horizon this time had been the rocks just offshore from Moelfre, but we took a sharp right turn and headed inland as the path contoured around the Dulas estuary. Mud and slimy grass gave way to tarmac and confusing paths before dumping us unceremoniously at the Mean High Water mark at the edge of the estuary, marked by a pile of rotting seaweed.
The sun had long dropped below the hills, leaving a pink glow reflecting off the low water of Traeth
Dulas. The conversation and occasional shouts of somebody doing something with a fishing rod drifted across the estuary, and the gentle call of Oystercatchers completed the aural landscape. All very impressive – I resolved immediately to come back on a different day with a ‘proper’ camera, but for now my mind was turning to the route ahead – it seems that the path here actually drops below the high water line into the mud of the estuary. Great.
After half a mile of silty squidging a better path led us out to the other side and the lights of a pub where we stopped to use their toilets, buy an overpriced soft drink and gently muddy their carpets. Some conversation with the bar staff led me to the conclusion that Moelfre might be further away than we thought (“I’d be getting a taxi if I were you”) but we were happy walking after dark and carried on. Flooded or slippery paths brought us back to the coastline, gently breaking waves below us marking the edge of Lligwy Bay and the start of the next set of obstacles – sand dunes, stones and a tortuously winding path. The lights of Moelfre blurred into those of Llandudno and Deganwy behind them and our destination seemed to be slipping away into the darkness, only the decklights of the ships moored just offshore marking our progress.
Eventually Moelfre changed from potential to a reality at around 7pm, at least 2 hours since the sun set. Contemplating the thought of rehydrated pasta and chorizo we quickly decided to seek out the only pub in town and see if they had something unhealthy and filling on the menu. Rhian pointed out to me that my current attire of muddy trail shoes, running tights and a base layer might be frowned upon. I agreed, and promptly waded straight into the sea at the beach in front of the pub. I was soaked from mud and puddles anyway, so clean salt water was a definite step up from the filth and general detritus it replaced. We smartened ourselves up (a bit) and strode into the pub, rehydrating and demolishing a couple of hearty meals.
Although warm, dry and friendly the pub wouldn’t do for overnight accommodation, and we wanted to find somewhere a mile or so further down the path. we had passed dozens of suitable wild camping locations on the path that day, so surely there would be more further on? Ha! What we found instead was a series of landslips, then a muddy farmyard and acres and acres of sheep fields, complete with a thick layer of glutinous manure. The land dropped steeply through gorse and blackthorn to a rocky beach, with a flooding tide and no escape if the waves came. We had already reached the halfway point of our walk, but it looked like we had more walking ahead of us.
Traeth Bychan came next, the tiny village and sweeping beach we had visited before on sea-kayaking trips. It seemed to be deserted, except for one figure with a head torch, furtively digging for bait on the sandy intertidal zone. Nowhere suitable for a sneaky bivvy appeared, and we kept following the path onwards, over hills and back down to the sea as we came around to the far side of the bay. Moelfre was now clearly defined and slipping into the distance behind us as we turned the headland. Here we found a wide grassy area in front of an unoccupied holiday cottage. We checked carefully to see if we would be in anybody’s way and then set up the tarp and bivvy bags. The shed door made a great anchor for end of the ridgeline and the other was secured into a patch of gorse, our trekking poles keeping the tarp up. It’s a 3mx3m, so there is more than enough space for two people to spread out and sort through their kit.
As we turned in for the night the weather was warm with a strong breeze, but somewhere in the early hours it changed to 50mph winds and rainy periods. The tarp thankfully stood up to the elements, and I remembered why it wasn’t a good idea to pitch on a headland… but limited options were open to us and we just stuck with it. The glow of a dozen or so cargo vessels on the horizon were our nightlight and we slept though the rest of the storm.
Dawn brought some welcome light but not much change in the weather. The waves hitting the rocks below seemed to be troublingly close, and as I lay in my bivvy bag I wondered if today would be as easy as yesterday. We still had 17 miles or so to cover, and there was a big hill in the way this time. We dragged ourselves out and dressed and repacked in the lee of the building. A few stormy miles (and a diversion through a caravan park due to a landslip) landed us in the relative civilisation of Benllech. Down by the beach we had some breakfast and watched charity swimmers flail around in the cold water at low tide. The path continued on to Red Wharf Bay, the Spring Tide and recent storms giving us a wide and flat beach to gaze upon, and a bit of careful calculation enabled us to cross more or less straight across, avoiding the few silty quicksand sections and only having to deal with a myriad of small streams and outflows.
Down by the low dunes near the Llanddona end of the bay we set up the stove in the watery sunlight for a leisurely lunch, punctuated by the unexpected and coincidental arrival of our friends Mark and Shan who live nearby. We chatted for a while then realised that we still had 8 or 9 miles left to go and said our goodbyes. We quickly crossed the remainder of the sand and began climbing the steep hillside under Bwrdd Arthur. The path had been relocated away from a farm track and we negotiated freshly-cut branches and thick mud to reach a track and fields on the other side of the hill. The rest of the day without incident and we were led along field edges, through private driveways and between gardens. It was clear that we were not only in a more populated area of Anglesey, but that the property prices were a bit higher here. I saw 14 security cameras on one immaculate property…
Our horizon marker this time was Penmon Point and Puffin Island, very familiar to us and it felt like walking towards home. We arrived shortly before sunset, then turned away and followed the private then public road past Porth Penmon and along the shoreline. The novelty of tarmac and firm ground was short-lived as our feet started to feel tired and we longed for the soft mud and grass of earlier. The path here just follows a series of ninety-degree bends in the road, winding along towards Beaumaris.
Our destination (where the car had been stashed) came sooner than expected, and we shrugged our bags from our shoulders as we walked down the driveway.
We could happily have gone further that night, and much further over the weekend with less/lighter equipment, but the distance and the challenge felt about right for the terrain and the weather. Shorter days and wet weather don’t encourage very long distances, but we were happy with what we had done, and we certainly hadn’t suffered. Well, not by our standards!