M has arrived from Yorkshire to join the three of us for today’s almost-circular clifftop walk. We start with the same introduction as yesterday, train to Pwllheli (same affable guard), and the Berwyn bus towards Abersoch (same wild career along single track roads). But this time we get off early, in the small village of Llanengan.
Ecclesiastical restorers are at work on the tower, but the door’s open, so we explore the interior of St Einion’s church. It’s large, with broad chancel and aisle, to serve not just the parishioners but also the hundreds of pilgrims making for Ynys Enlli and its 20,000 saints. At the steps to the chancel two old wooden rood screens and loft that have intricately carved decoration. It’s said they were transferred here from Cymer Abbey after the Reformation. On one of the stalls nearby a squint-eyed lion stands guard.
Outside stands the Sun Inn, and there’s enough bright sunshine to bring out the sunscreen and lather it on arms, face and neck. But as soon as we start walking down the lane to the sea, less than a mile away, thick clouds roll over the sky and take the sun hostage for the rest of the day.
We’re at the eastern edge of Porth Neigwl, four miles of continuous beach, where the onshore wind whitens the water across broad shallows. No one can explain the meaning or derivation of Neigwl – an Irish personal name, some guess, in desperation – though it sounds sinister enough. In English it’s Hell’s Mouth, a name to terrify English-speaking sailors. Once trapped in the bay with the wrong wind sailing ships were condemned to become wrecks, and their crews corpses. The ships have gone, but destruction of another kind continues here. The sea’s constantly eroding the low muddy cliffs and the land is in retreat all along the bay. Posts holding a barbed wire fence dangle helplessly where the waves have scooped out the earth that once embedded them.
We reach the Wales Coast Path sign. The roundels bearing the WCP conch symbol have been robbed, as is common in this part of Gwynedd. We picture a young geek in a poorly lit garage in Caernarfon, guarding a hoard of roundels he’s levered off dozens of WCP signposts, and feeding them slowly through Ebay to collectors willing to pay premium prices.
Turning our backs on the beach we climb steadily south under a rocky outcrop to reach a plateau above invisible steep slopes to the sea to our right. Bracken and foxgloves cover the ground. Sheep, some of exotic breeds, lie lazily on the grass as if on sofas watching television. Wild but tame ponies graze beside the path. One of them ambles slowly up to M from behind and gives him a gentle nudge. Out at sea the teardrop outline of Ynys Enlli appears as a grey shape off the coast further north. Cliffs, with caves at their base, line the coast, but only now and then do we catch sight of them. A stream falls down a steep little valley choked with cow parsley.
Above the open moorland to our left skylarks sing in counterpoint – usually we hear only one at a time but in this remote place their populations seem under less pressure. A new bay with a secluded beach, Porth Ceiriad, comes into view. We stay high above it and the path begins to turn north. Caves appear in the cliffs ahead, and two small islands off the coast, St Tudwal’s Isles. One has a lighthouse but neither is inhabited. A single white-sailed yacht – astonishingly, one of only two yachts we spot at sea throughout the week – weaves its way between island and mainland, while on the landward side a family of white cattle give us curious looks.
Now we emerge with a long view to the east, but the mountains are as shy as they have been for most of the week. Below us is the long bay leading towards Abersoch, wooden groynes radiating like a necklace. We descend towards it beside an old lead mine, its site still poisoned and inert. Ruins remain of a mysterious circular building, a gabled engine house (an imperious gull sits on its apex), used to pump water from the mines, and a terrace called ‘Cornish Row’ – evidence of immigrant expert workers. A lane leads to a golf course, and for the second day we end the walk trudging along fairways and greens.
Our guide tells us that Abersoch is sometimes called ‘Cheshire by the Sea’, and it’s not hard to see why. The town centre is full of clothes brands and promenading stars, including, a girl at the bus stop points out to us, ‘Ken Barlow’, who apparently has a home in these parts.
Our bus drivers, frustrated Formula One competitors, bring us back to Criccieth so quickly that there’s time to visit the castle and share its bird’s eye view of the town and beaches. Back in the apartment M has finally silenced the infernal Billy Bass by removing him from the toilet door, as expertly as a Coast Path roundel robber. We’re finally at peace.