Anglesey Coast Path, day 4

September 14, 2017 1 Comment

Rain threatens this afternoon, so C and I start out on our own from Brynsiencyn at 8:30.  It’s a dark morning, and thick layers of cloud cover the mountains across the Strait.  The village looks comprehensively closed.  The pub’s abandoned and the public toilets are locked.  But we do spot that rarity in Anglesey, a couple of information boards telling us about the area’s mixed history.  The next village, Llanedwen, was the home of Henry Rowlands, the eighteenth century historian of Anglesey and influential Druidomane.  In the nineteenth century men from Brynsiencyn were ferried across the Strait to work in the slate quarries of Snowdonia.  And in the twentieth century the nonconformist minister and preacher John Williams Brynsiencyn, dressed in military uniform, devoted all his oratorical powers to urging young Welshmen to fight and be killed in the First World War.  He was rewarded after the War with an honorary degree by the University of Wales. 

We head down a lane to the coast and clamber over the pebbles on the shore that remain from the incoming tide.  Then the path turns inland. Swifts and swallows veer wildly above us, gobbling last insects while the warmth of the late summer lingers.  We need to make a long detour around the large estate of Plas Newydd, home of the Marquises of Anglesey and now owned by the National Trust.  We pass two similar handsome estate lodges with blue railings, dormer windows and hipped roofs.  Opposite we can see Y Felinheli, divided into its upper and lower towns.  To our left is another big estate, Plas Coch, and its sixteenth century mansion.  Powerful people always made sure they grabbed for themselves the best lands available. 

Across the main road we follow a minor road, past a graveyard for antique buses, to the highlight of this walk, the Neolithic burial chamber of Bryn Celli Ddu.  Only one other person is here, a bearded man with a camera and tripod.  We walk around the mound, thread our way through it, take our own snaps of it, and ponder the impossibility of knowing what it meant to its Stone Age builders.  Two Cadw panels try to cast light on its function.  One is sure it’s an astronomical observatory, the other’s more open-minded and sceptical, as if the Cadw archaeologists can’t quite agree.  The path continues into a large open field – always bad news for navigation.  Mr Rogers, our unreliable guide, advises us to ‘bear half right’, which could mean almost anything.  We take the wrong option and spend an unnecessary ten minutes tacking round the edge of the field, getting wetter and wetter in the lush long grass. 

Now we’re back on the busy and narrow main road, where the path planners have used what we call the ‘Carmarthenshire solution’, carving narrow strips out of fields on the other side of the  hedge from the road to keep us safe.  At last the great wall of the Plas Newydd estate comes to an end short of Llanfairpwll, and we take the narrow lane down to Pwllfanogl.  Over fifteen years ago Huw Owen took me down this same lane in his car to visit Kyffin Williams in his house by the water.  Kyffin’s welcome was warm, he told us many anecdotes, and he showed us some of the works, by him and others, that would later come to the National Library in his great bequest.  Eleven years after his death, the house has a plaque to commemorate him, but today it looks empty. His studio still looks like a studio.

Mr Rogers forgets to warn us that opposite Pwllfanogl the path along the shoreline is impassable at high tide.  As luck would have it, the tide is at its highest.  I suggest we take off our boots and wade on the pebbles, but C wisely advises retreating a short way and going through a gate clearly marked ‘No admittance’.  We’ve now developed a taste for trespass and start to hack our way inland through tall weeds and shrubs towards the road.  On one side is a tall metal fence enclosing a Ministry of Defence establishment, Plas Llanfair, on the other an impenetrable hedge and barbed wire fence.  Just as we expect armed intervention by soldiers or farmers we find a way into the field beyond the fence and jump into a large grass field.  Now we retrace our way back to the Strait, but there’s no way through to the route of the path.  So we stay in the field, keeping an eye open for angry farmers, until at last an open gate lets us rejoin the path, opposite the bathetic concrete statue of Horatio Nelson islanded offshore.  We feel sure the great man would have approved of our daring and determination.

With relief we turn our back on the water and walk up to the Victorian church of St Mary, Llanfairpwll, where there’s a memorial to the workers who died during the construction of Robert Stephenson’s Britannia Bridge, opened in 1850.  We notice that the navvies are given less space and prominence than the chief accountant, William Brook[s] of Dewsbury, who gets a whole side to himself. Soon we’re walking under the railway line and then the Bridge itself.  The lions that once proudly adorned the entrance to the Bridge now skulk below it, surrounded by concrete beams.

The path between the two bridges meanders in low woodland near the edge of the Strait. Its counterpart on the mainland coast gave no views southwards, but this path gives several fine vistas of both bridges and the Strait.  The Balmoral glides up the Strait and back.  We’re back at Menai Bridge before the rain starts.

In the afternoon I wander round Beaumaris.  In the porch of the church is the effigy of Joan or Siwan, as in Saunders Lewis’s play, daughter of England’s worst monarch, John, and wife of Llywelyn the Great.  When she died at Abergwyngregyn in 1237, Llywelyn, grief-stricken, is said to have had her body carried across Traeth Lafan to be buried at Llanfaes.  Her stone face looks thin and she holds her hands not closed in prayer, but open, as if surprised by death.

Now in morbid mood I head for Beaumaris Gaol, one of the best museums I’ve see for a few months.  It’s full of information and doesn’t spare any of the grim experience of a nineteenth century prisoner’s life: shackles, treadmill and dark, cold cells.  Leaving under the huge stone lintel of the entrance I wondered gloomily whether our ideas about incarceration have changed in their essence since 1829.

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  1. Chris Edwards says:

    Re. pondering the stone age, Colin Renfrew’s “Figuring it Out” is worth a look.

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