Today we open a new front on the Wales Coastal Path: Ceredigion. Our starting point is the old quay in Cardigan – Aberystwyth without the university, as C. calls it. We’ve already toured the car parks until we find one that doesn’t ban all-day walkers.
A sculptured dolphin marks the beginning of the path, but more striking is what’s nearby: a long granite inscription on the river wall bearing the words of Ceri Wyn Jones‘s englyn Y Cei, beginning ‘Fel glaw hallt, fel awel glyd, fel hiraeth’.
We move up to the town. It looks livelier than many West Wales towns, with plenty of independent shops. Failing to spot any path signs – I’ve forgotten to bring the bible for this section of the Walk, Gerald Morgan’s heavy guidebook – we follow our noses towards the mouth of the Teifi estuary. Soon we’re in the country and, quite by accident, on the path. But then we go wrong, missing a narrow, unsigned grass path and instead taking a broader track up hill, across two fields and into another. This is some field. It’s enormous. Its grass is the richest and the greenest either of us has seen. Its cows look self-consciously privileged. Most important, it has only one entrance, so after half an hour the cows are mystified to see us coming round its perimeter a second time. Getting lost saps the body’s strength as well as wasting time and morale. By the time we regain the path and reach Gwbert, at the mouth of the river, we feel a bit deflated to find that it’s already well after midday.
Gwbert comes at the end of the long, uphill Coronation Drive, and seems to have changed little since the early 1950s. The Cliff Hotel looks eerily quiet. Just one other human is to be seen. We walk on up the hill, and past the turning that would have led us along the coast past Cardigan Island, except that reluctant landowners apparently won’t agree access. Instead we’re directed along the road to Y Ferwig, then along farm lanes and muddy tracks back to the coast – just in time to arrive at this walk’s highlight, Mwnt.
Hiding from the sea and its raiders behind a conical hill, Foel y Mwnt, the small, single cell Mwnt Church shines white and easily spotted from a distance. Above the rectangular beach we eat ice creams and sandwiches, in that order, then climb the hill, then descend it to explore the church. The building is open and protestantly plain. At its west end a single, open black bell shines bright against its white turret. The churchyard gate opens straight on to a wide open field soft as a lawn.
It’s warm now and the sun is strong. Somewhere, at a photo break, I’ve accidentally lost my sun hat, this time for good (last year in Pembrokeshire C. saved me every time I forgot to pick it up). Sweat pours off our foreheads on the uphill stretches and our rucksacks print dark patterns on our shirts.
On northwards, past cliffs less sea-resistant than the Pembrokeshire rocks. These are Ordovician and Silurian shales, apt to splinter and shower down in fans when eroded. The path is bordered with spring flowers – thrift, red campion, sea campion, buttercups, stitchworts, dog violets, bluebells and dandelions – as it had been a year ago when we started the coast path further south. Gulls, crows, stonechats, larks and choughs have been joined in the last couple of weeks by returning migrants like swallows and swifts. There seem to be more bumble bees this year, and butterflies are already about, helped by the mild winter.
Aberporth Head looms ahead, but the Ministry of Defence long ago appropriated the whole promontory, and the path is forced inland, up the wooded, steep-sided Cwm Gwrddon. Squadrons of crows fight it out above us in a battle against screaming warrior gulls. Across the valley a sinister Drone City, managed for the Ministry by the innocent-sounding private company QinetiQ, stretches across the ridge, with its dark tower, conning equipment and intermittent machine-gun-like sounds. The path passes the guarded main entrance to the site. It’s the end of the day and workers are beginning to leave.
We walk on, down a very steep hill, for at least a mile before reaching the centre of Aberporth and the comfy cottage that awaits us there. Later we begin to feel cold and light the wood-burning stove, resting our tired muscles after what has turned out, after the Big Field incident, to be a strenuous walk of around fourteen miles.