With extreme care we nudge the car down the narrow winding road and hairpin bends down to Llangrannog. At the seafront M. and his binoculars join us for a shorter trip than yesterday, from Llangrannog to Aberporth. It’s a breezeless morning as we set out up the hill above the sleepy village.
The first person we meet is made of bronze: a statue of St Carannog made by Sebastien Boyesen in 2010. He stands high on the path, looking down on his own settlement. His appearance conforms to the received image of a sixth century Welsh saint. He wears a beard and a long belted clerical dress. On his back he carries a dark age rucksack, out of which peeps a cross, presumably used to convert passing pagans encountered on the coastal path. Carannog, it appears, was the grandson of Ceredig, eponym of the county Ceredigion, and travelled widely in Wales, Brittany, England and Ireland – anywhere, it seems, where place-names beginning with ‘Car’ or ‘Cara’ can be found. Divinely inspired doves had a habit of leading him to his destinations, including the future site of Llangrannog church.
After Carannog we meet no one else until after midday. This entire section of the Path seems to attract very few serious walkers, possibly because of its strenuous terrain. M. stops occasionally to lift binoculars to his eyes. The bird tally rises quickly: a chough, buzzard, stonechats, robins and a flock of goldfinches. M. confesses that his interest in the commonest bird here, the gull, is limited. The path is fine and high above the sea, on cliffs that break from time to time to show small beaches and outlying crags. One of the beaches, Traeth Bach, is sheltered by a large rock, Carreg y Tŷ, and another, smaller island, Carreg y Morwynion, where by tradition a group of girls found themselves trapped by high times and drowned (this coast has several disturbing stories about trapped or drowned women). Further on, more military installations, two tall towers, loom over us as we pass by.
After a couple of miles we descent towards Penbryn. Its white church, bigger than Mwnt’s, shines across the Hownant valley, away from the sea, and to our right the long straight beach of Penbryn stretches away south into the distance. The National Trust owns this section of coast, treating it with its usual thorough conservationism – clean to the point of antiseptic. We resist the lure of coffees and wif-fi in the cafe nestling in the valley bottom, pass through a section of green woodland, full of lush ferns and cut by a waterfalled stream, and regain the height of the cliffs on the south side.
The next bay is Tresaith, reached after a steep descent down a dog-leg path to the back of the village. We’ve timed our arrival well for lunch in the excellent Ship Inn. Ordering fish and chips, and steaks, we sit on the verandah and catch up with M’s news. We’re all a year older since we last met, with enough stories about families, friends and acquaintances to fill three quarters of an hour.
Back to the cliffs, as clouds bring cooler temperatures, and a series of isolated railway carriages – where did they come from and how did they get here? – adapted as elongated cottages. Some, like ‘Wendy’, display their origins clearly; others have grown accretions – porches, kitchens and verandahs – so that the original carriage is well disguised.
The usual caravan park appears, and then Aberporth comes into view ahead of us. The final stretch is tarmacked and suitable for wheelchairs and buggies. In the village we reward ourselves in a café, but the coffee and service disappoint. We deliver M. back to Llangrannog in time for him to mow the many lawns of Pentre Mawr. Back in Aberporth C. and I stroll round the village, ending up leaning on railings with a view of its twin beaches, Traeth Plas and Traeth y Dyffryn. A young man asks a stranger to do up the zip at the back of his rubber suit and then swims strongly out from the beach, criss-crossing the bay several times. On Traeth Plas three anglers watch their lines, without hope, exchanging the occasional swear word and rising from their seats to drag their rods up the sand as the tide comes in. We watch women in two longboats launch themselves from Traeth y Dyffryn, row quickly out to sea and turn northwards out of sight, watched by an S4C film crew from Heno. The rugby player-turned-reporter, Rhodri Gomer, explains that the rowers are in training for the biennial race across to Ireland, to be held at the weekend.
Time for a pint in this village’s Ship Inn. The bar’s equipped with what amounts to a shrine to local rowing: cups, plaques and photos commemorating past Aberporth triumphs in longboat racing. An echo, maybe, of the sailed herring longboats that used to provide employment here in earlier centuries.