We’re back in Llangrannog, at an early hour, for a longish walk north to New Quay. It’s a cooler, cloudier morning, for which we’re thankful. From the beach the path climbs up, past Carreg Bica, a ‘great lump of freestanding Ordovician rock’, in Gerald Morgan’s words. Bica was a giant afflicted by toothache; in the absence of a good dentist he spit his infected tooth into the sea, where it remains today. (Smaller islets lie off the coast further along: Bica’s toenails, perhaps.)
The path climbs steeply, round the flank of Pendinas Lochtyn. Beyond Traeth y Cilborth the headland of Ynys Lochtyn dives out into the sea, shaped, as C. says, like a leaping dolphin. Dolphins, never seen, possess our minds for the rest of the day. We hear voices. A crocodile of young children are walking towards us, teachers at front and back. ‘Bore da, blant!’ doesn’t get much of a reaction: they look like pressed recruits rather than joyful nature lovers. Or maybe they’ve been schooled to beware of elderly male pedestrians.
More voices. Over the hill other children are on the artificial ski slope of Gwersyll yr Urdd, a small town of buildings dedicated to organised enjoyment. Quad bikes follow one another in circles. We wonder whether the experience of coming to stay here is a lot more enjoyable than in the earlier, earnest days of the Urdd, when cerdd dant and cydadrodd were compulsory.
A notice says a landslip has closed the cliff path ahead. It sends us inland and uphill, in a semicircle round the Urdd centre, to a farm lane. Eventually we find ourselves on a very minor road that moves north-east, parallel to the coast.
Just one car passes us, and then returns, slowly. We’ve been discussing the novel and film Under the skin. C. speculates that the car’s smiling woman driver is a recently arrived alien, sizing up the quality of our flesh for abduction and sarcophagy. We don’t see her again. Perhaps our musculature is substandard.
As we walk along the road we seem to drift into a shared magical dream. The sun’s overhead and we feel the warmth. There are no cars, and no people. This is how walking country roads must have been before the First World War, when Edward Thomas was tramping the lanes of England and Wales. Hedgerows burst with spring flowers. We’re high up here and can see for miles across south Ceredigion. We pass the lane to Y Cilie, the famous farm and home to a whole family of poets in strict metre. Then a wooded valley opens up to our right, at its bottom a farm surrounded by fields of the purest green. Finally we drop down into a strip of woodland, with a clear stream and fields of bluebells, and we know we’re approaching Cwmtydu, the jewel of this stretch of the coast.
I’d been here once before, during two family holidays in Llwyndafydd in the 1990s. It was an idyllic time, though I remember my father-in-law’s illness casting a shadow over the sunlight and children’s play. Little can have changed in Cwmtydu – just a short row of houses, one with a dazzling red gate, an old limekiln and a perfectly recessed bay and beach. We sit on the seawall and combine what our rucksacks can offer for our lunch. The rock strata to our left are pulled in every direction and seem to dance like waves. The only other person here is a taxi driver, reading a paper. He looks as if he might be expecting a party of mermaids. A small boat of dolphin watchers comes into view, lingers a while, then moves off northwards.
Resuming the path we struggle up and down several steep-sided valleys, including Cwm Coubal and Cwm Silian. We try to scan the sea when we can, but fail to spot signs of dolphins. The Silurian rocks perform somersaults at the sea’s edge. One huge syncline seems to have been the result of Bica’s backside resting on the cliff-top: in its centre we can see two people sitting precariously, like miniature Bicas, eating their lunch. Later on, at Castell Bach, a pudding of a rock, again with chaotic strata, shields a small beach. Still more evidence of military activity comes into a view, this time a comical red lollipop. At Craig yr Adar the official path creeps narrowly round a cliff, death by drowning only feet away to the left (an alternative, safer route is offered).
Finally we can see New Quay below us. The path insists on taking us down by way of a large fish factory, where workers keep a Wallace and Gromit style mechanical ladder fed with whelks and other shellfish for the export market. Stryd y Cware (Rock Street) with its well-preserved and pastel-painted terraces leads us to the town centre.
We celebrate the end of the walk with ice creams, sharing a shelter with a family. A sleek gull alights on the wall opposite, the tip of its beak dripping with water or saliva (do gulls salivate?), and turns an experienced eye on us and the family in turn. The other people blink first: the gull drops to devour a cone fragment.