Another Aberaeron start, but this time we’re walking to the north. 10 September, and it’s another perfect day. Neither of us can remember such a summer’s end: warm, still and sunlit.
Aberaeron, so careful of its landward appearance, turns its back on the sea. Admittedly the shore is shingle, but the monotonous concrete wall and parallel concrete path that march you out of town are grim. They’re matched on the land side by modern terrace housing of desperately poor design – mean houses that hold their faces away from the sea.
At the rugby club a few portable green plastic toilets stand on their own, glumly waiting for the new season to begin. Next, a caravan park, with a handful of campers collapsing their tents and preparing to leave. Dog walkers, our only company, begin to thin out, and then we’re in the country, with the path to ourselves, as it gradually climbs the hill.
The cliffs on our left are as crumbly as ever. A strong wire fence protects us from accident. The posts are recent, and the barbs look newly vicious. Some of the wire is a cruel green colour, as if it’s conscious of the need to appear ecologically responsible. We notice that Ceredigion Council seems to have taken a conscious decision not to acknowledge that their path is now part of a national network, the Wales Coast Path. The Coast Path’s little conch symbol is conspicuous by its absence, and we imagine hundreds of the unused signs filed in someone’s desk in County Hall (‘we were here first’). There are few useful information panels for walkers, and no pointers to the Path from the roads. The only recent investment in the path is a job-lot of green circular gates. But it matters little today: the broad path, bright sun, stonechats and red admirals are enough for us. Poking above the hill to our right is the tower of Llanddewi Aber-arth church, a stiff climb from the village it belongs to.
Soon we’ve reached Aber-arth itself, the childhood home of Hywel Teifi Edwards (towards the end of his life he seemed to settle permanently in the National Library). In a recent S4C television tribute he talked about how his small world gradually expanded, from his small native village, to surrounding towns and villages through visits by his football team, to Aberystwyth where he was a student, and then to the valleys of south Wales where he taught before coming to Swansea.
On the surface the village has kept much of its character from Hywel Teifi’s youth, despite losing shops, school and chapel: its narrow lanes and terraces look as if they’d been thrown into the air and allowed to land where they pleased. Afon Arth, the ‘bear stream’, ripples past back-gardens. A neat wooden sign by the footbridge over it reads ‘No weedkilling. Diolch’. As we regain the coast and climb up a wide old track scattered gulls rest like china ornaments on the still surface of the water.
The path climbs on through the heat, too far from the busy coast road for traffic to be heard, until we reach the tall cliff of Graig-ddu and stop for a break and a flapjack. Then a descent to the coastal plain beyond, one of the very few large areas of fertile ground on the coast of mid Wales. Barley, the old crop, has given way to maize as we reach Morfa Mawr, another monastic grange. We’re berated by a man who leans out of a window to enjoy telling us that there was no passage straight on along the coast, and turn inland to visit Llan-non. On the main road W.B. Evans, Cigydd, offers ‘½ pig’ for £70. Then back down a lane to the coast, and the church of Llansanffraid, a shipbuilding centre in the nineteenth century despite the lack of a harbour, and its large church. The door is open and we can admire the dignified chapel-like interior, with its gallery, brass candelabra and big clock (‘Presented by Capt. D. Jones, Eggretia, Capt. J. Evans, Convoy, and their friends’). The real story of the church, though, is outside. Gravestones record the world-wide movements of local sea captains and mariners, many of them dead by drowning: ‘Evan Rees … foddodd ar ei fordaith o Philadelphia i Havana, Tach. 1899, yn 28 ml. oed’. The graveyard is long as we pass it by on the path: a reminder of ‘the tragic harvest of the sea’, in Gerald Morgan’s words.
It takes a while for the path to pass through a succession of fields and regain the seashore. Alongside it is a terrace of four impressive limekilns. On the sandy shore nearby are rows of wooden stakes, apparently the remains of jetties for unloading limestone and coal. Only dark tapered stumps remain now. They resemble nothing so much as dragons’ teeth. The original ones, sown by Cadmus, grew into armed warriors, but we feel it’s safe enough to sit beside these and eat our sandwiches. The only people around are a couple of walkers who’ve strayed on to the wrong side of the interminable barbed wire fence that separates path from beach.
As the next caravan park nears the path suddenly veers off the coast and makes a straight line for Llanrhystud, passing that staple of the Coast Path, a sewage works. This one is small and looks as though it lacks the latest coprotechnology. Then a drink in the garden of the Black Lion, and home.