It’s early afternoon. The Lloyds Coaches bus from Aberdyfi lets us off in a lay-by, near a school on the outskirts of Tywyn. We’re on Neptune Road. Somewhere ‘over there’ is the town centre, and ‘over here’ is the sea. We head for the latter, past the terminus of the Tal-y-llyn railway and some low, pebble-dashed houses.
The light’s bright, but sunless. There’s little traffic and precious few people. At the sea a long concrete prom stretches away straight, north and south. On the right, a few run-down shops (‘hot drinks £1’) and an amusement arcade, empty. The leisure park – bowls seems the sport of preference – is empty. A flag flies high in the strong, cold north wind. It’s a Union flag with the Queen’s head, presumably to mark HM’s 90th birthday: it seems this is no place for republicans. We buy teas and an ice-cream and sit on a bench, four of us, looking out to sea. A few dog-walkers wander past, heads down. Near us two ancient women are also looking out to sea. They’re in the front seat of an old car, their men wedged out of harm’s way in the back seats. The sea’s empty, except for a whale-back of flat dark rocks just offshore, recently laid there to break the force of the winter waves. Southwards a long caravan park lies by the side of the prom, deserted. Late April is early in the season, and this April is exceptionally chilly.
Before we’re infected by the gloom of the place we head off south. Everything in littoral Tywyn looks tired and worn out, including an excavator, abandoned by a watercourse. A big, confidently-built Victorian house has been ruined by numerous additions. A collection of coloured beach pebbles sits by the path (‘Good times, good friends, only in Tywyn’). We leave the prom – the caravans on to our left have finally expired – and walk on the hard sand below. Here there are no people, only birds: a lapwing inland, and a skylark, invisible overhead. The sand extends flat to the south; the Ceredigion coast lies, unclear, across the Dyfi estuary; on our left are shingle and low dunes.
As we begin to turn east the dunes of Ynyslas look so close it seems possible to walk over the estuary mouth. A large house to our left stands among pines, to give it some shelter from the westerlies. On the shore, a flat stone pavement seems to have been carved into a series of rectangular pits; we wonder if these are natural, or whether they served a human function. Later we come across a single WW2 pillbox, slumped wonkily in the sand. Offshore, a rowing boat, Calon Dyfi, with four oarsmen and a cox, eases past us.
Before long – this is a short, warm-up walk – the straggly northern outskirts of Aberdyfi come into view. Across the dunes, under the railway and we’re walking into the town, past a bluebell garden attached to the Catholic church and tall Victorian terraced houses, painted in pastel colours.
We settle in to our home for the week, a large converted chapel, Tabernacl. It has a cream-painted pedimented façade, with long, elegant windows. You approach it via heavy iron gates and a punishingly steep set of slate steps. The first two flights are regular, but the rest have differing dimensions, so that each time we climb with our luggage someone’s sure to stumble. It’s not clear whether this is the result of an engineering blunder or the wish of the Calvinistic Methodists to remind their flock of the fragility of earthly existence. Inside there’s no trace of old time religion, so thoroughly has the building been remodelled.
Just along from Tabernacl, on the privileged sea side of the street, sits a wonderful survivor, the Aberdovey Literary Institute, founded in 1882. Anyone’s welcome to visit, and we have a look round the single reading room (there’s a separate billiards room), with its books and newspapers, museum case of local shells, old photographs, medals and fine view out to sea. Membership costs £10 a year. The Institute’s 133rd AGM is due to be held on Wednesday. A prominent notice says ‘You will be only too aware that we have been experiencing problems for some time with some publications (particularly but not exclusively the Daily Express) being removed from the newspaper table in the reading room …’ In the visitor book someone has written of the Institute, ‘Quelle découverte! Un vrai bijou.’ None of us could put it better.
Later we walk along the ‘Roman steps’, cut into rocks by the estuary at the east end of town, and then make for a meal in the Penhelig Arms, warmly remembered by some of us from previous visits. As we enter C notices that the food hygiene score on the door is ‘0’ (the Cambrian News later explains why), but we carry on, calculating, rightly or wrongly, that the owners will have done their utmost since to improve matters.