Gwynedd Coast Path, day 13

July 11, 2017 4 Comments

Finding the way to Tywyn in our two cars isn’t easy.  Turning off the road to Tudweiliog we miss a minor road to the right.  We realise the mistake and trying to correct it, but go wrong again and end up on a narrow farm track behind an alarmed family of ducks.  Retracing our steps, we find the right farm at last, park one of the cars, and take the second to where we finished yesterday, Porthor beach.  The English version of Porthor is ‘Whistling Sands’ – ‘English cheek’, said R S Thomas in a letter in 1992, ‘not even with their tongue in it’.

We have the bay, enclosed and tranquil, almost completely to ourselves.   It’s a warm, cloudy, near windless morning.  To make matters better still, the Coal Hole café is already open.  (The old coal yard was converted into a café long before the Second World War.)  We sit outside, drink fine coffees and eat one of the Coast Path’s best home-made flapjacks.  We agree that edenic is the best description of our situation. 

All Edens, though, end in expulsion, and, much later than usual, we walk ‘with wandring steps and slow’ eastwards along the beach.  Edmund Hyde Hall, a visitor in about 1810, had the best description of the unusual, near-white sand under our feet.

A quality which I have observed nowhere else was made known to me in the sand of the little port.

If walked with a sort of sliding step after it has been for some time left by the tide, it emits a shrill crackling noise, curious certainly, but very offensive to the sense of hearing.

As you plant your foot and move it forwards the sand it does indeed give out a shriek, like that of a very small but pained animal – the result, it seems, of the individual sand grains being of a rare shape, near spherical, without sharp edges.

We leave the beach at the far end, climb to the cliff top and stay there.  Blackened rocks pierce the sand and sea, and spits and points lean out into the water.  Porth Iago, a small, oblong sandy beach, was loved, the guidebook says, by R S Thomas.  It has a plainer, sandless twin, Porth Ferin, on the other side of a headland.  Then comes a long stretch where the path runs not far above a platform of rocks.  This is a ‘new’ stretch of the coast path, untrodden by decades of pedestrian traffic: it’s grassy, tussocky and hard going.  Walkers – we see almost nobody all day – are vastly outnumbered by sheep.

The sheep are wondrous.  There are several breeds of them, but they tend, for some reason, to be very large in stature.  They look abnormally healthy – understandable when the feeding is so lush.  One breed has black faces and ears.  They stand staring at us, uncomprehending, on the horizon, with the comical but mournful expression of Buster Keaton.

But their most surprising feature is the fecundity of their shit.  The path and all the land around it are almost completely covered in ovine ordure, some hardened, some fresh and gleaming in the weak sun.  This stretch of coast is notable for its unusual lack of human sewage works, but we have to wade through one narrow valley that’s so rich in sheep muck it’s like paddling through sullage.

Sheep have a fondness for sitting in groups astride the path.  Our approach usually panics them, but instead of moving aside they walk along the path in front of us, as if obeying experienced shepherds.  Sometimes a single sheep will be cornered, and the only escape seems to be a fatal plunge down the cliff to our left; there’s then a stand-off, and we stare at each other until the sheep dimly senses a way out.

Again, the sea is almost empty – just one yacht, and one small lobster boat that commutes from one set of pots to another.  In front of us, far in the distance to the north-west, loom the triple peaks of Yr Eifl, which we know we can’t avoid climbing later in the week.  At Porth Colmon an old couple sit at a table reading in front of their house, paying conspicuous inattention to passing walkers, rare though we are.  At Traeth Penllech the beach is covered with skeins of red seaweed that have an unsettling similarity of the spilled innards of animals.  The seaweed also stinks of decay.  We stop for a rest at Porth Ychain.  This isn’t a conventional beauty spot, but its shape is satisfyingly circular and it has a completely tranquil air.  A gull emerges from a perch on the cliff, swoops in a regular circle round the bay, returns to base, and repeats the manoeuvre again and again.  On the beach is a strange object, which looks from a distance like an unexploded metal bomb.  It turns out to be a large orange rock, an erratic somehow brought here from far away.

Next comes a series of small sea chasms, with collapsed rocks and banks of white flowers clinging to the thin earth on either side.  On the landward side the earlier wire fences have been replaced by traditional cloddiau – earth banks revetted on the sea side by stone walls in the local vernacular.  Often their line has been breached, exposing the packed earth and pebbles on their insides.  Porth Ysgaden has an abandoned look, like many of the small harbours on this coast that were alive with boats and fish until the 1950s.  A stone gable end stands stark on a hill above the harbour, the only remains of an old salting shed.  Below, a walled compound tells us that it belongs to the local boat club, but it’s empty except for a single derelict boat.  Porth Ysglaig is surrounded by a grass theatre sloping down to the sea.  Scattered at different levels on the slopes are abandoned tin sheds, used by local fishermen long gone.  Then past a small, unoccupied caravan park – all of the caravans look rather dated and untended – and we reach Tywyn farm.  The small caravan park here has a small hut, labelled ‘Cwt Tatws’.  It’s closed, so we’re not sure whether fish and chips might have been available if we’d been luckier, and a little later in the season.

Comments (4)

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  1. Sian Evans says:

    Lovely account. I’d love a hand sketched map of where you actually were on The Welsh Coast path and an opinion – does seaweed small of decay?

    • Andrew Green says:

      That’s a good suggestion, Sian, the map. My plan is, when we’ve finished the WCP, to put all the accounts into proper sequence and add an introduction and some new features. This seaweed certainly ponged!

  2. Bethan Mair says:

    Nid sglodion sydd ar werth yn Cwt Tatws ond pethau moethus i’r cartref ac ategolion fel gemwaith ac ati. Y gyflwynwraig Daloni Metcalfe sydd biau’r lle – mae tudalen Facebook ei hun gan y siop. Hen gwt i gadw’r cnwd tatws oedd yr adeilad, a dyna esbonio enw’r siop. Er nad oes chips, mae’n werth galw yno.

    Wrth fy modd gyda’r blog, Andrew.

    • Andrew Green says:

      Diolch, Bethan, am egluro. Roeddwn i’n meddwl ei fod yn edrych braidd yn ‘up-market’ i fod yn siop tsips!

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