Wales Coast Path, day 79: Church Bay from Valley

July 28, 2018 0 Comments

Just the two of us today, to finish our circuit of Anglesey.  We get up early, plant one car at Church Bay and drive the other to Valley.  No cloud and drizzle this morning, just a balmy breeze and powerful sunshine.  For once I can’t avoid wearing my socially disastrous reversible sun hat.  There’s no path to start with. We crunch our way across the pebbly shore, with the high tide to our left and the straggly outskirts of Valley on the right. 

After a mile or two the Afon Alaw estuary interrupts the smooth flow of the walk.  At low tide it reduces to a trickle, but today it’s broad and full of water.  The path is forced far inland.  At first it keeps close to the south bank.  Our feet are lifted above the dried out marshland below by boardwalks and a stone wall.  We would have had to go as far as Llanfachraeth before the recent building of an elegantly curved footbridge, complete with sculptured roundels, just before the village.  The walk back along the north shore of the inlet is more varied, across fields, and avoids the water.  We meet a farmer visiting his cattle – he says they’re mostly surviving the drought and heat well, with human help – and then a large group of young people wearing ‘Anglesey Ramblers’ shirts, though they don’t seem to be Anglesey people.

Back at the coast – we seem to have moved only a short way from where we started – we stop for elevenses and admire the white ferry moored across the water in Holyhead harbour.  The path follows the beach north, beside Traeth y Gribin.  Some beach walks are simple enough, but this is one of the trickier ones: we need to change position constantly in search of a solid grounding for our feet among the sand, pebbles and seaweed.  At the end of the beach we climb through a large field full of cows trying to scratch a living from the sparse grass.  From the top there are fine views south and over the next bay north.  Walking down a lane to cut off the next promontory we see one and then a second white ferry, apparently gliding frictionlessly across the fields to our left.

Next comes a large caravan park – more like a small town than a holiday village.  It’s well-maintained and has lots of amenities, including a small bookshop, and nearby are small rocky coves and a sandy beach – ideal for families with young children.  But it has big drawback: it has no coast path signs.  We take a wrong turning and do almost a complete tour of the site, stepping over campers’ equipment, before managing to find a way out.  A large sandy beach follows – the last on this stretch of coast.  The rest of the journey consists of a series of small rocky, gracefully curved coves separated by headlands, which gives us just the right toning for our leg muscles without stretching them painfully.  On one high spot we stop to eat.  We sit on the path, our legs dangling over the side, with swifts darting silently about us and snatching at the many insects living on the tangled slope.  To our left is Holyhead Mountain, gleaming white across the water; far away to our right, the Skerries lighthouse.  We’ve rarely eaten sandwiches in a finer place.

From here we’re only a mile from Church Bay, and a final ice cream to mark the end of the Anglesey Coast Path, and, but for the short stretch between Swansea and Mumbles, planned for September, the end of the Wales Coast Path.

There’s a coda.  After the walk we go back to Llanfechell and explore the village. It’s a place little known by outsiders today, but there’s plenty to see.  St Mechell’s church (pleasingly, nothing much is known about Mechell) is large and has a strange dome or pyramid on top of its battlemented tower.  Inside we meet two women decorating the nave with flowers.  Over the pulpit they’ve arranged a multicoloured black figure of uncertain gender (‘Joseph ydi hwnnw!’ is the explanantion), draped in multicoloured parachute cloth.   A fine Calvinistic Methodist chapel (Libanus) and schoolroom, both now defunct, glare defiantly across the churchyard.  Also in the square is an unusual war memorial with clock, and a handsome row of early nineteenth century houses, Crown Terrace.  Llanfechell has a reputation for producing interesting people: not just the fierce Calvinist John Elias, but also the mathematician William Jones and the eighteenth century diarist, weather-watcher and grump William Bulkeley.  The village has an active community life.  There’s a well-stocked bilingual website maintained by Cymdeithas Hanes Mechell, and in the central square, in the old post office, is Caffi Siop Mechell, an excellent community-run café and shop organized by Menter Mechell.  The following morning, after walking to see ‘the Triangle’, three standing stones outside the village, we each choose the café’s  Big Breakfast instead of the normal austere muesli, to celebrate our 870 miles.  It tastes good.

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