Gwynedd Coast Path, day 15

July 13, 2017 0 Comments

Now we are two, C and me, for the toughest challenge of the week, a mountain trek from Nefyn to Trefor across Yr Eifl.  And here’s our favourite driver for the Bysus Nefyn trip, talking non-stop with the same workmate.  It’s a quick journey: there are no deviations and, like all Llŷn buses, this one moves fast.

The Path weaves us by obscure lanes through the north part of Nefyn.  Past the maritime museum we ignore a large sign claiming that the route ahead is closed.  Then we climb, along sometimes muddy paths – and one meticulously mowed grassy section, part of someone’s garden – towards the old stone quarries above the town.  It’s a warm day and there’s no wind, so within minutes sweat starts to run down our backs.  We stop near an old well, Ffynnon John Morgan (characteristically unexplained by the guidebook) and I have a pee, just half a minute before a woman and her dog meet us, on a path we assumed belonged to us alone. 

A quarried mountain (the expressively named Gwylwyr Carreglefain) rears above us.  Mist from the sea hides its top, but it’s not hard to imagine the harsh and perilous working conditions of the miners.  We climb over a broad ramp for transporting stone, carefully constructed from thousands of spare stones not needed for setts and kerbs.  The path, an old quarrymen’s track, skirts the foot of the bare rock and debris.  At Pistyll we pass old St Beuno’s church, sunk in a small valley and surrounded by gravestones pitched at every angle.  Peering over the wall we see that one of them belongs to Rupert Davies, who played Maigret in the old BBC television series.  Traditionally the floor of the church is strewn with rushes and herbs.

Then, in high open country, we run out of footpath signs and blunder about on what look likes the path but is really a sheep track, getting increasingly lost.  The mist has thickened, blotting out the sea and most other features.  Just as we’re about to move in precisely the wrong direction we spot two girls striding purposefully away to our left.  They must surely know where they’re going.  They must surely be following the Path.  We scurry after them, stumbling through grass tussocks and bog.  By the time we arrive at where we saw them they’ve disappeared, but the track they were on looks promising.  We heave ourselves over the wire fence to join it, and soon a reassuring Coast Path symbol appears.

We’re now on a long, steep, high-ankle-sprain-risk descent through grass and bracken, and then through an ancient oak wood.  At first we can hear waves breaking on a pebble beach far below, but thanks to the mist we can’t make out the sea.  At last we get to the bottom, and emerge on the pebbly beach next to relics of an old industry.  This is Nant Gwrtheyrn, the remote stone quarrymen’s village, abandoned in the 1950s and revived in the 1970s as Canolfan Iaith Genedlaethol, the National Language Centre, by the visionary doctor Carl Clowes and his associates.  We buy lunch in Caffi Meinir and ask the girl there whether the mist will clear for the next stage of the walk, which offers some of the best views in Wales.  She doesn’t seem too hopeful.

We press on, up the long, hairpin road out of the Nant.  A wooded chasm opens to our left.  Mist and sun compete for territory.  At times the mountain tops ahead emerge, clear and bright, only to be engulfed a few moments later in swirling fronds of fog.  At the top we sit and rest, and scoff a large bar of melting chocolate (C claims that on a tough walk Cadbury’s Dairy Milk is best eaten in this liminal state).  Then we turn left off the road along a track towards Bwlch yr Eifl, the saddle between the mountain’s west and central peaks.  We debate whether to climb the latter, Garn Ganol, but decide against – the mist is already moving in to claim it – and start to descend the other side of the west peak, Garn Fôr, along gallery after gallery of abandoned quarry workings.  Somewhere we miss the Path once again, but as compensation we happen on the mountain’s glory, a gigantic series of buildings built in the 1930s to gather, work and export the quarried stone.  It’s a sight of gothic grandeur, from some angles like a medieval cathedral, from others like an impregnable castle.  Decaying concrete towers, walls, windows, terraces and hoppers, all abandoned, move in and out of focus as the mist advances and retreats.  The only living thing here is a sheep standing in one of the loading bays.

We walk on down the rough quarry road.  On leaving the mountain this turns itself into a ramp as we approach the quarry village of Trefor.  It’s been a strenuous walk, but we finish with a gentle circuit of the headland to the north and west of the village.  We pass, in sequence: a quiet harbour with its stone quay; a rotting wooden jetty, where ships once moored to take the stone to all parts of the world; a grassy slope edging over high, dark cliffs; a table-top island colonised by gulls; a stroll back up into the village, past a group of imperious goats and a derelict hotel.

At the bus stop we chat to a woman who’s on her way to see Jools Holland play in Venue Cymru, Llandudno.  A Trefor native, she laments how few of the village’s cymeriadau (old codgers) are left, and how many incomers have taken their place.  But to us it seems a trim, well-preserved place. For bus enthusiasts, it’s a paradise.  Two independent bus companies have their headquarters here – Clynnog & Trefor Motors, founded in 1912, and Berwyn Coaches, whose buses seem the more modern.  Long may they prosper.  It’s time for us to enjoy another breakneck bus journey back to Pwllheli, holding on tight to the handles and rails.

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