The heavy rain is back. By the time C and I have walked to Criccieth station we’re already drenched. No one else’s waiting for the train to Pwllheli. Birmingham International, the destination in the other direction, seems a more sensible choice today. The boarded-up station building carries murals of children on the beach, butterflies and wheeling gulls, all in bright sunshine. The train arrives, and the train manager is as sunny as we’ve come to expect on the Cambrian Coast.
The train links neatly in Pwllheli with the bus to Abersoch, which takes in all available villages off the main road, Mynytho, Llanengan and Llanilan. The driver seems to be called Berwyn – until C tells me that’s the name of the bus company; I look at the ticket, which gives as the driver’s name not Berwyn but ‘Dvr 000611’. In Abersoch the rain is still raining, and we seek the comfort of strong coffee in an urban-looking cafe called ‘Zinc’. An English family with young children is eking out a long breakfast to postpone having to go out into the rain and wind. Abersoch has a prosperous air for Llŷn, a place that appeals to yacht owners, surfers and smart coastal dressers. The dunes lining the beach to the best are overhung by upmarket chalets. Each is different from the next, and most are equipped with private wooden steps down to the sand. It all looks more like California than Gwynedd, though the sun loungers, it’s true, are wet, deserted and unAmerican. The beach is devoid of interest, except for one giant jellyfish, three times the size of C’s foot.
The wind’s still driving rain on our backs as we round the final chalet and follow a lane inland, past a windsurfer preparing to launch himself into the sea. Then a path climbs steeply up the long hill that blocks the end of the beach. Dripping sweat adds to our wet discomfort. On top the landscape suddenly changes to mountainous. The hill turns out not to be a thin headland but a block of bleak upland, Mynydd Tir-y-Cwmwd, and we need to negotiate its wet paths before emerging on to a new view east, across the curving sheltered beach of Llanbedrog. The bay is guarded by the Tin Man, a metal sculpture that’s been gently rusting high above the bay since 2000. It had two predecessors: the first, in wood, was vandalised, and the second, in metal, rusted away.
We take a lateral path through woods leading down to Oriel Plas Glyn y Weddw, the Victorian mansion above Llanbedrog built by Lady Elizabeth Love Jones-Parry and turned into the first public art gallery in Wales by a subsequent owner, the Cardiff retail tycoon Solomon Andrews. Here the art is good-ish and the Swansea and Nantgarw pottery on show is fine (if that’s your cup of tea), but the café food is better, and we sit for a while in the conservatory to replace lost calories. A small child at the next table tells the waitress that he’s planning to travel to the moon in the afternoon. This puts our achievements into proper perspective.
Down on the beach multicolour beach huts stand in a single long line, empty and shut up. They’re picturesque but, as often with the National Trust, just too perfect. Our guide says they’re towed away at the end of the summer to aid preservation. The Tin Man may be battered, but he’s made of tougher stuff.
The walk east tracks just inland of the long pebbly beach, at first on an embankment protecting fields from flooding, and then on a puddly lane alongside an almost deserted golf course. In a field near the path workers are fighting a hard battle with the strong wind to erect three large brown tents, maybe for a festival. On the horizon looms the incongruous mass of the long terrace built by late Victorian speculators, including Solomon Andrews, when the railway was able to bring the new tourists to Pwllheli in 1867. The promenade it’s built on drags on for a mile, past terraces of decreasing age and increasing ugliness. Single men walking old, unlovely dogs are the only people about. At last we turn sharp left and inland, along an equally straight road towards the town centre. On the left we pass a nature reserve containing the original salt pools that gave Pwllheli its name. On the right is the harbour we skirted yesterday. By the path alongside its western edge is a large metal plaque explaining the names of all the mountains we should be able to see in the distance from this viewpoint. Though the rain has now stopped, not a single peak is visible.
We’ve not long to wait before the number 3 Arriva bus back to Criccieth. The driver seems genial and relaxed enough. But he flings his bus around the bends with extreme speed, tailgating hapless tourists pottering in their cars, while chatting all the while with a young man in black trousers and large clumpy boots. By the time we get off our lower limbs seem to have stopped working. Time to shed the dripping clothes and damp boots and sink into another hot bath.