North Wales Coast Path, day 3

May 3, 2017 0 Comments

Rhyl in the rain is no fun.  We’ve arrived from Abergele on the no.12 bus to find the connecting service has just pulled out of the bus station, five minutes before it should have.  We take to the depressed streets in the hope of finding refreshement, and just as hope fades and we’re beginning to get quite wet in the driving rain, a tiny café, La Galleria, suddenly appears.  A delightful girl from Athens sells us three fine coffees, with biscuit thins, and hope is restored.  From the café’s decor and ambience, we could easily be in one of several Mediterranean countries.  The only other customers inside are speaking Spanish.

The next bus takes the best part of an hour, ambling round every suburb and village off the direct route, to reach the outskirts of Talacre (the bus driver tells us how locals pronounce the name). At a small new business park we elbow our way in to an outfit called Danger Point (Pentre Peryglon), which teaches children about keeping safe and, more important for us, has toilets we’re allowed to use.  The village is another Mecca for caravans, but it also has a row of small bungalows.  One has a front garden obsessively adorned with polar bears, tigers, penguins and gnomes.  Short roads branch off the main one; they’re called ‘First Avenue’, ‘Second Avenue’, and so on, as if we’re in New York.  Kal’s Cash and Carry offers ‘rock, pop, sweets’, a winning combination unchanged since the 1950s.  We resist Lola and Suggs’s Beach Cafe and cross the sand dunes to the shore.

Almost at once the Talacre lighthouse comes into view.  It’s low tide, so we stride across the wet sand to inspect its paint-peeled tower and perky red light.  Talacre is one of the oldest of Welsh lighthouses, built originally in 1777.  It’s now long deserted but still looks cheerful and helpful, standing at a slight angle from the vertical.

A few other lighthouse fans are gathered here with their cameras, but walking westwards along the sand against the wind we have the huge expanse of beach to ourselves.  It stretches for miles.  Tall dunes are topped by marram grass to our left – the only major remnants of the dunes that originally fringed much of the north coast – and to our right the sea’s retreating swiftly.  Wooden pillars with a conch carved on each remind us that we’re on the Wales Coast Path (this is the first time we’ve seen these).  Another sign, of a figure waving and drowning, warns us of the danger of sinking in the soft tidal mud.  At our feet the high tide mark is fringed with curious miniature mud waves that have set and puckered as they’ve dried, like a cracked coffee cake.  At length the sand is replaced by reed beds and long wavy grasses, alive with the voices of unseen birds.  Gronant Spit, constantly changing and growing, is the home of important species of plants, insects, like the vernal miner bee, and animals, like the natterjack toad and the little tern, soon to arrive from north Africa.  Signs prohibit swimming in the snaking watercourses – a provocation, it occurs to us, to dedicated wild swimmers like the late Roger Deakin.

Then the path turns up on to the dunes and follows a trail along their spine, keeping to a valley so that the sea and inland disappear from view.  For the first time for days skylarks sing above us.  Then suddenly we’re right on top of the dunes, on a boardwalk.  The sea reappears, and on the left a golf course and the outskirts of Prestatyn.  At the contemporary steel sculpture, Dechrau a diwedd, that marks the north end of Offa’s Dyke (‘Chepstow 182 miles’) we make a diversion into the town.  It has an attractive main street, but there’s a problem.  In an echo of the 1950s, it shuts down on a Monday afternoon.  Towards the top end, though, we find the eccentric cafe Tŷ Tudur still open.  It’s old-fashioned enough to offer traditional Welsh rarebit, and we tuck in.

Then we set off on a small expedition to the Prestatyn suburbs.  When I was a small boy my parents packed me off, on my own, to stay with three great aunts who lived in a bungalow in Aberconwy Road.  At the time they seemed impossibly old – the eldest, Aunt Hilda, was probably in her eighties – and all were unmarried.  They were kind to me, taking me on trips inland to see castles, and letting me play games in the sand dunes.  But all this was in the early 1960s, and I’ve not been back to Prestatyn, until today.  After five minutes’ searching, there it is, the sign ‘Aberconwy Road’.  And the street as I remembered it, going uphill in a straight line towards the edge of the town.  There are houses on the left, but a series of large bungalows on the right, in one of which ‘the aunts of Prestatyn’ must have lived.  I can’t recollect the house number.  Several of the bungalows look as if they were big enough to have accommodated three great aunts and a small boy.  But it doesn’t matter.  It’s enough to be reassured that my memories of the place, held in a remote corner of my head for fifty years, are not delusional, as childhood recollections often are, but correspond, at least in part, to the truth.

H leaves us at the bus station to go back to Abergele, and C and I set off back to the coast for the final push towards Rhyl.  Almost immediately we round the corner of the multicolour Nova Centre we realise that H was wise to leave us.  The sky darkens and the sea looks grey and agitated.  Even with two coats on it feels cold.  A fierce wind gets up, shaking our steps and later grows stronger still, whipping the sand up from the beach and flinging it into our eyes and mouths.  Only a few other tough walkers and cyclists are about.  The brutal concrete prom marches straight into the distance and Rhyl looks far away.  Occasionally concrete benches relieve the monotony of the wall.  Today they’re occupied not by picnicking families but by deep, smoothly sculptured drifts of sand.

By the time we get there, Rhyl is closed and uninviting.  We’re grateful to collapse at last into the front seats of the no.12 bus.  We listen once again to the voice announcing the names of the caravan park bus stops on the way back to Abergele.

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