Wales Coast Path, day 78: Cemaes from Church Bay

July 28, 2018 0 Comments

The driver of the Lewis-y-Llan 62 bus to Holyhead needs nerves of steel.  She takes the three of us at a good pace on the main road from Cemaes as far as Llanrhuddiad, and then turns off to Rhyd-wyn, down a long single track road with no passing places.  Meeting another vehicle would be difficult.  Today, luckily, there’s nothing else on the road.  We get off and start walking from the village, past its large and closed Baptist chapel, to Porth Swtan or Church Bay.  It’s been drizzling and the warmth of yesterday has evaporated.  Worse, visibility is poor.

Peeping over a parched cornfield is a tall church spire, belonging to St Rhuddlad’s church – the church of Church Bay.  At the beach we set off north along the cliffs.  This is what we’ve come to call a ‘classic’ coast walk.  It has high cliffs, sparkling bays, deep gullies, long views and a path bordered by flowers (though most have had their colours bleached out this summer).  It’s also a remote area, hard to reach by car, and we meet almost no one over this stretch.  At first the cloud hangs low, and it’s even a bit cold, but gradually visibility increases and we feel warmer.

Unwisely I suggest this might be a no-getting-lost day, and immediately we find ourselves uncertain where to go.  We’re in a field with dozens of cows, just as in a similar scene near Cardigan years ago.  The cows wonder what we’re doing here.  (There’s not enough natural grass left for them, and the farmer has been forced to split open black rounds of silage for them to eat.). We eventually regain the path, but this won’t be the last time we go wrong today.

It’s not just grass that’s in trouble.  Heather, the commonest plant on these clifftops, has turned to unusual and astonishing colours, vivid silver and bright orange, as if to advertise its suffering.  Once the effects of the early drizzle have vanished our boots are again covered in dust from the bare earth paths we tread.  We reach Ynys y Fydlyn, lumpy rocks islanded at high tide, and stop for a break in the cove that shelters it.  Behind us, inland, is what the map marks as a lake, but it’s now sucked almost dry of moisture and its surface is cracked.  As we move north we can see a large arch the sea has excavated in the side of Ynys y Fydlyn.  In this light the sea looks turquoise from above, exactly as in north Pembrokeshire.

Soon, past Trwyn y Gader (Carmel Head), where the coast turns from west-facing to north-facing, we’re opposite the Skerries, the notorious string of low islands so dangerous in the past to Irish shipping, at least until William Tench built the first lighthouse in 1716.  He planned to recoup his costs through charging a fee to ships leaving Liverpool, but the plan was impractical and William died in poverty. Later on there are other signs of attempts to forestall shipwrecks: two ‘White Ladies’, tall white-painted stone piles intended to warn sailors of the danger of the rocks.  They’re aligned with third, on the offshore island of Maen y Bugail (West Mouse).  But how many shipwrecks, we wonder, happened at night?

Gradually the height of the cliffs decreases.  We take a small detour across a large field, occupied by noisy oystercatchers and bouncing rabbits, to visit the tiny church of St Rhwydrus (a unique dedication).  It has a gallery at the back, its facade inscribed with the name of the ‘recdor’ in 1776, and old pews that are literally ‘laid back’.  Back on the path we hear some ghostly, deep sounds coming from over the hedge to our left.  C guesses they come from seals.  I suggest they may produced by children pretending to be seals.  It’s C who’s right.  When the hedge relents we can see a colony of grey seals on the landward side of a small island, Craig yr Iwrch.

The seals are under observation by several naturalists, and there are even more, birders this time, once we get off the cliffs and approach Esgair Cemlyn, the long pebble beach that separates the sea from a lagoon occupied by hundreds of arctic terns.  The birds scream at one another, swooping through the air on their swept-back white wings.  They nest on two small islands not far from the bank.  This is one if the largest summer collections of terns in Britain, and their cacophonous chorus can be heard almost a mile away. 

Before we cross the beach we stop for sandwiches, in front of what looks like a French chateau, a large house hiding behind an extraordinary high wall of concrete and brick that keeps out the lagoon water.  This was Bryn Aber, the home of a millionaire, aviation pioneer – he was the first person to fly across the Irish Sea – and keen birdwatcher, Vivian Hewitt.  It was he who first created the lagoon by building a dam and weirs.

Now we’re nearing Wylfa, the nuclear power station only finally shut down in 2015. It’s an odd, multicolour collection of geometric shapes, and looks like some cubist collage by Juan Gris.  It gets in our way, and diverting round it takes an hour or more.  At one point the path takes us very close to the old reactors.  Outsourced security men watch us with care from their patrolling van.  The coast path signs give out and we’re left dangerously close to the core buildings, wondering where to go next.  We take a guess on a path up a slope into a wood, and, unusually for us, succeed in rejoining the Path.  Almost all the land around here is owned by Horizon Nuclear Power (actually Hitachi Ltd), the company that expects to build a new nuclear power station, Wylfa Newydd.  Yellow jacketed workmen scurry about the fields like archaeologists, making preparations (the company must have known the project would happen, long before the UK government’s announcement). Next, another detour, round the Wylfa Head, with a fine panorama, before we get back to the coast and continue into Cemaes Bay, by a complex series of diversions made necessary by the needs of Horizon.  All the land they own here looks sullen and threatened, left unfarmed and weed-filled.

The forced diversion has tired us, and we’re glad to sit down and lick our ice creams on a bench in the centre of Cemaes, and watch other visitors enjoy less strenuous holidays.

Leave a Reply