Wales Coast Path, day 88: Bangor to Llanfairfechan

September 12, 2017 0 Comments

Heavy rain is forecast until the afternoon.  We put off making a start to Bangor as late as we can, but set off from the city centre along Ffordd Ddeiniol towards the Pier around 11:30.  The rain’s falling steadily, and only our faces are visible.  The long Garth pier, built in 1896 by Lord Penrhyn for promenading and embarking on pleasure boats, has a jaunty, eccentric look, with its regular side pavilions.  In the National Library, I remember, there’s an old Mitchell and Kenyon film of paddle steamers on the Menai Strait, decks filled with Edwardians wearing broad hats and broader smiles.  The weather in those innocent times seems to have been kinder.  Today just two bedraggled visitors walk the boards.

We wind our way through the east of Bangor, past the fragment of the University’s original building (an old inn), towards Porth Penrhyn and the impassable hulk of the Penrhyn Castle estate.  Here the path’s forced into a huge detour, south then east then north, to avoid it.  It’s now in the hands of the National Trust, landlords as implacable as the Pennants, who clearly don’t trust walkers to walk responsibly across their land.  Instead we follow the course of Lord Penrhyn’s horse-drawn railroad, which transported slates from the Penrhyn Quarry above Bethesda to Porth Penrhyn.  Here the proud initials ‘GHDP 1820’ can be seen (Penrhyn’s full name was George Hay Dawkins-Pennant).  Alongside the track flows Afon Cegin, swollen to a torrent by the heavy rains and soon there are currents on both side of us.  At length we turn east, along an extravagant but completely empty newish road.  It was clearly intended to be the backbone of some new industrial estate, but the buildings were never built and the side roads end abruptly after a few yards.  A plaque acknowledges financial help from the European Union to build this futile infrastructure – perfect ammunition for Brexit fanatics.

We go through the village of Tal-y-bont and cross the brown, foaming Afon Ogwen.  Then the path turns north, past the giant walls of the Penrhyn estate.  Under a dripping railway bridge, probably the last shelter from the rain for the rest of the walk, we stop and stand to eat our depressed sandwiches.  C shares a bar of caramel chocolate to lift our spirits.  Finally we get to Aberogwen, where we find the only example on the coast path of a counterweighted parallel bar footpath gate.  At the sea shore there are signs in Welsh, English and Polish (for how much longer?). We’ve now laboured for over two hours and we’re barely clear of the edge of Bangor.  But at least we can say goodbye to the sullen grey towers of Penrhyn Castle, and the rain is finally stopping.

The next section is thrilling.  The path follows the bare edge of the Strait.  The tide’s far out, uncovering the vast expense of Traeth Lafan.  As the rainclouds disperse the southeast coast of Anglesey – Beaumaris to Penmon and Ynys Seiriol beyond – become clearer, and along our coast the Great Orme already seems to be collecting some sunlight.  Thousands of birds are meeting, feeding, gossiping and quarrelling on the mudflats – gulls, oystercatchers, swifts, swans, geese and many others we can’t identify.  Their cries echo across the flats.  A small group of geese overfly us, their leader barking instructions like an unsympathetic driving instructor.

Our fast progress comes to a sudden end.  Afon Aber, flowing down from Aber Falls in the mountains opposite, is in full spate.  It’s burst its banks and rushes to the sea in a delta of different streams.  We can cross the wooden footbridge but beyond it the path’s completely flooded, and at one point crossed by a torrent of angry water.  For a few moments we wonder whether we could wade through the current, stripped and bootless like the Naked Rambler, but quickly think better of it and turn back.  Luckily, we recently passed the end of a narrow lane, and we can follow it uphill, almost as far as the A55 at Abergwyngregyn, where it turns east parallel to the expressway and then comes back to the sea.  The detour adds a mile or so to the journey, but it could have been much longer.

We pass through the nature reserve of Glan y Môr Elias and reach the outskirts of Llanfairfechan.  The Beach Café’s already closed so we’ve no choice but to plod up the hill from the railway station and search for a bus stop.  It stands next to a large field close to a church, and two sleek horses come to greet us.  They take a close interest in our backpacks and one of them has a long conversation with M, who has a previous record of horse-whispering on the coast path.

In Bangor we’re just in time to catch the bus to Llangoed.  Our bus drivers so far have looked conventional enough, but this one is testament to Arriva’s broadmindedness: he has blue and turquoise mixed in to his ample fair, with a beard and moustache reminiscent of Frank Zappa’s.  In Church Lane, Beaumaris, where parked cars leave a very narrow passage for traffic, the bus grazes some scaffolding and issues a cry of pain.  Mr Zappa stops the bus, turns to us passengers and asks, ‘Have we hit something?’  Everyone agrees.  He opens the door, whips out his mobile, takes a quick snap of the damage and resumes his seat with impressive unconcern.  We take the opportunity to alight, return to the cottage, and rest our weary legs.

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