When I was a little boy I was fascinated by lighthouses and all I wanted to be “when I grew up” was a lighthouse keeper. Growing a bushy beard, wearing a white sweater, smoking a pipe and telling outlandish tales about hidden treasure and sea monsters to passing groups of four children or more with their dog. Sadly the vast majority of lighthouses in the UK were undergoing an automation process so lighthouse keeping was, it seemed was a dying vocation.
When I was about 10 I went on a holiday to my favourite part of Wales. On this particular visit my parents took me up to see the view over Bardsey Sound and the lighthouse on Bardsey Island from Mynnedd Mawr. It was there that we came across this curious little hut, inside of which was a man, with a powerful telescope and radio equipment.
The man explained to me that he was a Coastguard lookout and his job was to lookout for ships in distress and report on wind and sea conditions. This, I decided immediately, was what I wanted to do for a job when I grew up. Sit in a cabin and look out to sea all day while telling tales of seafaring, pirates and giant squid to passing groups of four or more children with their dogs.
Sadly these days coastguard lookouts are as rare as dodo sausages and, as government funding decreases and technology improves, coastguard lookout has become a job similar to coal miner, fax machine sales man or VHS librarian — virtually non-existent. Indeed, when a few years later I would talk to school careers advisors about a job in the coastguard they would often counter with — “Sorry I don’t have a card for that career” or “You’ll have to ask at the library” or “But you can’t swim very well” or “Have you considered a YTS (low paid apprenticeship) at the local Ford factory?” and instead I became an unemployed multiskilled generalist.
Fortunately the little hut is still there and every year when I go back to this part of Wales I like to visit. Of course the man is probably long dead and his little hut is stripped of telescope and radio equipment, replaced instead by displays of local history, wildlife and birds. But I still think about how, for that brief moment in my life, I knew what I wanted to do in adulthood. I look out to sea and try to spot a ship in distress. But of course boats don’t tend to travel through that stretch of water as much now and you get put on a list when you’re a male and talk to children….
100 years ago the coast around the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales was a hive of industry. Parts of the area was dotted with manganese mines and associated shipping docks and winch houses. It’s hard to imagine what it was like as these days it is an area of serenity and eerie beauty peppered with these industrial remains.
The winch you see in today’s picture would have brought manganse ore from the mines in buckets and then down to the waiting boat below the cliffs behind the photographer. Although the photographer, me, wasn’t born when this was a working winch and when I took the photograph, there was no ship waiting.
The building you can just see to the right was probably the office of the foreman who would have kept an eye on the winch workings incase of a problem. Now abandoned to the elements, spiders and sheep, it’s quite a draughty building now but the view hasn’t changed.
One of my favourite walks starts by parking in the National Trust Car Park on Lon Golff in Morfa Nefyn and, depending on the tide, walking along the beach toward the distant Porth Dinllaen then, after a bite to eat and a pint at Ty Coch (http://www.tycoch.co.uk/), a leisurly stroll up the cliff road and through the golf course back to the car park. Or, if the tide is in on arrival, the reverse.
Ty Coch and the houses in Porth Dinllaen are only accessible via the beach or via the restricted delivery road through the golf course. It is one of those “secret” pubs in North Wales that everyone seems to knows about. It’s really popular on hot sunny days, especially with families (mostly because of the beach/pub combination) and boat owners (the natural harbour there attracting the wealthy).
Ty Coch has been a place I’ve always tried to visit when I’m in the area. It is a unique place steeped in history and natural beauty (a short walk around the headland often results in seal sightings). Its really handy for mid-walk refreshments and, at one point, it did live music of an evening in the pokey little bar area. I often think about whether there are other places like it in the UK – regularly cut off by the tide and only accessible via foot or sea. I’m sure there are. Do you know of anywhere like it?
When I was a young badger, my Uncle had a lovely cottage in Wales that my dad would help do up in return for being able to spend occasional weekends and holidays there. Slap bang in the middle of acres and acres of grazing land on the side of a mountain in most rural, rugged North Wales.
The cottage was accessible by either a long walk up a very steep hill (rhiw in Welsh means steep) or a short scary trip up a muddy track in an old decrepit Land Rover. It had a coal fire (unusual to someone from suburban pre-millenial Liverpool), a lot of spiders and an upstairs accessible only via a ladder (a crog loft).
As my Aunt got older she became concerned about being stuck up the mountain without access to medical emergency services and encouraged my uncle to sell the place, which he did shortly after I started secondary school. Still, happy times were had and memories were made.
In 2004, Mrs Gnomepants V1.0 and I revisited the area with my parents to see how the place had changed. The Land Rover having been long turned into a tin of beans and chancing a bit of trespass, we walked up the newly lain CONCRETE roadway up to the cottage. It had been completely renovated and was looking well loved by the new owners.
I’ve been a few times since and it now seems that it is no longer a holiday home but an actual home for someone remote working – I bet they have better internet than I do.
One of my many obsessions is with seafood dishes, especially Seafood Mornay.
The best seafood mornay I’ve ever had was Roger’s Seafood Mornay from the former Pen Bryn Bach restaurant near Aberdaron in North Wales. The second best seafood mornay was also Roger’s Seafood Mornay. In third place was the seafood mornay I made for a dinner party back in 2003. All others are just pretenders to the throne.
Sadly when I visited the Lobster Pot near Cemaes Bay in Anglesey in 2011, I found that they didnt do a Seafood Mornay. What they did though was a delicious surf and turf with half a lobster skillfully balanced ontop of grass fed beef steak (How they get the steak to eat grass is beyond me, surely it would be better to get the cow to eat the grass?) and doused in enough garlic butter to both thin and clog the arteries at the same time.
Today’s picture depicts the delicious dish itself.
Feeling hungry now…..
Before I blather on about how amazing Wales is I’d like to point out two important things.
1. On the subject of the Russian provoked LJ to Dreamwidth exodus: – I’m there as Stegzy too (http://stegzy.dreamwidth.org) although I rarely post there because I forget to do so but feel free to add if you are there. Alternatively, you can follow me on Blogspot (http://stegzy.blogspot.com or ) although, to be fair, you’ll only get to see articles and social media posts that I like there.
2. Did you know that Smart Cars come with a free invisibility cloak? Similarly, Mercedes cars come with automatic road ownership deeds it seems.
Wales – that crinkly bit that keeps the West Midlands away from the sea. The bumpy bit that keeps Cheshire cheesy and the coaly bit that kept Cardiff busy for a couple of hundred years. That’s where I’ve been.
If you’ve read this journal long term, you’ll already be familiar with my love affair with the place but usually, I either float between the Llyn Peninsula, Anglesey or South Wales. This trip, however, we loitered with intent at the foot of Snowdon, in the glorious Conway valley while using the peaceful former fishing village that’s soon to be the front garden of a nuclear powerstation, Cemaes Bay as a base to launch a sortie into Llandudno before scooting up the coast via Rhyl towards Liverpool.
Our journey began early Good Friday morning when, fortified with chocolate porridge, I drove (invisibly) north via the sat-nav’s “Shortest route” which eventually seemed to want to take us through the heart of Coventry. “Stuff that!”, I thought and quickly joined the M6 at Walsgrave and navigating by memory westward along the M54 bypassing Telford and Shrewsbury.
First stop was at the mysterious often cloud bound lake of Llyn Brenig. I first visited Llyn Brenig over thirty years ago with my Aunt Joyce. I remember the visit fondly especially as it was in the visitors centre there that she bought me a memorable puzzle book which featured a maze through a haunted house. More recently, Mrs Gnomepants V1.0 and I made a return visit to Llyn Brenig around 1999 where I was pleased to see that the visitors centre hadn’t changed, the shop still sold cool books and there was an informative exhibition detailing pre-Cambrian times, dinosaurs and ice ages and how they were important in supplying water to modern day homes in Wales.
Llyn Brenig hasn’t changed in over 3000 years
As with all things, the sands of time have been harsh to Llyn Brenig. While the scenery hasn’t changed much, it seems that the visitors centre has. The exhibition, once so informative, is now reduced to a rotary leaflet cage and a couple of dodgy looking poster boards in an entrance hall; the vast majority of the floor space now given over to a new bright and airy cafe selling a range of trendy coffees and cakes. Mrs Gnomepants V2.0 seemed to enjoy it though, especially after a brisk wind lashed walk along the lakeside together.
Back to the car, we drove further north towards Bodnant Garden. Bodnant too has changed since my last visit nearly 15 years previous. The once dominant faux-Swiss log cabin cafe with the gorgeous cakes has now been replaced with a flimsy looking wooden shed like structure, sadly now lacking the gorgeous cakes.
One bonus change about Bodnant is that visitors no longer have to take risks with their own lives by attempting to cross the road from the carpark to the actual gardens. Now you can cross in safety by taking the tunnel under the road while trying to visualise where the dominant faux-Swiss log cabin has gone and whether those fifteen year old cakes were actually just a dream (surely no-one could really make profiteroles the size of cricket balls).
Another change about Bodnant is the footprint of the gardens. Since my last visit, new areas have opened up and there are some really interesting juxtapositions of man-made and natural landscapes enhanced by the lovely rhododendrons and other flora.
After a quick lunch and an even briefer lesson in Welsh at the disappointing cake sporting shed, we jumped back in the car again and yet again drove (invisibly) north then west along the A55 to the delightful Cemaes Bay.
We last stayed in Cemaes in 2011 but it seems I was starting a new job around that time so long pieces of prose took a back seat. It hasn’t changed much. Some of the quaint little village high street shops have shut but everything else seemed almost the same. The hotel, mostly unchanged. The high street, mostly unchanged. The strange elderly man with his unusual tick, mostly unchanged. The quaint quay (or was it a jetty), mostly unchanged. The little kitten following us down the lane, mostly a different kitten. The peace and tranquility juxtaposed against the crying seagulls, lapping waves and irritating yapping from a distant dog. Lovely.
Equally lovely and unchanged (mostly) is Llandudno where we visited the following morn. A killer wind prevented (yet again) a cable car trip down the Great Orme. It has been thirty five years since I last travelled down the Great Orme by cable car. This time Mrs Gnomepants V2.0 and I caught the cute Victorian cable tram down the hill into the town.
Llandudno – Where the old go to die (and have a holiday).
Llandudno is where old Scousers go to die, much like how Worthing is where Brighton pensioners go and Scarborough is where old biddies from Leeds, Wakefield and Sheffield go. A massive Victorian seaside retirement town complete with remains of ornate gardens, grand hotel and a pier selling ice cream to wailing and demanding grandchildren.
You can see how Llandudno was once a grand place where the wealthy would adjourn to during the summer months following a busy year promenading around the city. Big former hotels, big wide sweeping boulevards and avenues, now largely an amount of old buildings just waiting to accidentally on purpose catch fire, be pulled down and turned into luxury flats.
From Llandudno we nipped back over the Conwy estuary to Conwy. A delightful town within a castle’s walls. I always think of Conway as being much bigger than it actually is. It isn’t big at all though. Consisting of about five short narrow main streets and the UK’s smallest house. The town is enhanced only by the constant throng of gawping tourists mooching around the place making everything expensive.
Conwy – Small and full of tourists
On this visit I managed to locate the UK’s smallest house and, as a bonus trick, was also able to visit Thomas Telford’s bridge and tollhouse. Such an amazing feat of engineering. I often feel that Telford is overlooked because of Brunel yet all Brunel did was make a railway that nobody could use and build three massive ships that bankrupted him. At least the majority of Telford’s legacies are still used, and he has a town named after him. Meanwhile most of Brunel’s creations are now reincarnated as tins of beans and a bit of Bristol.
We headed back to Anglesey and dined on mountain of fried seafood before sloping back to the hotel. The mountain of fried seafood was well worth every penny but it saddens me that mountains of fish are not as freely available in the UK as they are in other parts of the world. I sometimes wish I could go on a Mountains of Fried Seafood tour of the world. Perhaps when I’m a millionaire. Or retired. Or fed up of the sight of Fried Seafood.
It took 4 experienced climbers to rescue me from the top of this mound
The next morning I fulfilled my threat of taking Mrs Gnomepants V2.0 to Rhyl. If you’ve never been to Rhyl, you’re lucky. Rhyl was once a place where elderly Scousers went to die. Now it is where elderly scousers who live most of the year in static caravans go to die. Indeed, as if to illustrate Rhyl’s level, we espied a family happily having their midmorning cigarettes on the veranda of their static with a view of the main road while dressed in their nightwear. Awesome.
I didn’t leave her there honest!
In the wooly wilds of North Wales, there is a place dear to me. A peaceful place. A place where magic awaits. A serene place where the only loud noise is the occasional jet fighter from Valley flying over head or the farmer making bales of hay.
This place is nearly unpronounceable at a campsite at the base of the large mountain. I won’t tell you where it is exactly, but regular readers will know. I don’t want the area spoilt by coach loads of people seeking peace and serenity.
Lovely isn’t it?
This is the spot. Miles from anywhere. Peaceful. Quiet. No people to bother you.
In my minds eye it is always this glorious too. Skies as blue as language in a working mans club. Grass as green as my old Hyundai Coupe. A climate as warm as toast. Beautiful. Quiet.
Why this particular view? Well during the day the sea looks so calm and serene there. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you may witness the clouds rolling in off the sea like something from an eerie movie. Shrouding everything yet still allowing parts of the landscape to peek out like cheeky little kittens.
A bit like this
But I know. I know from bitter personal experience. This place can be cold, wet and stormy. But it doesn’t stop me from remembering it as a warm welcoming place.
It is no wonder that this area is steeped in mythology and wonder. This is where Arthur had his Camelot. Nothing to do with Glastonbury or Cornwall. This is the land of the dragon. Where the isle of Avalon lies over the treacherous waters. Where few come. Where fewer remain.
Those that do, and stay the night, are treated to a display of stars bright. Of distant light from the Pembrokeshire coast cast from lighthouses across the bay. Shooting stars, dolphins basking in the light of the setting sun. All this. With naught but peace and quiet.
It is where I want to be scattered should I be cremated. It is where I would like to spend my last waking moments on the Earth.
No mobile phone signal. Nothing. Just peace and quiet.
After having carefully planned my working week to coincide with a visit to the North West to make it easier to travel to Wales, I set off from Liverpool on Thursday morning bound for Pistyll near Caernarfon to begin the third phase of the walk around the coast of Wales.
At this pace, I suspect I will have completed the walk some time in my late 80s. Probably on a mobility shopper.
Regular readers will recall that last year we ended our walk at Porth Towyn having set off from Porth Oer. Because we were starting further up the coast, it made sense to change our usual campsite to a new….untested one.
This year’s campsite was at the amusingly named Penisarlon Camping Farm near Pistyll.
The camp site was very clean and peaceful with fantastic views across towards Nefyn (our goal for the Friday) to the South west and towards Nant Gwrtheyrn to the North East with St George’s Channel to the north.
However as we had arrived earlier than expected we decided that, though too late to start our walk properly, we could start a bit of next year’s planned walk.
This took us towards Nant Gwrtheyrn, though we did not reach there until later in the weekend. Instead we were treated to a lovely bog blocking our path, sheep, second homes and a quaint little church, St Buenos.
On the Friday, we awoke to a lovely rainbow across the bay. Little or no rain during the night but plenty of snoring from me.
This year we began where we left off and made our way across the once more sunny cliffs and dips leading towards Porth Dinllaen. Glorious views. Glorious weather.
Four hours of walking later we crossed Nefyn Golf course and reached Porth Dinllaen.
During the previous night we had espied a strange structure out in the bay. It looked like a drilling platform and part of me was concerned that the greedy oil people had set their eyes on a protected area of outstanding natural beauty.
Fortunately, this was not the case. The platform was actually for the construction of a new RNLI Lifeboat launch slipway. So it wasn’t too bad.
The construction site had an interesting staircase winding its way down the cliff side allowing access to the official coastal path bringing us out at the lovely Ty Coch Inn where we ended our second day’s walk with a delicious and rewarding pint before heading back to the campsite.
After a rather sleepless night for Nick (my snoring again!) who ended up sleeping in his car, it was agreed that completing the short trail up to the campsite would be sufficient for this years walk.
Before that we needed sustenance in the form of a hearty breakfast. On the inbound trip, I espied a brown sign directing the visitor to a place called Nant Gwrtheyrn which had a cafe.
Nant Gwrtheyrn is an old village built for quarry workers in the 1800s. If you were to follow the link above you will be able to read the history. The landscape there is a bizarre mix of post industrial archaeology and nature. There’s a church there, a cafe and a collection of stone cottages available for rent by holiday makers.
However, the cafe didn’t open for breakfast so we scuttled back to Nefyn and the continuation of our walk.
The short trail continuation took us from where we left off the day before and along a winding cliff top pathway. Again, plenty of luxury cliff top homes for the wealthy and privileged. Glorious views.
It’s places like this that make you realise that no matter how hard the average Jo works, they will never attain a picturesque view (like that in the panoramic picture below) without luck, windfall or skulduggery.
The path turned in land and took us through the village where we had earlier eaten our hearty breakfast before heading up a very steep looking hill.
Eventually the path turned into something resembling Borneo. Overgrown gorse bushes, brambles and scratchy things took their toll on our bare shins, bitey creepies made a meal on our blood, and burny heaty hot sun scorched our flesh from on high. Yet, after three hours of walking, we reached the campsite and the starting point for our continuing adventure next year.
Rain. It comes and washes away the summer dreams like a proper spoil sport.
My calculations that the time between Wimbledon and the Olympics yet before the school holidays would be a gloriously sunny time were completely out. Beyond out.
And so it came to pass that on Saturday 14th July I loaded up the car for the next leg of my annual Welsh Costal Walk with Nick. With the car laden I began the four hour journey to the north west of Wales via Betws-y-Coed.
Omens and foresight should have shown me that the weekend was to be a tricky one. When I was about an hour into my journey to my first port of call, a text arrived from my colleague to announce he was running late and would be setting off shortly. Fine, I thought, this will give me a chance to mooch about the camping shops in Betws-y-Coed and therein maybe purchase some gas canisters for the camping stove.
On my arrival the rains began. Fair enough, I thought, this is Betws-y-Coed which is renown for rain as the clouds empty their load onto the Snowdonian foot hills so a bit of precipitation is bound to occur in these here parts.
Two hours, a very expensive bacon sandwich (£4.50 for two bits of soggy bacon between cheap slices of bread) and a cup of tea (£1.50 for an egg cup with a splash of milky brown liquid) and several Radio 4 programmes later, Nick arrived and negotiations began for further travel to Porthmadoc where we could buy provisions for the break and some beer. Before following Mr Sat Nav’s directions to Aberdaron and the campsite.
A few days before departure I had placed a reservation as usual at Mynnedd Mawr Campsite only to be told “Just turn up”. So we did. And managed to get one of the last good spots for the tent. The majority of the campsite seemed to be taken up by two very large 10 men trailer tents pitched slap bang in the middle of the site. The thoughtful owners (two Jewish couples in their late fifties/early sixties) had blocked out the lovely view so I didn’t have to look at it. That was very kind of them.
The following day, glorious sunshine blessed our walk which commenced from the end of the last walk (Porth Oer) up the coast toward Porth Tywyn. A good 15 miles of coastal path. The weeks of torrential rain over the previous weeks had made the going quite boggy and our initial steps seemed thwarted but following a brief detour along the beach we were back on the trail in no time.
Glorious views were beheld. Glorious weather too.
Nick enjoying a well earned break
There are many mysterious places along that stretch of coast. For example these stairs cut into the hill side and seemingly inaccessible static caravans.
Or you would be trudging along and have to follow the path through a field of cows…
It’s such a lovely piece of coast line. But the weather there can be unpredictable. By 3pm the clouds were already gathering and the wind had picked up. On our return to the tent it was decided that it was too cold to sit outside drinking beer and that we should retire to the interior of the tent, therein to play dominoes.
I was winning, 10 rounds up, the wind brought with it rain and clouds to further darken the skies. By morning the tent had nearly taken off had it not been laden with the previous evening and early morning rain. The outlook seemed bleak. Further bad weather due.
Rain stopped play. We decamped and returned to our respective homes.
Coming soon – Holiday 2012: Part 2 Devon and Cornwall.