I AWOKE in Tresaith to discover that December had arrived and promptly done away with any of that blue skies and sunshine nonsense. No, in December’s opinion, November had clearly been mutton dressed as lamb and it was having none of that.
The Ship Inn
The skies were grey, the air was crisp. The windows of my room at the Ship Inn in Tresaith were spattered with something that might have been rain or dew or sea spray. Or was it the spit of mermaids? And why would they lick my windows?
One leisurely breakfast later I set off into the cold, grey world, firmly resolved to ask any mermaids exactly what they thought were doing, should I meet one (I would have asked my question through the artistic medium of Contemporary Screaming and Fleeing).
Up onto the Cliffs
Perhaps fortunately, today’s path would mostly be made out of cliffs, far above the reach of even the longest-armed mermaid. And, as if to prove the point, it began by climbing up above Tresaith, granting me an excellent view of both that village and, in the near distance, Aberporth with the top secret Qinetiq site beyond it.
The Town of Seven
Tresaith literally means ‘town of seven’, a name which, according to local legend, refers to seven Irish princesses who landed on Treasith’s beach.
The princesses were, the story goes, the extremely troublesome daughters of a conveniently unspecified Irish king who decided the best way to deal with familial discord would be to put his girls to sea in an open boat in the hope that they’d drown. Because that never fails.
Shockingly, the girls survived to land their boat on the beach at Tresaith where they met, fell in love with and married, seven sons of local landowners, which just goes to show how lucky they were. And the village was named in their honour. It’s a lovely story, if ‘lovely’ encompasses ‘someone attempting to murder his daughters just to get his own way’.
Reality is Unromantic
Let us not dwell on the fact that until the mid nineteenth century Tresaith composed just one cottage and the inn. Or that the stream that splashes over a waterfall to meet the sea there is the Saith, which might be a less romantic reason for the settlement having its name. Because if we’re going to start disbelieving in wilful Irish princesses then we’ll make the world a duller, greyer place…
The path undulated along the cliff top for a while, with me the only soul wanting to walk it in December. Below the cliffs the sea splashed lazily against the sands of Penbryn Beach (Traeth Penbryn). Apparently bottlenose dolphins, harbour porpoises and seals all regularly frolic along this coast but they were clearly off doing something else. I blame the mermaids.
After about a mile the path descended into a wooded valley with yet another waterfall splashing down into a stream. Above me, at its top, I could see buildings through the trees. This was the village of Penbryn. A footpath branched off towards the thirteenth century St Michael’s Church, whose circular, walled graveyard presents no corners in which the Devil may hide.
At the bottom of this little valley — named Cwm Lladron (‘smugglers’ valley’) on account of the traditional use to which Penbryn beach was put — I crossed the tiny Hoffnant stream via a wooden footbridge.
The Hoffnant is only two miles long, rising near the village of Brynhoffnant. On the far side of the bridge a set of steps climbed back up towards cliff level. Sort of.
Not really having much choice if I wanted to continue, I picked my way carefully around the sprawling tree and somewhat damaged steps before stepping lightly over a length of tape across the path. Just beyond the tape, facing into a car park, I found a sign warning that the footpath was closed on account of the ‘dangerous’ tree. I guess it’s only dangerous if you’re heading the other way?
In the car park, which serves Penbryn Beach, was a café, which I erroneously expected would be shut. But, as the man behind the counter said, ‘we still have to pay the rent’. As I was still in denial about the grey skies, I bought an ice cream and a snack for later.
Looking at the menu, I was tempted to imitate a hobbit and enjoy Second Breakfast but time was pressing — I’d taken twice as long as planned to walk the single mile from Tresaith.
‘The café at Llangrannog is open, too,’ the proprietor told me. This was excellent news.
The path out of the car park at Penbryn shared a track with a bridleway for a short distance before the two parted company: the footpath branched left round the seaward side of a hill, while the bridleway branched right round its landward side.
Another couple of miles of cliff-side walking followed as I approached Llangrannog and its also-open café. Ahead I could see the hill of Pendinas Lochtyn and beside it the islet of Ynys Lochtyn, not that it looked like an islet from that angle. An image of the hill and islet forms the logo for the Ceredigion Coast Path.
The Legend of Bica & Lochtyn
There is, naturally, a legend regarding the features of this stretch of coast, a legend which eschews Irish princesses in favour of giants and dwarfs.
It concerns the giant Bica who developed a terrible toothache and was persuaded by the dwarf Lochtyn, who may or may not have been his servant, to stand with his feet in the sea. His tooth then fell out, forming an object now known as Carreg Bica (‘Bica’s rock’) and his footprints created the two coves that make up Llangrannog’s beach. In gratitude, Bica granted Lochtyn’s wish to live an island by drawing his finger across the end of the headland, separating Ynys Lochtyn (‘Lochtyn’s island’) from the hill.
Llangrannog (Llangranog) is named for (and its church dedicated to) St Carantoc (Carannog in Welsh), a sixth century abbot and grandson of Ceredig ap Cunedda, the king for whom Ceredigion is named. Carantoc hid away in Llangrannog, where he founded his church, in order to avoid being elected king of Ceredigion.
The Tides of Industry
Once the threat of seaborne raids had diminished, Llangrannog developed as a small seaport, mostly shipping coal. There was also a spate of shipbuilding to service this trade, with vessels of over two hundred tons burden being constructed on the sands. These days the only industry is tourism.
Having arrived in Llangrannog, I elected to contribute to the income of that industry by stopping for a nice cup tea and a slice of apple pie in the aforementioned open café (the low, white building facing onto the left hand side of the beach in the photo of the village).
In contrast to the cold winds outside, the café had its heating turned up to industrial furnace levels and I found myself wondering what temperature a fork melts at1.
The café was quite busy but by far its most noticeable occupants were the local cycling club, Velo Teifi, kitted out head-to-toe in eye-dazzling blue and yellow lycra. The cyclists were clearly enjoying their rest in the sure knowledge that the only routes out of Llangrannog would be steeply uphill.
(Not) Leaving Llangrannog
The cyclists and I left the café at about the same time but with distinctly different levels of having a clue. They leapt aboard their bicycles and headed purposefully, if tiringly, off up the road out of the village.
I, on the other hand, completely failed to spot the blatantly obvious steps back up to the footpath and spent the next five minutes uselessly wandering round the village. I blame the aggressive heating; I think it cooked my brain.
When I eventually located the really very obvious steps that no one except the most blithering imbecile could have overlooked, I made my way back onto the cliff path. This then skirted around the curve of Pendinas Lochtyn before giving me a choice of three branches.
Options for Upwards
All three options climbed from halfway up the hill to a path along an adjacent cliff level roughly with its top. My choices were thus:
- Take the right-hand, less-trodden path by which some brave fools had basically tried to walk up a grassy wall, or:
- Continue straight on up a fairly steep but manageable-looking path, or:
- Take the right-hand path which might actually be the official one but looked to be heading back towards Llangrannog round the landward side of Pendinas Lochtyn.
I decided to be indecisive and go straight up the middle one. How hard could it be?
Atop the Cliff
Let’s just say I need to lie down for five minutes at the top, in order to be sure that my lungs weren’t going to explode.
From the top I could see that, yes indeed, the right-hand path was the official route and would have climbed rather more sedately to bring me to where I now was. The other thing I could see clearly was Ynys Lochtyn and the narrow gap separating it from the mainland.
The Urdd Centre
The path carried me past the Urdd Centre, basically an activity holiday centre for Welsh-speaking youths, and a small sign set away from the path which I very nearly walked past until curiosity overwhelmed me.
A Footpath of Fear
Ignoring the Alternative
The sign warned that there was an alternative route coming up and that if I didn’t take it there was no escape from the exposed path cut into the coastal slope until I reached Cwmtydu in about four miles’ time. Not being a great fan of heights, I vaguely considered taking the inland route but resolved to stay on the cliff path and simply deal with it.
‘You know,’ I thought to myself, ‘this is ok. Granted there’s nothing between me and a long roll down the hill to my death but the path is wide enough that it feels safe. If it stays like this I’ll be just fine.’
Well, that concentrates the mind rather wonderfully. Moving quickly and stepping lightly are not two things that combine all that readily but I blended them fairly convincingly as I speed-crept past the bit with the cracks. Or crack, I should say; one longitudinal crack running for several tens of meters. It got a good deal more alarming before it ended too.
After that, the crackless part felt pretty tame, no matter what angle the coastal slope adopted.
Tiny and Closed
Before I knew it I had reached Cwmtydu, a tiny hamlet in what was once a smuggler’s cove. To my inexpressible joy, both the café and the toilets were closed for the season.
There were a couple of cars in the car park, their occupants looking out onto the beach through their windscreens, with absolutely no intent whatsoever to step out into the biting wind.
Cwmtydu was the favoured smuggling spot of eighteenth century smuggler and local hero Sion Cwilt, who would ride with several horses to meet vessels smuggling French brandy. It helped that he was related to Sir Herbert Lloyd, high sheriff of Cardiganshire, who was in on the whole thing.
Another illicit use for Cwmtydu is said to have occurred during the First World War when a U-Boat steamed into the cove in order to forage for fresh supplies. While that sounds entirely possible the story is sadly lacking in detail, such as the U-boat’s pennant number for instance.
Up On High Again
After Cwmtydu, the path conveyed me back onto the cliffs, which boasted some magnificently crumpled strata and a number of caves. To my right, now that a coastal slope wasn’t all I could see, the green countryside of Ceredigion rolled across to distant hills. It was lovely.
Nearing New Quay
I was drawing closer to New Quay now and knew I would be soon rounding New Quay Head. But first, before I could get that far, the footpath had a surprise for me in the form of another alternative route, avoiding the cliff path.
‘Another one?’ I mused. ‘That’s not on my map. Why do they need an alternative route…?’
Doing It Anyway
‘Oh, what the hell,’ I thought, when my stomach had stopped doing somersaults. ‘It’s not as though it has a crack running down it.’
As it turned out, the path was only like that for a few metres, just as it rounded that one hill. The alternative path joined up again so quickly I doubt it could have shown up on my map anyway. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself by this point and figuratively — but not literally — skipped along into New Quay.
The Quay in Question
New Quay (Cei Newydd) was a tiny fishing village with a natural harbour until 1835, when the construction of the quay that gives it its name was authorised. It cost £7,000 but proved to be a good investment as, within a decade, New Quay had grown to be a significant local centre for shipbuilding.
The boom was relatively short-lived, however, with shipbuilding at New Quay ceasing by 1870.
Big on Bees
These days, the small town with its brightly coloured houses mostly relies on the tourist trade for income although the nearby New Quay Honey Farm lays claim to being the largest bee farm in Wales. By which I assume they mean the largest farm that keeps bees. I don’t think they’re breeding giant bees.
A lot of New Quay’s tourism is connected with Dylan Thomas, who lived there 1944-5. Not particularly being a fan of Dylan Thomas, I took little notice.
Another Walk Accomplished
Having arrived in New Quay, I sought out my hotel room, a hot shower and food in that order. There may have also been gin and tonics involved.
The following morning I left on a bus to Aberystwyth, from where a train conveyed me homewards. Somehow, amazingly, I controlled my urge to hum the theme tune of 1970s children’s TV programme Ivor the Engine all the way to the border.
This time: 12½ miles
Total since Gravesend: 1,443½ miles
1about 1510°C if stainless steel