AT THE end of my 99th walk I limped my way along the roads from Porth Oer to Nefyn and it was not at all unpleasant, though I refused to count it as part of my walk.
For my 100th walk, I returned to Porth Oer and basically did the same journey again only this time I stuck to the coast. It was miles better! And also longer: by a mile and a half to be exact.
I stayed overnight in Nefyn, which allowed me to leave most of my stuff in the hotel in the knowledge that I would be walking back to it. Thus, at a civilised mid-morning hour a taxi dropped me off at Porth Oer (also known as the Whistling Sands) and charged me a similar fare to that which I had paid for 220 miles of train journeys between New Eltham and Nefyn. Ouch. Still, at least I was there.
Smothered in Sunscreen
The Met Office had forecast cloud cover all day, meaning that even if not actually cool, it would be grey and not burningly sunny. Apparently no one had told the actual weather. I felt a warm glow of smugness that I had thought to liberally smear myself with sunscreen just in case, although this would later become the warm glow of sunburn when I would eventually discover that the sunscreen was amongst those items that I had left in the hotel room.
Blissfully unaware of the impending discomfort, I marched up and down the Whistling Sands, listening to the weirdly flatulent squeak of the sand grains experiencing shear stress. Mine were almost the only footprints on it — the beach was almost deserted and the tide was just going out.
The Walk Begins…
Colourful Cliff Path
I stocked up with water and munchies and retraced my steps up the access road to rejoin the cliff path. Right away, I discovered that the chromatic theme for the day would be purple shading to pink. Majestic foxgloves stood guard at intervals, surrounded by vibrant patches of red campion, which seemed determined to stretch the accepted definition of ‘red’. Further along, staying small to save growing expenses, were clumps of thrift.
Porth y Wrach
The path broke out into open grassland along the cliff top and I was able to look back towards the end of the peninsula, where the rather disappointing Mynydd Mawr (‘large hill/mountain’) looked a teensy bit mawr-er from this new angle but still not very much. The way ahead looked remarkably flat, so long as I didn’t step too far to my left.
The path continued like this for a while before becoming knee-deep in long grass. This was closely followed by thigh-deep in nettles. At some point, according to my map, the coast path headed inland and joined some of those roads I had walked a fortnight previously. I didn’t notice the coast path leave; I just stayed firmly on the path I was on. The nettles made it difficult to do anything else.
Fortunately, the nettle patch didn’t continue all that far, as nettles don’t thrive well when subjected to salt burn. Thus, as soon as I’d passed the point where they were sheltered, nettles gave way once more to grass and coastal shrubs. The path itself changed character here too, becoming narrow — and in some places more notional than visible fact.
At times the coastal slope was quite uneven and the path opted to slope sideways with it, making the footing quite treacherous. And yet at other times it was broad and flat and grassy. I began to strongly suspect that while this was a coast path it wasn’t the coast path. It was glorious nonetheless and it conveyed me past the offshore islet of Maen Mellt (‘lightning rock’) towards some strange, secluded little beaches that I would otherwise have never seen.
There were a number of these tiny beaches, hiding at the end of narrow inlets. Porth Iago turned out to be unusual only insofar as it didn’t have a derelict-looking shed at the edge of the beach. The next couple of beaches, at Porth Ferin, had sheds a-plenty. But first, before I could reach them, the path took the concepts of ‘notional’ and ‘uneven’ and really ran with them…
As I made my way carefully along the coast, some lichen decided to caution me that I should take due care. It did this through the medium of colour, by being a vibrant shade of hazard-warning orange. It made an interesting change from the purple and pink.
I must have taken notice as I made it safely to the sandy beach at Porth Ferin, and then to a rather stonier one a little way further round the coast.
I’m not absolutely certain what the sheds were built for but the local farmers used to also fish for lobsters, so I expect they probably held lobster pots. Today they’re more likely to store surfboards, if they’re still capable of storing anything at all.
Porth Ferin comprised just the beaches and sheds and lay, from a landward point of view, at the end of a narrow country lane. A couple of farmhouses also sat upon the lane.
The porth was named for St Merin (also Mirin, Mirren or Marinus) an Irish missionary who lived between about 565 and 620 and who ministered to the Cumbric-speaking Britons of Strathclyde and went on to found Paisley Abbey. There’s nothing to directly connect him with Wales or Cornwall, both of which have had churches dedicated to him, except that Strathclyde, Gwynedd and Dumnonia then spoke much the same language and maintained good links with each other.
The reason Porth Ferin is named after him is that there was once such a church nearby, although it was abandoned after the Reformation and now only the overgrown foundations remain, together with some low walls.
Rather than go in search of the church, I pressed on along path, which continued to wink in and out of existence until it approached Porth Widlin — another pair of small beaches — where, according to my map, the official coast path rejoined us. Certainly the path seemed to become a little more path-like. For a while.
I had a brief rest at Porth Widlin — although not on a sofa-shaped rock — and then continued on my way.
The path carried me past more secluded beaches, each separated from the other by fearsome rocks and delighting in such names at Porth Ty Mawr (‘great house cove’) and Porth Wen Bach (‘little white cove’). Soon, I stood on the headland of Penrhyn Colmon and surveyed the vista ahead.
Just round the headland of Penrhyn Colmon was Porth Colmon, no more than a tiny hamlet and a sheltered cove. It doesn’t look it now, when almost no evidence remains, but prior to the early 19th century, when road and rail links improved, this was an important landing place for all manner of goods.
After Porth Colmon, the path led on to Traeth Penllech, where it led down to the beach. There, a stream cascaded over the cliff in a waterfall and then ran out to sea. The beach was mostly soft sand and stretched along the coast for a mile. It was lovely. It was also, I decided, time for a break.
I may have paddled at the water’s edge, allowing the refreshingly cold water to soothe my tired feet. Or I may have gasped involuntarily as the almost icy numbness tried to flash freeze them. Honestly, it was a hot sunny day in June — there was no lack of warmth — but the sea, which buffers Great Britain’s temperature and moderates our climate, was having no truck with ‘summer’. The water was cold. Turns out that was just what I needed.
When I reluctantly left the beach, I found that the path had gone all notional again and I was largely forced to guess its direction by squinting at the grass to see if I could spot where it was shorter. Fortunately, this foolishness didn’t persist and the path soon returned to proper pathiness.
Porth Ychain & Porth Gwylan
I tripped lightly along — although not literally, I had enough of that last time — making occasional descents into narrow valleys in order to cross burbling streams. For most of a mile and a half, I saw no one, my only company the wheeling choughs and seagulls and frankly impressive numbers of butterflies, almost all common blues.
Then, all of a sudden, I was crossing a car park; I had reached the inlet of Porth Ysgaden, a small sandy inlet popular with divers.
Perhaps one of the reasons that people like to learn to dive at Porth Ysgaden is that there are numerous shipwrecks nearby. These are not entirely unconnected with its history as a small but locally important landing place, back before the roads were any good. Then, like Porth Colmon, it served as the arrival point for all manner of goods that locals would otherwise have had no access to, ranging from foodstuffs to felt hats.
One of the most common and aromatic of imports was a mixture of glycerol and horse manure, which came from Dublin. Comprising the waste products of soap factories and the sweepings of Dublin’s streets, Llŷn’s farmers were willing to pay the import duty on this malodorous mixture as they swore by its properties as a first rate fertiliser.
The port was watched over by a customs house, the only remnant of which is the gable and chimney breast visible in the photo above. The ever-vigilant customs officer would receive a bonus for contraband seized, which incentivised him nicely. The last ship called in 1935.
In addition to landing all manner of goods, Porth Ysgaden was also used for herring fishing. Indeed, ‘porth y sgaden’ means ‘herring cove’, albeit with an archaic word for ‘herring’. It would be ‘pennog’ in modern Welsh.
What, No Village?
With all this historic activity one might expect there to have been a thriving village clustered around the inlet but no, there was not.
And so, bitterly disappointed at the lack of ice cream-buying opportunities, I continued on my way…
The next couple of miles were fairly easy going terrain-wise, but carried me through several fields of slightly nervous cattle. These looked up curiously as I passed, started to move towards me and then, when they got too close for their own comfort, chickened out and ran away. I thought this a bit odd until I realised they were all young males, navigating an adolescent bovine state somewhere between ‘wanting to hide behind mum from the stranger’ and ‘wanting to gore the stranger to death’.
In the end, we tacitly agreed to leave each other alone. They apparently thought I was scary and I knew that their not-too-distant futures would involve being paired with Yorkshire pudding.
A little while later, I found myself slightly missing the cattle as the path conveyed me through a golf course near Porthdinllaen.
Now, I have nothing against golf per se. It doesn’t appeal to me in any way but I don’t begrudge others playing it. But there is just something about golf courses, the sprawling, unnatural neatness which is neither countryside nor a formal garden, that I find deeply disquieting. I felt that dotting the fairways with cattle would improve the look of things significantly.
The golf course led me onto a long, rocky promontory that had naturally been the site of an Iron Age hill fort. It was certainly in a commanding position and the lumpy remnants of its defensive ditches were still present to complicate matters for the golfers.
At the foot of the hill fort was the old fishing port of Porthdinllaen, which can only be reached by non-residents on foot (vehicular access is restricted to those with a permit). The village comprises about two dozen buildings, one of which is the locally famous Ty Coch (‘red house’) pub.
The Ty Coch provided me with gin and tonic while the beach outside thronged with people enjoying a party atmosphere, half-deafened by a wall of blaring and geographically incongruous Caribbean music. I love the sound of steel drums so that was fine by me.
This tiny village and harbour has a similar history to many of the old landing sites I’ve passed, in that it was a critical gateway for goods before road and rail arrived.
In 1806, it nearly became a lot more important when it was proposed that this should be the port of embarkation for ferries and trade ships to Ireland. As it turned, out Parliament chose Holyhead instead and Porthdinllaen had to console itself with being the main point of export for pig farmers sending their wares to Liverpool and for the import of salt to keep Nefyn’s herring industry going.
Sticking to Sand
Refreshed by the invigorating power of gin and tonic, I left what could have become a major ferry terminal and set off along the beach, making my way around the sandy bay. The official coast path was somewhere on the cliff top but I was quite happy ambling across the sands the half mile or so to Morfa Nefyn.
The village of Morfa Nefyn (‘Nefyn marsh’) is small but growing and at its northern end its buildings spill down onto the beach. It was towards these buildings that I now made my way.
An outgrowth of Nefyn, Morfa Nefyn expanded in the nineteenth century, when herring fishing and coastal trading were important local industries. These days it is mostly geared towards tourism.
Flying in the face of the tourism trend, I paid Morfa Nefyn almost no attention and immediately set off along the coast path towards its rather more ancient neighbour and parent, the small town of Nefyn.
St Mary’s Church
Records of Nefyn date back to the mid 11th century when Cadwaladr, son of King Gruffudd ap Cynan, granted Nefyn church to the Abbey of Haughmond. The modern church dates only to the 1820s but the foundations indicate a church site dating back to the 6th century, giving the village a lengthy if unrecorded existence.
On Palm Sunday in 1188, the church played host to the chronicler Gerald of Wales, who visited the parish with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Baldwin of Forde, as part of their money-raising tour on behalf of the Third Crusade.
Maerdref and Borough
The village must have prospered because by the 13th century it had become a maerdref, a royal demesne directly under the King of Gwynedd although this was relatively short-lived as Edward I of England effectively conquered Gwynedd in 1283. But by 1355, its then owner, Nigel Loryng, chamberlain to the Black Prince, was able to persuade his master that Nefyn should be incorporated as a borough.
Nefyn’s economy largely depended on farming, seasonal herring fishing and — for a brief period in the early 19th century — ship-building. The farming continues, supplemented by tourism but, to be honest Nefyn, is a sleepy town that seems to be taking very little advantage of tourists. It has one main hotel, built in 1914, although I was actually staying in another, which seemed to take its custom purely from golfers and walkers.
As the sun dropped low in the sky and the shadows lengthened, I made my way along the cliff path towards Nefyn. By entering from this direction I would miss the signs telling me that it is twinned with Puerto Madryn, a town in Argentina’s Chubut province that was founded by Welsh settlers.
The Warm Glow of Success
I returned triumphantly to my hotel and greeted the owner with a jubilant cry of ‘I made it, and I didn’t get sunburnt this time!’
Her failure to quite suppress her amusement told me all I needed to know about the colour of my face…
This time: 14½ miles
Total since Gravesend: 1,623½ miles