MY LAST walk was about a month ago (as I write this) but that feels like forever. I tend not to go walking in August on account of the heat — well, the rain is warmer anyway — and of the near-impossibility of finding accommodation during the peak holiday season. With this in mind, I was keen to get one more walk in before I ran out of July, particularly since it would carry me to Holyhead, which was something of a personal milestone. I was joined in this endeavour by the Lemming who, as tradition demands, was wearing footwear that was less than ideal.
The Lemming and I had stayed overnight in the same hotel, which made meeting up in the morning fairly easy: I simply had to wander down to breakfast and there he was.
Four Mile Bridge
Having broken our fast with appropriately breakfasty foodstuffs, we set off on the three mile walk back to Trearddur where the ‘official’ walk would begin. On the way we crossed over Four Mile Bridge and stared out over Anglesey’s flat landscape. We would do quite a lot of the latter before the end of the day.
Trearddur Bay Beach
The sun was shining and the sky was mostly blue when we reached Trearddur and the first holidaymakers of the day were staking their claims upon the beach. The beach itself looked rather more inviting than it had in the previous day’s rain and I admit myself at least partly sold on Trearddur’s charms.
To introduce a proper break between the day’s walk and merely getting to its start, we sat on the promenade enjoying the sunshine and a nice cold drink. But our passive enjoyment was as nothing to the joyous exuberance of a small dog that bounced past us, radiating such vibes of excitement that its owner could have done with some sort of anti-fun suit lest he perish from an overdose through sheer proximity.
The walk to Holyhead began on the road beside Trearddur Bay, which curved round gently to present us with a building at which we both stared and said ‘I want one like that’.
The grade II listed Craig-y-Môr was built between 1911 and 1922 (with a break for WW1) for wealthy Englishman William Smellie, a founder member of the Trearddur Bay Sailing Club. The house was designed by Irish architect Frederick George Hicks, who decided to stick with familiar materials: its dark stone was shipped over from Ireland.
Apart from a short stint in WW2, when it served as a convalescent home for injured soldiers, it has remained in the hands of the same family, who share it as a holiday home. Apparently it is not unusual in summer to hear the wail of bagpipes lamenting a family member who died in a boating accident. That can only add to its haunted feel.
Caernarfon Bay Coastline
Porth y Post
The coast path left the road at Craig-y-Môr and snaked right past the house. Beyond it, the low and craggy cliffs were topped by narrow flower meadows. It was delightful. The route alternated between meadows and road as it cleared the end of Trearddur and carried us to the sandy bay of Porth y Post.
Neither the Lemming nor I were in any particular hurry and so we ambled along the cliff top at a frankly leisurely pace. Butterflies flitted lazily about while occasional patches of the invasive but beautiful crocosmia added a splash of orange-red to the pink-purples, yellows and whites of indigenous flora.
Before long we found ourselves in another small, sandy cove, namely Porth Dafarch. This was quite convenient, in that the porth had public conveniences. It also had geology in the form of foliated schist, i.e. visible layers of metamorphic rock formed from clays and mudstones under pressure.
‘A Bit Overgrown’
At Porth Dafarch, we bid goodbye to the road, which we would not be seeing again for some miles. A narrow path led us up onto an open cliff top where a young woman heading the other way warned us that it was ‘a bit overgrown’ ahead. She was wrong but only in the sense that it was a lot overgrown (but only for a very short stretch).
Crags & Caves
Before long, we were back on the open cliff top again, marvelling at our ability to see for miles (the dominant vegetation was the ankle-high western gorse). The coastline continued to be craggy and included the inevitable hill fort. It also allowed the island to live up to its name.
The Distant ‘Mountain’
Holyhead Mountain reared up in the distance, looking a lot more mountainous than it is; despite its name, at 220 m high it is most definitely a hill. But much of Holyhead Mountain is composed of pale grey quartzite, which makes its rugged western flank appear to be snow-capped, which in turn suggests that it is larger — and further away — than it is.
We had ample time to observe this as, having rounded the headland of Penrhyn Mawr and overtaken an annoying group of walkers ambling more slowly even than us, we had an uninterrupted view of the hill dead ahead for some time.
A Choice of Directions
The bay in the photo above is called Abraham’s Bosom and, when it was fully abreast of us, we met back up with the road. There were in fact two onward directions in which the road could convey us. To the right, it led off across the island on the direct route to Holyhead. A dead-end branch to the left climbed upwards to overlook South Stack lighthouse (also in the photo). We went left.
The road climbed slowly but determinedly and gave us ever better views back across Holy Island and Anglesey to Gwynedd in the distance. The road was, if not exactly busy, hardly quiet either: although it only went to South Stack (Ynys Lawd), there seemed to be no shortage of vehicles wanting to go there.
A gorse-covered hill stretched upwards on our right and we spotted a sign by a path leading up it, indicating ancient hut circles.
There are the remains of about ten farmsteads and their field systems at Tŷ Mawr (‘great house’), near South Stack. We stopped to look at just one of them before the lure of food proved greater than that of prehistory.
We were feeling hungry by now and I remembered that I had been told that the RSPB had an excellent café at South Stack. We therefore availed ourselves of its amenities and found that it lived up to the hyperbole in that its sandwiches were freshly made and generous. A cup of tea also made a world of difference.
When we were rested, nourished and liberally smeared with sunscreen (the normally sun-proof Lemming was starting to look a bit pinkish, which that meant I was probably at risk of actual combustion), we set off again. We shunned the nineteenth century castellated summer house of Elin’s Tower in favour of taking in a last glance of the Llŷn Pensinula.
South Stack Lighthouse
The road came to its end and the footpath climbed steps to the top of the headland. Halfway up the Lemming paused and swayed slightly, which was alarming.
‘I forgot to breathe,’ he explained, which wasn’t entirely reassuring.
Once at the top we practiced respiration while taking a good look at South Stack Lighthouse below.
Gigorth Bay & Holyhead Mountain
A Habit to Kick?
It was at about this time that I managed to stumble and stub my toes again. My left foot this time. Unlike the previous occasion, I didn’t fracture anything. But, just like the previous occasion, I managed to damage a toenail. For the rest of the walk I would, of course, find every possible opportunity to stub, knock or otherwise impact my toe for the maximum discomfort.
The Lemming seemed to find my frequent exclamations quite amusing. I ignored his Schadenfreude; he forgets to breathe.
A short while later the path encountered a road that led to a maritime transmitter station.
Approaching Holyhead Mountain
As it reached the base of the rock face, the path turned sharply to the left and climbed diagonally up a steep slope. A small coloured dot on the way turned out to be a climber halfway up the cliff. In theory he is actually in the above photo; in practice he’s too small to show up.
Soon the path was narrow, slightly overgrown and mostly composed of steps made out of rocks. It undulated a little but mostly kept climbing until it overlooked North Stack (Ynys Arw) on which a cannon was sited in 1861 to act as a fog warning in support of South Stack Lighthouse.
Descending the Mountain
What goes up must come down and so we descended yet another lot of steps, slowly making our way down towards Holyhead. On the way we passed this structure, which puzzled us. We walked around it and peered inside but had no idea what it might be.
Eventually the path ceased to be steps made of stones and conveyed us past the quarry which had needed the magazine. The quarry, in turn, had been needed to build the breakwater, without which Holyhead could not have become a ferry port.
The longest breakwater in the UK (at 1.7 miles), it took 28 years to complete (1845-1873) and used over seven million tonnes of stone, all extracted from Holyhead Mountain. A railway on top of it, used to carry the stone, remained in service for maintenance until the 1980s.
The immediately adjacent area forms the Holyhead Breakwater Country Park.
Approaching the Town
Now that we were off Holyhead Mountain, the terrain was back to being flat. Holyhead waited patiently for our arrival.
While it is hardly the most beautiful of towns (what ferry port is?) I was delighted to have reached Holyhead.
Not only was it another place to which I had never been before but it also had some personal resonance.
I’ve been doing a little bit of unearthing family history and my great grandfather hailed from that town, working on the ships as an engineer. I don’t know a huge amount about my great grandfather, and his name really isn’t helping — do you know how many Hugh Joneses were born in 1880s North Wales? Hugh (or Huw) is not exactly uncommon there, nor is the surname of Jones. Even in combination they return so many records that narrowing it down is a nightmare.
Soldier’s Point Hotel
This derelict, castellated building with its mock arrow slits looks like it could be a hotel, or it could be a prison. It certainly looks Victorian in its overblown romanticism and so it is.
It is actually the mansion of the chief engineer overseeing the improvement of the port and was built in 1848 for a man named James Meadows Rendel, who clearly knew what his construction priorities were.
The house later became Soldier’s Point Hotel before eventually being abandoned and falling derelict. In 2011, while occupied by homeless squatters, it was damaged by fire.
As befits its past, it is owned by Conygar Stena — a partnership between Stena Line and the Conygar Investment Company — and the partnership has plans to redevelop it as part of a wider regeneration of the waterfront.
A leafy road led us from Soldier’s Point into town where, due to our dawdling pace, we no longer had enough time to stop for food and drinks. We made our way through Holyhead’s streets, which became markedly older (and more attractive) the closer we got to the centre.
Holyhead (Caergybi, ‘St Cybi’s Fort’) is the largest town in the county of Anglesey although it is not the county town. It dates back at least to the Romans, who established a fort by the harbour and also built a watch tower on top of Holyhead Mountain (they built the latter inside an old hill fort, seeing no reason to waste a perfectly good fortification).
St Cybi’s Church
The Latin name of the main fort is unknown now, having been obscured by its gift in 540 from King Maelgwyn of Gwynedd to St Cybi. Its new owner used it as a monastery until his death four years later. The church has been sacked a few times (both by Vikings and by Cromwell) and therefore rebuilt but it still bears St Cybi’s name.
Port of Holyhead
Though it has always been handy for Ireland, Holyhead really took off as a port in the early nineteenth century when Royal Mail chose it as the port for the Dublin-London mail route and the roads were accordingly improved.
The port grew around this guaranteed traffic so that even when it lost the Royal Mail to Liverpool in 1839 (Liverpool had a railway line from London), work on the breakwater still commenced in 1845.
In 1848, Holyhead got its own railway links and soon regained the Royal Mail. The docks were extended between 1875 and 1880 and even today Holyhead remains a busy ferry port with two companies, Stena Line and Irish Ferries, operating ferries to Dublin.
Having arrived at the station with less than half an hour to spare, the Lemming and I jumped aboard a train and availed ourselves of the buffet trolley. He alighted somewhere in the vicinity of Chester while I headed back to London. It strikes me that, just like Holyhead, those are both Roman towns…
This time: 11½ miles
Total since Gravesend: 1,722 miles