TO RESUME my perambulation around the coast of Anglesey, I took advantage of a lull at work and travelled back to Amlwch on a Friday afternoon, staying overnight in nearby Bull Bay. This meant that I was up and out early on Saturday morning, returning to Amlwch just in time to realise that I’d left my sunscreen in London. The weather forecast was approximately ‘Gas Mark Five’.
Shopping for Sunscreen
Despite being a Local Shop That Sold Almost Anything, the town’s general store failed to supply me with any replacement sunscreen but its proprietor suggested that I might try the purveyors of fishing tackle opposite on the basis that anglers get sunburnt too. Well, it turns out that they do, and I was soon clutching a bottle of sunscreen in my already sun-tingly hands. For the rest of the day its contents, in concert with my trusty sun hat, successfully staved off my conversion into ambulatory crackling.
Amlwch Branch Line
My ambulation began by picking up the coast path where I left off last time and following it along the outskirts of Amlwch. On the way it crossed the old railway line to the chemical plant on the cliff top. The line closed to passengers in 1964 (thanks to a man whose name rhymed with ‘leeching’) and to freight in 1993. The tracks remain in situ.
Amlwch Port Windmill
As I made my way round back streets and across playing fields I espied the decapitated ruin of Amlwch Port Windmill (Melin y Borth), which with seven storeys amounting to 60 ft (18 m) was Anglesey’s tallest windmill. This was to prove a bit of a liability when the mill was inevitably struck by lightning, killing the miller’s son.
The Port Windmill was built in 1816 by the locally prominent Paynter family and had four grinding wheels. Running flat out in a good wind, it could grind four bushels of corn (i.e. wheat) in an hour. The traditional Imperial measure for grain, a bushel is a dry volume equivalent to 8 gallons. For wheat, that’s about 27 kg of the stuff, meaning that the windmill could grind about 109 kg per hour.
The mill ceased operation around 1895, probably due to the retirement of the miller, William Jones.
Anglesey is dotted with the remnants of old windmills, which harnessed the power of the elements before the age of electricity made them all redundant. In a slightly ironic turnaround, that same flat, ocean-facing, windswept situation that made Anglesey so windmill-friendly now sees it dotted with wind turbines, generating the electric power that so convincingly killed off their predecessors.
I was chuckling to myself about such things as I made my way towards Amlwch’s quayside but was brought to a sudden stop by something lying on the path. It was not a thing to strike terror into the hearts of most men; indeed most would have simply stepped over it. But it sent a shiver down my spine. It was a single walking sock.
Now granted, it was three years ago that I lost a sock in Cornwall and mockingly accused the piskies of having taken the thing. And it was three years ago therefore that I then kept finding single replacement socks draped daily across my path. And I don’t for a minute believe that the Fair Folk haunt my every step. That would be silly. And yet…
No. No. NO. Silly, I tell you. It is coincidence, nothing more. And so, shaking my head at my foolishness, I stepped over it and continued on my way.
(Although if the Fair Folk existed and were perhaps making a point? I would be very apologetic indeed. Very apologetic. Please, please stop with the socks. Full points for getting the same make and colour as what I was wearing though.)
Initially little more than a steep-sided and hard-to-find cove, Amlwch’s harbour saw increasing traffic from the mid-eighteenth century and served as a convenient place for the Liverpool pilot boats to wait for ships needing guidance into the treacherous Mersey Estuary. But it was copper mining at nearby Parys Mountain (Mynydd Parys) which transformed the harbour from the 1760s onwards.
A 1793 Act of Parliament provided for the enlargement and improvement of Amlwch’s docks, which gained an outer harbour and dry dock facilities and the tonnage of copper shipped to Swansea for processing increased steadily year on year. Then, in 1864, the railway arrived and from that point onwards, Amlwch dock was dead on its feet.
Amlwch Harbour Light
The path led me alongside the outer harbour and then up onto the rugged cliff tops, densely covered in dwarf gorse. Both sky and sea were the brightest blue and even someone’s snarly dog hardly detracted from the joy of it.
Towards Point Lynas
Ahead, in the distance, the low lighthouse on Point Lynas (Trwyn Eilian) waited patiently for me to pass by.
Before reaching Point Lynas my dawdling brought me to the bay of Porth Eilian and the northernmost tip of the village of Llaneilian. There, Land Rovers with trailers were queuing up to launch jet skis while two young women took their horses for a paddle in the waves.
Saint Eilian’s Church
Llaneilian is rather strung out along the road, which is a bit of a shame as its Grade I listed church lay at the far end of the village and I’d have gone to take a look had it been a tad closer. The church has a twelfth century tower, a fourteenth century chapel and a fifteenth century nave and chancel.
The church, village and bay are all named for a sixth century saint, St Eilian, who left the hustle and bustle of his native Rome to become a hermit in Britain. He also has a holy well named after him, Ffynnon Eilian, which I’d passed by about ten minutes earlier but had totally failed to notice.
Point Lynas Lighthouse
From Llaneilian, the lighthouse access road took me out along Point Lynas before the path branched away across the headland, keeping me back from the lighthouse, which was built in 1835 (temporary lights were shown on Point Lynas from 1779). It doesn’t look much like a typical lighthouse, being a squat, castellated structure with the semicircular lantern positioned like a bay window at the base of its square tower.
The light was electrified in 1952 and automated in 1989, at which point the keeper’s cottages reverted to the ownership of the Mersey Docks & Harbour Company, which built them. The light itself belongs to Trinity House (the general lighthouse authority for England and Wales, established by Henry VIII in 1514).
With the lighthouse behind me, I now had a steep hillside on my right and cliffs to my left as I rounded the curve onto Anglesey’s eastern coast. The coast of Great Britain swung back into view, lined by the hills and mountains of northern Wales, which stood hazy and blue in the distance.
The path became narrow, balancing on the coastal slope and flanked on both sides by bracken, before opening back out into grassland. Ahead, just offshore, the rocky islet of Ynys Dulas raised a disrespectful digit to the mainland(s).
The tower on Ynys Dulas is actually a refuge, built by James Hughes of nearby manor house Llys Dulas in 1821. He stocked it with durable foodstuffs so that shipwrecked sailors might take shelter from the weather that wrecked them and survive until help could be sent.
The hills inland of the path hadn’t quite flattened out yet so naturally the path turned ninety degrees and headed up one, crossing several fields.
Fortunately, it was quite a gentle climb and only gained about 70 m over the course of half a mile. At the top of the hill, it deposited me onto a quiet country road, flanked by trees and hedgerows and which carefully skirted around the village of Llysdulas as it conveyed me, via two sides of a triangle, back to the coast.
The road ended at Traeth Dulas (‘Dulas beach’) which — at low tide at least — is an unattractive expanse of stones and mud, shading into foul-smelling salt marsh.
A heron, seemingly unaffected by the sulphurous miasma of the marsh, trotted back and forth looking for what I can only assume were fish stunned insensible by the fumes. Two old wooden fishing boats mouldered on the mud, talking their own sweet time to decay. The sea was nowhere in sight.
Heading away from where the sea must logically have been, the path now skirted the salt marsh and veered from muddy to purely conceptual before it reached firmer ground on the road to Llaneuddog.
The path stayed on the road for just long enough to be teasing, before wending its way across the marshes towards a footbridge across the Afon Goch (‘red river’).
A quick game of poohsticks confirmed my suspicion that the stream was flowing backwards. Or, more accurately, that the tide was coming in and the muddy flats of Traeth Dulas would soon be submerged under salty, car-eating waters.
Moelfre & Llaneugrad
This seemed like an excellent time to leave the marshes behind and I happily took a footpath that led me to an access track. That in turn led me to the busy A5025 although I was only on it for a mercifully short stretch.
Pilot Boat Inn
As luck would have it, the path left the A5025 by the side of a pub and I nipped inside for a G&T and a quick ham sandwich. This turned out to be more necessary than I had realised; I was actually quite dehydrated and hungry.
The true telling point was that when I received my sandwich I willingly ate the tomato and quite enjoyed it. If my body wants to consume tomato that means it’s pretty desperate. Or possibly just trying to punish me with things it knows I don’t like.
When I was suitably fed, watered and… bleurgh… tomatoed, I followed the path back towards Dulas Bay (Bae Dulas). Once again, the character of the walk had changed completely. I now had grassy fields on one side and proper sandy beaches on the other. The first of these was Traeth yr Ora and the second Traeth Lligwy. The ruins of a WW2 lookout post — a brick box on brick legs, the steps up to its door long since gone — stared out over the path between the two beaches.
The path skirted round the edge of the beach and made its way to a wooden footbridge. Here the Afon Lligwy emerged from all the greenery of Anglesey and snaked its way across the sands.
A short way beyond the bridge I encountered a car park and a café, which furnished me with another cold drink and a chance for a brief sit down.
Lligwy Beach Café
While the beach itself had looked to be almost deserted, the café was extremely busy, having apparently been swarmed by the sort of beach visitor that can’t move further than fifty metres from their car. I’m not sure what happens if you drag them away from their vehicles. Their batteries fail or their heads explode, I expect.
I watched in bemusement as I drank my drink, seeing people arrive and park, buy an ice cream, look at the beach and then drive off again. Arguably I was doing something similar, only more slowly. My exit from the car park took me in a different direction though, onto the low but still undulating cliffs and rocky shorelines that led from Traeth Lligwy to Moelfre.
There, in 1859, the steam clipper Royal Charter was wrecked in a storm with the loss of over 450 lives. The precise death toll is unknown because the passenger list was also lost in the wreck but an incomplete list was held in Melbourne, from which she had sailed for Liverpool.
The storm, which also wrecked about two hundred other vessels in the Irish Sea, was the most severe recorded there in the nineteenth century and rapidly built from Storm force 10 to Hurricane force 12 on the Beaufort Scale.
Blown onto first a sandbank and then the rocks, the clipper broke up and very few made it ashore. Some of the passengers were gold miners who had had successful strikes and their refusal to abandon their gold may have helped drag them down; allegations were later made that locals had become rich from gold recovered from the victims although they denied this.
The Royal Charter was the biggest single loss of life caused by the storm that sank her and that storm was duly named after her: the Royal Charter Storm.
After Porth Alerth, the path climbed some low cliffs and passed through a caravan site onto the jutting headland of Moelfre, the name of which means ‘barren hill’. Here another memorial, a simple plaque this time, commemorated the loss of the Motor Vessel Hindlea on the same rocks in another gale one hundred years and two days after the wreck of Royal Charter.
RNLB Edmund and Mary Robinson
MV Hindlea’s wreck had a much better outcome though as all of her crew were rescued by the Moelfre lifeboat, RNLB Edmund and Mary Robinson.
During the rescue the waves almost capsized the Edmund and Mary Robinson, while MV Hindlea’s propeller was out of the water and ‘thrashing’ at head height. All five of her crew won RNLI medals, with the coxswain, Dic Evans, receiving the Institution’s rarely awarded Gold Medal.
Picturing the Storm
On a day with blue skies and a sea almost like glass it is hard to imagine a force 10 or 12 gale striking the flat, open countryside of Anglesey. Quite apart from its destructive effect on shipping, there would be little to quell its fury on land.
I imagine a scene where any windmill sails not already unhitched would be torn from their anchors amid a terrified hail of windblown sheep (the resulting impact pressure to be measured in millibaas). Okay, so it’s not that hard to imagine, apparently. I just find it difficult to imagine seriously. My brain rejects the implied horror of the situation and substitutes ridicule instead.
The building site that was the lifeboat station forced a brief diversion down some of Moelfre’s streets, revealing a rather delightful village containing many old cottages. A little further on, the path rejoined the shore beside the RNLI’s visitor centre, where Dic Evans, hero of the MV Hindlea rescue, was still battling to keep control of his heading:
Dic Evans Memorial
Dic died in 2001 at the grand old age of 96. In 2003, the sculptor Sam Holland began work on the memorial statue and, realising that her studio ceiling wasn’t high enough, built a temporary canvas-and-steel studio beside the River Medway in Kent (at Upchurch in fact, which I passed just over four years ago).
In November of that year a storm destroyed the makeshift studio, leaving only Dic Evans’ statue standing—laughing in the face of storms from beyond the grave.
From the RNLI centre, the path led me around into the heart of Moelfre proper, where a number of pubs and cafés beckoned enticingly. I was extremely tempted to take them up on their offers. But my walk was not yet done — I planned to continue to Benllech. Hmm. I mulled it over.
No, I declared, I would stick to the plan and head out of Moelfre to Benllech.
An Illuminating Memorial
On the way, I passed an engraved memorial stone beside the road, announcing that the village’s street lighting was actually its WW2 memorial. This seemed like an impressively pragmatic decision.
‘Keep Dogs on Lead’
A sign on the coast path demanding that we should ‘keep dogs on lead at all times’ was also quite pragmatic, if looked at in the right light. After all, brain-damaged dogs should be easier to control…
Yes, yes, I was plumbing the depths of bad puns. And again…
Nant Bychan Farm
Actually, I think I zoned out a bit as I left Moelfre, concentrating more on the puns than on the path, which led me off across the fields of Nant Bychan Farm and onwards to the small, sandy bay of Traeth Bychan (‘little beach’).
There, it was time for boaty types with Land Rovers to be pulling their toys back out of the water and, judging from the despairing cry of ‘whoa! WHOA! NoooOOoo!’ that I heard as I approached, someone wasn’t playing nicely.
There was quite a bustle of activity, of the sort you might get when you try to tow one expensive boat through another one (I don’t know for sure, I’m making assumptions) and I quickly decided to leave them all to it.
Beyond Traeth Bychan the path became a leafy tunnel, which is almost never a bad thing, and thus put a little more spring in my step as I finally approached Benllech.
Benllech (from pen llech meaning ‘head rock’) is a small town and the former terminus of the Red Wharf Bay railway branch line. For once, the railway’s closure is not the fault of Richard Beeching. This line really was uneconomical and ceased operation in 1930, just 21 years after opening.
Benllech was also the home of Lemmy from Motörhead during his teenaged years. If nothing else, this little factoid gave me my mental soundtrack, as I turned my back on Benllech’s seafront, purchased something to eat in one of its shops and then began the three mile walk back to the outskirts of Moelfre and my hotel.
When I eventually sat down in my hotel room I wondered why I felt so tired. Of course, I hadn’t just walked sixteen and half miles from Amlwch to Benllech but I had also walked two miles from Bull Bay right at the start and three miles returning from Benllech. Twenty-one and a half miles then, that made a lot more sense. Still, a nice, hot bath was restorative. As was the Lagavulin I spotted in the hotel bar…
This time: 16½ miles
Total since Gravesend: 1,773 miles