I AWOKE bright and early in my hotel in Cemaes to find that the promised ‘glorious sunshine’ was indeed glorious. Later, when I was on the cliff tops, I would find that it was accompanied by a howling gale of a wind, but one that was suitably sun-warmed so that it felt as though walking under the blast of an enormous hairdryer. This is not the weather usually associated with North Wales (I’d had some of that the day before).
This was to be a short walk, just far enough to get me to Amlwch, from which I could catch a bus that would begin my journey home.
Having consumed a leisurely breakfast, I made my way back to the centre of Cemaes and the most northerly pub in Wales, which was where I had ended my walk the previous evening.
St Patrick’s Bell
With a spring in my step I set off around the edge of Cemaes’s harbour and then along its seafront, where a small Martian war machine appeared to be wading to shore.
It was in fact St Patrick’s Bell, a controversial new addition to the shoreline erected in April this year. It is part of a project of what is intended to be twelve Time and Tide Bells designed to ring when the tide is at its highest. Because that won’t annoy anyone living nearby at all.
This particular bell gets its name from the local legend that St Patrick was shipwrecked on the nearby island of Middle Mouse (Ynys Badrig, ‘Patrick’s Isle’) in 440 and that he subsequently founded a church (St Patrick’s) on the mainland opposite the island. I would be passing that church later.
For now though, I made my way along the seafront and then up onto the cliff path. On my left I could see Wylfa Head and the squat, square-ish bulk of the nuclear power station.
The path undulated gently, carrying me past the much smaller, but even squarer, bulk of a lime kiln and then onto a narrow winding path that suddenly gave me a choice of two routes. One, on the right, headed inland. The other descended to the beach. I realised straight away that the left-hand route must be tidal; I also knew that we were nearer to high tide than low. What, I wondered, were the chances?
Regaining the top of the low cliff, I reluctantly took the inland route, following the road to Llanbadrig, which appeared to be not so much a village as simply a church with a house beside it (the rest of the houses are some way back up the road).
St Patrick’s Church
The church in question was of course that of St Patrick, perching precariously atop the cliff. The current church was built and extended during the twelfth to sixteenth centuries and then renovated in the nineteenth. The interior renovation, which was paid for by local landowner Lord Stanley, used a lot of blue in vague imitation of Moorish design, mainly because Lord Stanley had married a Spanish Muslim and then converted to Islam.
I had ample time to examine the church’s rather drab exterior, as I eventually realised that the badly signed coast path must lead me into the churchyard. Once in there however, I couldn’t find a way out.
St Patrick’s Cave & Well
Eventually, I spotted a sign which read ‘original stone stile’, said stile being built into the cliffside wall. And so, with a sigh, I climbed over the wall and stood on the alarming narrow path above the rocky cliffs.
Far below me somewhere was St Patrick’s Cave (Ogof Padrig) containing St Patrick’s Well (Ffynnon Padrig). I wasn’t tempted to go down and see; the path is dangerous, all slippery rock and unexpected swells and I didn’t want to re-enact any part of his near-drowning experience.
I followed the coast around, drawing level with Middle Mouse and found myself staring down at Porth Llanlleiana and the ruins of industry past.
Llanlleiana Porcelain Works
The ruins are those of Llanlleiana Porcelain Works, a porcelain factory that quarried its own china clay within the valley. Built around 1910, the works were short-lived, closing in 1920 after a disastrous fire.
The reason the chimney is separate from the building is that using the hillside in that way was an easy and inexpensive way to gain extra flue height. The name of the site — Llanlleiana — comes from Llan Lleianan meaning ‘church of the nuns’ and indeed the porcelain works were built on the site of an old convent.
A steep climb out of Porth Llanlleiana took me up the promontory of Dinas Gynfor (the ‘dinas’ part is a dead giveaway that it was the site of a hill fort), which is the most northerly point in Wales. At its tip a small structure known as the Jubilee Tower had very little jubilation left in it.
Some further coast path undulation conveyed me onto the hillside of Craig Wen (‘white rock’), where I passed the drumhead of what I assumed was an abandoned mine. Ahead, the glistening waters of Porth Wen (‘white bay’) rippled like liquid silver.
Porth Wen Brickworks
As I made my way down the hillside a chimney crept into view. Below me, on the side of the bay, were the ruins of the Porth Wen Brickworks, of which the lonely drumhead had been part.
The brickwork ruins are extensive and comprise three kilns, a workshop and several other buildings and a private quay. The site ran from the early 1900s until 1914 when WW1 saw it close. A second phase of activity beginning in the mid 1920s was equally brought to an end by world war. There wasn’t a third phase.
The site of Porth Wen Brickworks is private property and access is forbidden,. Not least because the buildings are now dangerous and the owner doesn’t want that sort of Health & Safety nightmare. It is thus the preserve of adventurous sheep and, as it turns out, canoeists: a party of the latter, having not been cooked by a sea of molten silver, landed on the quayside and proceeded to have a picnic.
With a few longing looks at their picnic –— I had already eaten such food as I was carrying — I pressed on, making my way around the curve of Porth Wen. The terrain became lower and leafier and then an awful lot barkier as the path approached a farm. I can’t really blame the farm dog for barking; the path led right across the farmhouse’s front lawn and then away along a farm track.
The track didn’t last long, soon reverting to a proper cliff top path, atop proper rocky cliffs. By now the wind had dropped off and the sun had redoubled its efforts and it was frankly glorious (just as promised). Then, suddenly I rounded a headland and was looking across Bull Bay (Porth Llechog) to my destination of Amlwch.
Bull Bay Village
Bull Bay is Wales’s most northerly village, lying slightly further north than Cemaes. This would invalidate the Stag’s claim to be the most northerly pub but Bull Bay doesn’t actually have one. It does, however, have hotels whose bars are open to the public, which means the Stag in Cemaes is perhaps stretching things a little.
The village is obviously named for the bay, which in turn takes its English name from the Welsh Pwll y Tarw (‘the bull’s pool’), a feature close to the shoreline. The Welsh name, Porth Llechog, means ‘sheltered bay’.
The path through Bull Bay led along the coast road and I noticed as I walked it that each section of cliff top on my left was actually a trans-road extension of the garden of the property on my right. The road carried me out the far side of Bull Bay village and into a lay-by full of elderly sightseers drinking tea from flasks. At least I assume it was tea. It could have been rum. Or meths.
Amlwch Chemical Plant
From there, the path branched away from the road and became first narrow and leafy and then broad and rocky and extremely indecisive about direction. Amlwch lay slightly inland, somewhere on my right while ahead was the fenced-off, concrete ugliness of the last few remnants of Amlwch’s chemical plant, which extracted bromine from seawater between 1953 and 2004.
Blocked by the disused plant, the path turned inland and eventually dropped me in Amlwch, a small and quiet town that looks much like any other small country town in Wales or England. The town’s name means ‘on the creek’ from am (‘about/on’) and llwch (‘creek’ or ‘inlet’; cognate with ‘loch’). Historically, it was a busy copper mining port and it gained its own station in 1864, the terminus of its very own branch line.
Amlwch Branch Line
Sadly, I couldn’t use the railway to get home as Richard Beeching axed it for passengers in 1964, closing the station and stopping all services. It kept running freight until 1993 when Octel, operators of the bromine plant, switched to using road haulage. Since than the line has mouldered disused although the tracks remain in situ.
In the absence of trains I resorted to buses, locating first the bus stop and then the ingredients for a mini-picnic of my own. A woman at the bus stop warned me in dire tones that the bus would run late (it didn’t) and that I would miss my train at Bangor for sure (again, no). And thus I made my way home…
This time: 8½ miles
Total since Gravesend: 1,756½ miles