17th – 21st December 2021
Y Felinheli – Dinas Dinlle
11 miles/410 ft total ascent
I had looked at today’s route on the map last night and become concerned that it was ending somewhere relatively exposed with enough houses, caravans and minor roads to make wildcamping difficult. I had texted the Emma and asked what she had done as she passed through the area, and she had bravely and amazingly shared her whatthreewords camp location from her night in Dinas Dinlle.
With that sorted, I set off past the harbour and onto the cyclepath that would take me into Caernarfon. The cyclepath wasn’t particularly interesting and really was rather forgettable, but it was a nice and clear morning and the waters started to widen as the land pulled away from Anglesey across the way.
A paved seafront plodded into Caernarfon where another grand castle stood. The first fortress built here was Roman and known as Segontium. After the Normans invaded, the Earl of Chester built a castle where the fort had stood; a traditional motte and bailey affair that was claimed by the Welsh again in 1115, casting out the English gentry and becoming a seat for the warring Welsh princes until, in 1283, Edward I came in with all the force, vigour and might in his determination to wrangle the Welshlands under English rule.
The castle that he built to replace the one at Caernarfon was a truly impressive building and, to this day, is observed as one of the finest examples of mediaeval architecture. Edward was incredibly proud of it and spent a lot of time there when he had completed his unifying crusade. He was not, however, ignorant to how little his presence was enjoyed or how much anger his victories had caused his new subjects, and the castle was always heavily guarded. Edward’s queen, Eleanor, gave birth to their first son at Caernarfon Castle, and Edward gave his heir a title that marked his own bloody and power-hungry conquests; The Prince of Wales.
As Caernarfon Castle was seen as one of the largest symbols of English rule, it was targeted by many rebellions. suffering fire and siege until the Tudor line inherited the throne. The Tudors, after all, were Welsh, and their presence on the throne greatly eased the tension. Which was probably lucky because Scotland would ramp up their acts of defense and defiance a good few notches over the next few decades and demand an awful lot of the sovereigns’ attention.
Caernarfon bay creaked with the sway of many small boats, their masts reaching up as in some coordinated praise. I chatted to a few people on the harbour. They asked me what I would be doing for Christmas? I said I didn’t know yet. I had originally thought I’d be in Aberystwyth but Barra had had something to say about that. What do I miss? Baths and toasters, but not together. What did my father think of me doing this? My dad thinks it’s great thank you very much. Did I carry spare hiking boots? …No. Had I read ‘The Salt Path’? Um. Did I want an apple? Fruit! Yes please!
Past the harbour and the castle, I crossed the swing bridge to the coastal road. Despite being a road, cars barely passed, and the greater use seemed to be by walkers like myself. The beach tumbled down to my right, strewn with shining, salty pebbles. The Menai Strait and the last shadow of Anglesey would be gone soon, and then I’d see only the sea again.
There were a couple more tarmac ventures inland before I came to the bridge over the Afon Carrog which took me to a grassy embankment over the saltmarshes, raised up like a catwalk above the damp plains, puckered with pools and shining. The lengthy bimble finished on tarmac again as I moved to get around the small airport. The airport was home to the Wales Air Ambulance and Bristow Coastguard helicopters. There’s a small café inside where proceeds go towards these charities. I felt somewhat guilty as I passed, but the one further along came very highly recommended.
I was now at Dinas Dinlle beach; a lengthy strip of sand and pebbles with a naturally formed pebble walkway above the few beach-walkers out on this rapidly chilling afternoon. A few houses sat back every now and then from the minor road that lead down the back of the beach to the caravan park on the far end.
I was not discouraged nor panicked by the smatterings of human life as I looked for where I would pitch; I had the knowledge of Emma! Her whatthreewords lead to me what appeared to be a tumbled down enclosure about halfway up the beach. The half ruined walls managed to blend into the pebble-strewn scenery, and once tucked between them no one would see me at all.
Chuffed, I went down to the café the far side of the beach to get a hot chocolate. I was in no rush now. Absolutely everything in the café was entirely in Welsh. There was no English translations on the menus or signs and the only language I heard was the musical native one. This shouldn’t have been surprising as 78% of the town’s population were Welsh speaking, but it was the first I had been on the path where English just wasn’t present at all.
The highly recommended hot chocolate was indeed worth the extra trek there, and the returning one to the ruined walls. I made my way back as the sun was nearly set and happily settled in for the night.
In the back of my mind I knew there would be a price to pay for the clear and cloudless blue skies today.
Dinas Dinlle – Nefyn
20 miles/2830 ft total ascent
The tent door was, indeed, completely solid with ice in the morning. I creaked it open, much like a house door, and crawled outside to examine.
It was rigid with frost. I felt I could remove the poles and the rainfly would just stand all by itself. I’m not sure this is what ‘freestanding’ is meant to mean. The question now was how would I dismantle it without reducing my hands to awful, agonising and useless stubs?
I put on two of my three pairs of gloves and vowed to work quickly and had shaken and taken it all apart before my hands ceased to be operational. I tried to carry on folding and bending it away with just my feet and my trekking pole which, as you might expect, did not work. It took the inclusion of my knees and elbows to finally get it in the bag. My hands were burning in pain.
I had started off early, way before dawn, as I had a hell of a lot of road-walking to get out of the way before I could continue the remainder of the day’s 20 miles to Nefyn where I had booked an Airbnb for a rest day (in a place that, hopefully, was nicer than Holyhead). I had already wasted time messing around with the frosted tent, so rather than stand around whimpering about the pain, I started moving while I whimpered instead.
There was almost ten miles of walking alongside cars, down pavements and the cyclepath. The moon was setting, large in the sky and had taken on an eerie red hue like an old boiled sweet. Cars zoomed by, the colours of their headlights smudging and streaking together. I fished out my headphones; I needed something else to concentrate on rather than the oddities of walking in the dark. The only positives to say about this relentlessly dull stretch is that it was easy, and impossible to get lost.
Around the Llyn Peninsula, the Wales Coast Path shares much of the route with the North Wales Pilgrimage Way. This waymark was much more visible than the useless leaf green plaques that guided the North Wales Path; white and black, a cross stamped in the centre. The Pilgrimage Way started back, inland, in Flintshire, and ventured on a parallel route to the coast before the monochrome waymark started showing up here underneath the blue and yellow dragonshell of the Wales Coast Path. It would venture with me and the dragonshell down to Bardsey Island where the pilgrimage route found its finish.
You might have guessed by now that Welsh history has a whole ‘Age of Saints’. Wales, and Britain as a whole, held onto Celtic Paganism as their dominant religion throughout the Roman occupation, and Christianity only really started slipping in in around the third century. It’s thought that the arrival of pope-appointed archbishop, St. Augustine, in the fifth century really spurred things on and the men and woman influenced by him went out and took conversion to the next level.
These saints walked around a lot in all their word-spreading, hence why we have so many pilgrimage paths. Normally they would have been converted themselves, with many from noble families, before set off on their mission to preach Christianity. In Wales, St. Dyfrig was responsible for the first notable monastery, and it turns out that this preaching of peace and kindness amid so much war, especially now the Romans and their version of everything had left, was really quite appealing. Between the fifth and sixth centuries, Christianity really kicked off in Wales, in no small part due to the amount of people reached through the massive footfall of all the wandering saints. The prefix ‘Llan’ in Welsh place-names refers to a consecrated building or burial ground. As up to half the parishes in Wales have this prefix, it’s plain to see the saints really got around.
I eventually came into Trefor as the light started in and sat underneath a weakly growing Christmas tree to scavenge something out of my bag for breakfast. In my effort to get to the next part, an upward trek over one of the hills that plunged its base right to the sea, I took the wrong path and found myself walking out of Trefor just to re-emerge back in it fifteen minutes later. I took another path which I was absolutely sure was the right one this time, and ended up looping back to town again. Thankfully, however ditzy I was being, the third time was the charm.
Now off of tarmac, with a brighter sky, I headed on greener paths inland to begin a surprisingly strenuous climb to the top of Bwlch yr Eifl that sat at 400m. The steep track up was both damp and pebbled, and each footstep was mildly perilous. The stones would frequently roll beneath my boots.
There used to be an alternative route up Trwyn y Gorlech to Nant Gwrtheyrn, but apparently it was even more treacherous and more like a grade three scramble. So whilst I was stooped and swearing on this slippery ascent, at least I wasn’t crawling. And the views back across Trefor were completely worth the effort.
That being said, the descent the other side was very welcome.
I passed the granite works on my way to the shore, before another steep climb to the headland. Between the ascents, the vibrant grass, the occasional wood and the big, wide views, this part of the route was definitely making up for all the tortuous road walking I had endured before dawn.
A low, stone church marked the start of a walk across the fields. The route guide stated that it was complicated, but apparently nothing today was going to be as complicated as me managing to actually get out of Trefor.
Crossing the road, a final push along the flanks of the hills, past little hidden cottages brought me up, and then eventually down to Nefyn.
I made a beeline down, further still, to the café right at the edge of the beach. It was tended to by an enthusiastic Mancunian woman who told me she had packed up and left after a divorce and the pandemic to this place she hadn’t been to since she was a child, but which held the happiest memories of her life. Today was her first day working in the café and she was buzzing with energy. Somehow she managed to sell me several cakes and biscuits alongside my hot chocolate and I ended up sat on a bench outside with a plethora of snacking goods looking out to a brilliant sea.
A brief stop at the Spar before I checked in at the AirBnB. It had been nine days since I had done any laundry and I was just happy nothing was growing on me yet.
Rest Day: Nefyn
Nefyn was, indeed, a far nicer place to spend a rest day than Holyhead. A cheerful seaside town over a long swoop of beach. Clearly proud of the town’s fishing history, a symbol of three herrings (taken from the coat of arms) was planted throughout; wrought into railings, swinging over doorways, marked into walls. Much like Manchester and its worker bees.
Edward I didn’t have a castle here, but he did organise a great big jousting tournament here as part of a lengthy celebration toasting his victory over the Welsh. It seems a tad gloaty to be having lavish celebrations in the land of those you just conquered, but the English do seem to have made a tradition of it.
There were a few protest signs up against a different type of English invasion; calling for the regulation or even the banning of the buying of second homes. The Llyn Peninsula is a very proudly Welsh area, and the language and culture has been dominant for centuries but now many locals are priced out of their own areas by the demand for second or holiday homes, primarily from the English. As new residents do not learn Welsh, the language use and, by extension, the culture is quickly becoming diluted and many of the smaller villages sometimes sit as ghost towns for much of the year as their homeowners live mainly elsewhere. This ongoing tension on the peninsula comes after so many decades of fighting for recognition and inclusion of their culture and language, and it is a very real fear that the diminishment and eventual disappearance of it will end up being at the fault of the property market.
I may have been in a nicer place than Holyhead, but I had ended up there on a Sunday. I googled furiously for things that were open and made my way to the Maritime Museum; placed within an old church with a great big anchor outside, only to find that the internet was lying and it was very shut. The internet would lie a lot this whole trip as many businesses neglected to update their out of season hours or to simply say that they were shut for winter.
The famous Ty Coch Inn was nearby so I thought to walk down there. I saw the walk would be an hour and nearly decided to just stay in because an hour’s walk was just ridiculous. I quickly reflected and realised it was me being ridiculous.
The footpath down at Nefyn beach was closed so I went along the road a while until a path dropped down to the coast again and made my way from there to the Inn.
The Ty Coch Inn is extremely loved for its position right on Porthdinllaen Bay which can only be accessed by foot from a carpark a twenty minute walk away. I can see how that’s a very special thing for many people, but for someone that’s been walking, eating, sleeping and drinking along the coast and its beaches for three weeks I guess the novelty is lost.
The white building and its covered outdoor area was busy this sunny winter Sunday. Many publications and visitors enthuse about it being ‘The Best Pub in Wales’ but, for me, to use the word ‘pub’, I’d appreciate a food menu that wasn’t primarily made up of pasties. It was a Sunday! Where was the roast?! I was outraged that here I was on a lovely beach on a beautiful December weekend and I was eating a pasty rather than a roast chicken with all the trimmings. I, rather rudely, expressed my disappointment to a fellow patron sharing my table. He looked sadly down at his own pasty and confessed that, yeah, he too had sort of been assuming there might be something a bit more traditional on offer. Even his dog looked put out. No scraps of stuffing for the pooch today.
The walk back thankfully toned down my fury. A bunch of kids wanted me to help build a sandcastle with them. I am not the best sand architect at all, but I showed them how when I was a kid we would dig a moat around our sandcastles and fill it in water carried up in buckets. The children thought I was an absolute genius.
Nefyn – Penllach
11 miles/1262 ft total ascent
Starting out on the same path that had brought me to the Ty Coch Inn, instead of dropping down to the bay at Porthdinllaen, I continued on the headland and round again, watching the strip of golden sand fade beneath the cliffs as I returned to the golf course down the other side.
Golf course walking always has me nervy. I think I watched too many cartoons as a nipper where a character was smacked in the head after a loud ‘FORE’. The paths around golf courses are always reluctantly placed and as close to the edge as possible. Back on St Cuthbert’s Way, the golf course path had literally lead amongst the nettles, right next to the perfectly manicured track. This one was no different; despite a wealth of finely shorn grass, it sat half in the shrubs only a couple feet from a hundred metre fall.
There weren’t any golfers out today that I could see. Just the gardener in his big seated lawnmower whirring around. I probably hate golf courses as much as golf courses hate hikers; here was this amazing clifftop view that could have been a solidly wonderful rugged little trek, but instead it was wasted by absolutely acres of it being utilised by a sport that surely didn’t benefit at all from the sea breezes.
It wasn’t so much breezy today as it was cold. Really cold. I kept walking and walking, assuming I’d eventually warm up but never really did. Looking back, the low sun was trapped behind the Snowdonia mountains back at the seam with the rest of Wales and the clouds were low around it.
Finally past the golf course, the path was kept on track with fences at the end of the farmlands marking the few metres between them and the cliffs. Somehow it was quieter out here than it had been on Anglesey; rolling grass to the very edge of the drops and a hissing sea below. Things would start to get remote now as villages and hamlets gave way just to settlements with the odd group of scattered houses and lengthy sections of nothing at all.
Coves crooked the shoreline, poked into the cliffs as it from prying fingers. I stopped at a bench for a meal, but found myself unable to finish as the cold just got too great after I had ceased to move. I messily poured the remainder into a ziploc and carried on.
It was notably harder to follow here in parts. I believe there has been a lot of chopping and changing of the path due to erosion and that has left areas unclear. I would be directed inland and yanked out again and hither and thither until I realised I had lost the path completely.
In my attempt to get back I entered a field marked as a footpath only to realise halfway through that there were cows the far end, blocking the gate that lead to the lane behind. I was not about to even try push past cows so I swerved a left across the field hoping for another gate, the mud starting to madly slosh around my shoes and gaiters.
There did not appear to be a gate anywhere left of the cows that lead out. But an angry mooing had me turning around and realising that there would be no quick retreat. The cows were advancing en masse and they looked furious. Not that chomping amble that so many people claim is just ‘curiosity’, no, this was a focused advance and the mooing was far from pleasant. It was as close to a warcry as bovines could ever be capable of.
I started to quick march onward around the field that dipped down to a bushy bit with a house above it. Great! If there’s a farmhouse, there has to be a route out on this side right? No. I just kept coming across strong wire fences behind the bushes and every time I looked over my shoulder the cows were closing in. They were only a few metres away now. Oh God, their cacophony was definitely going to be the last thing I ever heard.
There’s a horror film called ‘It Follows’. ‘It’, in this instance, is an entity that takes numerous, ordinary human forms and once it touches a cursed person, they will die. It walks everywhere at a moderate but consistent pace but will always eventually catch up with the target as ordinary humans need to stop to sleep and eat and rest and essentially live. They can fly to another country, but a few months later look out their window and see a person with no emotion on their face approaching with a familiar steady gait. This is what running from cows is like; they don’t tend to get faster, but somehow, however fast I was going, they were constantly getting nearer. I would not be surprised to hear that the concept for the antagonist of that film had originally been a cow.
I’m ashamed to say I started running at this point. Well, as fast as I could run through the ever deepening mud. It was more of a frantic, sloshy, sliding around which the cows were far better equipped for. Dammit, why didn’t humans have hoofs? I looked desperately up at the house and yelled a pathetic ‘help!’. I yelled again, louder, and again. I am absolutely sure a sadistic farmer sat at that window and laughed to themselves at this stupid floundering hiker, out here in the middle of December, unable to calm a cow.
Look. The news goes nuts every time a dog kills someone, but cows kill at twice the rate of dogs. They literally are the most dangerous large animal in Britain*. Between ten and twenty people a year are killed by cows and bulls, usually through trampling. This doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the number of human deaths caused by sharks and wolves combined. In terms of deadliness, they are basically a shark-wolf hybrid and I’m sure none of us want to come across that. It absolutely isn’t reassuring that the vast majority of those deaths are of farm-workers. If people that work with the cows keep dying by cow, what chance do the rest of us have?!
To say I was now in a panic was an understatement. There was a great wall of menacing cows gaining ground fast as I flustered around the fence until, eventually, thankfully, in all my disorientation, I found the gate I had entered through and fell out the other side, slamming it behind. I looked across at the cows. They had stopped and just stared their huge eyes at me. I gave them the finger. I had been triumphant.
But something was wrong. The weight of my bag was wrong. I felt round to the back, and, alarmed, threw it off. My tent poles! They were gone!
I was utterly desolate as I stared slowly back into the field and the deadly huge-eyed, half-tonne monsters. I peered into the field, desperately looking around and, there, I could see the olive tent pole bag dangling on the fence on the far left. I was going to have to go in there again.
It was just a waiting game now. Waiting for the cows to go far away. To get bored and give up on me and get themselves to the other side of the field. I sat and waited. At least I couldn’t complain about being cold anymore after that sprint around the field. The mud had seeped far into my shoes and around my gaiters. It was deeply uncomfortable.
Finally, after the best part of an hour, they were far enough away that I was brave enough to enter again, fly myself to the dangling bag and retreat. They were far less interested this time, but my heart was still pounding loud in my ears. I didn’t swear at them this time. Somehow it didn’t seem wise.
I was wet and muddy and completely miserable as the cold caught up with me again. I felt so lonely out here with no one to save me from cows. I wanted to be near people again. I didn’t want to wildcamp and be unknown and invisible to the world tonight. If I could find a campsite that would be great.
I made my way up the trudge to the main road. I don’t think anything is a ‘main road’ past a certain point on the Llyn Peninsula. ‘Main lane’ is probably more apt. A couple farms had signs as I passed along advertising their camping fields. I knew there was a high likelihood that they had shut for winter and, once again, hadn’t updated anything, but I rang to check anyway. Nope. Both were shut now, though the second owner was far more useful than the first and said there was a ‘man with some pods’ out near Penllech.
That was good enough for me and I headed towards Penllech, inland slightly from the coast. It was a settlement, and it was was fairly straightforward to work out where PodMan might be.
PodMan was fantastic and he and his missus were incredibly accommodating and so extremely kind after I told them of my harrowing experience. It did sound extremely pathetic when put to words. They told me that other Welsh Coast Path walkers had been through their place, including Hannah who had walked around the perimeter of Wales with Chico the Donkey. I don’t know if having a donkey with you would make crossing cowfields better or worse.
The pod was set up with a mattress, a kettle, and a small heater, with a firepit outside. It looked out over a vast field that, I imagine, in the open months is a campsite, but today everything I saw was only mine to see.
My best mate had given me a whole bunch of luxury hot chocolate sachets a while back and whilst I had used up most of them on the Dales Way and the Pendle Way, I had saved one for this trip for the inevitable day that morale would be low. Drinking it beside the fire in a field where there were no cows was the best end to a bad day I could imagine.
*I realise our ‘large animals’ are pretty much just cows, deer and horses but I’ll bet you’d have assumed deer or horses were far more vicious.
Penllach – Aberdaron
16 miles/3092 ft total ascent
There was frost, quiet and still, coating the grass like a crystal shroud when I stepped out the pod in the morning. I may have lucked out and kept out of it tonight, but I knew I would have many, many days of frozen tents yet to come.
This section was often said to be the best of the whole Llyn Peninsula path and I was determined to enjoy it after not getting to see so much of the equivalent on Anglesey.
It would start off with a morning of three beautiful beaches, the first of which was Porth Colmon. I emerged back on the coast path to see the eroded, grizzled stacks out at Traeth Penllech holding firm against the elements. For how much longer, I couldn’t say. Erosion eats away quickly at these marine pillars, once part of land and then part of islets and then part of rocks until their needle like prominence one day collapses and is washed away to become part of the sea floor.
The easy, green path dropped down to a small cove with rockpools like dimples on either side. At low tide, there is over a mile of sand exposed at this beach. At high tide, the sea eats right to the base of the cliffs.
The path became rougher as I continued on the peninsula to the second beach. Around the whole end of the peninsula, path erosion was far more evident than on the other areas of the Wales Coast Path, and erosion in general was very visible. Whether it was in the exposure of numerous tree roots of in the scatter of rocks eaten away from the cliffs. Areas bare of anything other than grass.
As a protrusion out to the west of our island, the first and most heady blasts of our prevailing winds smack into it first and it is exposed on all sides to the sea. Between the natural elements and the rising sea levels the shoreline here is constantly under attack. It is estimated that a great deal of the most beautiful beaches, as well as numerous hillforts and whole settlements are under immediate threat. Even the Ty Coch Inn floods regularly, the National Trust stating it can only continue to help repair the buildings on the bay for the short term; unfortunately, their demise in the longer term is inevitable. The coast path has moved points yearly out here, as natural and manmade effects take their devastating toll.
One day, perhaps not as far away as we think, the Llyn Peninsula might just be reduced to a stack itself waiting to crumble.
It’s a sobering thought looking out at the hidden beach of Porth Iago, cuddled closely by the cliffs, extending deep rather than wide. Access here is only by the coastpath or a tollroad so, by me walking, I was already quids in.
The path now was often sheltered by gorse on the shore-side, as I trundled around numerous pointed headlands and above frothing coves. Porth y Wrach – the ‘Cove of the Witch’ swirled and spat its water around as if in a cauldron.
The final beach was the long swoop of Porthoer; a name whose written form is much debated. Whether it is ‘Porthoer’, ‘Porthor’ or ‘Porth Oer’. It is also known by the English name of ‘Whistling Sands’ that references the squeak made when walking on the dry sand on a hot day caused by the unusually spherical particles.
From here around to Aberdaron would be far more testing as I rounded the point of the peninsula. Small islets sat stubbornly in the waters. They were probably larger islets not too long ago, and islands before then and, once, part of the mainland. The grass shimmered all the way down many of the cliffs to the sea as the path rounded flanks of a dancing coast, undulating with more regularity, until ascending the sides of Mynydd Anelog and then going all the way down to sea level.
This was quite a kick in the teeth, looking up at Mynedd Mawr that was there still to be climbed and navigated around. At least all this upping and downing had my heart rate up so I couldn’t feel the cold as much as yesterday. It is simply a theory of mine that it is the fault of the Snowdonia Mountains blocking the light of the low winter sun that prevents any warmth from truly penetrating these more distant parts of the Llyn Peninsula until past lunch.
There are lots of ‘Mawrs’ around Wales. The word appears in the names of many geographical features of all sorts and simply means ‘big’. ‘Mynydd’ means ‘mountain’, and there are quite a few ‘Mynydd Mawrs’ or ‘big mountains’ scattered around the country. For a country with a lot of mountains, I don’t think anyone blames them for running out of more mystical or descriptive names. In fact, I had clambered around another Mynydd Mawr on the Snowdonia Slate Trail and ended up very annoyed by it. I believe I ended up smacking the ground with my hiking pole upon tripping on the narrow, muddy path for the fiftieth time and calling the mountain a bastard.
At least I was far less pissy on this big mountain. Which isn’t even that big a mountain – it’s 160 metres! But any sort of ascent from literal sea level really feels like the worst. Somehow seeing the full rise right from the bayside base makes any hill seem really big.
It was now so quiet. Feeling far away from even yesterday’s settlements as I approached the remote and battered point. Whilst there is an absence of people, or even of animals here, it’s the lichen that thrives. Dashes of yellow or blue or white, or a vibrant green on the rocks like a frustrated artists palette.
The next hill took me on a precarious edge. I’m lucky not to be funny around heights, but I’m sure there’s people that go on coast paths thinking they’re just heading out on a flat beach walk that are just not prepared for how edgy they can be. I tickled the edge of the cliffs and found myself exhaling when it widened out to the sight of Bardsey Island.
Bardsey Island, Ynys Enlli, sat like small hump out past the very end of the peninsula, its northeast hill flattening out to a plain behind like the head of an animal swimming just under the water. A square lighthouse sat, balanced on the isthmus that stretched behind the plain. Not even a square mile in area, it is also known as the ‘Island of 20,000 Saints”.
Saint Cadfan founded a monastery here in the fifth century after it became a refuge for persecuted Christians and, despite suffering the vengeance of Henry VIII’s dissolution, the island still marks the ending of a pilgrimage route that continues to this day. In mediaeval times, three pilgrimages to Bardsey was seen as the equivalent to one pilgrimage to Rome. But it isn’t just religion that has claimed all the stories and significance of it; it is also claimed to be the burial site of the wizard and advisor Merlin. Though Merlin has just about as many claimed burial sites as there are blessed islands.
With only 11 people living on it, the habitat is incredibly undisturbed and it is a haven for choughs and Manx shearwaters and a huge range of other birdlife under the care of the RSPB. Here the variety of lichens that splatter increasingly up the peninsula really ups their game with over 350 different types recorded, from the green-grey crumple of the ciliate strap lichen to the vibrant, fine orange strands of the golden hair. In midsummer, up to 200 seals regularly congregate on the plain. There were no seals around now, though in my enthusiasm every awry splash around the island was definitely a porpoise or a dolphin.
Turning at a cairn, the ruggedness of the cliffs started to calm down. One final total descent before another ascent saw the small settlement of Aberdaron ahead of me. I hunted around here, about half a mile or so out for a camping space and, having found one that was suitably flat and dry and sheltered, marked it on my map and made my way down to try and find an early tea before I returned to sleep.
Today was the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. The sunset happened at four thirty two in the afternoon and brought in the longest night after barely more than eight hours of daylight. From tomorrow, everything would be lighter.