Rounding the Welsh ‘Land’s End’
Using forgotten leg muscles, clocking 4,000 miles, following in the footsteps of Pilgrims, discovering granite quarries, a Royal fortress and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, have all come my way during a week of varied walking.
Leaving Caernarfon, I was struck by Caernarfon castle’s grandeur with its commanding views over the Menai Strait. Like Flint and Conwy castles I’d passed last week, Caernarfon’s fortress was another initiated by Edward I in a vain effort to keep the Welsh under English domination. Much of the original town remains encircled by ancient walls, and in 1969 the investiture of Prince Charles, as Prince of Wales, took place within this Castle.
The mastermind behind the Prince’s investiture was Lord Snowdon (Antony Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon), the then husband to HRH Princess Margaret. By chance, I came across his grave with its simple slate headstone in the isolated churchyard of St Baglan’s, at Llanfaglan. Buried in the family plot, his grave stands in the shadow of the Snowdon mountain range and is not far from Caernarfon.
Further on, walking into the tight-knit village of Trefor, it was easy to see how the local granite quarry had once dominated the inhabitants’ lives. Some old quarry workings could be seen high above on the slopes of Yr Eifl, and the harbour still bares evidence of where granite was once shipped away. Next morning, my legs, heart and lungs worked hard as I toiled up 1,000 feet towards the Bwlch Yr Eifl (the pass) that took me up past redundant quarry buildings and through a high saddle. Just as I reached the highest point, rain and mist snatched the hoped-for views from me!
Descending the other side, conditions improved enough for me to catch glimpses of the secluded valley of Nant Gwrtheyrn below me. Known locally as ‘Nant’, the settlement looks out to sea and is bordered on its remaining three sides by vast disused quarrying workings in and around Yr Eifl slopes. In the 1860s there were three quarries based in ‘Nant’, together with a chapel, and purpose-built terraced houses for the quarrymen and their families. Over 2,000 people lived in this remote community stuck at the bottom of a deep valley serviced by a steep zig-zag road.
The roadbuilding demands for granite setts placed by expanding cities lasted until the 1920s, but by the start of WWII the quarries were all in decline. After they closed, people remained living in ‘Nant’ until 1959, after which the village was left deserted until the 1970s, when hippies from the New Atlantis Commune moved in. Eight years later they too moved out, leaving the vandalised village to rot.
It was the vision of a local GP, Dr Carl Clowes who wished the Welsh language to be retained, that revived ‘Nant’s’ fortunes. By seeking funding to purchase the derelict village from the quarry owners, he and many other Welsh people ensured ‘Nant’ survived. Today, the Welsh Language and Heritage Centre is based here. It’s a thriving concern where the old houses and chapel have been restored and people once more live in the valley which is now serviced by a new road.
I continued walking the Llyn coastal path which in parts also acts as the North Wales Pilgrims’ Way. The 130-mile long Pilgrims’ route links ancient churches dedicated to saints of the 5th and 6th centuries; starting near Holywell it crosses North Wales and ends at Bardsey Island, passing churches along the route that would have provided shelter. On my travels I paused at the tiny St Beuno’s church, Pistyll and St Hywyn’s church at Aberdaron, the final stop for pilgrims before they took a boat to Bardsey Island.
I was able to gain my own views of Bardsey Island at the tip of the Llyn peninsula only after more tough walking and clambering up three mountains: Carreg, Anelog and finally Mawr. In between, it was frustrating to lose all the height gained when I was forced to plunge down a valley, before climbing up again. It’s easy to see why this wild, rocky and quiet Llyn peninsula is classed as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Arriving at the top of Mynydd Mawr I wasn’t disappointed with the views and understood why the tip is nicknamed ‘the Land’s End of Wales’. I must admit to being daunted by the views south - a seemingly endless ribbon of land disappeared down the Ceredigion coastline towards Cardigan and beyond. This is terrain yet to be walked by my two poor feet!
Sights along the way have included the former RAF Llandwrog airfield (now Caernarfon airport), used during WWII for various training, including gunners, navigators and night-time flying. Nearby, I stood on an Iron Age Fort, Dinas Dinlie, which provided spectacular views back to Anglesey. Close to Morfa Nefyn, I came across the famous Ty Coch Inn, nestling under the cliffs by the sandy beach at Porth Dinllaen: it’s reputed to be in the World’s top ten beach bars. Works of ‘art’ observed have been a wrought iron fish display swamping a small cottage garden and the Tin Man sculpture overlooking Llanbedrog bay.
This week I was really pleased to see my ‘bootometer’ click 4,000 miles. Fittingly, it happened as I passed by the Welsh Language and Heritage Centre - I celebrated with a coffee and toasted sandwich! This big milestone produced a flurry of very welcome donations (thank you), but as I’m sitting at only 23% of my target, I will be hoping for many more over the next few months. Along with the cash donations our overnight stops have seen the Victory Van parked outside the houses of some very kind people and by a lifeboat station. Truly, there has been ‘a welcome in the hills’ for the Victory Walker!
See Photo Album No 61 – BFBS Radio Interview with Hal Stewart, Jan 2019
See Photo Album Numbers 62
- The Llyn Peninsula
- Rounding the Welsh Land’s End