After months of planning (and years of dreaming) the big day has finally arrived.
Harri and I are walking between the traditional ends of Wales, from Holyhead in Anglesey (o Fon) to Chepstow in Monmouthshire (i Fynwy). We’ve allowed ourselves a whole month for our expedition however, unless the weather lets us down badly, we hope to complete our walk of around 400 miles in just under four weeks.
Creating a scenic Wales ‘end to end’ route which can be tackled by most hikers of reasonable fitness has long been an ambition of Harri’s (see my previous post); it was hard to believe that we were finally about to realise his dream.
Unfortunately, yesterday’s gorgeous blue skies were no-where to be seen and it was already drizzling when we boarded the two-carriage train for our long journey from Newport to Anglesey.
Just over four hours later, we disembarked at Holyhead, on Holy Island’s most north-easterly coast (Holy Island being a smaller island linked to Anglesey by an embankment (for cars, trains, cyclists and pedestrians) and another road bridge). To reach the island of Anglesey from mainland Wales is a simple matter of crossing one of two adjacent bridges over the Menai Strait.
Fortunately, the black clouds which had filled the skies in North Wales (and unleashed an awful lot of rain) had not followed us to Holyhead and, though cloudy, the weather was fine. We heaved our rucksacks onto our backs (with some difficulty in my case) and set off.
Our first impression of Holyhead was that it seemed a bit rundown but that’s probably a little unfair because we saw very little of the town, other than the station, a short street of small shops (and pubs) and the beautiful St Cybi’s Church, perched high above the port (which is well worth seeing).
After a quick wander, we were heading across the Celtic Gateway bridge to join the 125-mile Anglesey Coast Path, which actually predates the Wales Coast Path. While our own route wouldn’t include the entire coastal path around Anglesey, we’d be following for the next five days (until we reached Menai Bridge).
And having been around for eight years the signage should be excellent, right? Wrong. We’d barely left the harbour before we came across a confusingly positioned Wales Coast Path sign. And having worked that one out, the next junction was missing signage together! It’s a good job that Harri is so skilled at map reading or we might never have left Holyhead.
It was a few hours before we did actually leave Holy Island, the small island separated from the rest of Anglesey by a narrow channel (it’s linked by two road crossings). Just before we reached Stanley Embankment, the oldest crossing between small and large islands, we passed a pet cemetery in Penrhos Country Park. (If you’re planning a visit, be aware that the toilets are no longer open.)
There’s something particularly poignant about a pet cemetery, that an animal should touch its owner’s life so deeply that they will go to the considerable expense of purchasing a burial spot and erecting a tombstone. Some of the graves were decades old. We love our 14-year-old cat, Tabitha, dearly, and will miss her when she’s no longer with us, but a marked grave in a designated cemetery? Probably not.
The 1170 metre-long Stanley Embankment behind us, we felt like we’d finally left Holyhead and were heading up the Anglesey coast towards Church Bay, where Harri had booked us some rather nice (or so he promised) overnight accommodation.
The official route directs you onto the pebble beach at Valley, which was great in terms of staying close to the coast, but it’s much harder to maintain a reasonable pace over rough terrain. With a considerable distance still to cover, we were slowing right down, hindered both by the uneven surface underfoot and our increasingly aching shoulders.
We wondered if we’d been overly ambitious expecting to walk 14 miles when we hadn’t arrived in Holyhead until after 2pm and concurred that we probably had. Unfortunately, it was too late to do anything about it now. Harri had paid for accommodation in Church Bay – if we didn’t get there, we’d not only lose our money but be faced with nowhere to sleep for the night. We’d best get a move on!
There was a dreaded estuary coming up too and, as our experience on the Somerset Levels proved, these can seem endless towards the end of the day, when your energy levels are low. Fortunately, this particular estuary was well signposted and the footpath surface reasonably dry. Best of all, the detour inland was relatively brief (well compared with the River Parrett at least!). We stopped briefly for nibbles at the new footbridge but couldn’t delay too long – the clock was ticking.
Harri pointed out our accommodation on the slopes above Church Bay about half an hour before we actually reached it but just seeing our overnight ‘home’ in the distance spurred me on. Once again Harri had chosen well, it was just a shame that our visit would be so brief.
The Loft at Pen-y-Graig is described as ‘cosy and romantic’ and I’m delighted to report it is both. The internal quarry tiled steps to the rooms are original and steep, but they simply add to the charm of this lovely open-plan self-catering accommodation. Our only regret was that we had so little time to fully enjoy this pretty place.
It was past 9.30pm when we settled down to a dinner if chicken and couscous.
We were exhausted and our shoulders ached, but we were content. We were doing what many people never do… we were making our dream come true.
‘Never too old to backpack: O Fôn i Fynwy: a 364-mile walk through Wales’ by Tracy Burton is available from Amazon’s Kindle Store and other online bookstores priced at £2.99.
If you want to find out more about Anglesey, there’s plenty of information and photographs at Anglesey Hidden Gems.