I was looking forward to walking around the Lleyn peninsula: it took six days to walk the coast from Harlech round to Caernarfon. The Lleyn (pronounced “khleen”) is renowned as the Welshest part of Wales: every conversation seemed to be in Welsh and many signs gave no English translation. People were extraordinarily friendly; everyone was bilingual and to my surprise spoke English without any traceable accent. Listening to Welsh being spoken, in a bar or on a bus, I was surprised to find that it often sounded like Dutch! Softly guttural but also a warm and strangely comforting sound, appropriate perhaps for such nice people, all of whom seemed to know each other and who went out of their way to greet me when we passed in the street.
The train from Birmingham passed through nearly thirty stations and took over five hours to reach Pwllheli, the main town in the Lleyn. The roll call of coastal stations we passed through as the two carriage train journeyed up the Cambrian line was pure enchantment: Penhelig, Tywyn, Tonfanau, Llwyngwril, Morfa Mawddach, Llanaber, Llanbedr, Llandanwg, Talsarnau, Penrhyndeudraeth, Abererch, to name but a few. I could hardly believe I was still in the British Isles and wondered if perhaps I had not wandered into the world of the Lord of the Rings, or the Arthurian legends or, more probably, into the realm of the Welsh myths.
In one sense Pwllheli is very much the end of the line, trains go no further. But a network of bus routes fan out from Pwllheli to all the isolated little villagers and fishing ports of the Lleyn. I decided to stay in Pwllheli and take buses to and from my walks each day, although that did present a problem of its own: trying to time a 20 mile walk so that I reached my destination (often a small and remote village) in time to catch one of the infrequent buses, but not arriving so early that I would have too long to wait by the roadside in the fading light and chilly evening air.
On the train I read the final volume of John Grigg’s biography of David Lloyd George. The train stopped at Criccieth where Lloyd George had a family home and when walking this part of the coast I detoured inland slightly to visit the village of Llanystumdwy to see the house where he had lived as a boy (having been born in Manchester) and also to visit his grave where he is commemorated by a large and anonymous boulder of Welsh rock.
I was keen to get round the Lleyn and on to the north Wales coast before the onset of winter. I thought if I could reach Caernarfon before the weather broke I would be able to walk the last 120 miles of this section of my round Britain walk and reach Liverpool however much cold or rain I might encounter on the way. People in Pwllheli told me that it was just beginning to get cold. I found I could no longer walk in just a T shirt. Some days the weather was brilliantly sunny, the air having a crystalline clarity, especially after rain which gave the light a dazzling luminosity. Out of nowhere the sky would darken and the wind would rise and within minutes sheets of rain would come racing in towards me across the sea, and I would feel again the now familiar sense of exhilaration of standing on an isolated promontory, alone on a clifftop path, as the weather roared around me. I sometimes wondered whether the wind and rain were aware of my presence and whether they differentiated between me and the rocks around me.
At the far end of the Lleyn I stood in sparkling sunshine on the headland of Mynydd Mawr and looked out at the pilgrimage island of Bardsey (Ynys Enlli in Welsh). There is a sixth century monastery on Bardsey which once offered sanctuary to Celts fleeing in the face of the Saxon invasion. Some say Bardsey is the fabled Isle of Avalon; Merlin is reputed to slumber eternally in a glass castle, and 20,000 saints are said to be buried there. There is also a bird sanctuary and a seal colony.
Walking along the north coast of the Lleyn I followed in the footsteps of my old friend St. Beuno (pronounced Bayno). I had first encountered the seventh century saint at his church near Minehead at the end of the South West Coast Path (Walk 22 of this blog) and his is a name which has recurred in various places around the coast of Wales. Walking towards Caernarfon I passed a number of churches at Aberdaron, Tudweiliog, Pistyll, Nefyn, and Clynnog-fawr which have connections with Beuno and the many pilgrims who have trodden this path over the centuries.
As I approached Dinas Dinlle I had fine views of the mountains of Snowdonia, silhouetted darkly against a mass of wind tossed cloud. I had actually been able to see Mount Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa) distantly from my bedroom window in Pwllheli! Approaching Caernarfon I found myself walking parallel to the coast of Anglesey and was amazed how close to the Welsh mainland it is.
Finally I reached Caernarfon and made another slight detour to the Castle to see the red ceramic poppies which had originally been installed at the Tower of London to commemorate the outbreak of the First World War.
I was out of the Lleyn; Pwllheli seemed a long way away; I found I missed the place; it had been my home for nearly a week and they had been happy days.
© Nick Creagh-Osborne and manwalkstheworld.com 2016.