It’s still and warm as we deliver C to the railway station at Rhosneigr for the absurdly long train journey back to Swansea (including an enforced bus journey between Cwmbran and Newport). Someone has scratched the words ‘… is shit’ as a predicate to the platform sign for Arriva Trains Wales, the unlamented rail franchise holder soon to hand over to another foreign-owned, exploitative rail company. Fair play, the train arrives on time (though it’s only come from Holyhead), a dirty two-carriage diesel from a distant age. As we wait, two jets from the flying school at RAF Valley scream in unison overhead – just a prelude for many others today.
The four of us that remain hop on a Gwynfor Coaches minibus (M has to pay, as an England resident). GC pride themselves on using ‘expert, local and bilingual’ drivers. Ours takes us on a comprehensive tour of local villages, sometimes travelling in exactly the opposite direction to our destination (the same happened to us in Beaumaris). The train to Valley takes a couple of minutes, but the bus needs over twenty. As is common on north Wales buses, a passenger spends most of the journey leaning over the steering wheel, in constant conversation with the driver.
We get out, earlier than we should, in the village of Valley, and have to walk a mile along a busy road to the Stanley Embankment in order to cross the railway line and begin the walk south. We’re on the east side of the short strait that separates Anglesey from Holy Island. Here it’s in effect a lagoon – the tides have little effect, with the still water trapped between Telford’s embankment and the older bridge at Four Mile Bridge.
The path works its way along the scrubby, rock-strewn borderline between the shore and farmland inland. We climb through an abandoned quarry. Abandoned boats lie on the mud, with the grey lump of Holyhead Mountain behind in the distance. A man tows another boat through the shallows, with effort. Past Four Mile Bridge we reach a handsome, EU-funded barrage intended to control flooding. A swan spreads its wings on the water pool inland. Further south, open fields invite us to get lost, but a bright green line, worn down by feet as if by the land artist Richard Long, shows us the way forward. Another big, ploughed field hides its unknown crop under swirling lines of gleaming polythene – another piece of land art.
We reach a deep inlet of the sea. The path round it means a diversion of half an hour at least. But the guidebook mentions an old stone causeway across the creek’s mouth. It’s seen better days: the sea’s washed away the track’s surface, the underlying stones are covered with slippery seaweed, and water flows through a gap. But we thread our way safely across and resume the coast path.
All this while the peace of the countryside has been periodically shattered by screaming jets. Now we’re getting close to their origin, the airfield at RAF Valley. Rows of tall yellow metal poles, each bearing two landing lights, hold their hands up in supplication. Below one set, two people are working outside their caravan: either they’re deaf or they’re military aircraft anoraks, because no one else would willingly choose that pitch. At a spot that’s as close as you’re allowed to get to the runways (‘do not loiter’, says a sign), carfuls of jet fighter enthusiasts are gathered. The planes overhead hunt in packs of three. Often one of them peels away and takes a different route. Then they all turn, re-form, and return on the same path for another virtual attack. The roar is deafening, sometimes so extreme you have to hold hands to your ears. We hurry by as fast as we can, past a strange screen of vertical streamers and the skeleton of a new hangar, and with relief cross some dunes to the long sandy beach of Traeth Cymyran. The runway lies just beyond the dunes, which shield us from the sight, but not the sound of the monstrous machines.
We have the sand to ourselves except for an elderly German couple ahead of us. Despite the heat, he’s huddled in a coat and strides impatiently on the sand. She’s a long way behind him, paddling barefoot and dawdling and stopping to gaze at the waves. Soon we construct an imaginary narrative for them: they’ve come on a foreign walking holiday in a final, desperate but doomed attempt to save their relationship, exhausted by overfamiliarity.
Traeth Cymyran merges into a second long beach, Traeth Crigyll, with a long view of Rhosneigr. The town lies comfortably on its low hill, looking out to sea. At the eastern end of the beach Afon Crigyll blocks our entry into the town. The guidebook claims the water is paddlable, but we don’t believe it, and take a mile’s detour up the bank, along a winding sandy gulch, to a footbridge at the northern edge of the town. As we walk back to the centre M suddenly sprints across the road, camera in hand, towards a car parked ahead. The rest of us stand mystified. What we’re looking at, M explains in wonder, is a rare example of a Land Rover extended at the back so that it has six wheels instead of four.
In need of consolation after the detour, and in a rare fit of hedonism, we order glasses of prosecco and a small mountain of crêpes and sauces in a café in the centre of Rhosneigr. Two people join us at the next table and order a meal for themselves. It’s the German couple from the beach. They tell us they’re from Stuttgart and plan to walk on to Aberffraw. They seem entirely happy in each other’s company.