In Sgwâr Bodorgan in the centre of Aberffraw we’re waiting for Gwynfor. After twenty minutes we’re still waiting. We’re on the point of giving up and taking two cars when a bus turns up – the original vehicle had broken down – and we’re bowling along the road south.
Today we have a second guest, Mi from Aberystwyth, after a gap of two years. He’s asked for a ‘flat stretch’, so we’ve chosen the coast between Newborough and Malltraeth. It’s a sunny morning in Newborough, with a slight breeze and a hazy view of the mountains. We walk past Ebenser chapel, plain and pleasing, and the car park at Llyn Rhos Ddu, and make a quiet start along a track on the edge of Newborough Forest. To our left are precious sand dunes and hollows (‘slacks’), home to numerous birds, plants and insects, including the vernal mining bee. Mi has brought his binoculars and birdlore. Within minutes he’s spotted a kestrel flying out of the trees ahead.
This area’s now deserted, but was well populated before a disastrous storm in 1331 that obliterated the existing village. We pass the ruins of a farm, Clwt Glyb, and then we’re on a sandy track moving through tall conifers, with a huge area of dunes between us and the sea. The forest was planted with Corsican pines between 1947 and 1965, to stabilize the sand dunes and prevent further erosion. After a while the path forks and we choose the left variant, across the dunes and on to a long beach with a distant view of Ynys Llanddwyn. To our right the dunes part occasionally to show the trees of the forest; on the left is the sea and the silhouettes of the mountains of Eryri and Llŷn. Even here machine noises pursue us: over the sea an RAF helicopter is hovering on manoeuvres, churning the waves below.
Llanddwyn attracts young lovers, but today it’s oldies like us who haunt the place. The story of Dwynwen has its attractions – her over-ardent lover, Maelon, is encased in a block of ice, and advice on love is dispensed by a talking eel – but what draws people here is the long island’s situation, with superb views in every direction. We dutifully visit the sites – Dywynwen’s church, the pilots’ houses, the two towers. But the highlight is a clifftop picnic with a view of the Cefni estuary. Below us are two gulls: the female sits on her nest, the male stands guard a little way off and casts the odd solicitous glance at her. Cormorants have their own home, an island rock whitened by their excrement. Mi spots a small bird with a curious white head on a rock far below us, probably, he says, a turnstone.
We leave Llanddwyn and resume the long sand walk. We’re on our own again. Dunes, often delicately wind-sculptured, hide the forest edge. The wooden spines of a wrecked ship poke from the sands like dragon’s teeth. With the help of an improvised sign (a blue bucket and an indelicate red rubber glove) we find a path across the dunes to the forest, where the coast path retreats to avoid the wide saltmarsh opening up in front of us. Tiny violas and yellow flowers line the path. M suddenly tells me not to move: next to my boot sits a small lizard, completely still except for his tiny lung.
Now we move through the forest. The trees aren’t all coniferous, and gorse bushes, fresh with brilliant new yellow, line the way. The path turns into a track and then into what’s almost a pedestrian M1, as it moves north to meet the main road. It seems a long way. To help our spirits M, the keeper of the map, keeps assuring us, like a soothing parent, that we have only a kilometer to go (his kilometer is a flexible measure). From the road we join the cob, or dyke wall, which goes in a straight line for over a mile to Malltraeth. We were familiar with the Porthmadog cob, built by William Maddocks to block the estuary of the Glaslyn, but were unaware that this other cob existed. It was built across the river Cefni in 1812 (after an abortive first effort, authorised by Parliament in 1790), to reclaim land from the tides and allow the former saltmarsh to be used for farming (later in the nineteenth century coal was also exported via Malltraeth from the Berw colliery).
It’s a straight mile across the cob, on a tarmac cycle path, but the views are worth the slog: sands and saltmarsh on the sea side, and pools and farmland inland. Then up through the village street to wait for Gwynfor’s bus back to Aberffraw. M and Mi both leave for home, and we’re reduced to three for the rest of the week’s walking.