After Holy Island north, today three of us are tackling Holy Island south – a much shorter and less strenuous trek. It’s a cooler and cloudier day. We start from Trearddur Bay. Just as it took half an hour to get into Trearddur from the north, it takes half an hour to leave it walking south. This must be one of the longest villages in Wales, with houses, mostly dull or worse, ribonned along the many coves and headlands of the coast. Some of the larger houses used to be hotels; the smaller and newer ones on the outskirts occupy the land of a long-gone gentry estate, traceable by the remains of its continuous wall and two ‘lodges’. The road out is narrow but busy with traffic from several caravan parks at the end of town. (Caravan parks, a Coast Path staple, are common on Anglesey, but we’ve noted a strange lack of another common coastal feature, sewage farms.)
Just as we think we’ve escaped the urban sprawl and reached the coast over open heathland, a well-hidden settlement of static caravans appears, next to an attractive bay studded with small inlets and islands. Soon, though, we’re striding along the open clifftops. Again, deep gulches open up in the rocks to our right, while the cliff edges are carpeted with spring squill and thrift. Soon we come across a large arch, and then a more spectacular one. We wish Pembrokeshire’s Dr John had written our guidebook: the one we have betrays no interest in geology, and we feel the need for expert knowledge about the petrology of the cliffs. The second arch, Bwa Gwyn, has rocks of a vivid white colour, while later on patches of bright pink rock appear in lower strata. More stones are on the landward side of the path, in the form of an exceptionally fine drystone wall. It’s tall and extends for a mile of more, expertly crafted with big boulders in its lower courses and snugly-fitted coping stones.
We turn with the wall round the corner at Rhoscolyn Head and start moving eastwards. The path climbs, past St Gwenfaen’s Well (the oily water looks unlikely to cure mental conditions, as claimed), towards the old lookout station. It’s now staffed not by paid public coastguards but by volunteers from the newish National Coastwatch Institution – a neat symbol of the wasting of the public realm. A volunteer comes out to welcome us, and assures us – in jest, with an undercurrent of menace, I thought – that we’ve been under his binocular surveillance for some time, ‘to help keep us safe’. We try to remember where we last had a pee and look anxiously ahead for future cover. From here the views of the coast and the offshore reefs are wide. There’s a monument close by to Dennis Stephenson Wood, a geologist noted for his research into the Precambian rocks of the Rhoscolyn coast, one of the best places in Britain to study the cleavage and folding of older rocks.
Now we can see RAF Valley again. The piercing screams of its jets destroy the peace of the coast. Residents seem not to notice the din, but to visitors the aural pollution of the airplanes and helicopters is a constant scourge.
At Silver Bay there’s a tasteful wooden café cabin. It’s not open, but we sit at a table outside to eat our sandwiches before turning away from the coast through a small pine wood. This is a different, quieter world, where the horizontal of the coastline suddenly turns vertical. But we’re soon out of the conifers, and the next section follows a lane, as the sky darkens and rain threatens. We divert from the path up a lane to visit the White Eagle at Rhoscolyn, a gastropub where the other visitors have turned up with large cars and without boots and rucksacks (we huddle with our pints at a side table and look inconspicuous). The tactic works, and there’s no more rain.
Finally we regain the coast, marshy at this point, and tramp along the wooden boardwalks made by the Ramblers, to our destination, the old bridge at Four Mile Bridge. In the evening we celebrate the conquest of Holy Island by going for a meal in the Oystercatcher, near Rhosneigr. It has a fine view over the reed-fringed Llyn Maelog, a sizeable lake completely invisible from the road nearby. We spot a couple walking from the road through the tall reeds towards the lake. They disappear and fail to return, like the Lancashire pair on the cliff at North Stack. Perhaps this part of Anglesey is one of those places where, with the aid of Philip Pullman’s ‘subtle knife’, it’s possible to slide with ease into a parallel universe and leave a sudden absence in our usual world.