Have we made a mistake? After a month of the driest, hottest weather since the summer of 1976, C and I chosen today to start our final, three-day campaign of the Wales Coast Path, from Porth Amlwch to Valley, on a less than tropical day. Itâ€™s dark, drizzly and clouds are so low that Cadair Idris and the Rhinogydd are invisible as we drive from one end of Wales to the other.
Happily, after a snack in a cafÃ© in Porth Amlwch, the weather begins to improve. Thereâ€™s no more rain, and a warm southern breeze starts up to cool our skin. Weâ€™ve a deserved record for wilfully losing our way, but itâ€™s not often we get lost even before weâ€™ve started. We follow a path that winds its way along the western side of the harbour and then follows the coast. It looks promising, but we soon run up against a hostile metal fence surrounding the abandoned Octel bromine factory (it turns out to have its own water tower and railway line, both disused). We try to work out way round it on the sea side, under a huge concrete sea wall in the shape of a breaking wave, but then realise thereâ€™s no way forward. Weâ€™re forced to retreat to the start of the walk, after twenty minutes of error. At last weâ€™re back on track, alongside a thin orange stream called Afon Goch, spectacularly poisoned by copper mining.
Now things improve. The path wanders along the top of low cliffs, made of Precambrian rocks, some of the most ancient in England and Wales. The grass is parched brown and white, and most of Julyâ€™s flowers are struggling to bloom: only the hardiest, like rose bay willow herb, purple heather and gorse, seem to be withstanding the drought. Even bracken fronds look burnt and ill.
As we approach Porth Llechog (Bull Bay) we enter a field â€“ the path ahead looks eroded and little used â€“ but canâ€™t see a way out. Weâ€™ve gone wrong again! This time, though, it turns out we havenâ€™t, and the path really has been diverted. Port Llechog is an unremarkable place today, but it once featured a marine swimming pool carved out the rock by order of the Marquess of Anglesey and surrounded by a turreted wall. The Bull Bay Hotel, which looks as if was converted from a cavernous gloomy chapel, is closed and boarded up. Opposite it the path branches off the road and regains the coast. As we round Trwynbychan a wide bay open up. This is Porth Wen, beachless and sea-cut into long inlets, and on its far side are the derelict remains of large brickworks: a crushing house and boiler house, domed kilns and chimneys. At this distance it looks as antiquely imperial as the Baths of Caracalla in Rome.
We work our way slowly round the wide bay, above the brickworks, and climb higher, past the white quartz outcrop, Craig Wen, that provided silica for the bricks (the remains of the winding house are still here). Now the path becomes more dramatic, as it climbs to peaks and then plunges down to a series of gullies and bays, Porth Cynfor and Porth Llanlleiana, the site of another, smaller abandoned factory (this one produced porcelain). These are some of the most strenuous coastal stretches weâ€™ve met since north Pembrokeshire (the drop into Porth Llanlleiana is probably the steepest on the whole Wales Coast Path). We stop to rest and chew dried mango on a promontory, outside the ugly ruins of a small look-out tower, built to commemorate the coronation of Edward VII.
Finally the old Wylfa nuclear power station comes into view, a melancholy reminder of the unwisdom of past energy choices. We pass the churchyard wall of Llanbadrig church, a plain old building with immensely thick walls, dedicated to St Patrig (Patrick), a Welsh saint with well-known Irish connections. When Henry Stanley, 3rd Baron Stanley of Alderley, comprehensively â€˜restoredâ€™ the church in 1884 he insisted on installing stained glass and pottery tiles that reflected Islamic art. Their complex geometrical designs are a welcome change from the usual sentimental Victorian scenes from the Bible. Stanley was a Muslim convert, becoming the first Muslim member of the House of Lords, and had himself buried vertically, facing Mecca. His influence here results in a curious mix of styles and feeling.
We turn southwards towards Cemaes Bay. The path becomes gentler again, wandering about the jagged coast before dropping to the prom of the town. Few people are around: this is not one of the busier resorts of Anglesey.
M joins us for a pub meal in Cemaes, ready for tomorrowâ€™s walk, and then C and I drive to our base for the three days, a cottage in Llanfechell. Itâ€™s quite a large village, the home in the late eighteenth century of one of the leading hell-fire preachers of Welsh nonconformity, John Elias. He was known as the Pope of Anglesey and had a sensitive nose for sin, with a special hostility towards employment and enjoyment on the Sabbath. When he died it was said that 10,000 people attended his funeral at Llanfaes near Beaumaris. For good or ill, we have to agree that Llanfechell, on the face of it, doesnâ€™t have much of a Calvinist air today.