Saturday, July 27, 2013

Walk 336 -- Menai Bridge to Glan-yr-Afon

Ages:  Colin was 71 years and 80 days.  Rosemary was 68 years and 222 days.
Weather:  Warm with a lovely cooling breeze in exposed places.  (The rain stayed over in Snowdonia!)
Location:  Menai Bridge to Glan-yr-afon.
Distance:  12 miles.
Total distance:  3470 miles.
Terrain:  Some road-walking, but quiet roads.  Mostly grassy paths through fields, and paths through woods.  A little rocky beach.  Undulating.
Tide:  In when we wanted it to be out.
Rivers: No.412, Afon Cadant.
Ferries:  None.
Piers:  No.35 Beaumaris — with Lifeboats Open Day.
Kissing gates:  Nos.452 to 475 — these were especially concentrated in the last section of the Walk.  (Twenty-four total equals our record for a Walk!)
Pubs:  The ‘White Lion Hotel’ in Beaumaris, which we visited the next day.  Colin drank Jennings ‘Cocky Blonde’ whereas I had a shandy as it was a hot day.
‘Cadw’ properties:  No.6, Beaumaris Castle, which we visited the next day.  Also the local church.
Ferris wheels:  None.
Diversions:  No.73 about a mile after Beaumaris.  The official footpath led along the beach, but the tide was in and so it was impossible.  We had to go round by road which was much further.
How we got there and back:  We were staying in our caravan on a remote farm in the middle of Anglesey.  This morning we drove to Glan-yr-afon where we were amazed to find, in such a remote hamlet, a large car park opposite a bus stop!  The bus turned up on time, too, and conveyed us to Menai Bridge, a most enjoyable ride.
At the end we finished the Walk at the only road junction in Glan-yr-afon.  We walked a couple of hundred yards downhill to our car, where we partook of tea and chocolate biscuits.  Then we drove back to our caravan at Bodnolwyn Wen.

We sat in a shelter near the bowling green to eat freshly bought pasties which were still warm.  We had magnificent views across the Menai Strait, the iconic Menai Bridge behind us and Bangor’s pier in the distance ahead.  We chatted to a local man whose entertainment was sitting at that vantage point watching people making a mess of launching their boats below.
We walked on towards St George’s Pier (private), followed by a residential road which proved to be a dead end.  There had been no signs telling us where to go up to the main road, but we backtracked a little and found our way.
We had to continue alongside a busy road then, but we did have a pavement walk on.  We passed a private bridge over to an island in the Strait.  Colin admired some bright yellow flowers which we passed, and also a tree which looked like the sculpture of an iguana!
We crossed a ‘new’ bridge over a tidal inlet which had been built in the 1970s to replace a much older and more awkward bridge — very nice for the owners of the house tucked away down there next to the old bridge.
The official Coast Path signposted us on to a parallel back road because the main road continued between walls with no pavement.  We decided to follow the signs, even though it was slightly further from the sea, in the interests of safety.  Trouble was, as soon as we left the waterfront we lost the breeze and it got very hot. 
We passed a flock of sheep sleeping in the shade under trees — it was too hot out in the field even for them!  There were thick clouds over Snowdonia on the other side of the Strait.  Apparently it rained most of the day over the rest of the country, so we were in the right place.
We could see Bangor Pier down below in the Strait.  Even from there it looked as if it almost touched Anglesey — but it was an optical illusion.  We could also see the derelict bathing station in the grounds of Penryn Castle where hadn’t been allowed to go.
We came to a bend in the road where the Coast Path went straight on through woods and fields — the sign was a bit obscure and I would have missed it if Colin hadn’t noticed it.  There was immediate confusion as to where the correct path actually went.  The first, and most obvious, path we tried didn’t seem to be right after a few yards.  So we returned to base and tried another leading off at a slightly different angle.  We weren’t sure about this one either until, after climbing a hillock through ferns and brambles, we came across another arrow with the Wales Coast Path logo.  Next we came to a field where our OS map said we should cut a corner.  We cut it too much, and realised when we couldn’t get out of the field.  Colin looked in the woods to our right and found another sign.  We had missed a kissing gate — so we had a kiss anyway!
There followed a good clear path through woods — and cool because we were in the shade!  When we exited, I was in the lead.  We came to a Wales Coast Path sign which definitely pointed us to the right.  I was puzzled about this because our OS map indicated we went straight on at this point.  However, we followed the sign, battled through ferns and brambles up a hillock until the path came to a complete stop at the top.  We could see cottages down there on our left, but they should have been on our right!  We battled back through brambles and ferns to the sign and confirmed we had followed it correctly as indicated.  So we ignored it and went straight on along a slightly better path.  We came out into a lane by the cottages, as we had been expecting.
We passed lots of rose bay willowherb (fireweed) blooming in all its glory, and a profusion of other showy wild flowers.  We descended quite steeply down a lane and under a bridge.  We thought, at the time, that it might be a disused railway bridge, but looking at the map we decided it wasn’t — more likely a track on a private estate.  We descended into the picturesque town of Beaumaris — called “Beautiful Sea” by the French-speaking aristocracy in the 13th century.
Down at the waterfront we sat in the shade in a little park to eat our sarnies.  Then we walked along the seafront, passing families playing on the beach and a ghastly pink house which was part of a terrace.  It was the first Saturday of the school summer holidays, the weather was warm and sunny, and there were a lot of people out enjoying themselves.
We visited Beaumaris Church on a different day, but I mention it here because it is very interesting.  Originally built in the 13th century as a part-fort, and much embellished since, it has fancy stonework on the outside all round its castle-like roof.
Inside there is a set of medieval misericords — always a fascination for Colin — where Solomon and the Queen of Sheba mingle with local people carrying flagons and sheaves of corn.  On the north wall is a brass triptych which is, apparently, very rare.
The centre panel shows God the Father and his crucified son.  Beside them is a figure of St John holding a poisoned chalice!  The piece is pre-Reformation, and I have no idea of the significance of the poisoned chalice.
In Beaumaris itself we saw lots of FAT people — no! I mustn’t go on about that again — and passed a kiddies' paddling pool which was not green like the one in Llandudno.  We walked on the little wooden pier where many families were engaged in catching crabs — this seems to be the latest craze at seaside resorts.
There was lots of sailing and canoeing going on, and good to see so many children involved in these activities.  The local lifeboatmen were holding an open day with stalls, etc, and children were throwing wet sponges at men in the ‘stocks’.  Everybody seemed to be having a good time, there was a very jolly atmosphere.
We saw Beaumaris Castle across the car park, but we visited it on a different day. 
Beaumaris  Castle 
The castle is part of Edward I’s ‘Iron Ring’ of castles he built to subdue the Welsh.  It was built in the 13th century in its strategic position at the mouth of the Menai Strait.  Edward I regarded it as his ‘perfect castle’ because of its symmetrical concentric planning.  But it was never finished because he ran out of money!
It doesn’t actually have much of a history, though taken once by Owen Glyndŵr, and was never much damaged in warfare.  It escaped ‘slighting’ after the Civil War, and fell into gentle ruin through neglect in the 17th century.  It retains its moat to this day, which gives a peaceful feel about the building. 

We continued along the waterfront, and came across a notice saying “DANGER  GUNS  KEEP CLEAR”  There was another such notice facing the other way about twenty yards further along the prom.  This was quite puzzling because it was such a peaceful afternoon by the seaside in the sunshine.  We looked around, but couldn’t see nor hear any guns.  So we legged it across the gap, and got away with it!
We began to climb a grassy path over sandy cliffs.  Looking back we could see a derelict tidal pool which must have given much pleasure on days like this in the past.  Colin remarked that it was a long time since we had walked over cliffs, but he had to make the most of it because, within half a mile, we were back at sea level.  There we thought there was a lower prom to walk on, but it was too sloping so we went back to the pavement.  This was full of potholes and collapsed tarmac.  When we got to the other end we passed a “Footpath Closed” notice which had fallen over.  So where were we supposed to walk?  On the road?
Shortly after that the road turned inland, but the Wales Coast Path was signed to continue along the beach.  All very well at low tide, but the tide was in and there was no beach!  So we had to go inland on the road, traipsing round two sides of a triangle which wasn’t much fun.  At least for the very last bit we were able to walk on a parallel path above a stream, which was quite pleasant.
The road met the shore, but after only a few yards it swung away again.  We’d had enough of this!  The top of the beach was held together by strong wire netting, so we walked along the top of it.  I didn’t like it, but I did it because I didn’t want to walk on any more roads.  There were a couple of big steps at the other end, but we got through.  There we chatted to a woman with a dog who had watched us negotiate the netting.  Then we were stopped by a couple walking the other way who wanted to know if they could get through if they walked along the top of the netting.  We reassured them it was possible.
We walked along a stony beach to the next bit of roadway.  Looking over towards Snowdonia, one of the mountains sported a cloud formation which made it look like a volcano!
The Wales Coast Path followed the road inland round the next loop, but we decided to follow the beach top because it was only a short way.  It was a bit rocky round that tiny headland, but we have negotiated worse in the past.
We were along the waterfront again.  In the distance we could see lime kilns and a chimney at an ancient derelict ‘works’.  We sat on a wall to eat our apples.
Then Colin continued walking along the top of the wall, but I didn’t feel like balancing so I stayed on the pavement.  We stayed on the road then, uphill and uphill, because there was no beach anymore.
We came to the ancient Penmon Priory.  There was a toll, £2.50 for cars but free for pedestrians, which we thought was for driving down to Penmon Point which is private land.  But the next day, when we drove up there and parked by the priory to look at the church behind it we were asked for £2.50 just to park for twenty minutes.  So we moved the car fifty yards back down the road and walked up!  There are four ancient monuments within a few yards of that car park — we visited two on our Walk, but due to time pressure we came back the following day in the car to visit the other two. 
Penmon  Priory 
There has been a priory on this site since the 6th century, established by St Seiriol, a Celtic hermit.  But the present ruins date from the 13th century when the original Celtic priory was reorganised as an Augustinian Priory.  The refectory was on the first floor with cellars below and dormitories above.  At the east end of the building, the remains of the kitchen and warming house date from the 16th century.  Only the bare walls remain today. 

Penmon  Church 
Penmon Church, dedicated to St Seiriol, dates from the 12th century, but the chancel was added in the 14th.  The Victorians also restored the building, adding a porch over a new entrance from what was once the cloister of the original priory.
The most interesting artefact in the church is a 10th century cross with Viking markings on it.  This would have originally stood outside, of course, but it is now housed inside the church for its protection.  We noticed the font had similar markings on it, and we later found out that it could have been the original base of the old cross. 

Holy  Well 
A footpath leads past fish ponds, established by the Augustinian monks, to an ancient Holy Well.  It is said that St Seiriol lived in a cell next to the well, but the present building dates only from the 18th century.  The healing powers of such wells are believed to date back to pre-Christian times. 

The  Dovecot 
After the Reformation the estate was given to the Bulkeley family.  They built the dovecot at the beginning of the 17th century to house pigeons for eggs and meat.  It is well preserved, and we could go inside. 

So much history in one place!  We walked on down the road for about half a mile to Penmon Point.  It was only half a mile but it seemed to be a long way.  We were tired!  It was a busy road too — the toll collector must have been making a fortune today.  It was a narrow road, and we had to keep dodging the traffic.  There was a café at the bottom which we didn’t want to patronise, but the only toilet was for “café users only”.  I didn’t need to go, and Colin went off and found a bush!
Just off shore at Penmon Point lies Puffin Island, but I don’t think there have been any puffins out there in many a long year.  There were lots of people on the beach, many of them fishing so it must have been a good place.  There was lots of boating activity too.  We got chatting to a canoeist who told us there were seals on the other side of Puffin Island. There was a small lighthouse just offshore which tolled a bell every thirty seconds.  This began to get annoying, so when we felt we could stand it no longer we decided to move on.
The coast now went north-westwards, but there was no beach and the path was inland.  We didn’t see the sea again this Walk.  We started up and over mounds covered in ferns, but it was a good path well-signed — and it had recently been strimmed.  We met a walking group coming the other way.
We entered a wood and the path was crazy paving!  It looked like we were walking up someone’s garden path.  The path continued for over two miles up and over fields, then past houses.  There were lots and lots of signs, we couldn’t possibly miss the path.  Lots of kissing gates too, which helped to pass the time!
We met a woman with children in tow who was obviously a holidaymaker just arrived.  She asked us the way to the beach and was disappointed when we told her that this part of the coast was cliffs, the nearest beach being two miles back.  Eventually we climbed over a “Granny’s teeth” type stile on to a road, which was a quiet country lane.  We finished the Walk at a road junction where we turned south to get back to our car at Glan-yr-afon.

On our way down to the car, we stopped to chat to a young couple who were renovating a house.  They told us they had completely rebuilt the cottage using the stone from an old derelict one, and they were pleased when we admired their stonework.  They didn’t know when it would be finished, it seemed that it had been going on forever!  We wished them good luck.  We were amused by a cartoon picture of a house on a blank wall — they told us it was for rent “very cheap”!
That ended Walk no.336, we shall pick up Walk no.337 at the road junction just north of Glan-yr-afon.   It was quarter past six, so the Walk had taken us eight hours twenty minutes.  We had our tea and chocolate biscuits, then we drove back to our caravan at Bodnolwyn Wen.

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