Monday, September 09, 2013

Walk 341 -- Porth Swtan to Holyhead

Ages:  Colin was 71 years and 124 days.  Rosemary was 68 years and 266 days.
Weather:  Mostly sunny with a cold breeze.  Warm out of the wind.  Threatening clouds occasionally, but it stayed dry!
Location:  Porth Swtan to Holyhead.
Distance:  12½ miles.
Total distance:  3524miles.
Terrain:  Mostly grassy cliff paths.  Some beach-walking which was lovely!  Some marsh, but there were boardwalks and bridges over the worst parts.  Concrete for 1km over a causeway.  Slightly undulating (not over the causeway!)
Tide:  In, going out.
Rivers: No.417, Afon Alaw.  No.418, A nameless strait between Anglesey and Holy Island.
Ferries:  None.
Piers:  None.
Kissing gates:  Nos.576 to 602 spread along the way.  (27 in all!)
Pubs:  None.
‘Cadw’ properties:  None.
Ferris wheels:  None.
Diversions:  No.76 to our advantage!  A brand new footbridge, which was only opened a couple of months ago, stretched over the River Alaw about half a mile short of the road bridge, and a brand new footpath had been put in place along the other bank all the way to Valley where it connected up with the original path.  Boardwalks and narrow causeways had been put in place over the worst parts of the marshes — it was brilliant!  (Apparently it cost the Welsh £1.2million — well done them!)
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 Penrhos beach where we parked in a free car park which had an air of dereliction about it.  (Nice beach though!)  We walked half a mile up to Morrison’s where we caught a bus to Rhydwyn.  There we walked over a mile downhill to Porth Swtan.
At the end we finished the Walk at the car.  It was ten past seven, so the Walk had taken us 8 hours and 10 minutes.  We had our tea and chocolate biscuits, then drove back to our caravan pleased that we had completed the whole Walk in dry weather.

Today’s Walk began well because there were lots of kissing gates at the start!  But we got lost at least six times — mostly poor signage was to blame.  No sign of the Army today, thank goodness, we had Porth Swtan to ourselves.  As we walked southwards along the coast, we soon found rocks to sit on and eat our pies (nice slices of ‘Mediterranean Pie’ today bought in Morrison’s this morning!)
Just as we were finishing, three elderly hikers in sun hats passed us.  They were walking very slowly so we soon passed them further on and didn’t see them again.  It’s unusual for hikers to be slower than us, and we wondered how far they got.  A younger couple, well they were middle-aged, passed us, then later we met them coming back.  Ditto a young runner (he really was young!)  We met several people going the other way — we were not used to such a popular path, usually we are on our own as soon as we get a hundred yards from a car park.
It was a good path along the top of the low cliffs.  We could see Holy Island ahead with ferries from Ireland sailing into Holyhead Harbour.  We could still see The Skerries if we looked behind.  We were observing rocks, birds and flowering bushes, savouring the seaside scenes.  It was very enjoyable.  However, Colin’s incontinence is worse — he had to skulk behind bushes to change his pad several times.  (We seem to be getting nowhere with the medics despite him being under the care of the top urologist in the country.  It’s not the urologist’s fault that appointments are cancelled and Colin suffers fobbing off by the system, which makes him very depressed.)
The path led us down to a sandy beach, and it was lovely to walk along the sand in the sunshine.  We came off this beach at the further end, went over a hump, then sat on top of the dunes of another beach to eat our sarnies.
We walked down to this beach through a steep channel and had another lovely walk along the sand by the surf.  It made us feel very happy.  I videoed the waves so I can watch the sea when I’m at home and far from the sea.
At the end of this beach we came up through a caravan site and immediately got lost!  A resident eventually put us right — he said, “I’m used to coastal walkers getting lost through here!”   He must be fed up to the back teeth, I would be!  The path had been moved since the map was printed.  There was a logo, but it was small and behind us as we came off the beach.  We followed a neat road over a hump.
Then Colin noticed a stile over a fence which led into thick brambles — luckily it was not our route.  There we met the middle-aged couple on their way back to Porth Swtan.  They were convinced it was going to rain later — it didn’t.
We went back to the beach by a notice about waves from ferries.  Off the beach and over another hump, then we were able to walk on the beach for over a mile.  But don’t think it was all peaceful and rural — the noise of jets and helicopters from the nearby RAF base at Valley was quite phenomenal at times, in fact ear-shattering! 
We walked too far, and found we were on a sandspit at the mouth of the River Alaw.  When we realised, we went back to a gate we’d seen into a field.  It did have a logo on it, but it was small and inconspicuous.  Yesterday we’d been told by a local lady that it was possible to walk across the river near its mouth at low tide, but there was no way we could walk across it now because the tide was in.
We sat on a mound to eat our apples.  It was a good path across the marshes as we walked inland alongside the river, scattering sheep, cows and even bulls as we went!  The path was well signed — or so we thought until we came to a dead end.  We had ignored a ladder stile into an adjacent field because the path we were on seemed to be so good, but it turned out to be an animal track.  We backtracked about a hundred yards and found there was a logo on the ladder stile, but again it was very small and inconspicuous.  The path took us across a few fields, then we were back alongside the river.
We were not looking forward to the next bit of the Walk.  We thought we would have to cross the river on the road bridge, then walk several miles alongside the busy A road into Valley.  But we didn’t have to because there was a brand new footbridge over the river about a quarter of a mile short of the road bridge!  It was such a surprise to come across it because it was not marked on any of our maps.  Apparently it has only been open since March this year.  The footbridge, and all the paths along the other side of the river cost £1.2million!!  (We were told this by a local resident whom we met as we entered Valley.)
The footbridge had been decorated with pictures of maritime scenes, which we thought was a lovely idea.  We crossed over, then steps led us up on to the other bank.  Footpaths, none of which were marked on our OS map, led us all the way along the river bank to Valley.  They were enclosed in high fences so we couldn’t go wrong.
It was easy walking along the marsh with boardwalks to help us over the worst bits.  In two places we walked along a concrete bar which kept us out of the mud, and a handrail helped guard against falling off.  We met a bewhiskered birdwatcher and had a long conversation about wildlife.
We reached the end of the new path which connected up with an old established path above Valley.  Another bearded gent caught us up and was telling us about the coastal path.  Apparently he was a volunteer, and he had put up a lot of the signage logos.  (Really, they should subsequently have asked volunteers like ourselves, who are strangers to the area, to then follow the signs and check if they have been put up in useful places.)
We walked between hedges until we reached the beach where we sat on a rock and ate our chocolate.  We planned to walk all the way along the beach to the causeway because the tide was now sufficiently out.  This was great at first — we always love walking on beaches — but we came to slippery rocks and the going got impossible.
We saw an alleyway which led up into a housing estate, and so we took it thinking we could find a way back to the beach further on.  But we went wrong in the estate three times and had to retrace our steps.  Eventually we found an unsigned road — Wales Coastal Path signage seemed to have completely disappeared — leading to the edge of the estate, across some fields and down steps to the causeway end.  Suddenly we were there, and we didn’t know quite how it had happened!  (We were very tired by then.)
The causeway leading to Holy Island is 1Km long, and it seemed to take us ages to cross.  The Stanley Embankment, as it is called, was built by Thomas Telford (what a clever chap he was!) in the early 1820s to extend the road to Holyhead where ferries for Ireland still leave several times a day. It was a quicker way to reach Holyhead than via the old Four Mile Bridge a little to the south.  In the 1840s a railway line was added to the Stanley Embankment so that trains could also reach the ferry terminal at Holyhead.  A high wall was constructed between the road and the railway so that trains didn’t startle the horses!
What fascinated us was the water rushing through at a great rate underneath the middle of the embankment.  The sea is at a different level each side!  This is because the tide comes in both ways round Holy Island, but takes longer one way then the other.  In some places, eg the Isle of Wight, this results in a double high tide in rivers like the Hamble where we used to take the Sea Scouts camping.  But here the Stanley Embankment so restricts the flow of water, the levels are rarely the same each side and the water rushes through the narrow opening in the centre.
On Holy Island we turned into a “Coastal Park” complete with original toll house about to be converted into a tourist tat shop.  We were both pleased to find the toilets still open, but especially Colin who was able to change his pad and be comfortable.  (His incontinence problem seems to be getting worse, and it is making him very depressed.  Don’t these medics, who keep fobbing him off, realise what it is like for an active man like he is to be constantly wetting himself?  I wish they would just get on with his treatment!)
The path led through woods where it was almost dark even though the sun had not yet set.  (Actually we were quite glad it was behind a cloud because we were walking due west and it would have blinded us if the sky had been clear.)
In the woods we came across a pets’ cemetery.  I was surprised the photos came out because the light levels were so low.  We missed out a small ‘head’ because it was almost a dead end, and we were dead on our feet by then.  We followed a good level path round a larger peninsula where there were ruined buildings labelled a battery.  We then slithered down a channel in a sandy cliff to the beach — Colin helped me down because it was a bit vertical.  The last leg of this Walk was a lovely march across a sandy beach to the car park where our car was waiting. 

That ended Walk no.341, we shall pick up Walk no.342 on Penrhos Beach.  It was ten past seven, so the Walk had taken us eight hours ten minutes.  We had our tea and chocolate biscuits, then drove back to our caravan pleased that we had completed the whole Walk in dry weather.

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