I have crawled out at last
far as I dare on to a bough
of country that is suspended
between sky and sea.
– RS Thomas
Under a darkling sky, rain was threatening on the first morning of our week on the Lleyn. Not a promising outlook, but undeterred, we pushed open the gate that led directly from the cottage nestled at the foot of Anelog Mountain onto the Wales Coast Path.
A right turn would have taken us in the direction of Whistling Sands, but we had walked that way on the previous evening, warm and sun-kissed. Now we turned left to follow the coast path along the rocky shoreline and over the two peaks that rise before the peninsula’s end – Mynydd Anelog and Mynydd Mawr.
They aren’t especially high peaks – Anelog is 627 feet, and Mynydd Mawr 525 feet – but they feel higher because of the way their slopes plunge directly to the sea. It’s an edgy landscape in more ways than one. Here, the last land of Wales pushes out into the Irish Sea, and you are less than fifty miles from the eastern shores of County Wicklow. Indeed, check your phone and you will probably find that your network thinks you’re into data roaming territory.
There has been human settlements on these rocky headlands and the flat land below for millennia. Mesolithic flint tools and worked flakes have been found on the headlands, and a Neolithic stone axe near the summit of Mynydd Mawr, in an area of medieval cultivation. There are hut circle settlements and house platforms on Mynydd Anelog, between the summit and the sea and on Mynydd Mawr. Some are likely to be of late prehistoric date, others early medieval.
The trail rose steadily along the flank of the mountain, through dense swathes of bracken, heather and gorse where autumnal shades of brown prevailed. Under lowering clouds, with occasional shafts of weak sunlight breaking through, the views were distant, clear and sharp.
For one brief moment, looking back towards Anglesey’s Llanddwyn beach, I saw a shaft of sunlight illuminate a field on the headland of Penrhyn Mawr, provoking obvious thoughts of the poem by RS Thomas, and its increasingly pertinent message that life is not hurrying on to a receding future:
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
We pressed on, following the path as it climbed the shoulder of Mynydd Anelog and views opened up towards the southwest with glimpses of Mynydd Enlli on Bardsey Island visible above the peak of Mynydd Mawr.
At the path’s highest point on Mynydd Anelog we had clear views of the way ahead towards Mynydd Mawr. Here the patterns of field cultivation reach right to the edge of the cliffs, interspersed with the occasional farmstead, many taking the traditional form of the croglofft in which a tiny attic bedroom in the roofspace would be accessed by ladder, and the various farm buildings – house, barn, cattle shed – would be arranged in a continuous line.
From Mynydd Anelog the path dropped steeply towards the little cove of Porth Llanllawen, owned by the National Trust.
We dropped down to the cove where dense beds of watercress grew in the stream that tumbled over the rocks. The dog drank cool clear water for to quench her thirst, while I picked watercress to eat that night – got it myself from the mountain stream.
After a quiet few minutes catching our breath in the cove we moved on, tackling the long pull up the flank of Mynydd Mawr.
All morning, despite the forecast and the darkening clouds, the rain had held off. But, just as we reached the top of Mynydd Mawr, a squall blew in. It lasted no more than ten minutes, but we got a soaking.
There’s an old coastguard lookout point there, where we tried to get some shelter. Fumbling in the wet with my camera, I accidently nudged it into a weird setting that automatically processed the images I took there with a ‘watercolour effect’. Though unintentional, the results have an appropriate wet look.
The coastguard lookout point was manned for almost eighty years before being declared redundant in 1990. It provided an unrestricted view over the treacherous currents of Bardsey Sound to the island whose mountainous spine forms the last outpost of the string of volcanic peaks that run down the Lleyn’s spine.
The rain soon cleared, and we made our way down the road built during the Second World War to provide access to the summit of Mynydd Mawr, where men were posted to give early warning to Liverpool of approaching German air raids.
We returned by lane, green lane, and field tracks to our holiday cottage, across the field patterns established by generations – if not millennia – of the farming people of Uwchmynydd. An excuse for another poem by RS Thomas, ‘The Labourer’, in which the poet muses on the centuries-old figure that he would watch at work, sweating in these fields, attuned to unfamiliar seasons, but blind to his own ‘bright star’ of poetry:
There he goes, tacking against the fields’
Uneasy tides. What have the centuries done
To change him? The same garments, frayed with light
Or seamed with rain, cling to the wind-scoured bones
And shame him in the eyes of the spruce birds.
Once it was ignorance, then need, but now
Habit that drapes him on a bush of cloud
For life to mock at, while the noisy surf
Of people dins far off at the world’s rim.
He has been here since life began, a vague
Movement among the roots of the young grass.
Bend down and peer beneath the twigs of hair,
And look into the hard eyes, flecked with care;
What do you see? Notice the twitching hands,
Veined like a leaf, and tough bark of the limbs,
Wrinkled and gnarled, and tell me what you think.
A wild tree still, whose seasons are not yours,
The slow heart beating to the hidden pulse
Of the strong sap, the feet firm in the soil?
No, no, a man like you, but blind with tears
Of sweat to the bright star that draws you on.
Along the lanes the hedgerows were filled with splashes of late-lingering summer colour – honeysuckle and harebell, scabious and autumn’s second flourish of red campion.