Towards the end of our week on the Lleyn the glass began to rise – the beginning of more than a week during which high pressure brought clear skies across Europe, from Donegal to the Volga.
We had arranged to meet our old friend Annie – for many years now, an exile from Liverpool stranded in a dramatically situated Harlech gaff with stunning views across Cardigan Bay. We met roughly half-way, at the Lleyn’s eastern-most point, at Borth-y-Gest, a village suburb of Porthmadog overlooking the estuary of the Afon Glaslyn where it enters Tremadog Bay.
Five – three humans, two dogs – set out to walk along the shoreline from the village to the headland of Ynis Cyngar, then across the wide expanse of Black Rock Sands before turning inland to the outskirts of Morfa Bychan and returning to Borth-y-Gest via a woodland walk.
Leaving the harbour, we walked uphill out of the village before descending to the beach where expansive views opened up towards Porthmadog and the mountains beyond.
This is yet another place on the Lleyn where history belies its present quiet and idyllic appearance. In the 19th century Borth y Gest was an industrial settlement with hundreds employed in building boats – primarily to serve the needs of the North Wales slate quarries, the products of which were exported through Porthmadog.
Porthmadog had developed in the early 19th century as a seaport for the export of slate that was brought to the port on tramways and small railways – the most famous being the Ffestiniog Railway. It’s quite probable that slates on the roof of our Liverpool home, built in the 1890s, and the slate cistern in the loft were shipped through here.
The day was sunny, but a stiff wind was blowing (as it had, continuously, for three days) as we skirted the cove just beyond Borth-y-Gest. Clouds scudded across a blue sky, and the views across the estuary toward the mountains that rise beyond Porthmadog were stunning.
Apart from a party of schoolchildren setting off with their teachers on some exploration of geology or natural history, we had the beach pretty much to ourselves.
Ahead, on the headland named Ynys Cyngar that separates the cove from the broad sweep of Black Rock Sands, a white-walled cottage came in sight. It’s known locally as ‘The Powder House’.
The powder in question is gunpowder. In constant demand by the slate industry, gunpowder was regularly offloaded at Porthmadog to be transported to the quarries in the mountains beyond. Since local residents were not too keen on the idea of a boat loaded with gunpowder docking near the centre of town, it was unloaded at Ynys Cyngar and stored in the Powder House before being transported to the quarries by horse and cart.
Once round the headland of Ynys Cyngar the great expanse of Black Rock Sands opens up. It was low tide, and so the sweep of sand was at its greatest extent. The strong breeze scoured our faces with with wind-blown sand, but the views across the estuary towards Harlech and the Cader Idris range were phenomenal.
The beach is almost a mile long, but we left it about halfway along, following our pocket guide, to join a track leading to the outskirts of the village of Morfa Bychan.
After winding through a caravan park, the trail – now looping back to Borth y Gest – took us through shady woodland with occasional glimpses of stunning views of the mountains inland.
Soon the rooftops of Borth y Gest came into view again as the path returned to the village.
It seemed fitting that the last leg of the walk took us down Mersey Street. I wonder how it got its name?
Relaxing after our walk at the Seaview Cafe, we satisfied our appetites with portions of their battered squid – quite exceptional!
Our pocket guide, by the way, was Llyn Peninsula: Circular walks along the Wales Coast Path by Carl Rogers. It fits into a back pocket and provides clear directions for a series of great walks in the area. It’s available from Northern Books at http://www.northerneyebooks.co.uk.