Travel: In the footsteps of history on the Anglesey Coastal Path

St Cwyfans (St Kevins) Church is also known as The Church in the Sea
St Cwyfans (St Kevins) Church is also known as The Church in the Sea
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Walking the Anglesey Coastal Path, with its hugely varied landscape including cliffs and ancient monuments, inspired author Tony Halker

I am not sure whether I prefer the olives stuffed with goats cheese or those filled with jalapenos. My drinking companions tell me that the goats cheese stuffed variety do not go with craft beer since they are aromatic and sweet. I find almost anything goes with craft beer.

In Conwy Town, North Wales, I can get all of the above in the same pub, with black pudding flavoured pork scratchings as a chaser. If I am feeling purist I can have pork scratching flavoured pork scratchings.

One man or woman’s gourmet delight is another’s cholesterol fest. Or is it feast?

If I want wine I can go to The Bank, a wine bar that used to be a bank. Alternatively I can wander the well preserved medieval town walls that were originally three quarters of a mile long with 22 towers. The walls are preserved through much of their length, giving views of hills, coast and sea as well as mountains.

The town is on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park. Conwy Mountain rises behind, looks over the town and the other way looks towards Anglesey, site of the sacred Druid groves before the Romans came and burned them down. The North Wales Path can be followed up the steep hill above Conwy, then south watching the coast and the Menai Straits until it touches the Roman Road over the hills and drops down to the high, rushing Aber Falls.

In my debut novel, The Learn, I imagine that the road was there before the Romans came, developed by druids, by native tribes trading in copper, bronze, axe heads, gold and horses as well as local pearls. There are certainly pre-Roman standing stones in places along the remnant road and a stone age burial chamber. These remnants tell me it was a Celtic druid road long before the Romans put their name to it. I hope and imagine that many more stones were there, marking much of its length, guiding our ancestors as their tops protruded above the winter snows and veered, leering out of autumnal mists rising from peat and moss. The path of the road is clear, marked and can be walked. In places the flat road stones have been stolen for more recent constructions, but for much of its length there is hard stone footing resting in wet boggy ground.

The Learn is inspired by the North Welsh landscape: the coves, beaches and hills of Anglesey and the nearby mainland coast. These plucked – and continue to pull – at my romantic imagination. I am overwhelmed by the landscape. I like to be alone in it, with it. I look, walk, think, ponder. There is every kind of place: wet, dry, sea, land, stream, moss and bog; with waterfalls and high cliffs thrown in; rocky precipices are a frequent exciting statement of nature’s power. I like the warm days in any season but those when the wind drives water and mist in off the sea are as wonderful for different reasons, reminding us of the resolution of nature and our small place in the world, where we have arrogantly been for such a short period of time compared to other species who survived for hundreds of millions of years, while we have been here a scant two million (so far).

With the right clothes and boots I am happy in angry, powerful weather, leaning into the wind. Frost and snow also beckon me; they bring calm to the hills as they absorb and hide sound, soaking it up. Selfishly, there is often more quiet solitude in the cold cols; the snows make a barrier to cars and those who do not wander far beyond the roads.

I had thought I knew Anglesey so well, but a walk taught me otherwise.

I walked the Anglesey Coastal Path in September 2014, 129 miles in seven days. Having reconnoitred the B&Bs, we committed ourselves, booked and went. The sun shone; each day we placed two cars, one to start from and one to reach.

On day one we bit off almost more than we could chew by trudging about 23 miles. We are mature and brittle-boned, so felt the effects for days afterwards.

Walking at different paces, I was effectively walking alone, with company to be had in the evening over beer and food, before blister maintenance, then energy recovery sleep.

The walk inspired me. Beautiful beach landscapes of power and energy are mixed with varying land views; scoured by glaciers, then scraped by druids, Romans and Stone Age peoples before them both. All have left their mark.

My novel had about 30,000 words hanging around in dis-ordered bits and bytes when I started the walk. Drifting, my story was searching for a handle, for focus, new direction to lead me forward, as opposed to slipping back and forth while I tried to drag it wherever it was meant organically to lead. I thought the walk would help. It did.

Within five minutes of beginning to climb Holyhead mountain on Holy Island, we encountered seals, a species of birds unknown to us and then adders.

The walk itself is immensely varied. The path does not give you constant access to the sea, though much of it does. When you are forced away, it is a surprise when once again you come upon it, suddenly, due to the twists and turns of the coast itself.

I missed so much as we walked. Landscape and coasts, gulleys, streams, wildlife and birds were in abundance. Other elements rushed past us in our haste for miles, but we glimpsed them. We should have made time for the eerie site that is Llyn Cerrig Bach (www.angleseyheritage.com/key-places/llyn-cerrig-bach/), where over history’s ages, offerings of gold and beauty were gifted to the goddess, hidden in a small lake (llyn).

On Anglesey we walked close to the Stone Age and Bronze Age observatory that is Bryn Celli Ddu. We looked in and touched the burial chamber near Aberfraw called Barcloddiad Yr Gawres (The Giantess Apron) where infinity patterns marked in the stone mirror those of similar age in the Boinne Valley burial chambers of Ireland. Close to these pre-history remnants we saw the atmospheric St Cwyfan’s (St Kevin’s) Church, also known as The Church in the Sea.

We were aware of many more deep fingerprints left by pre-Roman ancestors; in particular the burial chambers at Presaddfed and Trefignath (in use until 2500 BC). Some we knew of, but did not pass. Wikipedia is a marvellous resource. It is a shock, even now, to see how many scheduled monuments there are on Anglesey and how many date to pre-history (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Scheduled_Monuments_in_Anglesey).

There are many pleasant eating places on Anglesey, combining fantastic views with sensibly priced, varied fare. Dylans in Menai Bridge is great. From the terrace you look over the Menai Straits, eyes rising to the mountains, and imagine you can touch the water. There is the strange, interesting 1970s retro Lobster Pot at Church Bay and good pub food at the Ship Inn, right on the beach at Red Wharf bay as well as the White Eagle near Rhoscolyn and the Oyster Catcher at Rhosneigr.

In my writing I want to imagine our ancestors, as they tried to harness nature while simultaneously being at its mercy. The landscape is as important in The Learn as the other main characters.

The Learn by Tony Halker is out now (Clink Publishing) priced £8.99.