We walked out from the house, following the track that has long been worn into the grass that leads from the back gate of the bottom field towards the coast. There, it met the official hiking trail that circles the island, which we would follow around and across the headland, between the heather and the gorse, stopping to look down on sandy coves or narrow cracks in the cliff. On stormy days the waves were funneled and crashed, sending spray high into the air. But not today.
The Irish Sea was choppy but not really rough, with only the occasional flash of white as a wave broke in the channel between where we stood and the island of Anglesey across the water. Anglesey stretched out and away, lying flat against the water, and beyond the expanse of the island we could see the Welsh mountains rising up against the horizon, with the solid bulk of Yr Wydffa at the centre and a dragon’s back of peaks running down towards the end of the Llŷn Peninsula where the land met the sea.
We walked with this view and we walked with memories. Some of us had been coming to this place at the very edge of Wales for all our lives, and the headland held amongst its heather and gorse the stories of games played and maps drawn, of fires on the beach and the kayak trips that led out from the main beach towards the open water. Some were stories we told again as we walked, no less enjoyable for being told for the hundredth time. Others we held close, not for sharing. When you return to a place time and again, the stories pile up on top of each other, and each turn in the path or kissing gate crossed was another trigger for memory.
It was low tide and we could cut across the damp sands of Borth Wen – the main beach – where the seaweed strewn islands of the bay were islands no more. We continued past the last of the houses, many of them holiday homes now, and between stone walls and brambles before the coastal path moved across open fields and rose up towards the highest point at this end of the island. It was our aim, as had so often been the case.
‘Shall we walk up to the coastguard?’
Once there, we could look back from where we’d came, taking in the entire route of the walk so far, the channel between the islands and the mountains in the distance. And we could look further, to the north, towards Holyhead Mountain and the chimney of the old aluminium plant. On clear days at the coastguard lookout, it feels like you could watch the ferry leave the harbour, tucked away in the distance, and follow it all the way to Ireland. It feels as if the only limit to your view is the curve of the earth.
At the coastguard we stopped and sat for a while. Of course, we could continue on, as we had done many times before. We could walk down towards Gwenfaen’s Well – holder of stories far older than any we keep in our own heads – and the red-walled cliff where once we walked a climber lifted out by helicopter after a fall. We could walk on to the white arch and the grave of a dog who helped save an entire ship’s crew when it ran into difficulties on its way to Liverpool. And we could continue further, following the little markers of the coastal path, all the way to Trearddur Bay and its whitewashed cottages, to South Stack and its lighthouse, and the cliffs of Gogarth where the climbers dream of white horses.
But this time we decided to stay, enjoying the sunshine and the sea, and the sound of choughs on the clifftop and the waves breaking on the rocks below. We watched a white-sailed boat make steady progress, tacking back and forth as it sailed against the wind, making sure it stayed clear from the old beacon on the rocky islands that had always been a symbol of this place, one of those things to be spotted again for the first time when we returned, just as we looked out for the silhouette of the coastguard lookout as we drove across Anglesey once more.
We sat on rough rocks that pushed through among the heather and moss, leaning against the wall of the coastguard station and looked out to sea. There was no rush to leave, to walk on or to head back. It was enough just to be there, up on the headland, in a place so full of stories to be told and retold, and yet where we were sure there were many more to be written.
Photographs: Katrin Schönig
Words: Paul Scraton