Walking Gwynedd (Part 1)
Updated: Nov 19, 2019
Coming into North Wales, childhood memories come back to me as I visit places that hold a special place in my heart. Passing the impressive Harlech Castle, beautiful views of Snowdonia from Porthmadog and onto the Llyn Peninsula it’s sweeping beaches .
The walk from Machynlleth to Aberdyfi is not so much coastal but overlooking an estuary and walking on country roads, dodging the tractors. It’s difficult to appreciate this kind of walking when you’ve recently walked the rugged, scenic paths of the Gower and Pembrokeshire.
Aberdyfi brought back childhood memories of crab fishing and fearing the steep steps underneath the jetty. The weather was grey and on the verge of raining, but I made my way along Aberdyfi’s 5 mile long beach. There is something about sand under Tegwen’s feet that makes her go crazy, she runs circles around me barking at nothing, it amuses me as I plod along.
I arrive at Tywyn where I spent many happy times as a kid at my Nana’s static caravan, as I peeked into the old caravan park, I am overcome with sadness and I don’t know why. It’s only as I write this day’s description and start crying (in the middle of a pub) that I realise why this is. I’ve watched Parkinson’s Disease slowly change my Nana, but at a slow rate that it almost normalises her current state. The times I spent with her in this caravan were during her early years of her condition when she was still fully able. The stark contrast between happy memories and today’s reality cuts me deep, and I have an overwhelming wish to be with her, to give her a hug. It’s a cruel thing to happen to someone and it’s so frustrating that there is still no cure. I remind myself that raising awareness and money for ParkinsonsUK is the best I can do to help her and many others who are and will be affected by this.
With my mood low, the impending 40mph winds and a fair distance still to go, for the first time I treat myself and check into a local B&B. I decide tonight is not a night to be cold and wet in a tent.
Waking up to a big breakfast is something I could get used to! Staying at the B&B saves a big chunk of my day not having to cook, wash dishes and pack the tent.
My route towards Barmouth is mainly country roads as a proper coastal path isn’t possible due to an existing railway line. The tarmac is uncomfortable under my feet and I worry that it will wear away Tegwen’s paws. Tegwen has so far shown no injuries or signs of unhappiness, she does get cold easily which is why she spends most nights in my sleeping bag.
I come to Fairbourne beach and the weather clears just in time to fully appreciate Barmouth Bridge and the beautiful estuary it crosses. Barmouth is a pleasant seaside town and it brings back a particular memory from my youth.
On this beach, when I was 15, I came out to a small group of friends and it was a life changing point. I had spent many years in an isolating cage fighting my natural attraction to the same sex. I was made to discover who I was completely alone, and despite only ever hearing hateful and ignorant comments about being gay, I came out anyway. It was the best thing I ever did. In someway those dark times made me the resilient, adventurous and empathetic person I am today. Returning after 14 years, I am no longer that shy, insecure boy but a fabulous and determined individual. For many years I have followed my mantra “Be grateful, be honest, be kind”, and in my opinion, as long as you follow those key principles you can live your life as you wish!
I finish my day at the clean and friendly Hendre Mynach Campsite. With the beach right in front, I buy a couple of beers, sit on the beach enjoying the last light of the day feeling quite content.
The start of our day starts on tarmac and for miles we walk a main road, keeping Tegwen on the lead as cars and buses pass us by. The views are spectacular though, looking down towards the sea, the good weather improving the view.
We arrive at Harlech beach, 6 miles of glorious open sands, it has great views of the Llyn Peninsula. Tegwen runs wild and chases dogs through the dunes and waves, with one of the best weather days we’ve had, I’m feeling pretty good.
We then climb up Harlech’s steep hill to the castle, whilst trying to catch my breath I heard ‘Tegwen’ being called. Expecting to see a friend or family member, I meet Judith who has been following our travels since seeing us on the ParkinsonsUK Facebook. It was a lovely experience to meet someone in real life who appreciates what we’re doing. It’s the closest to feeling like a celebrity I’ve ever had!
We later arrive at Porthmadog, a bustling little coastal town at the foot of Snowdonia National Park, it gives for picture perfect views from the bridge. I had worried that I wouldn’t achieve that same sense of ‘wow’ that I had from the dramatic South Wales coast but I had forgotten about the spectacular views Snowdonia gives surrounding it. My walk to Black Rock Sands was stunning, with the green gentle hills in every backdrop.
I decide to stop off at a local pub before I arrive at the campsite. Pubs have been my lifeline along this journey, whether for some social time, a pub meal or to charge my batteries (literally and figuratively). My walk has been both supported and enhanced by discovering the many pubs and it’s people around the coast. Hiking also gives you a great excuse for beer, whatever time or weather!
Waking up to clear skies & sunshine helps me get out of bed & complete my campsite chores with ease. With a lengthy walk ahead of me I finish today giving myself a long weekend before the final week.
My aches after weeks of walking are numerous. I have sores on my hips, shoulder & back pain, all from the bag. But it’s that general fatigue that’s hard to shake off, I look tired and my weathered face doesn’t make for pretty photos! So yes, I’m looking forward to a proper bed and some chill time with friends and family.
As I leave my campsite I step onto the Llyn Peninsula, or ‘Snowdon’s Arm’, which is filled with many small ports, beaches, farms, and friendly towns. I’ve been told by many walkers that it’s their favourite part of Wales. My first stop of the day is Criccieth, it’s quaint pebble beach is overlooked by the impressive Criccieth Castle. I catch up with my cousin Adam and his girlfriend Leah for a coffee, I’ve given up making coffee at camp, I don’t know why but it never tastes nice.
From Criccieth to Pwllheli and then onto Llanbedrog, the good weather quickens the pace. I almost die climbing up the hill overlooking Llanbedrog, it’s an incredibly steep passage, the handrail is much appreciated as my bag tries to pull me backwards. Reaching the top I somehow miss the famous iron sculpture, distracted by the beautiful views of the path I’ve just walked and on the other side I see Abersoch and onwards. With my destination in sight my mood is positive, singing songs out loud as I trundle along the 7th beach of the day.
Reaching Bryn Bach Campsite, of which my lovely friend Ally runs, I find it hard to believe that another week is over and I’m so close to completing this wonderful journey.
Walk it yourself?
Rating - 3*
Why? - The beaches, castles and towns all deserve 5*, but my lower rating comes from the tarmac roads that you are forced to walk on, sometimes far from the water. Perhaps I’m being too picky but as a ‘Coastal path’ I’d expect to be next to the coast and not on pavements.
Highlights - Aberdyfi, Barmouth Bridge, Barmouth, Harlech beach, Harlech castle, Porthmadog, Black Rock sands, Llanbedrog beach, Abersoch.
Tom’s Tip - Aberdyfi is a afternoon visit, perhaps visit the beach, get something to eat, go crab fishing! Harlech has a wonderful beach which is great for walking the dog, then visit the castle and appreciate the views towards Snowdon, again this another afternoon/day trip. A good days walk would be from Porthmadog, which is a nice place to get an ice-cream and enjoy the views, walking to to Black Rock Sands as you pass the estuary. Perhaps because it was such a beautiful day but the whole area is stunning. Another afternoon is walking over Llanbedrog hill towards Abersoch, where you can enjoy the many restaurants in town. So many of these attractions are fantastic but they’re connected by main roads which aren’t worth walking.
Accommodation - Plenty of places in Porthmadog and Abersoch, I wouldn’t stay in any of the other towns in between.
Travel - Local buses connect the whole area but the train only goes as far as Pwllheli, then it’s a bus to Abersoch.