Oh, Anglesey. You beautiful island with your rugged cliffs and kind people; with your great food and cosy cafés; with your atmosphere of contentment. Where do I start?
Well, in Bangor.
I got to Bangor just about on schedule (believe it or not from my North Wales post). I’d hammered it over the weekend to meet a family friend there on the Monday. Then, fed and caffeinated by the Blue Sky Café, we headed off to cross the Menai Bridge. In Beaumaris I was treated to a steak that absolutely blew my mind. Which leads me to the first thing I’d have to say about Anglesey: they know how to make some seriously, seriously good food. My best Anglesey stories come from food.
For example, in Amlwch I strolled into a pub at random and walked straight into a wonderful community vibe and the friendliness of John, the landlord at the Adelphi Vaults. I got to know Rachel, the chef, and other various people coming and going. I ate my dinner with Rachel’s daughter and her friend. I absolutely loved telling them about my trip; children like those remind you to be full of awe and wonder. I had an incredible lasagne, so filling I almost burst (which, given my hefty walkers appetite, is quite impressive) and afterwards the girls took me to ‘the rocking boat’, a place they like to go and play.
Now Rachel was also the person who, after I’d made it to South Stack lighthouse on Holyhead, phoned me via Facebook and offered to pick me up and let me stay at her house because the weather was turning rough. I hesitated at first, but then I remembered that all the most memorable parts of the trip had come from letting people be kind.
The next day the weather was pretty grim, but I was still keen to get walking. I had to wait a while before I could be dropped back to Holyhead, which I’ll be honest made me quite antsy. After so many weeks of being on nobody’s schedule but mine it was strange to have to work around other people. But I retracted all grumpy thoughts when I realised that they had basically kept me with them because a friend of Rachel’s had wanted to take them and me out for dinner that evening.
We went to an incredible restaurant called the Sea Shanty at Treardur Bay. I’m still having happy food dreams about the Cajun chicken I had. I also got chatting to the owner and out of that got an exciting music venture lined up. So that was cool.
But that’s not even the only time I was taken into somebody’s home. I was walking near Cemlyn Bay, and Magi drove past and asked where I might be going at nine o’clock with a big backpack, and did I realise I was in the middle of nowhere. I said I was heading over to camp on the headland. She offered me her garden to camp in instead, but when it started to rain I was offered a room in the house. I walked into a home full of Welsh Bibles and hymn books, and I was blessed beyond measure by their kindness. Magi made me egg and soldiers, saying it was force of habit from being a grandparent.
Before I left the next morning, I asked if I could pray with them. And we prayed huddled together in the kitchen. Magi cried. We’re miles apart in both geography and age, but we stand together as servants of the same Lord and children of the same Father.
Not long after that, I hit a huge milestone: the 500 mile mark of my 1,000ish mile trip. I may have walked 500 miles before then, but at South Stack lighthouse I knew that I’d done it for sure. I got there at about nine after climbing over Holyhead mountain (it’s crazy that I’ve become someone who now thinks to myself, “well I have two hours of daylight left, I’ll climb a mountain”). There wasn’t much of a sunset and the weather was un-inspiringly grey, but it looked beautiful to me. The sight made me quite emotional actually. I was really, really proud of myself.
This was also the day I met Jean McKenna. She was walking to whole Wales Coastal Path with everything on her back, wild camping as she goes. She also turns 70 in October. I met her in a café (classic) just after the causeway onto Holyhead Island. Once we got talking, I don’t think either of us could believe we had met the other. I was so inspired by her fearless and youthful heart. And she couldn’t believe that for my first walk I’d taken such a massive challenge on. In her 20 years of long distance walking, she had never met another woman walking and wild camping alone. We walked together the rest of that day, and parted just before the aforementioned scramble over Holyhead Mountain, where we’d found her a good wild camping spot and she was happy to call it a day. She’s long overtaken me now though. Which is humbling, but it’s another lesson in not comparing myself to others.
For real though guys, Anglesey is a beautiful island. I wouldn’t have missed it out of the trip for anything. Walking from Rosneigr to Aberffraw with Snowdonia coming into view to beckon you back to the mainland, absolutely took my breath away. The sea was glittering like I’ve never seen if before. Aberffraw is one of the best beaches I’ve ever set foot on.
And being able to camp inches away from blue, blue water at a campsite in Penrhyn Bay. Also a family had me round to their caravan for breakfast in the morning, after I’d been recognised from Facebook posts.
I’ll be back.