Beach Walking the Llyn Peninsula
"Look," Eileen says, pointing at the map. "You can walk the beach all the way to Pwllheli if the tide is out."
We're standing on the beach of Abersoch, the main surf town of the Llyn Peninsula. We've treated ourselves to breakfast out, so now we're feeling ambitious. We can see down to the rocky headland, and it looks passable at this tide. I think the tide is going out.
"But what about the car?" We've paid for three hours of parking, but Pwllheli is far enough away that we won't want to walk back.
"Well, one of us should do it." We both know that Eileen means me; she's the only one authorized to drive the car.
We walk the golden sand beach together toward the rocks. She wants to at least see around the first point.
We have been walking on the Llyn for a couple of days now. It feels, in the seventy degree weather, like Greece, Norway, Alaska, and Scotland all at the same time. Fishing skiffs moor at orange buoys against a backdrop of dramatic hills. We walk golden sand beaches and little footpaths along the cliffs. Nettle, horsetail, fennel, and wild geraniums line the rocks.
I can see why this is such a popular holiday area for Brits, and also how annoying that must be to locals. A Welshman we spoke to on Anglesey told us that there are rules in some areas that you can only sell a house to someone who has a job within twenty miles of it- a way to keep from inflating the housing market out of local grasp. But the Llyn is full of holiday cottages and caravan parks.
We're still in shoulder season, but we see many other tourists like us, holding maps and looking for public footpaths that lead through the edges of residents' yards.
Both Snowdonia and the Llyn are traditional strongholds of Welsh culture and language due to their remoteness. It is very rural here: most of the land is sheep pasture.
The Welshman in Anglesey was on holiday himself. We walked together to investigate a neolithic burial chamber, and on the way he talked about the Welsh colonies in Argentina, the beauty of the language- he recited pastoral poetry to us- and the political impossibility of raising a Welsh flag and singing the Welsh anthem in schools: not an acceptable practice since this is the UK.
He was unusually friendly, but not by a lot. Everywhere we've gone, people seek out more than passing conversation; even in tourist shops, the counter clerks want to know where we're from, the parameters of our holiday.
As he said, most locals welcome the tourists. "When a petition goes around about not opening some holiday cottages, you can bet it's the rich folks behind it. The rest of us want our kids to have weekend jobs changing the bedding, and work that's less hard than mining the slate quarries."
We do a time check on the beach. It's about twenty to, halfway between our starting time and the end of our paid parking. We're also about 100 meters from the point.
"I guess you should get going then," I quip to Eileen.
But of course, she's going to walk until she can look around the corner.
The sand becomes sand patches between rocks, then patches under seaweed, then just sharp little boulders. Eileen balances out with me until it becomes clear that the point is going to keep going around for a while.
"Okay," she says, pulling out the map again. "Let's get clear on the meeting point. What's this icon where the road meets the beach?"
"Beach Cafe," I read.
"Great, see you at the beach cafe. Don't do anything dangerous."
"What, like this?" I'm barefoot, picking my way out in ankle-deep water though the kelp.
"Put your damn shoes on."
"The water feels nice!" I'm ribbing her.
"It gets deeper. I can see it, look at the colors of the water."
"Yep, sure enough." The water layers from a light teal to cerulean to dark blue. I keep doing what I'm doing.
Eileen knows I'm messing with her. "Okay, have fun."
I do make my way up onto the rocks shortly, though. I've run out of sand patches, and the dry rocks are safer.
Past the rocks is another beach, and past that beach another headland. Sometimes the wind is so strong that if I open my mouth, it puffs out my cheeks. The rocks wobble beneath my ankles and knees.
When I get to sand, my shoes sink more than an inch, so I peel them off and go barefoot again, reacculturating my feet to sensation after hundreds of thousands of steps in the same shoes. Great pebble-studded boulders of clay have fallen from the cliffs onto the sand.
Before the next headland, I spy an eroded little path up the cliff. At home it would surely lead to a no trespassing sign, but this is Wales- when I climb the tricky path, managing to avoid grabbing gorse and nettle handholds, all I find is a an admonishment that this public footpath is on farmland, so dogs must be kept on a lead.
We are witnessing a change of seasons. The bluebells are fading and the foxgloves are beginning to bloom along the cliff. It's been an hour or two. Wind flaps my button down against my belly. My fingers are tacky from a sweet orange.
Pwllheli is obvious: there are no people, then there are. Families play in the sand, and above the beach a row of rainbow townhouses face the sea.
At our designated spot, Eileen is standing. I pick out the specific blue of her shirt, the red of the coat wrapped around her waist. The distant figure bends into a forward fold, twists, sees me walking. She's been there ten minutes or so, watching kids play, looking out over the sea. We head up to the cafe for an easy lunch.
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