Day Two: the windy cliff to Aberdaron.
Around eight o’clock there was a lull in the rain. It was very dark under thick cloud, I put my head in my hood and dozed off. Not long afterwards I was slapped out of sleep by the unmistakeable sound of silnylon flapping crossly; the wind had picked up. ‘No problem’, I thought, ‘I’ve survived Cross Fell in this tent.’ I tightened the guys I could reach, a task made more awkward by the annoyingly small pegging loops on the Stealth. The wind strengthened more and I was alarmed to realise it had turned northerly, a nuisance as having walked into westerlies for much of the day and neglected to consult the forecast I’d pitched parallel to the clifftop. ‘Oh well’, I thought, as the side of the tent starting to press against me.
I then realised I could hear waves. Rather loudly. Obviously I’d checked my campsite was above any conceivable high tide, but to call it a clifftop was perhaps an exaggeration, it was more like a bank. A bank not actually that far above a rising tide with increasingly angry waves driven up into salty showers by a vicious onshore wind. With sinking heart, I realised I was about to be honoured with a visitation by the High King of Irish Hoolies, direct from his northern fastness of Antrim and bang slap beam-on to my fragile and carelessly-oriented shelter.
Suffice to say this was the flappiest, noisiest and frankly most frightening night I’ve ever spent in a tent. I didn’t get a wink of sleep. At the height of the storm I was clinging to the flysheet as it cracked and snapped around me with a noise like machine gun fire. Torrential rain and sea spray hammered against a skinny flysheet and a not unskinny sleeping bag, both pressed tightly against my skinny body by the gale. At one point the front pegs pulled out and the entrance zip flew open, the two arms of the flysheet vestibule flapping crazily in the pale gleam of my headtorch like the arms of an angry squid, salty sleet spattering onto my face.
It got worse and worse; by midnight I was prepped up for sudden catastrophic tent failure, everything stowed in the rucksack and me in a bivvy bag inside the tent – always have a Plan B when extreme wild camping. Still the water hammered onto me but still the Trekkertent Stealth clung by some miracle to its clifftop and remained intact, although I kept having to reach out into the hoolie to push pegs back in.
As soon as there was enough light to strike camp I did so, the wind had eased but by no means stopped and my only interest, unslept and virtually deafened, was to find some respite from it. Perched on a sedge tussock by steps down which a small torrent was coursing I ate and took stock. Despite my ordeal and my foolishness in inviting it upon myself, I was quietly pleased. Why? Because my tent had survived conditions no other tent I’ve ever owned would have tolerated, proving to be 100% waterproof and with no visible signs of damage. Not only that, at no point during the entire night’s torment had I felt cold or even likely to become cold – I was delighted with my new sleeping bag. My new mat was super-warm as well, although slippery as an eel. I’d learnt an important lesson about surveying the microtopography of campsites more carefully; this hadn’t been an issue with my previous, less structured mat.
Above all I’d learnt, in a relatively safe location (barely an hour’s stumble from the shelter of a golf clubhouse), a great deal about what I and my gear can tolerate, about the conditions I’m likely to encounter wild camping on the west coast of Britain and about the care and planning required to mitigate them. All this learning will stand me in good stead in a few weeks’ time.
On the downside, I’d lost an entire night’s sleep and at my age that always leaves me feeling extremely strange. The rain eased off. Hauling myself up on my poles, I blundered on, battered into vague, disoriented incomprehension by fatigue and the sheer mass of the moving air still assailing me. The entire trail seemed to be thick mud, poached to a quagmire by sheep and often more than ankle deep. At home on the Norfolk coast the locals are quite enterprising and in almost every small hamlet somebody is selling coffee. Surely that would be the case round here too?
In fact the north-west corner of the Llŷn in early March is bleak almost beyond belief and amenities are zero. From my subsequently-purchased map it seems there are small campsites everywhere; I bet at Easter the whole place springs into life and by July becomes a veritable Butlins, but out of season you need to be self-suffficient. I stumbled along for 7-8 km, battered senseless by the unabated northerly wind, negotiating deeper and deeper mud and encountering a fair amount of storm damage to the trail.
Finally at Porth Ychain it became completely impossible to continue along the official route, the tide was in and the river an unfordable maelstrom. Had I waded across, on the far side the recent storm Doris had completely obliterated the path back up from the beach leaving only a vertical mudslide, from halfway up which a waymarked post hung pathetically at a crazy angle. The wind howled. Finding no alternative river crossing I beat a retreat to the sheltered lane, encouraged by the LDWA waypoints which showed the official trail adopting the road soon afterwards. I later discovered that again this was seriously out of date and in fact the path now runs right around the very tip of the peninsula.
Trudging the lane past Pen-y-graig I twice nosed back northwards to see if it was worth heading back to the sea. The exhausting wind clobbered me back into the welcome shelter of the hedgerows and, having seen what Doris had done at Porth Ychain, I didn’t feel it was worth risking another dead end. The light was poor and the scenery didn’t look that exciting. Sadly but sensibly I stomped down the road to Aberdaron, passing two nice campsites (closed until Easter) and a nice-looking bakers (closed). Miraculously a grey tin-roofed shack turned out to be a Spar shop from which I bought (typically) a grey tough-roofed pie and (very atypically – I must have been tired) a healthy smoothie. I also, in west Wales, one of the wettest places on Earth, paid £1.10 for a bottle of French water.
Over the river my eyes lit excitedly upon a Caban Pysgod which appears to mean not an ecclesiastically-approved public convenience but a chippie – closed until mid-March. Round the corner I found the not particularly open-looking Ship Hotel in which a friendly chap in overalls was working through his pre-Easter repairs list. ‘I don’t suppose you’re open?’ ‘Well, yes…’, he admitted doubtfully, eyeing my dripping rucksack and mud-encrusted lower legs. After a short, friendly haggle I found myself ensconced in a double ensuite with beach view at a very generous pre-season price.
The only guest in the whole establishment, I was charmingly served a really delicious steak and ale pie, fresh and hot with perfect chips and veggies, which I ate in the entertaining company of a four-year old in a onesie. We watched Emmerdale together, it was terrible. By eight I was flat out in a clean, dry bed, from which I didn’t stir for another twelve hours. Having learnt my lesson, my last act before retiring was to consult the weather forecast. This told me that having just walked the north side of the Llŷn battered by northerlies, from tomorrow I’d be walking the south side battered by southerlies. Adventures eh?