Where Sarah introduces us to two new adventures. You’ll see what they are…
“Listen to the ebb and flow, the waves tumbling up the beach and drawing back. Ponder the beauty and the terror of the sea… people have their ebb tide: times of clearing, of letting go and resting, waiting for fresh directions and understandings…”A guide to St Hwywn’s church, Aberdaron
December 2019 saw the completion of my ‘all areas’ circumnavigation of Anglesey. Now, a few weeks into 2020 my next challenge is started, with five days of discovery on the Llŷn Peninsula. Two days sea kayaking in the unexpectedly good weather of last week, then off the water with one day mostly at Aberdaron and two days at Nant Gwrtheyrn, starting to learn to speak and read the Welsh language, as the storms of February arrived.
There is something that I find here, from being in this place, around the edges of a peninsula… here in the Llŷn, and I also feel it when I’m in Anglesey: it’s the coast, the sea, the fringe, the littoral, yes. But it’s more than that… it’s the edge.
May we find that in travelling to the edges, we discover the centre.St Hwywn’s church, Aberdaron
So here we are with two days in February and an unexpectedly excellent weather forecast. ‘Ideal,’ says Geth, who of course is my kayaking guide of choice to start the Llŷn with.
Although we are both recovering from winter colds (and I had doubted I would even be paddling this week), we are enthusiastic for this new challenge. We sit down in Morrisons in Caernarfon (our days together often start in supermarket cafés), with the map of the Llŷn, and our tide and weather forecasts, and make a plan. Deciding to go for the bit I most want to do first…. Porth Dinllaen headland.
As we get on the water I am excited, ‘Yes,’ I say, ‘the gauntlet is down! The Llŷn is started!’
We paddle round the headland at slack water, and it is so exciting to be in new waters. Our first Llŷn lunch taken in an inlet beyond Aber Geirch.
Continuing next along to Penrhyn Cwmistir headland so we have a clear view of the next bay. Turning round reluctantly as the day dwindles, it’s a pleasant and easy journey back with the flood, and a lovely tidally assisted scoot around the headland into the bay at Morfa Nefyn. Coming off the water both in good moods, our colds forgotten.
A great day. And in the evening I drew this map, so I’d remember.
The next day, again an easy choice – Bardsey Sound. A longer drive this time to our starting point, and we set off from here at Porth Oer, in shadow and sun.
Paddling in the low sun is warm and pleasant. We are quiet as we stop to watch bottle nose dolphins pass us, while flying over the cliffs are fulmars and choughs.
A tiny crack in the coast at Porth Llanllawen which gives us a place to land for lunch.
And then the afternoon, continuing along the coast, at this pace, my pace, the discovery pace, a saunter. I’m not racing or competing with clocks here, my time is slow, careful, noticing and my own, it saunters.
Arriving at Braich y Pwll, the corner of the sound. Lots of movement in the water… the sea is flooding, but the water has many directions here around the very tip of the Llŷn. To me, as we approach the sound, the flooding waters are vaguely threatening – not frightening – but I certainly have no doubt where the power is… I always know that about the sea, but you can really feel it here. The power, and also the open-ness, the wild-ness, the remote-ness… it is here.
Ynys Enlli – Bardsey Island – is visible. We will go over there on our paddling adventures, when the weather is right. It feels close and yet I know that will be another challenge for me, to go out into this sound. We can see Carreg Ddu from here now, a rock, and use that as our marker for our next time. But for this journey, and again reluctantly, we turn around.
We scoot back easily in the flood. “The flood is our friend,” says Geth, smiling.
The moon is out now, a waxing gibbous. It is cold when we are in the shadow. We arrive back and Geth can’t resist the surf.
Just two days… and we have achieved so much. Here’s my map of this day, this second Llŷn day.
The next day I leave Caernarfon early and visit Pwllheli for the morning. The forecast storm has arrived, and I’m reminded that all I can see now I will still have to paddle, and to find the weather opportunities to do this coast too, when the time is ready for me.
At Aberdaron in the afternoon, the sea is wild now and at the beach the wind blows sand, stinging into my face. I’ve only visited the National Trust visitor place to use the toilet, but enjoy their exhibition there anyway, an introduction to ‘Porth y Swnt’, the gateway to the sound.
Not conscious that you have been seeking, suddenly, you come upon it…Gateway to the Sound
Before leaving I decide to visit St Hwywn’s church.
There is Quaker-like simplicity here, and much to ponder. The church is right on the beach, the wind and the waves howl outside. And yet it is so peaceful here… time stops. From the guide to the church:
‘Take time to look at water and be touched by it… A time to listen to the wind and the waves… A time to be thankful… A time to saunter.’
That word again.
R. S. Thomas, the poet, was vicar at St Hwywn’s from 1968 to 1978 and his work is well represented here.
If you think of your lifetime as a pilgrimage… say half a mile a year down the Llŷn Peninsula, when you reach Aberdaron you will be near the end of your life. The sea gets closer on both sides. And the day comes to trust ourselves to that point, and launch into the beyond from the tip of the peninsula.R S Thomas
My sauntering and pondering at Aberdaron has delayed me so much that I arrive only just in time at Nant Gwrtheyrn for my next adventure, my Welsh language course.
The Porth Dinllaen headland is visible from here while I arrive, but as the storm settles in for the next few days it disappears in cloud and spray. And I am immersed myself here. In the language and the special-ness of Nant Gwrtheyrn… a centre for Welsh language celebration and learning. So close to the coast that the sea is always audible, day and night, the ebb and the flow constant and reassuring to sea kayaker me.
And while I’m here I think about the rest of my Llŷn challenge, self-imposed as it is, not one I have to do, but want to do. And realise the day has come for me to trust myself and launch into the sound.
Thanks as always to kayaking coach and friend Geth Roberts.
See all of Sarah’s sea kayaking posts here at ‘Letters From Sarah.’