Well the summer this year is one to write about. We’ve not had any appreciable rain for weeks now, except when we went to the Gower earlier. Even the mountains of Wales are looking brown and dry. This time we’ve managed a few miles along the Merioneth Coast, but only 9 miles, not the 12 we originally planned. Looking at the weather forecast we shortened it a little. Walking that distance in 27C is not too much fun. We started by flaging down the train at the shingle platform station at Llandecwyn and started the walk back northwards along the Coastal Path from Llandanwg.
The train ride itself on the Cambrian Coast Line is a day out in itself. There are few, if any, train lines to compare as it hugs the coast line hemmed in by mountain ranges to the east. I know this coast very well having grown up in Tywyn, and often took the train before I learnt to drive. At Llandecwyn we left the train to continue it’s scheduled journey and had to turn inland a while. When the tide is in th coastal path along the beach is underwater as the sea waters lap against the track bed. This can be a little wide during winter storms.
But we were soon on the wide open expanse of Morfa Harlech and for most of this section we had the beach to ourselves. The sand dunes here eventual;Lyn meet up with Morfa Harlech as the twin estuaries of the Afon Glaslyn and Afon Dwyryd are funned into Tremadoc Bay. Although short these two beautiful river allies are destinations of their own. There really is so much to see in this area of contracting landscapes. The sands are a delight to walk along and there is always something of interest to find along the way, such as washed up jelly fish like the Compass Jellyfish. The whole area here is a National Nature Reserve and is the only system in Wales which is still growing, and where you will find every variation of dune habitat, together with all the different kinds of wildlife that make their home there.
Morfa Harlech is famous in Wales because the largest ever recorded Leatherback Turtle was washed up dead on the beach in 1988. Thought to have drowned after getting caught up in fishing gear. It was approximately 100 years old when it died. The turtle attracted worldwide attention as it was the largest and heaviest turtle ever recorded, measuring almost 3m (9ft) in length and weighing 914 kilos (2,016 pounds). It can be seen at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff and it is huge when you stand next to it. Leatherback Turtles are often seen in Cardigan Bay, attracted by the Jellyfish in the summer.
As you walk further along the beach you can catch glimpses of the brood mass of Harlech Castle sitting on its black rock. You can read about an earlier visit to Harlech Castle here. When it was first built the sea used top come right up to the base of the rock, but over the years the sea has receded partly through human intervention but mostly due to the natural build up of Morfa Harlech and dune system, and is now almost a mile away.
After a short walk along the road we turned off on to rough pasture and across the drained marshes towards the Dwyryd Estuary. We didn’t see another soul along this stretch through to the end. The walk gave us fantastic views of Portmeirion on the opposite back with Snowdon as a backdrop in the distance.
When the castle was built in the late 13th century tidal waters or channels through the salt marsh allowed access to the water gate. This access may have been around the north end of the developing shingle ridge, which in turn would have sheltered the castle water gate from the sea. As the shingle ridge, and in particular the sand dunes developed, so access to the castle by boat became impossible. The west side of the Morfa, inland of the sand dunes, remained an area of salt marsh, known as Harlech Marsh, until the Enclosure Act of 1806, when defensive sea banks were built at Ty Gwyn to the west of Ynys to control tidal waters, and the former marsh was sub-divided into large square or rectangular fields. The east side of the Morfa had long been drained and enclosed to form a field system, possibly as early as the 14th century.
The path then skirts around Ynys before following a series of drainage channels across the marsh towards the road and the end of the walk. Ynys provides a clue to the history of the are. This rock is one of the few places within Morfa Harlech that is above sea level, and before the embankments were build and drainage of the area changed the area completely Ynys may have been cut off at high tides. The small hamlet of Ynys looks isolated today as you walk along the path but in fact the main road is only a few hundred years away, but it feels a different world.
Everywhere you look along this small section of coast Harlech Castle dominates. It can be seen clearly from Llandecwyn as we staggered back to caravan after a very hot and long walk.
But Llandecwyn has one big secret. Up in the hills high above the main road in the valley is one of the oldest churches in Wales. The views from here in the evening are difficult to beat in any country. More here.