This week we decamped to Wales, as we always do when we want to recharge our batteries. The plan was to discover new places, take long forest walks and eat good food. South Stack Lighthouse has been on our ‘must visit’ list for years but it is on the most extreme tip of Anglesey Island, a long drive from where we stay. This time we were determined to make the journey.
When I last drove the A5 road to Holyhead, in a hurry to catch the ferry to Ireland, it was a stop-start frustration stuck behind lorries and cruising interrupted by roundabouts. All gone, now replaced by a fast motorway that made for a quick, if less interesting, journey.
Leaving the motorway you divert on to the old A5 and then a twisting lane that swoops and climbs beside the sea. The sun was white and bright illuminating the craggy cliffs and sparkling sea. Finally we arrived.
The area is owned by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and a guide explained where we might see the Puffins and the other birds that live on the rocky landscape around the lighthouse. There were people around but it was far from busy and 5 minutes from the visitor centre and we were alone tramping upwards to the screech of birds wheeling overhead. As we looked down the cliff edge we saw Guillemots in shiny black suits like commuters packed on the morning Tube train.
An elderly man stopped to chat and ask if we had seen the Puffins. His faded baseball cap was embroidered with something about canadien…..recherche….l’ouiseau and he told us about the Puffins habitat and then pointed out a Chough, which is pronounced ‘chuff’, and said that the birds welsh name means red-legged crow. It’s a rare bird, he said, nearly all the British population living in Wales. Benjamin and I and the old man looked for Puffins but with no luck. Later he pointed out a peregrine falcon sitting on a rock, majestic with an angry scowl. Our phones both buzzed, a text message, Welcome to Ireland with 02 international roaming! With no signal in Wales the mobiles must have locked on to the nearest signal about 70 miles across the water.
There was a storybook quality to the encounter with the old man, an easy and companionable imparting of knowledge that enriched the experience and indeed the whole day. But it was time to drag ourselves away from the birds and the sea and the white lighthouse. With the Puffin’s missing in action we walked back up the very steep steps to the visitor centre and drank tea and ate a very good welsh cheese sandwich.