I wrote this piece for the Guardian’s travelwriting competition but found, alas, it wasn’t chosen. I enjoyed writing it and loved those precious hours spent at Newborough Warren though…….
It starts as a damp morning, with mist clinging to hawthorn in marsh meadows. But the sun rises from behind the mountains to scorch the sea mist and promise a stolen fine day. We take a turning off the A5 at the world’s longest place name – shortened to Llanfair PG by the locals. We zip past a blur of hedges and dry-stone walls, tracing the line of the Menai Straits as we head south and west.
Whisper it round these parts, but the village of Newborough owes its existence to the most hated of English kings. When the Welsh put the English sheriff to death on the opposite side of the island, Edward I razed their village to the ground. They were forced to set up home in this new borough and so a village was at once created and named.
The road is bordered by nettles and cow parsley and mud ribbed by tractor tyres. We turn and head for the beach. We pull up to a traffic light, drop a pound coin in a slot and wait for green. It seems a strange touch of urban life where there are only chapels and sheep and trees full of rooks. A metal ramp drops with a clang and we descend through the lush green forest. We pull up in a sandy car park cut from turf. There’s a toilet block and running water, but little else.
We load up with sandwiches and juice, towels and newspapers. The sand feels cool and smooth and runs through our toes like the grain in an hour glass. When we step out from the dunes a fresh salty wind nips at us, snapping shirt sleeves taut like a flag. We close our eyes and sniff the ocean. The sea breaks on the jagged rocks of Llanddwyn Island. The sun flashes off the lapping water. The mountains of Snowdonia and the Lleyn Peninsula fall away like molehills into the Irish Sea. We head into the dunes, securing towels and jumpers with handfuls of sand and pebbles; tiles and glass polished smooth as gemstones by the tide. We roll up our trousers, ball our socks in our trainers and run to the shore. Kelp drifts in on the tide. The water is clear, but froths and bubbles as it trickles back through the pebbles and periwinkles. The beach shelves away gently and we walk into the surf gasping as the cold seeps into shinbones, knees and thighs. We splash and kick and thrash in the waves and, succumbing at last to the numbing cold and nipping wind, sprint with arched feet over the ribbed sand. We drop breathless into the dunes. A distant kite flaps high over the lighthouse and a collie yaps for his tennis ball. The blood pumps and thaws our milk-white legs. We sip tea from a flask and munch digestives. Later, at home, our arms are still sticky with sea-salt, our faces weathered by the sun.