UK: Exploring Pen Llŷn/the Lleyn Peninsula, North Wales

It’s hard to write about where you’re from. I’m originally from Pen Llŷn, or the Lleyn Peninsula (as it gets translated). I’m fluent in Welsh and studied most of my primary and secondary education in both Welsh and English. Back then, I always wanted to get out. The “village mindset”, where everybody knows each other’s business, was too suffocating for me. I dreamt of living in London, and although I have never quite managed that (who can afford to?!) I did my best to get out as soon as possible. Of course, living away makes you appreciate things back home a whole lot more. Now I’m able to realise that I come from an incredibly beautiful part of the world, and it saddens me to see that the old sense of community that still exists with my grandmother’s generation seems to be petering out – although the Welsh language is enjoying something of a revival, with up to 90% of people in the peninsula speaking it.pen llyn map

Pen Llŷn refers to the peninsula jutting out from the North-West part of Wales. Here’s a map for your reference (right), so you can see where I’m talking about. Historically, it is a very Welsh, rural area. Traditionally, it was also a very poor area; my grandmother did not have electricity or an indoor toilet until the mid-50’s at least, and she tells me that she had to walk far to collect water from the well – although it might be that all old people say this to make us appreciate what we have.

A lot of tourists descend on Pen Llŷn every summer, mostly from the Cheshire area. A lot of people own second homes in the area, which does stir up a little resentment for those young people who can’t afford a house in their own hometown. Decent job opportunities are few and far between, and largely seasonal. For these reasons, feelings towards outsiders (well, usually “the English”) are a little mixed, which may go some way to explain why a lot of English people report feeling hostility from the Welsh.  But I really don’t want to get into all that. What I’ll say is this: if you’re visiting Pen Llŷn, keep in mind that the summer (especially around bank holidays) can get very busy, and we only have small roads. The weather is British weather, so you’d also be best coming when it’s nice and sunny… which can sometimes happen in April or October, as well as your summer holidays. Saying that, there’s something very mystical about the mountains when they’re grey and covered in mist.

Logistically, public transport is not great: there are buses connecting most places with each other, but some only run every few hours and can take far longer than driving. Most locals drive, and many of the roads are a little dangerous for pedestrians as there are no pavements and swerving drivers won’t be expecting to see you. Taxis are expensive (like everywhere in the UK) so your remaining options are to cycle, hitchhike (I can’t recommend it as I’ve never tried) or walk the coastal path!

I grew up in a tiny village called Rhydyclafdy, which literally means ford-of-the-infirmary, based on some historic leper house or something. It used to have a post office and a primary school, although the post office is now a house and the school has become a creche. If you happen to be passing through, the main thing to do is to pop into the Twnti for a pint, or to try its adjoining seafood restaurant, the Twnti Seafood – expensive but supposedly very good.

After nine years there, we moved to Mynytho, which is another small village. There’s a school, a village hall, and a post office. It’s a good place to stay as it’s a 7-minute drive from the popular Abersoch or a 10-15 minute drive into Pwllheli, but we’ll get to those in a minute.

The view from Foel Gron, Mynytho (Lleyn Peninsula)
The view from Foel Gron, Mynytho (Lleyn Peninsula)

If you do happen to be in Mynytho, head up towards the school and go for a walk up Foel Gron (it’s a hill). You can approach this two ways: there’s a path immediately to the right of the school, which takes you behind the Foel and onto a lovely walking path. You can either turn right to wander around the fields and paths, or left to climb the Foel, although it’s a bit steeper and more dangerous from this side. Still – the views from where you are even now are beautiful. Alternatively, if the school is in front of you, walk left – past the house – and you’ll find the Foel car park and some public toilets. You can walk up the Foel from this side, too, and although the path can be a little covered in brambles, it’s worth it for the view – especially around sunset.

This is a special spot for me, as my grandfather – and perhaps his grandfather – would often climb the Foel and take in the 360° view of the peninsula. Expect views of the sea, and look out for Garnfadryn (that pointy mountain in the first picture) and the St Tudwals islands.

mynytho penmynydd

This is also a good place to be on a cloudless night; you can see so many stars that it might just blow your mind. So far, the only other spots that have rivalled it in terms of sky clarity were small islands off the coast of Lesvos and the Grand Canyon.

So, Abersoch doesn’t need me to plug it too much – it has its own website and magazine (which my brother, Alan, writes for!) and is basically the cool place to be in the summer. The beach is often crowded, but full of fun activities – windsurfing and all that. The village itself is very small, but home to a lot of surfer/trendy brands like Fat Face, White Stuff etc. Look out for Cregyn for some lovely hand-painted glassware, plates and drawings if you want some unique souvenirs that support locals [/shameless friend plug]. If you’re looking for a night out, I generally prefer Abersoch to Pwllheli as it’s a bit classier and doesn’t feel as dangerous. Zinc in Abersoch is a nice place for food/drinks, and has a lovely patio overlooking the harbour.

Another pretty popular beach is Hell’s Mouth, or Porth Neigwl – it’s big for surfing and is home to Glass Butter Beach music/wakeboarding festival. Outside the busy periods, though, it’s a pretty empty, long beach – if you fancy a bit of a walk. Don’t swim as there are strong undercurrents and it can be dangerous. It’s a bit tricky to reach, as you have to drive down a narrow, one-lane road (be ready to back up to allow cars or tractors to pass)!

DSC_0352  DSC_0344

As you can see, when we visited, there were a LOT of jellyfish washed up on shore.

Another popular beach is Porthor (Porth Or), or Whistling Sands. The name comes from the fact that the sand kind of “whistles” when you kick it, although I’ve since found that this happens to sand in a few other places around the world. You can find it by following the signs as you head towards Aberdaron. I personally like Whistling Sands because of some fond childhood memories, but it’s also a very pretty, enclosed beach with a café and some good walks around it. If you didn’t know, you can walk around the entire Peninsula on the Wales Coast Path – a great idea for checking out all of our lovely beaches! This would be my preferred way to get to Porthor, to be honest, as the beach has been claimed by the National Trust, who charge £4 for parking if you’re not a National Trust member!

whistling sands porthorporthor

We also found some very cool, “secret” beaches while walking around on the rocks, which I think you can only really get to by boat:

porthor

I said that Porthor is on the way to Aberdaron, which is also definitely worth a visit. Aberdaron is nearly on the very tip of the peninsula, but it’s got a fair amount of life for such a remote location. If you’re there and you fancy a cup of tea and a scone, check out Y Gegin Fawr (the Big Kitchen). This cute little café dates back to 1300 AD, where monks on their pilgrimage to Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island) would stop over for their final meal before making the perilous crossing. Today, they make a lovely scone with jam and clotted cream.

If you’re in the area, I’d also recommend a drive or walk up Uwchmynydd – just for the glorious views of Ynys Enlli and that view out into the sea and the unknown (well, it’s Ireland, but hey). Ynys Enlli was famous as a pilgrimage destination for monks, with a monastery reportedly being built on it as early as the 6th century. DON’T SWIM TO IT!!! There are deadly undercurrents, and people have died trying to cross. You can visit Ynys Enlli (Bardsey) by ferry if you fancy it, and you can even stay there, but you’d need to check out this website for more information.

Following the map of Pen Llŷn along the northern coast, now, you’ll reach Morfa Nefyn, from where you can visit another great beach – Porthdinllaen. The most famous part of this beach is the Tŷ Coch Inn – some film with Demi Moore was filmed there, and David Cameron has reportedly eaten there (yuck). Tŷ Coch means red house, and it’s definitely red. Personally, I’ve never seen why it’s such a big deal, but having a pint on the beach is quite nice.

It’s not pronounced “Thai Cock”, by the way ;)… so please try to pronounce it correctly! The “ch” is the same sound as the Scottish “loch”, while “tŷ” would sound more like an English speaker would sound “tirh” or something.

tycochty coch

Despite the instructions on the website, I’d also suggest driving into Morfa Nefyn and parking anywhere you can find, then walking down the (quite steep) hill onto the beach. You’ll have a good 20 minute walk across the sands to the pub itself, but you’ll also get to park for free and get a nice seaside walk.

Finally, if you’re tired of beautiful countryside views, hills, and beaches, you might want to head to Pwllheli, or “town” as I always called it. Pwllheli is the main hub for shopping and work in the area, and you can find a few large-ish supermarkets (Asda and Lidl, anyway) as well as a lot of nice, small shops and a whole ton of coffee shops. On Wednesdays, there’s a market in the Maes car park (the one near the roundabout).

A Wetherspoons recently came to town (the Pen Cob, just by the train station) and they’ve just opened a new club called Venu this week, which looks very classy inside. Seeing as the only other nightclub option for years was the sticky-floored Blu (placed above a charity shop), Venu may just start to shift Pwllheli’s nightlife vibe towards something more Abersoch-like. There’s also a small funfair and arcade in the Maes, although if you’re really looking for something to placate children, I’d head to Hafan-y-Môr, which is a Haven holiday park situated just outside Pwllheli. You can enter as a day visitor and use their swimming pools (they have some pretty cool slides), check out their kids’ activities, and even grab some Burger King, Starbucks or Papa John’s if you just can’t fight that craving for known brands.

Enjoy yourselves and let me know if you have any specific questions…

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