Anglesey Coast Path 5 Cemaes to Holyhead

The first part of the next days walk was dominated by Wylfa Power station; no longer in use this station came into service in 1971 and finished at the end of 2015. A new nuclear station is now being constructed on an adjacent site. The land is lower here than the previous day, no huge cliffs but the feeling of remoteness continues.

Leaving Cemaes and back on the Coastal Path with Wylfa in the distance

Nearer the power station there are some delightful views in peaceful places.

Although in the process of decommissioning, the station remains a massive structure. It is necessary to skirt inland around the station and the extensive ground works underway associated with the new station, but the path soon rejoins the coast after passing an old water mill building.

Cafnan Mill

Cemlyn Bay is an attractive bay with a distinctive shingle embankment created during the storm that caused the Royal Charter disaster mentioned earlier. Behind this embankment is an RSPB Nature Reserve. We chatted with some of the volunteers who told us that the reserve is a special location for little terns that nest on the island in the lagoon behind the embankment. But last year otters appeared and just about destroyed the colony; what a dilemma. The RSPB are unsure how best to react. The embankment path is shut during the nesting season but we were able to walk across, it being September.

Soon after leaving Cemlyn Bay we met a birdwatcher nicely tucked behind a thick hedge giving him good shelter from a strong cold wind off the sea. He told us about the many seabirds he had seen that day. Shortly after a large group of Scandinavian hikers overtook us in ones and twos and strode ahead deviating from the path to visit Sant Rhwydrys Church, a church in the middle of a field slightly off the path. We gave it a miss but stopped soon after for a rest on a lonely beach.

Refreshment stop

The coast then became more rugged with corresponding more ups and downs. After a little while the Scandinavians started passing us again and by the time we stopped for some lunch it was just the back markers that had yet to reach us, The last two had gained a dog companion somewhere and were anxious to leave it with us but we demurred.

The curious white spikes we spied from way off are known as the Two White Ladies.

The Ladies were designed to align with the lighthouse on the island of West Mouse.

West Mouse island and Lighthouse (just about visible)

Further on we saw an attractive sea arch at Ynys y Fydlyn. The island is thought to have been an iron age hill fort.

Along the way we had a couple of good views of seals and the coastline was spectacular. Towards the end of the day it became less rugged and we left the Coast Path at Port Trwyn and went inland to catch a bus for our penultimate B&B.

Looking back over Porth Trwyn Bay where we had our last view of the Scandinavian party

We had a little wait for the bus followed by a break-neck drive with a driver obviously anxious to get home. Our lodgings were in a farmhouse with swallows still attending their nests. The landlady kindly gave us a lift to the pub that evening and a lift back to the Coast Path the next morning.

Another part of Porth Trwyn Bay

The final days walk was quite long but through much gentler terrain than the previous day. Most of the time Holyhead Mountain was encouragingly in view.  

There were some impressive bays before we reached the marshy land and long deviation round the Afon Alaw estuary. We finally crossed the river on the attractive green bridge only completed in 2012.

Approaching the Afon Alaw Footbridge which saves a few kms of walking

After crossing the bridge there is a longish walk down the other side of the estuary.

Just before reaching the village/town of Valley there is a walk along a beach and then into the houses and along a road. Somewhere along the road we lost waymarkers and thrashed about for a while before a kindly gentleman offered us directions, saying that new houses and owners were protesting about the path. We attempted to follow his directions but I think we probably failed and ended up walking along a quite unpleasant stretch of coastline that took us right to the Stanley Embankment crossing over to Holy Island and back to Holyhead.

At this point my companion was on her “last legs” and there was a dividing of the ways. I stayed with my companion and eventually caught a bus into Holyhead while D bravely carried on walking to fully complete the coastal path, possibly one instalment of an exercise to circumvent Wales on the Coast Path.

We met up at the B&B we stayed in the first night and treated ourselves to a celebratory meal that evening. Next day, on our way to the station we visited the Official starting point of the Coast Path.

The Anglesey Coast Path is, in my view, a fantastic walking route combining magnificent coastal views with interesting historical interest and heritage. I would encourage anybody to give it a go.

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Anglesey Coast Path 4 Moelfre to Cemaes

The path from Moelfre goes past the lifeboat station and a large sculpture of Dic Evans, a renowned local lifeboatman; he earned two RNLI gold medals for bravery, which is exceptionally rare.

Dic Evans statue and the lifeboat station at Moelfre

The path soon passes a monument to a tragic wreck of 1859 when the Royal Charter sunk and about 450 people lost their lives. This happened during a very severe storm that caused about 200 ship wrecks. The Royal Charter was returning from Australia with a large quantity of gold, some of which was washed up on the shore and reputedly made many local people very wealthy. Gold was still being found in the sea nearby as recently as 2012.

This is one of the least developed parts of the Coast Path but not without interest and beauty. The path follows a longish deviation inland to go round the large inlet of Dulas Bay.

Looking towards the sea from near the Pilot Boat Inn, our coffee stop of the day

From the road by the Inn we took the path over some marshy land, crossed over a small river and walked alongside the marsh on the far side of the bay before we climbed away from the water.  We stopped at Dulas Church and had our lunch while sheltering from the rain in the porch. Continuing on, we reached the coast again just opposite Dulas Island with its lighthouse-like rescue tower built in 1821, provisioned in times gone by as an emergency shelter for shipwrecked individuals.

Ynys Dulas

You can tell from the pictures that this was a rather gloomy day though the wildlife was quite special. We saw porpoises and peregrines as well as the usual suspect sea birds like turnstones and oystercatchers. However, during the afternoon the weather steadily worsened; so steadily that we did not put on all our waterproofs and by the end of the day we were very, very wet through, to underwear! The countryside was very attractive and this is a typical view showing our approach to Point Lynas lighthouse.

We were very pleased to reach our B&B/Hotel in Amlwch

Dinorben Arms Hotel Amlwch

for the night and more than grateful for the extra towels they provided. That evening we ate in the bar. It was local Bingo night and we were ushered out of the Bingo room.

It rained heavily in the night and was still at it next morning. So much so that we dawdled around in the hotel waiting for it to ease off. The hotel staff were very understanding and even gave us a free coffee while we waited. We finally left around 11 am. This was one of the shortest days, about 12 km, so the late start was not a problem. There was a short walk along a road before we rejoined the Coast Path and walked down to the cliffs and on to Bull Bay where we saw a kayaking group from Plas y Brenin setting out on a coastal row.

Approaching Bull Bay with kayakers

From this point we stayed on the cliffs looking down on some dramatic rock clefts, some of which the kayakers entered into and exchanged banter with us as we passed by. As we reached the point where we could clearly see the Porth Wen brickworks, the kayakers were paddling across towards it, possibly just visible in the picture.

Brickworks used to make bricks and floor tiles using quartzite from nearby quarries. It was closed after WW2 because access by sea was judged too dangerous.

Climbing away from Porth Wen we noticed the remains of a winding house associated with a tramroad used to deliver material to the works.There is a lot of industrial archeological interest on this stretch of coast. Amlwch was a centre of copper smelting, the copper being mined in the nearby Parys Mountain. There was a disused factory that extracted bromine from sea water close to the Coastal Path. The Porth Wen brickworks specialised in firebricks used in steel-making furnaces and a way further on from these works we found another factory; a china clay works, the Llanlleiana Ruins.

Before we reached that there was a dramatic stretch of coastline culminating in the view from  Llanlleiana Head, where an excited group were watching dolphins and gannets from an old lookout building that apparently boasted an underground wine cellar.

Llanlleiana Head from across Porth Cynfor with the island of Middle Mouse just in sight

From this point the view towards Cemaes, our destination for the day, was equally dramatic.

Lookout building just observable on headland

This was truly a beautiful piece of coastline. Here’s the view back towards Llanlleiana Head as we approached Llanbadrig Church

Llanbadrig Church is one of the oldest Christian sites in the UK; it was founded by St Patrick (Padrig) after he was shipwrecked nearby

and Cemaes.

Cemaes Bay

The beach at Cemaes has an interesting and novel wave-activated bell.

That night we ate at The Stag, the northenmost pub in Wales.


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Anglesey Coast Path 3 Beaumaris to Moelfre

Difficulties with accommodation forced a slight change in our schedule and instead of walking out of Beaumaris to our next stopping off point we took a bus out and walked back to have a second night at the B&B. Then, the following day took the bus again to the same point, the village of Llanddona, and walked onwards to another B&B. After we had found the correct place for the bus stop in Beaumaris, there was some ambiguity which we never satisfactorily resolved, the arrangement worked very well.

From the bus stop in Llanddona we walked down to the coast on Red Wharf Bay. On the way there were excellent views across the Bay with its extensive sand banks.

We were at the western end of the Bay and the beach there is mostly stony.

From here to Penmon Point the route is inland with several ups and downs. Our walk would have been easier if we had not selected a day when the “Ring o’Fire” annual coastal ultra-marathon was on this section of path. We were passed by many runners and walker/runners and often felt we had to give way to the competitors at stiles and narrow pathways. They were following a 3-day 135 mile course and this was the second day.

There are some good coastal views on the way and the path skirts the ancient site called Arthur’s Table (Bwrdd Arthur)

Penmon Point is quite spectacular with views of the lighthouse

Puffin Island and lighthouse at Penmon Point

We went down to have our lunch on the beach while the marathon runners took refreshments and hurried on their way to Beaumaris. While there we watched about 50 jetskis thunder past, presumably going round the coast. At any rate we did not see them returning.

Leaving the Point, the path follows a road and goes past the remains of Penmon Priory with its church and large dovecote. Between here and Beaumaris the path is either alongside the road or along the beach. Some of the beach is stony and walking is quite tiring. Guidebooks warn that some of the beach path is flooded in parts at high tide. The tide was low when we were there but we still found ourselves picking our way around very some soggy mudflats and we were still being passed by marathonistas splashing onwards. One of these looked completely bushed and her colleague, not a competitor, was stumbling along and offering encouragement.

It was a lovely afternoon and we had some great views across to the mainland.

Beaumaris had a food fair on that weekend and we could hear and smell our destination from far away.

Next day was wet just about all day. We were well prepared but it was still quite a drear day. After our bus journey we descended again to Red Wharf Bay and proceeded to walk in the opposite direction to the previous day, starting along the beach then the edge of a marsh

and then on top of a flood defence wall. At the end of the bay we crossed a bridge and walked along a frequently flooded track to reach the other end of the bay. Once there we could not resist the prospect of a warm, dry sit down and took advantage of the Ship Inn for some refreshment and to leave some large puddles on the floor (not that kind!).

We then passed through and around several caravan parks before descending to a beach and walking towards Benllech.

The path climbs round the headland after Benllech giving views back along the route. The drizzle continued and we were very lucky to find a rock overhang alongside a narrow path through shrubbery where we could have our lunch in relative comfort. A few walkers looked on with envy as we munched away muttering “Bon appetit” through clenched teeth as they passed.

After lunch we continued along the elevated path until we reached Traeth Bychan where the path descends to the beach through another small caravan park.

The beach of Traeth Bycan where we watched a family drive their car onto the beach and take surfboards into the waves after donning wetsuits!

Up and round the next headland we saw our pretty, small village of Moelfre.

One of the best views of the village, capturing its atmosphere, was available next morning as we were leaving.

Moelfre harbour and beach


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Anglesey Coast Path 2 Aberffraw to Beaumaris

We started in the morning, soon after nine, by walking back into Aberffraw from our B&B, past the pub where we ate the previous evening, and down to cross the river. Then we followed a track crossing saltmarsh and sand dunes. Looking back there was a pleasant view of the river frontage of Aberffraw.

The track soon became a quiet inland road, which we followed, passing Borogan, which must be a grand house judging by the extent of the grounds and the gated entrances. After Borogan and just before Malltraeth we rejoined the waterside and walked along the edge of the Afon Cefni estuary with its very extensive sands. We were lucky to find a teashop in Malltraeth at just the right time for a coffee stop and some cake; it had just opened up the very moment we arrived. After refreshment we crossed the water on the dyke and continued on an elevated section down the opposite side of the estuary. We were soon walking through a pine forest, and finally emerged on the glorious beach of Newborough Sands. 

The tide was a fair way out so it was a dry walk to reach the small island of Yyns Llanddwyn.

The path out to the lighthouse, Twr Mawr, and Pilot Cottages

While some of my group walked out to visit the lighthouse I took the opportunity for a swim in the crystal clear water. The beach also offered good views of the Llyn Peninsula.

Leaving the island we walked along the beach reaching a crowded section near a car park where we left the beach and started walking through another stretch of pine wood. There followed a short section on a road which took us to a car park with a curious sculpture

Sculpture inspired apparently by marram grass

then off along a track and down to delightful stepping stones over the Afon Braint,

From there it was a short step to Dwyran and our B&B. This was one of the longest days about 25 km.

Next day was down to and along the Menai Straits. There was a thunderstorm in the night and heavy cloud remained. After traversing some country lanes and fields we emerged at the water, in a brief spell of sunshine, just opposite Caernarfon Castle.

After a brief spell of walking within metres of the water on the beach we joined a small road. We took a small detour off the road into a Farm shop and chocolatier to visit toilets and coffee bar then continued past the “Anglesey Salt Factory” and an old ferry station. At this point the Coast Path takes a large inland detour in order to circumnavigate Plas Newydd, a very large National Trust establishment. This is unfortunate in many ways but it did give us a chance to visit Llanedwen Church where we had lunch and had to don our rain gear. It also gave us an excuse to visit another interesting burial mound, Bryn Celli Ddu.

It is possible to enter into this tomb and look around although it was small and was rather crowded at that time, despite appearances in the photo. There followed a longish stretch of walking beside the busy A4080 road into Llanfair PG (more on this name later). The path is good but quite noisy and it was a bit of a relief to leave it behind and go back to the waterside.  We emerged at a small inlet/harbour.

Harbour where Afon Braint enters the sea, this is the river with the stepping stones

Just round the corner we had a magnificent view of Stephenson’s bridge and a statue of Lord Nelson.

The Britannia Bridge finished in 1850

We had a short walk, almost underneath the bridge up, to our B&B hotel for the night, which gloried in the full village name.

Next day was to be a shorter one, about 12 km, and we started one fewer in the group for E left us at this point and took the train home. We were headed for Beaumaris and a shorter day gave us the chance to spend some time looking round the castle there. The coast path went right past our B&B under the Britannia Bridge and down to the shore where the tide was in and the strong currents were visible on the water surface.

Looking across the straits from almost beneath Britannia Bridge

Within a short while the Menai Suspension Bridge was in view together with an ancient church and the Belgian Promenade. The bridge was designed by Thomas Telford and completed in 1826. Prior to this cattle had to be driven across the straits as cattle sales were the main source of income for Anglesey.

St Tysilio’s Church dating from the 15th century

The Belgian Promenade that extends from the church to the bridge was built by a group of Belgians accommodated in Menai Bridge during the first world war when their village was occupied by Germans. As an expression of gratitude they built the promenade; hence the name. Shortly after passing under the bridge we found a coffee shop with great views over the water.

Leaving Menai Bridge village the coast path follows the main road for a while. The path is good and not without interest

Afon Cadnant emerging into the straits opposite a series of small islands

but the road is quite busy. Soon after this bridge the coast path follows quieter roads away from the coast but with frequent views across to the mainland. We found a small shop in Llandegfan to buy some lunch and sat on a bench with a fabulous view across the straits to Bangor pier.

Lunch stop view Bangor pier at bottom right looking incorrectly as though it might start on this bank

A little over an hour later we arrived in Beaumaris, by which time the cloud had cleared and it was a lovely sunny afternoon. The views across the water were impressive.

We had ample time to visit the Castle

and still had time for a drink in the sun outside our hotel while a very good guitarist played for us. A great day ending in the best of all possible ways!

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Anglesey Coast Path 1 Holyhead to Aberffraw

A small group of us started this walk at Holyhead, arriving by train. The trip was organised by D with accommodation arranged in advance, so we had a schedule to keep to. The route is officially 200 km and D had allowed 12 days of walking. Our accommodation was all B&B.

On arrival at Holyhead we were not very impressed by the town; it seemed quite run down. But this impression improved when we left the station area and approached the sea front, enormous harbour and promenade on our way to our first B&B.

Next day, our first of the walk, took us to Trearddur. On the sea front at Holyhead we saw our first waymarks sunk into the pavement of the promenade. There are two varieties because the route at this point is both the Welsh Coast Path with a sea shell with a dragon tail symbol IMG_20170827_085101 (2)

and a tern symbol for the Anglesey Coast Path.

The path soon left the promenade and joined a track that took us past a grand old house, believed to be owned by the Harbour Master in former times and possibly the man in charge of the harbour construction. Soon we were in the Breakwater Country Park with  elegant entry gates.

In the background to this picture you can see some of Holyhead Mountain, the highest point on Anglesey, and the effect of quarrying for the stone that was used to build Holyhead harbour breakwater. The country park contains the remains of a brickworks which, we were told by a passing local, specialised in refractory bricks. Later on and higher up we had a good view back over the breakwater, snaking out into the sea. 

It is 2.7 km long, longest in UK, and accessible on foot. It was opened in 1873 after 28 years of work that employed around 1300 men and cost 40 lives (

The path passes close by an isolated building at North stack, a fog signalling station 

before climbing again. The path passes close to the top of Anglesey Mountain and it would only take a short detour to go to the top, though we selected not to take advantage. and carried across hillsides bright with blooming heather and gorse.

We reached the picturesque South Stack lighthouse around lunch time and found a picnic bench by the crowded RSPB cafe to take our lunch.

South Stack lighthouse

We visited Elin’s Tower before joining the road to continue our walk. Later we enjoyed great views back along the coast with clear views of lighthouse, tower and Holyhead Mountain.

The path continues mainly along the cliff top as the coastline meanders along with many pretty coves. At one of these, Porth Dafarch,

the path descends to a beach – very busy on this warm Bank Holiday Sunday – then climbs again away from the road and along the cliff top.  Fairly soon we were approaching Trearddur Bay 

Craig y mor – a reputedly haunted house

with a distinctive and rather threatening house on the shoreline.

Trearddur was the end of our first day’s walk and we repaired to our B&B for some rest and reflection. The paths had been well maintained and route-finding simple; it was lovely to see so many choughs and the scenery was spectacular. We had been walking for about 9 hours including stops and covered about 21 km. We felt we deserved our supper.

Next day, after a full cooked breakfast, we were off before 9. We had lighter packs because we were returning to our B&B that evening; this proved the easiest option with availability of accommodation. We planned to walk to Four mile bridge. The route started along the road out of Trearddur and soon joined a track heading for the coast while the road headed inland towards Four Mile Bridge, our destination for the day.

The walk started off as a coastal cliff walk that gradually decreased in altitude until we were walking along a beach and then a marsh to reach the bridge. There were good views behind, back to the start of the walk and our overnight resting place.

View back with white houses of Trearddur and Holyhead Mountain in the background

The coastline had more attractive coves and the odd cliff “door” arch.

Nearest village Rhoscolyn

After the cliffs we descended to beach level and walked past the holiday park in Port Wen bay.

It was quite windy and we were pleased to find some shelter near the beach at Sandy Bay. Using steps, we left the beach and walked through woods for quite a way inland before returning to the water on a marsh

and eventually almost wading to reach Four Mile Bridge.

The misleadingly named Four Mile Bridge joining Holy Island with the rest of Anglesey

We had a pleasant rest in a pub serving Leffe beer before our bus took us back to Trearddur for the night.

Next day another bus took us back to Four Mile Bridge for our walk to Aberffraw. The first part of the walk involved passing down the water on the opposite bank to that of the previous day.

Looking back to Four Mile Bridge

The path then passes close by Valley airfield, an active RAF base. Walking under the flight path was a bit unnerving. After that there is a long stretch along the beach parallel to the runway.

Heading to Rhosneigr past RAF Valley

After Rhosneigr, with a stop at a surf cafe, there are several more pretty beaches.

Beach at Porth Tyn Tywyn

Cutting across a headland the path passes a neolithic burial mound

Barclodiad y Gawres

Port Trecastell

followed by another pretty sandy bay. From here to Aberffraw, there were two notable features. The first, a rather surprising roar of motorcycles on a racing track. The second, a delightful church on an island, looking very isolated.

St Cywfan island church

We stayed overnight in the Prince Llewelyn, very comfortable.


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GR 52 – Fantastic Trek 4 Camp d’Argent to Menton

The Auberge L’Estive du Mercantour was welcoming and very practical for back packers.

For example, it was the only stopping place we found that offered a sink for washing clothes adjacent to a washing line. The manager was delightful, eager to help and knowledgable. Our dortoir had beds for 6 on 3 bunks and we shared the room with a French couple that we had met on the trail earlier that day. They were friendly and quiet. When we first arrived they were having an afternoon snooze in their bunks. The shower was more than excellent after two days without and after a clean up and a bit of rucksack sorting it was lovely to sit in the sun on the wide veranda and take in the sun and views, and a beer.

Dinner was good the main meal being plump round sausages cooked with lentils. We shared a dish with three Frenchmen, that I encountered later on. We had lunch time picnics from most of the previous Gites/Refuges, the ones from L’Estive were the most expensive at 8.50 Euros but also the most elaborate, a bulgar wheat salad with ham and cheese packed in a plastic box. It was a significant weight addition to our rucksacks. The breakfast was more than adequate and we were on our way by 8, as usual.

The route of the GR 52 has been changed in the last few years. An old TOPO guide I have, dated 2007, has the GR 52 avoiding Camp d’Argent and going direct from Pointe des Trois Communes to Sospel. In this guide it suggests that this takes nearly 9 hours of walking, and these are usually optimistic times; no allowance for stops. There is also nowhere to stop or stay on the route and only one unreliable water station. Quite an undertaking in other words. This new route is much more practical, but the stage to Sospel is still challenging about 23km long with a total descent of around 1700m, particularly in heat approaching 30C. On the strength of this analysis our dortoir French companions consulted the Auberge Manager and decided to walk some of the way then detour and bus for the remainder.

The new GR 52 track leaves the road about 100m down from L’Estive. It then more or less follows a contour across several hillsides; some tree-lined, others open sun-scorched meadow/scrub. Eventually we climbed and reached a trackway that seemed to join some ruined military buildings with the redoubt we had seen the previous day. There were relics of WWII here in the shape of an American tank.

Stuart M3 light tank outside the ruins of barracks at Cabanes Vieilles

We encountered this track again a short while later on in the day and decided to follow it for a while because it was a good walking surface and avoided a few climbs and descents. We rejoined the Official GR 52 route at la Baisse de Ventabren (1862m) where the path leaves the track on the left. Up to this point, for some little while the valley views were on our right.

View from track in the direction of Moulinet

after Baisse de Ventabren the views were on our left and we crossed a scorched hillside

with lovely views in the direction of Breil sur Roya.

We had a better view over Breil when we stopped for our lunch in some sparse shade at Baisse de la Dea.

Breil sur Roya from la Baisse de la Dea (1750m)

After this lunch stop we walked across more open country in blazing hot weather and reached a minor airy peak with a cairn.

Mont Mangiabo (1821m)

From here the route was almost all downhill with some of it very steep. Initially, we were in open grassland. Later there was some shade from tree cover. It was a quite grueling descent and we were very pleased to see the valley start appearing.

and then to see parts of the town of Sospel appear.

When we arrived in Sospel we were just about out of water and, after crossing the river, our first thought was to buy some water. But luckily we found a water fountain and drunk long from the cold water. (I forgot to take a picture but found this on a cycling website.)

We were rather disappointed to find that we had another climb to reach our overnight stop and were really relieved to get there, even though it was 7.15pm by that time and we had been walking, with stops, since 8am. The guide book indicates that this day’s walking is 6.5 hours. We were clearly walking slower, as we had found on previous days.

Auberge Provencale our overnight stop in Sospel

This was our most expensive overnight. We had a four bed unit with two single beds and a toilet shower on one floor and another two singles and shower toilet on an upper floor. We were in comparative luxury; no need to unpack our sleeping bags or our towels. I had only reserved beds but rather than face a walk back down into town to find something to eat we quickly changed that order to demi-pension. We ate that evening on the Auberge veranda overlooking Sospel and were comfortable in t-shirts until around 10pm when we retired.

The exertions of that day, and the prospect of similar weather, distance and descent on the morrow, caused my three companions to decide to take the bus to Menton. Despite the guidebook indicating 7 hours of walking I decided that the final day, with the walk to the sea was an opportunity not to be missed.

Breakfast was a little later than normal, 7.30 and I set off walking at about 9am. The others left later after a look around Sospel town, then took a bus to Menton.

The GR trail follows the road going past the Auberge out of Sospel and leaves the road at a hairpin bend. It then climbs steeply initially along a rocky path then a track and then lots of climbing with several false summits until I reached a col. This point is marked on the map as Ruines a la Albarea (635m), Sospel is at 350m. From there it was down slightly and across a hillside and, then a climb into woods with loads of sweet chestnut leaves on the path. These gave way to fir cones as the path climbed higher, reaching the Col du Razet.

Col du Razet (1032m)

During this climb I had been passing and re-passing a group of three Frenchmen we had first met two days previously. During one stop they admitted to me that they had lost their path and just decided to follow me. At this col there was a water trough which they all but bathed in and then consulted their maps and decided to go to Castellar instead of Menton. So a while later we went our different ways.

From the Col du Razet there were increasingly dramatic views of the coast. The next stage of the walk took me across a sun-blasted rocky hillside with thistles, rough grasses, lavender, lizards and hordes of butterflies. The path goes through an old border post of the Franco-Italian border.

Remains of border post

There was another climb up to a new col.

Col de Colle-Basse (1107m)

At this point there was evidence of sheep folds and the path followed a rocky track down and across the hillside with more sea views.

After the track, it was good to enter some shade in woods onto a footpath for a climb mostly in trees. This was followed by a steep descent with zig zags to the Prairie de Morga.

Morga (810m) on the IGN map it is called Mourga

There were some houses in this vicinity and one was offering water and seats under a shady awning for tired walkers; a lovely touch, though I did not stop. Nearby there were ruins where I took this picture of the coast.

The path went down at this point to around 810m to join a track/road which climbed up the far side of a hill. This picture is taken looking back.

The GR left the track and started a long climb firstly across scrubby land and finally, near the top under some trees, to the Col du Berceau (1090m). I stopped here for lunch and was joined by another group of three Frenchmen with whom I compared notes about the walk. It was very hot, even in the shade, but the view of the coast was breathtaking.

View into Menton from the last high point of the day. The path down is just visible at the right of the picture

The descent from this col was loose and rocky and walking poles were a very useful aid.

Looking back to the Col du Berceau from the path down

Eventually, I reached a more even and less steep part and reached the Plan du Lion (710m).

Looking back from the Plan du Lion to Col du Berceau

This was a welcome interlude until I realised I needed to climb a bit again. Fortunately, it was not far and then there was a long (about 90 minutes) descent across arid hillsides with sharp, charred tree trunks and dry grasses. Under the hot sun it was good to reach a road and sit down in the shade for a short while in earshot of the motorway on the outskirts of Menton.

About twenty minutes later, I met up with my trek companions and was enjoying an orange presse in a bar on the promenade. Shortly after I was having a swim in the Med. I had started at about 9 and finished about 4 so 7 hours in total, which was just about what the guidebook said. It just shows that one person walks much faster than a group.

We finished our visit to the South of France by spending another day in Menton and then two days in Nice. All in all a wonderful trek and a lovely experience.

Menton Looking back from Italian border

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GR 52 – Fantastic Trek 2 Refuge La Madone de Fenestre to Refuge Nice

Refuge La Madone was very full that Friday night and there was a great deal of pressure on showers and toilet facilities. We were fortunate that our dortoir, with just 4 beds in line on a raised platform, was just opposite the shower/toilet; the only facility on that floor with at least three other dortoirs sharing. Neither the door on our dortoir nor the washroom would either shut or lock, but frankly this was a luxury that did not trouble us overly, the only exception being while I was showering and the door blew open. This was followed by several moments of confused, panicky activity. We arrived about 4.30 so after showering etc there was not much time before dinner. Dinner was another excellent meal which we took with a Parisian. His name was Aimen and he spoke faultless English.

Breakfast was the usual Refuge fare and very welcome. We ate around 7 and were on our way around 8am, having successfully found vacant toilets and wash basins. The weather was fine but the sun had not yet reached into the valley where we were walking. The refuge stood at the end of a road amongst a cluster of other buildings including a church, which I snatched a quick look around when I arrived.

La Madone de Fenestre Refuge (1903m) on left and church at right in background

Our destination for the day was St Grat, a hamlet of the Belvedere commune, following a recognised deviation from the GR 52 that avoids a high col. We also took it to avoid arriving at Refuge Nice on a Saturday, which I guessed would be very crowded.

The walk was a big climb to start with leading up to a very attractive high valley Vallon de Ponset.

Climb up from La Madone

Vallon de Ponset – peaceful valley with stream and small ponds

After a further climb we arrived at Baisse des Cinq Lacs and had a great view down to the lakes and across an expanse to the climb we were going to have to make to the Baisse de Prals.

A couple of the Cinq Lacs and in the distance the zig zags going up to the Baisse de Prals (circled) our high point later that day

The lakes were very attractive and we decided a good place to take an early-ish lunch. Curiously, we found a small pile of dragon fly wings on a rock as we were seeking a picnic place. Finding our way across to the climb we needed to make was a little tricky. We could see a high level belvedere track but our map and the track markers indicated we had to go down first. Reluctantly, we took the lower track which took us down and across quite a long way

The start of the climb

and eventually joined a path that is a listed GR 52 variant that climbs up to Baisse de Prals. It was a long climb made more demanding by high temperatures and growing humidity. The climb finished with sets of zig-zags. At the top there were great views back to where we had come from

Where we had come from in the direction of cinq lacs

Back down the hillside to where the paths joined

We then started a long descent of about 700m or more into the Vallon de la Gordolasque and the village of St Grat. There were lots of flowers on the way down but it was an unremitting descent and we were pleased to get to the road at the bottom and have a few hundred metres of road walking to stretch our legs a bit. However, by this time it had started to drizzle and we had donned waterproofs before we reached the Relais des Merveilles; a very welcome site. We arrived about 4.30.

Relais des Merveilles (1600m)

The accommodation was excellent, highly recommended. We had a dortoir with 6 bunk beds for the 4 of us and while we were told others might join us, nobody else arrived. The Relais was a hotel as well and the food was excellent. Dinner was melon with Parma ham and salad, blanquette de veau, cheese and isle flottante. The accommodation was very clean and just outside our dortoir was a large lounge with a woodburning stove and large screen TV. The stove was very welcome because it rained heavily in the evening and temperatures plunged. Breakfast was also of a much higher standard than we expected and the whole demi-pension was a bargain at 51 Euros per person.

As usual we had breakfast at 7 and were off around 8. It was not going to be a long day and we set off leisurely up the road to where it ended at a large car park/camp site which was already very busy and bursting its capacity. Cars were arriving and retracing their path to park by the side of the road.

The track followed an attractive, peaceful stream

Stream with many rock pools

Cascade de l’Estrech

and later a magnificent waterfall. We carried on climbing beyond the waterfall and had a rather glorious view back down the valley.Eventually, just before we reached a hanging valley, we walked through the Mur Des Italiens (Italian Wall), the remnants of an old border post between France and Italy. The border was moved at the end of WWII. This is what we were told by another walker but I have read on the Web that “According to oral tradition, this chicane was built of dry stones to protect the county of Nice from the Austrians.” Whatever, it came as a rather startling sight in an otherwise desolate landscape.

After entering the valley we crossed the stream we had followed all morning on a sturdy wooden bridge and started climbing again until we reached the barrage wall of Lac de la Fous. As we get closer I was astonished to see a group of three chamois walking on the almost vertical smooth concrete barrage wall, apparently licking the salts from the surface.

Passing the barrage wall there was a great view across the lake to Refuge Nice, our destination for that night.

Refuge Nice (2232m) in glorious isolation

We still had a walk around the lake, a tricky stream crossing beneath a magnificent waterfall, and then a short climb to the refuge but there was a coffee waiting for us and a chance to sit down and really take in the local views.

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