Paul Miles discovers there's far more to Porthdinllaen, a tiny coastal village on the Llŷn Peninsula, than just fishing and drinking..
“Porthdinllaen: A small drinking village with a fishing problem,” it says, ominously, behind the bar of the Ty Coch Inn, the only pub in this picturesque seaside village of just a dozen or so houses. The pub is crammed with paraphernalia: lamps of all sizes hang from beams and photos line every wall. Some show the crowds that gather in this little east-facing bay on a summer’s day, others show the floods that happened when a storm surge and high tide inundated the village.
“What about the fishing?” I ask the landlord, Stuart Webley, tucking into a crab salad before his shift starts in earnest. “They send all their catch to Korea!” he says, between mouthfuls. “There are seven boats that fish from here, all full-time, they probably employ a dozen people between them,” he says. “But they’re mostly fishing for whelks. They catch tonnes of them and ship them all to Korea,” he pauses. “Very rubbery though, whelks, they can have them.” No problem there then.
It's worth noting that the fishermen from Porthdinllaen also catch lobsters, and quite delicious they are too. Historically the port was an important harbour for importing and exporting goods and was even under consideration to be developed as the main port for Ireland at the beginning of the 19th century. Fortunately enough, though, Holyhead was chosen, allowing the harbour a gentle slide in to an active though more peaceful retirement.
The fishermen don’t live in the village, in fact hardly anyone does. There are only four fulltime residents: Stuart and his family. The other houses are all owned and managed by the National Trust, mostly on long-term leases. Cars are not allowed into the village, which lies at the end of a mini peninsula, and the views across the bay to three-peaked Yr Eifl, the highest mountain in Llŷn, that plunges down to the shore are spectacular. On a sunny day, by all accounts, it’s even more impressive. “It reminds me of Lake Como, with the mountains plunging down into the sea,” says Richard Williams, the National Trust car park attendant, at the car park, a 20-minutes’ walk from Porthdinllaen. “Not that I’ve been there but I’ve seen pictures.”
But inside the pub, on a grey day, hilltops obscured by clouds, a walker has a different take on things. “It feels like the end of the world…or Britain,” she says, starting on her first beer at 11am, after strolling across the beach from the car park. “It’s magical.”
“People love stumbling across this pub,” confirms Stuart. “Especially if you chance upon it when we have live music. We once had a group of hikers - walking the coast path - arrive here at about five in the afternoon,” he says, “I ended up calling a taxi for them at two in the morning.” It seems Porthdinllaen is not always quiet.
Following the coast path from the pub, I pass profusions of flowers in pots and others in old boats and then find myself on a golden sandy bay with a lifeboat station. The tide is out and seaweed on the rocks spreads out, like Medusa’s snaking tresses. Up and on from the lifeboat station, it’s a surprise to find a golf course. Over a couple of greens and there is a lookout post where I see someone looking out to sea through large binoculars. The lookout post is open to the public. I go inside and climb steep steel steps to find a couple in their 60s surrounded by charts and binoculars. They are volunteers with the National Coastwatch Institution, “keeping an eye on boats, walkers and anglers.” They also log wildlife. “Five Risso’s dolphins last Tuesday.”
Wildlife, views and picture postcard quaintness: there’s lots to drink-in in the small fishing village of Porthdinllaen.
This article was written by Paul Miles.