Inspirational Trails 27: The Anglesey Coastal Path

Inspirational Trails 27: The Anglesey Coastal Path

Inspirational Trails 27: The Anglesey Coastal Path

Written By: Joe Baker

In part 27 of our Inspirational Trails series , Joe Baker describes his experience of racing on the Anglesey Coastal Path - a route with spectacular scenery, challenging terrain and a rich history.

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Almost the entire coastline of Anglesey, North Wales has been designated an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’, preserved because of its valuable heath, dunes and saltmarsh. Set against the dramatic backdrop of the Snowdonia mountain range, the Isle of Anglesey is a stunning place to get out on the trails.

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The Ring O' Fire Ultra Trail Race , or ROF as it’s known, is a coastal ultra-marathon which takes runners on an epic 135-mile journey staged over three consecutive days around the island. Starting in Holyhead at the Breakwater Country Park, runners set off in a clockwise direction through the town, passing St. Cybi's Celtic monastery and main Port. Leaving the tarmac of the town you are quickly out onto the trails which is where you get your first taste of running on the soft sand as you leave Holyhead and head for the Afon Alaw estuary. Then it’s a return to the trail paths as you head up the estuary to come back down the other side. The view of Holyhead Mountain is a little disorienting as you feel like you are running back towards the start.

The route continues north through checkpoint 2 at Church Bay and round to Cemlyn Wildlife Reserve. The loose pebble beach is an energy sapping challenge on the legs to keep your momentum going forward. This half mile completes two-thirds of the 36-mile day, but the toughest part of the race is still to come.

Now travelling along the coastal path at the top of the island past the Power Station (Checkpoint 3) heading to the Port of Amlwch. It is along this section, at the most northerly point of the Island, you begin a series of descending steeply to the little beautiful coves followed by steep ascents back up to the cliff tops. On a still day the water is so blue and clear, but on a wet and windy day there is no hiding on the exposed cliffs.

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Having completed these climbs, the substantial remains of the Porth Wen disused Victorian brickworks is another little bit of history you will see before continuing your journey for a further 5-miles to Amlwch, where the end of day 1 finishes at the local leisure centre.

Day 2 takes you on a 66-mile journey from the North-East of the Island round to the South-West. Mostly on grassy trails and following the coastline it’s a pleasant start to the day. You will encounter a variety of livestock which can present their own unpredictable challenges.

The first of two lighthouses for the day, Point Lynas, is worth noting, as 25-miles further round the coast you will be able to look back from the second lighthouse at Penmon to see it. Leaving these fields, you head to the firm sand on Treath Dulas around the bay and back to the cliff before dropping into the sand dunes of Lligwy (side note - the breakfast available at this checkpoint is very welcoming!)

During the next section you can be faced a number of times with the choice of whether to take a high tide route (on the cliff) or a low tide route (on the beach). These beaches have firm sand, so if the tide allows then the beach is the faster route. Leaving the beach of Red Wharf Bay there is more climbing up to the headland with views of the Great Orme through a variety of greenery and vegetation round to Penmon, the most easterly point.

Leaving Penmon, you pass St. Seiriol's monastery and then head to the infamous Menai Straits. Another high-tide low-tide choice here. Traeth Lleiniog is one of the toughest beaches to run on for the whole race. The large unstable and slippy beach stones make running this mile section a near impossibility. The high-tide route is easier but for the purist wanting to embrace the ethos of the coastal run, then the challenge of this mile of beach running should be tackled. The tide can cut the path off completely and ten minutes earlier for me on this section and I would have been paddling.

Arriving in Beaumaris, the halfway point, the early morning start certainly feels like a long time ago. The weather was excellent this year and knowing the route I opted for a tactical change from trail shoes to road shoes with a fresh pair of socks. A new pair of socks can be magical and refreshing. Leaving checkpoint 8, the coastal route takes a detour inland to run through the woods, before a short road section into the town of Menai where you will run under the spectacular Menai suspension Bridge.

The route follows the Menai Strait to Newbourgh, across fields and a few beaches, which is a relatively flat section of the route. Those who want to put a bit of pace into the day, this is where I found the most suitable section to get through some quicker miles.

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Before arriving at the energy-sapping soft dunes of Newborough, those on the low-tide route will get to traverse the large stepping stones over Afon Braint. Reaching the South-West of the island, options here of the high-tide forest run or low-tide harder sand. At the far end of this section you need to visit the honesty book.

If you are getting here after dark then spotting the flag marking the book could pose an additional challenge. Present your page from the honesty book to the crew at the last checkpoint before you complete the last 10k to Aberffraw, then climbing through corn fields you get the first sight of the finish on Day 2, a mile in the distance (as the crow flies).

A final run on the beach and another honesty book for the day on Aberffraw beach, you enter the village over the 18th Century Hen Bont Aberffraw (Aberffraw old bridge), completing 66-miles for the day and over 100-miles of the coastal path. Often less than 50% of race entrants make it this far.

Day 3 is a 33-mile trek north up the west coast of Anglesey and back to Holyhead. It’s a relatively flat route for two-thirds of the day, the significant climbs coming at the end of the when you reach South Stack and North Stack.

The early part involves light coastal trail paths and the beaches of Porth China and Traeth Crigyll as you skirt round RAF Valley. Weaving inland, tracing the inland sea along the Cymyran Strait you will arrive at Four Mile Bridge to cross onto Holyhead. This is the second checkpoint of the day. The green and leafy trail section is some contrast to the harsher coastal heathland which lies ahead.

The final checkpoint and chance to refuel is Trearddur Bay. Now this is where I would say the challenge for the day kicks in. Whilst there are only 10-miles of the circular route remaining, you need to mentally prepare for the elevation and hard underfoot conditions after running 120-miles. On poor weather days you'll get battered on the exposed cliffs and heathland of the Range Nature Reserve before your climb to South Stack and upwards towards Holyhead Mountain.

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Whilst you don’t quite summit the mountain, in one last merciless twist the coastal path descends to North Stack. This elevation drop of 120 meters in 500 meters of distance on unyielding quartzite will work those tired legs hard, taking you to the final honesty book. All that remains is to climb back up from North Stack to the finish in Breakwater Country Park. Greeted by the sound of Johnny Cash’s "Ring of Fire' and cheering crowds, a festival atmosphere awaits those who have circumnavigated this magnificent island.

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Pictured: Joe Baker - Ring O’ Fire Winner 2021 and Course Record Holder

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Beauty and stunning scenery aside, the distance and variable terrain makes this race one of the most challenging ultra-marathons in the British Isles and worth 5 UTMB Points in old money. The event team also offers the Firelighter Ultra Marathon event which is the 36-mile Day 1 of ROF and takes place at the same time. For those not quite ready for the ultras, or those training for ROF, the Cybi Coastal Marathon offers the opportunity to test yourself on the same multi-terrain paths round the Holyhead, covering parts of the ROF Day 1 and 3 route.

For me, running the ROF last summer signified the end of an era. Anglesey is a special place for many people and it is for our family. My grandparents first visited the island over 50 years ago and owned a static caravan based at Pentraeth for over 40 years.

They would bring their children, my mum, aunt and uncles, who then brought my generation and in turn we brought their great grandchildren to explore the beautiful island. It’s now time to leave the site in Pentraeth, as things move on.

My grandparents are no longer with us but they certainly taught us a lot. Amongst many things they were fighters, had resolve and a stubbornness, traits you want when running an ultra-distance marathon. Running the Ring of Fire race this year was a way for me to tip my cap to them and leave a mark. I know how much my Gran would have loved to tell her friends about it.

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Pictured: 1986-2021 – a photo to mark 35 years of history on the Anglesey Coastal Path

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Photos: Credit to Unsplash.com | Nathan Pritchard | Mark Wynne | John Bowden

You can follow Joe’s adventures on Instagram and Strava

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Head over to the SportsShoes Trail Running Hub for more inspiration, tips and motivation, and if you are looking for any gear, check out our Trail Shoes, Clothes and Equipment.

Related post: Inspirational Trails 1: The Amalfi Coast | The Trail Hub | SportsShoes.com







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