Chapter 2: Cymyran Beach
My parents came to see us in Anglesey on their way to catch the Holyhead ferry to Dublin to visit relatives in Kilkenny. I didn’t see much of them in the eleven years I had been in the RAF, so I shouldn’t have been surprised they knew nothing of my new-found enthusiasm for long-distance running. So, when I came to greet them, wearing shorts and vest, it must have been a considerable shock for my mum and dad.
‘Where are you going?’ said my Dad, looking puzzled.
‘Going for a run,’ I said, as though he should already know.
‘What does he mean, a run in the car?’ Dad said, scratching his head.
‘You know, Dad, with my feet,’ I said.
‘Well, I go to hell. How far?’
‘About five miles, Dad.’
‘I’m thinking of starting too,’ my wife said.
‘Will you win any money?’ my mother said.
‘It’s not about money.’
‘Are you any good, Pete?’ Dad said.
‘No, not a lot of cop, and if I don’t get going I never will be.’ I said.
I knew of some runners who would do anything to avoid this kind of interrogation: driving to a remote spot, changing into shorts and vest, running their session before getting dressed, and returning home as though they had just been to the shops. However, it is a good exercise to be asked such questions. I did not run for monetary gain, but for the challenge that could be measured and recorded – never knowing when I would record a new personal best.
This was a period of transition, when I ran more and played football less. I wanted a one-circuit run that was interesting, testing and a joy and it has remained my favourite course. The criteria: the route had to start and stop, at my front door in Maes Minnfford Caergeiliog. The first mile took me past the medical centre on the left and Lake Penryn on the right, where silky, black cormorants clung to time-less rocks, waiting for their oily feathers to dry before diving in for more fish. Onwards, I ran towards the main entrance to RAF Valley’s airfield and followed the perimeter fence. The road would take me through undulating soft and golden sand and over a dune to reveal a glorious vista.
To my right, jutting through the beach, were Precambrian rocks dating back 4.6 billion years to the beginning of Earth’s formation, and provided a stunning backdrop to a glorious seashore which stretched three miles to Rhosneigr. The wind and tides always assured me of a unique experience. Wind speed was determined on the Beaufort scale, and gales so frequent the Station newsletter was called Force 8! Some days, the tides and wind would deposit large amounts of sand onto the airfield runways, making my progress tardy. On another dawn, the beach could widen by a hundred metres, and with a backwind my body would all but take to the air.
About halfway, the beach juts into the sea with a collection of stalagmite-shaped, black rocks teeming with sea birds and fish. Close to Rhosneigr, I turned left at a tributary adjacent to columns of steep sand dunes, which were perfect to sprint up for leg-strengthening sessions. Then without warning, the path thinned with gorse fighting for space with adders now the trail was parallel to the Holyhead to London railway line and a pedestrian crossing accessed through gnarled, wooden gates. On the other side, another joy: an under-used golf course with soft undulating turf ideal for fartlek, a session of sprinting and easy running. In the distance, I could see the rocky wall and some steps to the sports fields. The smell and comfort of my home quickened my pace and our front door beckoned – another run, full of interest, surprise and exhilaration.