A stone in my wallet

Published (updated: ) in places.

I want to tell you about my favourite beach in the whole world. 

It’s called Traeth Llyfn, and you’ll find it on the north coast of Pembrokeshire, facing directly west into the Irish Sea. There’s no direct access by car. You have to walk north from Abereiddi Bay, or south from Porthgain.

I managed another visit there this summer, just a brief stop as the family did a much longer coast path walk. But the memories overwhelmed me. As we sat on rocks and munched our sandwiches, I felt tears welling up. I love this place so much. 

When we were kids, my brother and I spent chunks of our summer holiday with our dad, and those chunks usually included camping holidays in Wales. Pembrokeshire was the best bit, of course, and Traeth Llyfn was the best bit of Pembrokeshire. 

I remember:

  • The terrifying narrow footpath from cliff top to beach level. Not terrifying to me as a kid then (I expect I probably ran down it); but adult me can only look at what remains of that path with a lump in my throat. It’s been replaced by a sturdy steel staircase now.
  • Writing huge messages on the sand for my fellow beach-goers. Jokes, and surveys with giant checkboxes. 
  • Learning how to use body board, riding powerful waves over and over again until my eyes were red and my snot had turned into seawater. 
  • Being so hungry as I emerged from the waves, and making sandwiches and packets of crisps disappear in seconds. I was a skinny tanned kid then, not a flabby pale middle-aged bloke.
  • Barbecues on the beach to celebrate my brother’s August birthday, some of them in the rain. We’d huddle under big umbrellas.
  • The walk from the car, parked at Abereiddi, lugging all our beach stuff with us. Me complaining en route, as little kids do when they have to walk a mile in their flip-flops
  • On at least one holiday, discovering that the farmer who owned the land at the top of the cliff had turned one field into a car park, priced at £5 per day. A reasonable sum now, but an astonishing extravagance for my dad to pay at the time. I think he must have loved that beach too.
  • My dad’s daily swim, up and down the beach, parallel to the sand, with his peculiar sideways variant of breaststroke. 
  • My dad, again, reading Dune and The Silmarillion on that beach. So I read them too.
  • My brother reading The Many-Colored Land and its sequels. I read them too.
  • An enterprising pair of teenagers who came down to the beach with a coolbox full of Cornettos, flogging them to grateful sunbathers.
  • That feeling that the summer holidays would never end, that every day forever could, and would, be made up of sunshine and sand and seawater and sandwiches.

The memories aren’t the most important thing, though. They’re nice memories, yes, but the nostalgia is a happy side-effect. Traeth Llyfn is one of my actual, real-world happy places. It’s one of those places where I feel comfortable, where I feel utterly at ease, where I can decide to not feel anything else. 

On our visit this last summer, Kate could see me getting all emotional. She could see that having arrived, I didn’t want to leave. I felt like the stones we were sitting on were the exact same stones I sat on as a child, 35 years ago. 

“Why don’t you take a stone with you?” she suggested.

A good idea. I picked up two stones. A large one to keep in my garden at home, and a tiny slim one to slip into my wallet. I carry it with me now, a tiny piece of my favorite beach in the whole world, tucked between the debit cards and the train tickets and the tenners. When I’m sat on those trains and I wish I wasn’t, I can pull out that tiny piece of grey stone – something vaguely volcanic and Ordovician, I reckon – and let it tumble between my fingers. Like a skinny tanned kid tumbling in the waves, and looking forward to his sandwiches.