Just like going home – Rhoscolyn, Wales

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Long time readers of Under a Grey Sky will have seen pieces about Rhoscolyn before, and here comes another one, but I make no apology. As someone who left the UK at the age of 22 and has lived in Berlin for almost 15 years, and whose parents no longer live in the town that I grew up in, the idea of “home” has always been an interesting one to me. And if there is one constant in my conscious memory, the one place that has changed through the years but – really, when it comes to my emotions about the place – always stayed the same, then that is Rhoscolyn, and specifically Outdoor Alternative, home to my Uncle and Aunty, cousins and whatever it is kids of cousins are to me or to Lotte (we have this discussion on every visit).

Over Easter we returned again, to that field with the views across from Holy Island to Anglesey and beyond, to Snowdonia. When the weather is good it feels as if you can make out the climbers reaching the top of those peaks. When the weather closes in you can feel as if this collection of buildings along a dusty track is the very end of the world. This time, on arrival, we did as we always do and walked the headland around to the beach, following at the same time the waymarked trail of the Anglesey Coastal Path but also the personal topography of memory and my fellow members of the Red Devils, who explored every patch of heather and gorse, sandy cove and rocky inlet, and gave them names and stories and drew maps that made the place truly ours… and now, as we walked that headland again, I could still picture those maps in my head as I told some of those stories to Lotte.

Once around at the beach, with a view up to the houses of the village of Rhoscolyn – and I would love my Uncle or someone else in the family, closer to the place than I am, to write the social history of the village in the last 20-30 years as it would be a fascinating commentary on place, wealth, community and economy – and then continued on along the coastal path and up to the coastguard. The sea was still, lake-like and there was little wind beneath the grey skies. On the water we spied a solitary sailing boat, white sail limp, as it motored across in the direction of the Llyn peninsula. Out beyond Holyhead Mountain the ferry to Ireland moved slowly out to sea, towards the horizon.

South Stack Lighthouse flashed at us down the coast. We caught a glimpse of a seal around the Beacon rocks. Beyond Holyhead and its defunct aluminium plant tower we spied the Skerries and another lighthouse. Following the path across from the coastguard down towards the well and the Red Wall where a pair of climbers packed up their things after a day on the rocks, the scene was silent save for the sound of choughs and their sharp call – chi-aao! chi-aao! Earlier the coastline had been rocked by the all-too-familiar sound of fighter jets from RAF Valley, but now it was only the birds. The choughs and the oystercatchers, making a racket down on the rocky shore. Even the Irish Sea was silent.

On the grassy slopes overlooking the White Arch we took a break, spotting birds and searching for more seals. I clambered out across the arch, realising that it was something I had never done before, over all those years. As I looked back at Lotte and Katrin sitting there on the grass, my head was filled with the sensations of the now mingled with the many, many memories of the then. And I realised of course that Rhoscolyn doesn’t really stay the same, not even in the emotions, because with each visit we create new memories and write new stories. We walked back past the farm and the church, past a buzzard on the fence, magpies on the wire and a pheasant in the reeds, down along the public footpath through the field until we reached the lane back down to the beach. Later, I would read in my Mum’s outdoor magazine that “to walk in Wales is to walk through human history and memory.” What is true of Wales is true of anywhere of course. But for me, to walk in Rhoscolyn is to walk through my own history and memories and those of my friends, and all the while I am updating the Red Devils’ map in my head…

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Words: Paul Scraton
Pictures: Katrin Schönig

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