PAUL MILES discovers new friends alongside beautiful coastal scenery as he joins a walking group on a wonderful Welsh route along the coast of Anglesey.

From Holyhead Mountain, the interior of the Isle of Anglesey looks starkly flat against the backdrop of Snowdonia’s peaks. In fact, this ‘mountain’ is only 220m high but clambering to its limestone summit takes your breath away. The views from the top, to the busy port of Holyhead with its long snaking breakwater, and out to the Irish Sea, are a highlight of Anglesey’s 135-mile coastal path.

At a leisurely pace, you could complete the whole circumference in a fortnight, hefting your tent and stove or staying in a succession of B&Bs. The days of carrying all my gear are behind me now. Instead, I slept each night in the same hotel bed and enjoyed chauffeur-driven transport to and from each day’s route. By the end of the week, I’d covered 64 miles, visiting edited highlights of the island’s coast.

I was on an organised walking holiday – courtesy of specialists HF Holidays – staying at a hotel in Beaumaris, which meant not only did I not need to carry luggage, I didn’t need to plan. It was a formula that worked well for everyone.

“We were trying to work out how to walk around Anglesey, using car and buses and B&Bs,” explains Derek – a lean and wiry hiker in his early eighties – as we tramp along a clifftop path. “But it was far too complicated to organise. Then I saw this trip advertised in the Sunday papers and…here we are.”

Derek and his wife, Yvonne, were, like me, new to group walking holidays. Most of the others in our happy band of 13 had been on several similar trips. ‘An organised walking holiday makes everything easy’ was the general refrain. That easiness refers to logistics of course, not the walking. Ynys Môn – the Welsh name for the Isle of Anglesey – may have a relatively flat interior but its coast is a rollercoaster in parts. The varied geology – the island is one of only seven UNESCO global geoparks in the UK – manifests itself in rugged cliffs of schist, limestone and granite on the west and north coasts, sloping down to a soft, low sand and pebble edge in the east.

In our week’s walking we reached the westernmost, northernmost and easternmost extremities of the county. With our Welsh-speaking guide, Rhian Roberts, forever cheerful and full of fun, we visited holy sites – churches, priories and wells with magical stories of early saints – and identified countless wildflowers, from flowering thyme to yellow tormentil and several species of orchid.

From gorse-clad cliffs we watched porpoises arcing through the sea and spied seals in a rocky bay. Squawking, squeaking and an ammonia tang of guano preceded colonies of seabirds: guillemots and razorbills nesting at South Stack; Sandwich and Arctic terns flying past at eye-level with their catch of sand-eels to feed fluffy chicks at Cemlyn.

We walked past a timeline of industrial heritage: a harbour where ore from the world’s then-largest copper mine, Parys Mountain, was loaded onto tall ships, a Victorian brick-works, a bromide extraction plant abandoned two decades ago, and a nuclear power station, still generating electricity.

There were discrete rocky coves with no easy access and sweeping bays of fine ivory sand where children built sandcastles in the shelter of wind-breaks while kayakers set off into choppy waves. At sheltered bays, there was time for swims in clear, calm water. As well as the tang of the sea, the scent of vegetation was ever present: wet bracken, wild honeysuckle and lady’s bedstraw.

Looking for more spots to visit in Anglesey? Click here.

At times, the path diverted inland, up a tidal estuary edged with sea lavender and around the back of the hulk of Wylfa nuclear power station. Occasionally, at a nexus of path, beach, minor road and village, there was a cafe, pub or ice-cream parlour – sometimes all three – but mostly we were blissfully isolated from ‘civilisation’; the views a palette of greens and blues, etched with millions of years of geology.

We ate sandwiches and drank flask-hot beverages, sitting on lichen-covered rocks or springy pillows of wildflowers. Curlews and oyster catchers called from the bay and red-beaked choughs tumbled through the sky. Red squirrels remained elusive as did puffins.

Although it was fine weather in late June, it seemed there were few others walking the Ynys Môn coast path. Unlike on more famous footpaths, we saw no gaggles of ramblers, just the occasional dog walker and two or three younger hikers laden down with rucksacks.

Usually I prefer to walk alone or with my partner, mostly in silence. Before joining this trip, I worried that walking with a group of strangers and feeling compelled to make small talk, the seascape, birdsong and wildflowers would pass by unnoticed. But group dynamics were relaxed enough that it was not awkward to walk alone at times: listening to waves on rocks or rain pelting waterproofs, before choosing to keep step with others, identifying flowers together, talking about family life, discussing books, hearing about others’ experience with HF Holidays.

“It was the camaraderie that appealed to me most,” reveals Angela. “I didn’t discover HF Holidays until my fifties and then I fell in love with it,” she said. “They’re always a bright lot,” adds the former research chemist. “And walkers are generally friendly.”

As for the name, HF Holidays, “people used to joke that it stands for ‘Husband Found’” laughs Angela. “Or Heaps of Food.” When the business – organised as a members’ co-operative – was established over 100 years ago by a former pastor, Thomas Arthur Leonard, its name was Holiday Fellowship. The aim was to offer uplifting holidays for workers, an alternative to seaside breaks.

Friendly companionship is still central but there is no religious element today. Our group – a mix of singles and couples, all over sixty but very fit – gelled perfectly. Each evening, after a short briefing about the next day from Rhian, who has lived locally all her life, we ate dinner around a long table. A hubbub of jovial conversation ebbed and flowed among small groups.

Sometimes, as we tucked in there was a silence that was not awkward. At other times there was so much laughter that hotel guests on nearby tables looked our way, wanting to share the joke. (At least I hope that’s what they were thinking.)

Yvonne, 80, brimmed with a gentle humour. She and Derek had set the pace on several walks, leaving the rest of us trailing. Until not long ago, cycling was their main exercise, pedalling off for a day’s ride of 100 miles in their home county of Lancashire; winning medals. “We’re getting too old for that now so we’ve taken up walking,” explains Yvonne.

By the end of a week’s walking together, it was my new friends – full of fun and vitality, a vision of the rewards of a healthy, active life – that would be my enduring memory of this walking holiday, possibly more so than the flower-splashed, bird-blown coastline rich in geology.

Paul Miles was a guest of HF Holidays –