Hell’s Mouth or Porth Neigwl, near Abersoch

Hell’s Mouth or Porth Neigwl, near Abersoch

The beauty and tranquillity of this beach attract many visitors, but the name Hell’s Mouth gives you an idea of how mariners once regarded the coastline here!

The Welsh name is unrelated. Porth means bay. Neigwl was probably a person’s name, possibly Scandinavian or Irish. Neigwl (written as Neugell in the 16th century) was the centre of the commote of Cymydmaen, and Porth Neigwl was the gateway to it when coastal shipping was easier than overland travel.

abersoch_hells_mouth_jettyEarly written forms include The bay of Nygell in the 16th century, Porthnegol in 1561-2, porth Nigwl in 1629 and Neigwl or Hell's Mouth in 1805. The English name gained popularity with the growth in tourism.

There are records of more than 140 shipwrecks here – tantalisingly close to the sheltered St Tudwal’s Roads (east of Abersoch). If the prevailing wind blew a vessel into Porth Neigwl, escape was almost impossible and captains would often try to ground the ship on the beach, where it might be refloated in calmer weather. Many ships broke up on the beach, however, including the schooner Twelve Apostles in 1898. It was built in Pwllheli with a carving of St Paul as its figurehead, and was a favourite of Porthmadog’s townspeople.

Steamers collected manganese ore from a jetty at the west end of the bay (pictured here, courtesy of Rhiw.com). One, from Belgium, got into trouble during a gale and broke up near the jetty, as you can read on this page.

The bay lived up to its infernal name during live-weapons practice in the Second World War. Trainee aircrews from nearby RAF Penrhos would try to hit large floating targets. In nearby fields there were replica gun turrets, where trainee air gunners shot at model German aircraft circling rapidly along a narrow-gauge track. RAF Hell’s Mouth expanded after RAF Penrhos was repeatedly hit by German bombs in 1940, prompting the RAF to move some of the aircraft to new hangars here.

In 1955 a three-day search began after the clothes of Rev Philip Ross, a Cheshire vicar, were found on the beach. He appeared to have gone for his usual pre-breakfast swim but hadn’t returned to his wife in their caravan. He was legally presumed dead in 1956 but was then found to be living with another woman in London, having faked his death here!

With thanks to Prof Hywel Wyn-Owen, of the Welsh Place-Name Society, Adrian Hughes, of the Home Front Museum, and Rhiw.com 

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More about the missing vicar – Rhiw.com local website