After the bus problems of yesterday the itinerary is shot. We parked at Trewyddel/Moylegrove and waited for the Poppet Rocket bus, which I’m glad to say appeared on time. In a slight vindictation of yesterday, the card reader wouldn’t work, so we ended up travelling for free. Although the bus does go to Pwll Gwaelod, only on its return from Abergwaun so we elected to jump off at Dinas Cross and walk down. We were rewarded by a lovely little gallery and cafe, where we had coffee and Welsh cakes and I bought a post card. I don’t generally buy souvenirs since I am waging a never-ending war on the creeping tide of stuff, but it was pretty.
Having been disappointed last night that the cats we were busy naming had been reserved, I had enquired about others and was delight to get a call a mile or so in about them. After three long conversations the deal was done and I pick up Lulu (will definitely have to rename her!) and Teddy on Friday.
At the farthest point of Dinas Head, is the trig point, painted with the slogan ‘Cofiwch Dryweryn’ a reference to the outrageous drowning of the village of Tryweryn in Gwynedd by Liverpool Council in 1965 to create a reservoir to supply the city.
Just after Dinas Head, we came to a place called Cwm-yr-Eglwys, where it is easy to see how the coast has changed. The ruins of the old church are almost on the beach. It was a busy place, with lots of badly behaved children, and well-behaved dogs, as well as vice-versa.
We arrived at Newport about 2.45 and walked up from the beach to the town, but at that time of the day, there was no food available, so we picked up a snack in Spar, then had an excellent ice cream.
It was a long walk in the afternoon. The weather was fantastic but we saw only one seal and none of the promised dolphins or porpoises.
Close to the end, we were pretty tired, but the scenery around Pwll y Wrach/Witches’ Cauldron was absolutely spectacular.
There was then a final walk down the river valley, rapidly getting darker, till it was almost night. There was nowhere to eat again, so another emergency trip to Spar was needed.
16 miles in total, and the view if nothing else, made it a Gold day.
Today was a logistical failure. I had carefully, or so I thought, checked the bus timetable from Trefdraeth/Newport and decided that the 11.25 bus would be fine. We got to the bus stop at about 10.45 and glancing at the timetable were disappointed to see that we had missed one at 10.25. We decided to walk around the little village, and found a café after talking to nice woman with a cat. Cats are on my mind, as last night Rachel was encouraging me to look on the Cats’ Protection League cat homing page and so I submitted an enquiry for a sibling pair – one black and white, and one tabby and white. We got back to bus stop and amused ourselves with thinking of cat names. We then looked at timetable and realised that the Sunday bus was 12.25. So back to the cafe for another coffee and a cat name discussion. Chairman Miaow, Franz Katka, and Advocat are strong favourites, along with Bramble and basil, Treacle and Pudding, and Rasputin.
12.25 came and went. No bus. After 15 minutes, I looked on line and it appeared that there are no Sunday buses, despite timetable. We decided to drive back to Fishguard, walk out and then back again. The route was pleasant, down a steep hill to the lower town, past the charmingly named ‘The Monthly Tutor’s Cottage’, then up past the harbour to the old fort at the headland where we took turns to pose on a canon.
It was overcast. We met a man with an enormous pack that made us glad to be travelling light. We passed through a campsite with lots of people, and got to the hill just above Pwll Gwaelod. It was getting late, and we were concerned about being back before dark. We had heard rumours that there were dolphins playing off the coast, but we did not see any. The sun came out at last, giving us lovely views – it’s always quite different covering the same ground in the opposite direction. Hopefully, the bus arrangements for tomorrow will work! Only 5 miles covered – my shortest day, so far, I think. A silver day today.
I parked at Strumble Head Lighthouse and waited for ages for the taxi booked to collect me. He had asked me which carpark, and I said the one by the lighthouse, but no sign of anyone and no phone signal. Some kind people offered to phone when they got within signal, and eventually the taxi turned up. Apparently, there is a second car park, but I definitely said the one nearest. The journey to Porth Gain took ages, and then he sprang a large surcharge on me, claiming it was required by Pembrokeshire County Council. At the time, I paid up, but thinking it over during the day, I think I’ve been scammed…oh well.
I’d planned to have breakfast at the Sloop Inn, but, rather than the juicy bacon bap I had been fantasising about, they only had pastries. Nice, but not the full-on breakfast I like to have before a walk. Today, although equally sunny, was much windier than yesterday – in fact, I couldn’t keep my hat on, despite it having attractive strings that set it off elegantly. I had a clearer sight today of the marker beacons around Porth Gain, for directing shipping. The scenery was similar to yesterday afternoon, but the path was much quieter. The first place of any note was Trefin, where there was once a mill, and the ruins and the little bridge over the millstream are very picturesque.
After Trefin, there is the lovely little port of Abercastell then Abermawr, another long beach, although this one is pebbly rather than sandy, then Aberbach. (Aber is the Welsh term for river mouth or estuary).
On the whole the cliff tops seem to be getting flatter, with very steep craggy sides, and as I noted yesterday, there are few trees. Coastal erosion is very obvious along this stretch, with walls close to the cliff edge, and quite a few places where fencing dangles over a steep drop. Although today was shorter, it felt much longer, partly because, once I could see the lighthouse, I felt I should be getting close, but there were so many inlets to walk around that it often felt like it was getting further away. I passed a few wild ponies, just before a slightly tricky scramble, which I fondly thought would bring me close to the end point, but when I reached the top, I discovered another whole headland to get around.
Still lots of wonderful wildflowers, although not so many as yesterday. As I tootled along, I was turning over in my mind the birds I had seen and regretting not having seen any choughs. Weirdly, I looked around, and there was a chough immediately in front of me. I can’t quite decide whether I had heard it (although I wouldn’t have expected to recognise its call) or had caught sight of it unconsciously and my brain then presented me with the idea of choughs. Or something more spooky. Sadly, thinking about winning the lottery has failed to present me with a winning ticket immediately thereafter so I should probably discount any supernatural powers of seeing the future.
The wind dropped off a bit, and altogether, it was another fabulous day, although by the end I was quite tired. I finished off the holiday with fantastic fish and chips in Fishguard.
If I never have another day as good as today, it will all have been worth it. Today was definitely a diamond day. The view was spectacular, the weather was perfect, the public transport was punctual and the food I eventually had was excellent. My only concern is the nagging misery in my left knee, which kicked in this afternoon. Hopefully, a slug of ibuprofen tonight and in the morning will keep it under control. I left the car at Porth Clais, which appears to be a busy little working port. The Strumble Shuttle took me from the end point into St David’s, and then the Celtic Coaster took me down to my starting point at a Porth Clais. Unfortunately, it had not crossed my mind to apply the time I had in St David’s yesterday to the useful purpose of buying provisions, hence, once again, I had no breakfast other than the handful of cashew nuts that remained. I was too early for the kiosk at Porth Clais, but had checked that there was a restaurant at Whitesands.
The west side of the steep valley at Porth Clais has ruins from what appeared to be industrial buildings of the 19th century possibly for exporting some sort of minerals or slate. I noticed in the rocks a fair bit of green suggesting copper, or perhaps green slate. There are also two whitewashed stone erections on either side of the harbour mouth, the one on the south-west side being like an obelisk whilst that on the north east is like an old fashioned sugar loaf. Presumably they are to guide shipping in. The path climbed immediately up to the cliff, and wound in and out of the various coves and inlets. I could see what I thought was st David’s head and then the path turned east, as expected, but the inlet seemed far too deep for St Justinians which was the first bay I was expecting. Eventually, it became clear that the whole long arm that I had taken to be a peninsula, was in fact Ramsey island. On the map, it is not shown in its proper place, but in a separate box and I had no idea that it was so close.
St Justinians has the lifeboat, and also a brisk trade in island tours to Ramsey, Skomer and others. There was a boat load preparing as I arrived. I had a faint moment when I thought the thirty odd people were queuing for the coffee kiosk which was a site for sore eyes, but fortunately not. I listened to the guide. Apparently, there are some 40,000 breeding pairs of puffins on Puffin island. Ramsey used also to be full of them, but shipping run aground in the dangerous waters of the Sound, had brought rats to the island which had eaten all the eggs, and presumably the pufflings (my new favourite word) as well. The rats have been eradicated now, but the puffins have not yet returned, although the guide said that the conservation body has planted decoys and played what she ever referred to as ‘puffin music’, but so far, although the birds have been seen in the water, they have not returned.
I went on to Whitesands which is a lovely beach, very popular with surfers. It is not exactly Manly, but I imagine in rough weather that the waves would be impressive. There was a café there, but it had a long queue, and looked uninspiring so I decided not to bother – the double layer Victoria sponge at St Justinians had staved off the worst pangs. From Whitsands the path goes to St David’s Head, and then turns north-eastish, beginning the coast’s long stretch south of Cardigan bay. Not far past the headland, I coaught site of the flashing light of Strumble Head lighthouse – tomorrow’s destination. The path was very busy, and I chatted to quite a few people. Beyond Whitesands, the scenery changed noticeably. Although the coast is still punctured by inlets, the rocks have changed, no more of the dark red stone visible near St Bride’s, or the sandstone along the stretch to Newgale; here it becomes slate and granite. Inland, too, the slopes are rolling moorland, with lumps of uneroded granite making peaks. I didn’t spot what made it feel so different until I heard someone on the path saying that the difference between north and south Pembrokeshire, is that in the former, there are very few trees, and thinking back over the day, that is true. I met a nice couple from Ross-on-Wye, not far from my new home and had a bit of a chat.
The wildflowers were amazing. Although the daffodil is the national flower, I think a case could be made for foxgloves. They are everywhere, along with thrift, vetches of various sorts, ox eye daisies, lots of red campion and purple scabious. Even a few late patches of bluebells were clinging to the cliffs. I was lucky enough to see some seals, 5 or 6 of them playing in the waves. It is 7.6 miles from Whitesands to Abereiddy, another little surfing beach. I was tiring by now, especially as there was a long steep down and up just before. But from Abereiddy, once you have climbed up, the cliff top is very flat, until Porth Gain. The remnants of industry were easier to see here, I assume slate mining. Then there was a wicked slate staircase, more like a ladder down to the quay, just to aggravate my knees.
I had an excellent meal in the Sloop Inn. I believe the Ship is more famous but the Sloop was excellent.
When I woke this morning, the weather could not have been more different from yesterday. The windsock outside my window was horizontal, and a thick blanket of mist covered everything. I did not really want to get out of bed at 7, but had planned to do that in order to drop car in St David’s and get the shuttle bus back at 8.40. I thought maybe an extra hour in bed wouldn’t hurt, then it occurred to me that the shuttle bus might only go at 2-hour intervals, so I stuck to plan. Just as well, as in fact the bus was at 4-hour intervals. A happy occurrence on the shuttle bus put me in a good mood for the day. The driver had picked up a woman walker in Solfach and we were trundling down the steep hill, when the woman exclaimed that she had left the lights on her vehicle on. The bus driver immediately stopped, turned round, and took the bus back up the hill so that the woman could leap out and turn off her lights. Everyone on the bus was happy about this – I can’t imagine that happening in a big city! People are definitely kinder to each other in the country. Walking leads to cutting edge insights like that.
There is no breakfast in my accommodation, so I had planned to grab a bacon roll from the pub once the shuttle set me down at the starting point, but despite signs I had spotted yesterday, promising breakfast from 9am, there was no sign of anyone at 9.10, so I set off with just an apple in hand, hoping that the weather would clear. It was not especially cold, but the mist was thick and the rain persistent, although light. I don’t have my waterproof with me, just a light showerproof jacket, that I was glad of, although it was at full capacity. The path starts with a stiff pull out of Newgale. The surf on the beach was higher than yesterday, but still only gentle. Before long I ran into three chaps clearing the path. It is very well maintained.
Although there were more ups and downs than yesterday, most of the path was on the tops. As I dropped down into one valley, I could hear a couple of women behind me. One had a very high, carrying voice, which was a bit odd in the mist as I could not see them, but I heard a lot more than I wanted. ‘..gave it to him both barrels, first off, that isn’t…..Anthea said….a job for the paramedics…came undone…..not sure after seven months off…’ the last comment gave rise to the thought that, for her colleagues, there might have been a slight silver lining even to COVID. Eventually, I slowed to let them pass me, after I had heard about the dog, plans for a night out, and the iniquitous behaviour of the gas board (couldn’t argue with that one!). The wind then carried their voices forward.
There were far fewer insects or birds around today, although the stonechats were busy.
The names of two of the headlands – Dinas Fawr and Dinas fach – suggest that, at one time, there was an Iron Age settlement, ‘dinas’ being the word for city in modern Welsh but also for a Neolithic fort. With not much of a view, I stopped for fewer photos than yesterday and made good time to Solfach. I walked into the high street to the attractive cafe, and queued for several minutes. Unfortunately, the two people in front of me took the last table. The nice waitress suggested an alternative , so I went in to be told that breakfast had finished and lunch wouldn’t be served for another hour. I was starving now. The waitress must have seen my depressed expression as she asked the chef if he could rustle up a final breakfast. Vindicating my point about people being kind, he did, and I polished off an excellent eggs benedict. (See review). I sat there for an hour, with a second coffee and was rewarded with improved weather. Not sunny like yesterday, but the clouds lifted and the rain stopped.
Solfach is a long, narrow inlet, with quite a few little yachts bobbing gently. The path out climbs quite steeply, and then closely follows the cliff edge. At last I could see the southern arm of St Brides Bay, where I had walked yesterday. I met another lady who is doing regular coast walking. We compared notes about the steepness of the Cornish coast. Whilst this area is similar, it does not have the long steep ups and downs that nearly killed me a few years back – why I wasn’t using poles, I’ll never understand. I love them now.
The path now became very busy, especially as I approached St Non’s chapel, just south of St David’s. According to legend, St Non was the mother of St David, the patron saint of Wales. To all appearances it looked like a Celtic chapel from the early Middle Ages, there were at least 10 other people milling, waiting to go in. I was struck inside by how Catholic it seemed, which surprised me, as the Anglican Church in Wales tends to be ‘low’. The mystery was solved when I saw an information sheet, saying it had been built in 1934 by Mr Cecil Griffith, using stones form surrounding buildings that were probably originally from ecclesiastical buildings, whilst the nearby holy well was restored by the Passionist Fathers in 1951. http://www.stnonsretreat.org.uk/history.html
As I left, two men who had been ahead of me on the path stopped and began chatting to me. Something one of them said led me to say ‘Cymro cymreig ydach chi?’ That is literally, Are you a Welsh Welshman? meaning Welsh speaking. He replied that he was and asked me if I were a Welsh Welshwoman. My Welsh is very rusty after over 35 years living in England, but within one sentence he had picked me as from North Wales. A regular diet of Welsh television is reviving my skills, but the part of Wales I now live in has few native speakers, so I was glad to practice a little on these two, who were from Aberhonddu and Abertawe. Unfortunately my little chat with the Welsh Welshmen meant that the 15.40 shuttle was just sailing up the hill as I came down into Porth Clais. Rather than wait half an hour, I decided to walk up to St David’s and began toiling up the narrow lane, having hesitated as to which of two to choose. A car stopped – I thought it might be kind people offering a weary walker a lift, but it was just somebody asking if I knew where the road led. ‘St David’s, I hope.’ ‘No, we’ve just come from there.’ ‘Really? I was sure the map said this road.’ ‘No, definitely not, we’ve come from there.’ ‘Did you come down that road?’ I gestured towards the one I hadn’t taken, more or less parallel, but further left. ‘Yes. We were hoping this led to St Justinians.’ ‘Well, I don’t know. As you can tell, I’m lost too.’ I returned down to the port and took the other road. After 10 mins, I heard someone behind me and turned to ask ‘does this lead to St David’s?’ ‘No, not this road.’ ‘But someone just told me they had come down it from there.’ ‘They must have come from the other road.’ She pointed back behind us. You can see the cathedral there. I was totally confused. But all became clear when I got back to the port. I had assumed I needed to go left out of it, but I had forgotten that Porth Clais overshoots st David’s to the west, so I needed to take the right fork. I decided to wait for the bus, since it was now 16.00. When the bus eventually came, it turned up the road I had originally taken! Having had a not brilliant but quite expensive meal in the pub here last night, I thought I would eat in St David’s. Unfortunately, as I had been between breakfast and lunch earlier, I was now between lunch and supper, and had to make do with a stodgy panini. I need to rethink my plan for tomorrow to make sure I get some breakfast as there is no lunch stop.
Things did not start particularly well. First, I discovered that I’ve also mislaid my pedometer in the house move. I bought a cheap substitute, but it is not very accurate. Then, before I left home I managed to put a weight on my water tube, soaking my rucksack and the floor, finally, when I was 2 or 3 miles from home I realised I had forgotten to bring any face masks. I couldn’t really carry on without, as the taxi driver I had booked might not have been willing to take me maskless, then the traffic was surprisingly heavy. All the way to Newgate, I don’t think there was a single moment when I was alone on the road. Consequently I was late arriving at my AirBandB, which is where I had arranged for a taxi to collect me and take me to the start. I was so late that the driver had gone and had to come back. But the sun was shining and I set out from St Brides brides at 11.35, a good half an hour later than planned, but it wasn’t a problem.
The day was glorious. Hot, bright sunshine, with enough breeze to prevent me overheating. Compared with the weather when we finished at St Brides in January 2020, it could not have been more different. It was wonderful to be on the path again.
The coast here is superb, and I could see across St Bride’s Bay to my destination, which I always like. The going was fairly easy, the path is well tended and there were not many ups and downs, the path mainly sticking to the cliff top. Frequent signs and closed off remnants of paths suggest regular landslides. The place was thick with wildflowers foxgloves, thrift, rock roses, vetch, and some sort of scabious.
At one place on the cliff top there was a curious rock, with what looked like a man-made hole through it. I’ve absolutely no idea why anyone would perch it there, but it framed the tanker in the bay very nicely when I peered through.
The day was uneventful and I made good progress. The most interesting relic I saw was a derelict circular stone building, close to the shore. I was puzzled as to what it might have been, it didn’t seem an obvious place for a fortress, but as I climbed out of the valley, the clue appeared in the valley’s name – Mill Haven.
For much of the day, I could see the long beach at Newgale. The first path down to it was closed off, as was the second, which was steepish and scrambly. Not taking it meant a stiff climb back to the top of the cliff, along a bit, and then down again. I contemplated the path. I could probably have made it, and had I not been on my own, or if it had been at the start of the day, I might have done it, but it seemed too risky after a full day’s walk, when I was tiring. So I crawled up the steep cliff. Eventually there was a route to the beach, the last 15 feet needed a bit of sitting down and scrabbling, and a couple of ladies sitting underneath the cliff offered to help. I felt a bit embarrassed – they both looked rather less fit than me, but clearly, I was not impressive. It was fabulous to be on the sand, I took off my boots and walked the whole length of the beach, paddling, which I think is the first time I’ve actually had my feet in the water since Rhossili beach. The downside of Newgale, is that a sea wall has been constructed of large cobbles that it is necessary to scrabble over, which also means that you cannot see the water once you are on the street side. My accommodation is over the pub, but not related to it. It’s a bit noisy…
Today was a short day, but none the worse for that. Since we are in the delightful cathedral city of St David’s, some of us decided that we would like to go to Evensong, so our walk was limited to allow for getting back by 6pm. In the end only three of us walked at all. Graham’s ankle is still dodgy (and I think a desire to watch the England-France game may have made it somewhat worse) and Sally and Trevor decided to look around the city.
We got to the carpark at St Ann’s around 10am, and walked back to the place we turned off the path last night.
Lighthouse at St Ann’s Head
The weather was weak sunshine, but the wind was howling. In fact, it never let up all day. The path runs close to the cliff edge, and the wind was blowing us almost horizontally onto the land so, since I am not very heavy, I spent a good deal of time staggering about. Once again, I was glad of my lovely poles. The views were spectacular all the way – too overcast to really see clearly, but the outlines of the various islands off the coast, including Skokholm and Skomer (which you can see were once part of the mainland) were faintly visible. The coast here is eroding fast, and at one point on the path ominous cracks in the adjacent field are already visible.
Coastal erosion – cracks appearing.
An interesting selection of different rock types, according to Tom. Igneous, Devonian sandstone, even volcanic basalt. Plenty of bird life again, too. Lots of gulls, of course, and starlings, a kestrel, and a couple of choughs. No sign of any puffins, though.
There were a few ups and downs to the coves, but nothing too strenuous, fortunately, considering the wind.
Off-shore island just visible in the mist – left on horizon – right is headland.
We did 6.9 miles and were finished by 2.15. Another Silver day.
My original plan was to walk down the north side of the estuary, but poring over the map there seemed to be hours of road walking and weaving through industrial estates, and all, of course, not on the actual sea coast. This was compounded by the realisation that there were two points that could only be crossed at very low tide – the first between Ferry Cottage and Sandy Farm at Sandy Haven and the second at Dale. Because of the tides, it would be impossible to cross both in the same day. I therefore made the decision to start the walk at Sandy Haven, or rather at the Baptist church just at the bend in the road. We dropped one car at St Ann’s, then came back to the church where there is a layby to park in. I had just parked when another car turned up. We were not surprised, west Wales seems to be the new Piccadilly Circus – traffic everywhere. The chap crunched into the stone wall . He got out and observed that the collision had sounded expensive. He was there for an ashes-distributing ceremony. He pointed out the stream racing towards the sea and showed us the little lock gates that formed a pool where the congregation perform Baptisms.
A quick five minutes up the main road, then we turned left along a narrow road, before hitting the coast path. Looking back, it was just possible to see where the stepping-stones might be although they were under water at that point.
Stepping Stones at Sandy Haven
The coast was wonderful. The sun was shining and although the wind was strong, it was a magnificent day, and not too cold. We meandered along, stopping frequently for photo. We could see Milford Haven behind us, and the huge complex of Pembroke Refinery that we walked past yesterday. It was far more prominent than it had seemed yesterday. It was interesting seeing the shipping coming in and out of the channel – another Irish ferry, similar to the one we watched yesterday going past the fort.
We stopped for our sandwiches near Watch House Point.
Between Great Castle Head and Watch House Point – looking East.
As we sat on the bench, munching away, two men approached from the west. One looked very much like a character from a soap opera about ‘sailors and country-folk’. He had on an assemblage of waterproofs, a high-vis and a tweed hat, tied onto his head with a bit of string. He stopped to say hello, and his companion gave a quick nod and raced on. We soon found out why. The chap could talk the hind-leg off a donkey. We had a ten-minute monologue – literally – we could not even break in with a question or comment. In fact, his stories were quite interesting – his father was an Italian fighter-pilot, who was a prisoner-of-war, and his mother was from Tiger Bay (the part of Cardiff where Shirley Bassey grew up – once famed for its tough economic circumstances). He himself had been brought up not far from where we met him. His father then went on to be a racing driver, taking part in Formula One trials at Pendine (where I was on day 113). We heard about his schoolmaster, a disappointed actor, who was handy with the cane and broke a girl’s fingers. Spitfires and motor-bikes also got a mention, but it got rather jumbled up. We began pawing the ground, but were trapped by the narrowness of the path. Eventually, one of us managed to leap up and draw the conversation to a close. We scurried off leaving his last anecdote in mid-air.
Shortly after, I managed to lose the others – hard, you would think, on a narrow path, but I had fallen behind for a few moments, and when I passed through a kissing gate, I assumed the others had gone down into the little cove and up the other side – I did not see them turn to explore the folly at Monk Haven. I marched on, wondering why I could not see them. Eventually, I heard my phone ringing. I usually ignore it, but guessed that it was a call to find me.
As the path wound in and out, there were beautiful dells again with many ferns. No snowdrops but early primroses and lent lilies. The sign told us that the stepping-stones at Dale were impassable. We did not much fancy the long route, and having checked the tide times, thought they should be evident, so we went to check and we could cross easily enough.
The crossing at Dale.
We stopped for excellent coffee and cake in the Yacht club at Dale and had a quick glance at the rugby. Wales ahead by 28 – 0 at half time!. There was a bit of road up toward the lighthouse at St Ann’s Head, but before we go there, Sally pointed out a plaque on a stone. It commemorates the landing of Henry, Earl of Richmond in the Mill Bay, below, on 7th august 1485. Two weeks and a day later, he defeated Richard III at Bosworth. Incredible to think he marched 4000 men from Pembrokeshire to Leicestershire in a fortnight and that they were battle ready at the end.
Plaque commemorating landing of Henry, Earl of Richmond.
From St Ann’s Head, I could see across to the breakers on Freshwater West, where I was last summer. It was getting dark and windy, so we turned up the tarmac to the carpark, arriving just before dark.
Everything combined to make this a gold day. 11.4 miles.
I had a long trip down yesterday, making a detour to fetch my new Tudor gown for my re-enactment group, The Tudor Players. The picture shows a rather different me from the usual walking gear! The weather was pretty foul, and the forecast was worse. On the upside, I am staying at a gorgeous AirBandB in the little city of St David’s – one of the nicest places I’ve stayed on the whole walk, and I also have the pleasure of friends joining me.
Jessica, Tom, Graham and I set out in two cars this morning around 9.30. We dropped one at Pembroke Dock, after observing the astonishing cheapness of the petrol. Perhaps it’s knock-off from the refineries. We drove on to Angle and left my car there. The walk itself was not hard – up the estuary, on flattish ground, the path weaved between shorelines, woodland and farmland. There was a splendid selection of bird life. Widgeon, pintails, sheldrakes, dunlin, oyster catchers, curlews, meadow pipits, gulls and turnstones – all pointed out to me by the birders amongst us, although I am getting good at some of these myself now – birds with red legs are no longer a mystery and I can tell a duck from a gull at fifty paces! We dawdled for the first couple of miles to admire them. Angle Bay is a lovely, sheltered inlet. The weather was soft and misty, the water still and sound muffled, giving a faintly otherworldly air to it. It was hard to believe that we were close to the massive refineries and industrial complexes of Milford Haven. Once round Angle Bay, the path meanders inland behind the huge Pembroke refinery, which, astonishingly, is cheek by jowl with a 14th century tower house. We could see Fort Popton on the headland, built for defence during the prime-minstership of the bellicose Lord Palmerston – he of the gun-boat diplomacy. Because of the lie of the land, the refinery was surprisingly invisible as we passed east and south of it, although when we came round Pwllrochan Flats, we passed under the pipes. Once away from the shore, the path went into woodland,
It was easy walking, other than the claggy mud, which was particularly bad after we climbed inland from the refinery. I had over trousers on but my trousers are still caked with mud to the knees. Spring has come early to Pembrokeshire, and there were swathes of snow-drops in the wooded sections. We passed the old St Mary’s Church at Pwllchrochan, which is now a private house. It has the distinctive spire atop a square tower of the district.
One of our number took a different, slightly shorter road route after hurting his ankle so we arranged to pick him up in whichever pub he first got to in Pembroke, after the rest of us had gone on to Pembroke Dock to fetch the car. By the time we had walked at least two miles through the rather unappealing backstreets of Pembroke Dock it was dark. We did not have time to visit the castle, but since I saw it on my last trip up here, I did not mind.
13.6 miles and a silver day – the company compensating for the dull weather and lack of views.
Owing to a complete misreading of the timetable for the shuttlebus, I did not walk yesterday. Having waited a good half hour at Castellmartin, and been offered a lift in completely the wrong direction by a very helpful lady who even tried to ask one of her neighbours about the bus, I gave up and went to Pembroke to admire the castle and eat cake instead. To be honest, after Tuesday’s marathon which had me seriously contemplating the sanity of this whole project, a day’s rest did me no harm – although if I had planned it, I would have had a lie-in.
Having solved the mystery of the timetable, I went back to Castellmartin this morning, left the car, and caught the bus to the terminal, then all the way back to Freshwater East – the whole thing took three hours. By 11.30 I was 200 yards from the chalet, and had not walked a step.
I fortified myself with more coffee and cake, and set off up the headland. I saw more walkers today than all the other days put together. The weather was perfect for walking, although not so good for photos as Monday. It was broken cloud, with a light breeze and some sunshine coming and going. Eventually, I even thawed enough to take off my waterproof. I don’t generally feel the cold, but it got into my bones on Tuesday, and the chalet is a dank, north-facing, shady place, that will never have any sun in it, and whilst I can’t say it is positively damp, it has a depressing chill. I sit on the sofa huddled in the blankets thoughtfully provided by the host, in lieu of heating. The views were superb – the cliffs on this stretch are of the steep up and down, with long flat stretches along the top variety. I could see all the way back to Llanmadoc Hill on the Gower again. It was another wild-flower fest – red clover, some sort of sea-side loving borage, tiny little rock roses and primula calendula. I forgot to mention that on Monday I saw a tawny owl, down near the set-aside land at St Clear’s. I hoped for choughs today, but although there were hundreds of crows, their legs were stubbornly black. I may have to touch up a couple of photos.
The path drops down to Stackpole Quay, apparently the smallest dock in Pembrokeshire, then on to Barafundle Bay which advertises itself as the best beach in Wales. It was certainly delightful, although I think there are others as good – Porth Oer, near Aberdaron (although I may be prejudiced) but even the next bay along, Broadhaven. was just as gorgeous – rolling golden sands, clear water and impressive cliffs with caves and arches. There is one very odd feature on top of the cliffs – a deep, round hole, about thirty feet in diameter, which appears to be completely natural, and goes almost all the way down to the water. There were other inlets with caves, and the sound of seagulls in them echoed strangely.
The MoD operates considerable swathes of cliff for a firing range and today was one of its days for closing them to the public so I walked around the inland route, which is no hardship at first, because it takes you past the lily ponds at Bosherton – I have never seen so many water lilies. I stopped at a little church – St Michael and All Angels- one of the many Norman churches in the district, built by the Norman Marcher lords, who were encouraged by the English king to take as much Welsh territory as they could. Tucked away in a corner was the tomb of a woman the leaflet named as one of the dowager-duchesses of Buckingham, but I don’t think that can be right – the clothes predate any of the duchesses. I shall have to investigate!
The MoD has provided a reasonable path diversion, so that you are not obliged to walk too much on the road. There was a pleasant enough old trackway, for part of the distance, then a permissive path across fields. Much of it was arranged with a three-foot wide stretch of path, with a fence to one side and dire warning about not touching military bits and pieces. Obviously, one of the few stretches without a fenced off path was a field full of my four-legged friends. I contemplated the alternatives – a long extra section on tarmac, or a scramble over barbed wire and along a deep drainage ditch. They looked harmless, mostly lying down away from the barbed wire edge, except for one calf, right next to it. The worst thing you can do is get between the calf and its mother, which discouraged me going inward of it, but walking straight it might not please mum either. I took the latter approach, and before I got to it, she called it, and it raced off. Good – only two more ahead of me. One ignored me, the other turned its head and waved its horns. The bull was in with his girls and had taken up position near the exit. To go back would surely make him think I was more of a threat than going forward. I looked at the barbed wire again – three strands – I reckoned at a pinch I could crawl under and leap the drainage ditch. Fortunately, he did not do more than watch me, as I walked briskly to the gate and slammed it shut behind me. There was then about a mile and a half of tarmac – so hard on already tired legs.
Tuesday was 16.9 miles, and today a much gentler 10.5 – the diversion reduces the length of the section. I was glad enough to finish though. My knee is causing me some quite severe pain now. I now need to wrestle with the mysteries of the bus timetable again – the driver explained this morning that there were some errors in it!