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.
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…
I had an early start today, as I was leaving the delightful accommodation for a new location, so had to pack everything up and get to Saundersfoot in time for the bus. As it happens, I misread the timetable and left myself with nearly an hour to wait. The bus was then slightly delayed, which worried me, as I had a ten minute gap at Pendine to catch the second bus. However, the driver clearly believed in hitting his timetable, as he haired down the country lanes at a scary pace.
At the Pendine bus stop were another couple of walkers, from North Wales, so we had good chat. There was also a lady who clearly had some mental health issues. She asked me to watch her dog whilst she went back home for something. It was not clear why the dog could not go too. I told her I was catching the bus, and could not wait, but she assured me she would be back. The poor creature set up a tremendous torrent of barking. Another woman at the stop more-or-less told me that she does it all the time. I felt guilty when I got on the bus, and left the poor dog barking, but what else could I do?
Dyklan Thomas’s 30th Birthday Walk.
The sun was not so bright this morning, but Talacharn/Laugharne is still very pleasant, and the first 20 minutes of walking through the woods where Dylan Thomas did his famous walk, to celebrate his 30th birthday and wrote a poem about it, were lovely.
Woods to the west of Talacharrn.
Then there was a long trek underneath the cliff on a paved track. A rather depressing puppy-farm made a lot of noise, before the path turned up to the road. Once again, considerable effort has been made to keep the path off the tarmac, but the whole four miles was dull. As we approached Pendine, which I discovered was the home of the land -speed record. I was amused by a sign announcing this, together with the words, ‘drive safely’. Another sign for my new collection.
I was worried that as I passed the bus stop where I had boarded earlier, the dog might still be there, but fortunately, it was not. At the far end of Pendine, I bought a coffee and sat to eat my sandwiches, looking back along the amazing beach, where the land-speed record had been set, which, sadly, is largely closed to the public, as an MoD property. There was constant shooting in the background. The path climbs high up out of the village. I stopped at a viewpoint and chatted to a couple with a rather nice dalmation dog, named Jasper. The man’s brother is also walking the entire coast! Quite a coincidence, although I expect there is some statistical quirk that makes it all quite unsurprising. Like two people in every 23 having the same birthday.
Me with the long stretch of Pentywyn/Pendine sands behind
The sun was now beating down, and although the path was quite tough for the next four miles, the views were superb – it was even possible to see the Devon coast in the far distance, and the Worm’s Head was very clear.
I slapped on loads of Factor 50, having decided, foolishly, against wearing my hat. Since the only lipstick I can find that lasts all day (and protects from cold-sores provoked by burning) is pillar-box red, the effect with thick Factor 50 is rather like Coco the Clown.
Pentywyn Sands – Worm’s Head to far right.
By the time I got to Amroth, I was hot and tired. There was a very welcome pub where I sat on a comfortable chair and cooled down. At this point, my blister was still intact.
At Amroth, I began the official Pembroke Coast Path. The beach looked inviting, but the tide was coming in and there were lots of groynes. I did not want to find that I could not get out at the end and have to backtrack, so I stayed on the cob. The path climbs up again, then down onto the road into Wiseman’s Bridge, after which it winds around the promontory, then through a very odd cave (formerly the railway tunnel, I think) with bizarre red lighting. This brings you onto Saundersfoot beach, which, happily, you can walk over.
Beach at Saundersfoot.
I arrived at the new Air B & B, keen to eat and put my feet up. It is very disappointing – absolutely miles from the bus or train station, and when I arrived, the key-lock number did not work. I tried, and one of the neighbours tried. There was no phone signal, so I had to drive to the nearest pub, to log onto Air BandB and check the number. I was definitely trying the right combination. I had to track down the owner and get him to come out. He used an entirely different code. There is no TV aerial, and the injunction on the info sheet to play board games instead is rather limited for a single person. The DVDs provided as an alternative are all what you might call family viewing – eg Mrs Doubtfire! I am not a big TV watcher, but I do like some shows. The owner slightly redeemed the situation by offering me a lift tomorrow morning to the station, now it transpires I cannot walk there very easily. I am going to have to rejig my timetable.
Weather superb – 14.5 miles and another Silver day.
We had a great celebratory meal last night, at an Italian restaurant in Mumbles, and I confess I was a little heavy-headed this morning. We hoped that today might be the lucky day for finding an 11 o’clock coffee stop, but alas, no joy.
We left one car near the station at Gowerton, then came back to the pub we finished at yesterday, and turned off down the lane where, had the sea wall at Cwm Ivy still been intact, we would have emerged from the salt-flats. To begin with the walk meandered around the flats again, but then entered farmland and some pleasant wooded areas.
However, it was not long before the path joins the road at Crofty. We arrived there around 10.15, but neither pub was open. The door of one was actually open, and a lady was laying tables, but she did not feel able to serve us coffee – nothing could be done before twelve.
Somewhat disgruntled, we marched on. Before long we saw a hiker coming towards us and stopped to talk. She is doing the Wales Coastal Path, but in the opposite direction. We talked about the optimum number of days to do on a trip. I said that in some ways, I’d like to do a really long chunk of two or three months, but that in fact, the longest stretch I have done was two weeks, by which time I was thoroughly fed up. Her advice was that, once you push through the two-week mark, walking becomes your life, and you sink into it completely. Not sure – one to think about if I have an extended period of free time – not likely in the immediate future.
The road was quiet to begin with, but became busier. In parts, you can walk to the side on the old railway track, now a cycle-path, which used to serve a branch line from Gowerton to Penclawdd, initially installed to move coal from the mines in the Morlais valley. It is hard to believe there were once mines in the Gower – the Welsh Development Agency has done a fantastic job of removing all signs of this once pervasive industry. Before the railway, there was a canal, which brought coal from inland to the dock, for transport to sea-going vessels. There is the merest ghost now of the dock to be seen at low-tide.
Some effort has been made to make the route pretty with wildflowers, and it was good to see across the estuary, but after yesterday’s gorgeousness, today was bound to be a bit tame. Nevertheless, the weather was pleasant, and having my brother-in-law for company made it a silver day.
We promised ourselves that we would start earlier today, and we did a bit better than yesterday, finding somewhere to leave one car and wriggling all the way through the lanes to cross Gower from north to south for 9am. The morning was somewhat overcast, but it was not raining, and the forecast was good. We set out along the east side of the headland at Porth Einon, climbing up past a campsite, and looking back across to the headland we were on yesterday. There is a
View east from Porth Einon
monument stone at the top, dedicated to Gwent Jones (1910 – 1962) and Stephen Lee (1889 – 1962), described as ‘Dau gyfaill gwyr’ – two faithful men, who, as members of the Gower Society, helped preserve the cliffs.
Their work was well done – the cliff top walk is fine walking. We were pleased to see some ponies enjoying the view, too. The tide was out, showing how the cliffs have developed over millennia, rock thrusting up from the earth’s core, and being worn away by the constant pressure of the waves. There are no trees on this stretch of path, nothing but gorse. Although we have had rain the last couple of days, the grass is yellow and worn.
Around 10.15, the clouds began to clear. We were in hopes of finding a cliff-top café for coffee, but, once again, were disappointed. The path winds in and out of the deep fissures in the cliff face – running inland for a few hundred yards, down and up a steep slope then out again towards the sea. We were looking out for the famous Worm’s Head, but were not quite sure we had found it, until we passed it and looked back, then the shape of it is easy to sea. Nothing to do with worms, of course – ‘worm’ is a mediaeval term for a dragon.
The cliff tops were easy walking, and we soon began to see lots of other people with children and dogs. Passing the Worm’s Head, we could see the curve of bay that is the delightful Rhossili beach – voted Wales’ best beach this year (2018) by Trip Advisor, and apparently in their top ten for the last six years. And it is, indeed, spectacular – probably the best beach I have encountered so far in the whole walk. Some of the Norfolk beaches might run it close for length and beauty of sands, but with the cliffs and the scenery round Rhossili also being magnificent, it is in a class of its own.
Me overlooking Rhossili Beach.
On a more prosaic note, there is also a fine café, where we had a super lunch, overlooking the sea. To reach the beach, you need to go down a winding path and then steps. The sun was getting stronger, and the sky bluer – ideal conditions.
The beach itself is completely flat – the sands are soft and pale gold, and the water was warm- we took off our boots and walked through it – very welcome to the feet after several days walking. The size and quantity of jellyfish was less pleasing. As we walked north (the bay is at the end of the peninsula, and turns north), we could see lots of para-skateboarders. Not sure that is the right name – they have skateboard type things, with sails, racing along the sands. Some of them went so fast they took off and it looked great fun – shame I am too much of a wimp to give it a go.
The path climbs up the cliffs, to a hillier section. On this stretch, there is no beach – the rounded green hills just drop straight into the sea, and you can see across the estuary of the Llwchwr into the county of Carmarthen. We then curved round and down into some sand dunes, and the path meandered down to the beach at Llanmadoc The beach went for miles, extending into an area called Whiteford Sands along a spit, and, for me, was quite as impressive as Rhossili. We kept thinking we must have reached the end, but the beach curved on and on for nearly four miles. At the northern-most tip, it swung back on itself and the path went inland. To our left was a vast expanse of wetlands and marsh. To our right, a strip of woodland, Whitford Barrows, only a few hundred yards wide, but completely different scenery from the beach on the other side.
It used to be possible to cross the wetlands on a mediaeval sea wall at Cwm Ivy, but the wall was breached earlier this year, and has not been repaired. We therefore had to join the road and walk a mile or so along it, back to the pub, where I also picked up some good news about another project.
Unsurprisingly, with the views, the company and the weather, this was a diamond day – only my second. 18 miles.