A week of changeable weather and my first night camping this year. The Pembrokeshire Coast Path is the most popular coast path I’ve come across and I’ve passed quite a lot of walkers considering it’s out-of-season and the coastal buses aren’t running yet. Indeed I quite enjoyed that I kept meeting up with Jack and Deja this week.
The Pembrokeshire Coast Path felt more remote than I imagined it to be. Almost all of the coastline is rugged cliffs and the path mostly traces the edge, weaving in and out, up and down. There are numerous coves with small settlements that have grown up but these rarely have facilities (I think many are full of second homes and seaside lets so empty much of the time). As a consequence, the coast path only passed one small supermarket (at Broad Haven) between Fishguard and Milford Haven. Fortunately I have not struggled to find enough pubs and cafes, but it would have been a much more difficult walk if I had been intent on self-catering.
This week I passed lots of limestone kilns, almost at every cove, for providing lime for the crop fields. I also passed a number of groups of wild ponies grazing by the path at intervals and have seen one or two seals most days.
The highlight of the week was definitely my trip to Skomer.
I left Pembroke via The Awkward Hill past the old Norman Abbey.
Today’s walk took me across the fields alongside the Pembroke River plain and then around Pembroke oil refinery.
The sky was a dull grey but it wasn’t raining; however, the wind picked up to gale force and was a bit of a challenge at times.
From the banks of The Haven I had a reasonable view across to Milford Haven before I rounded Popton Point into Angle Bay.
This large muddy and sandy bay should be quite sheltered, but not from today’s Easterly wind!
I got to Angle and found the campsite. There were several caravans (and a couple of boats) parked in the farm field but none looked inhabited. I walked around trying to find somewhere sheltered from the wind as I wasn’t confident I could pitch my tent and it would stay upright. Also, I couldn’t get hold of the owners. After 10 minutes I decided that, as it was only 2.15 pm, I would head off to see a bit more of this spit of land at the mouth of The Haven and come back later in the hope that the wind would die down a bit. (I noted with dismay that Angle’s best-rated pub was closed for refurbishment.)
I stopped at the local shop, which was open on a Sunday, and they mentioned that the local fort was open. Having passed lots of these forts around Milford Haven I was intrigued to know a bit more so walked to Chapel Hill. A kind man gave me a lift up the long drive to the fort.
I learned that there are 14 Victorian forts around The Haven, protecting a large deep-water channel once used by the Royal Navy. Chapel Hill Fort is the only one open to the public. It is owned by George and Emma, who live in a house they built on the site 20 years ago. With the help of some volunteers, George and Emma continue to restore the fort and fill it with an expanding collection of guns, cannons, bombs, small tanks and other such memorabilia.
After my tour of the museum I got chatting to George and, bearing in mind the gale that was continuing to blow, he kindly offered me a camp bed for the night in the Master-Gunner’s house. This was perfect. They were renovating the house so it was empty and a bit of a building site, but it did have heating, a shower and toilet, and a camp bed in one room. This was a much better option than camping.
I had a tour of George and Emma’s house with its amazing library full of military books and documents. Then they invited me to join them for a trip to the pub for dinner. We ended up back at the King’s Arms in Pembroke, where they treated me to another delicious meal.
I felt very lucky as I curled up in my sleeping bag listening to the howling wind.
After a cosy night on Skomer I breakfasted well: boiled eggs (provided by Joan) on buttered toast (provided by Carole). There was chance for a bit more bird watching as we waited for the boat to take us back to the mainland.
Carol and Ollie very kindly gave me a lift to St Ishmael’s, next village around the inlet from Dale. This cut out about 5 miles of road walking I would have had to do to get back on track. They dropped me at the end of a track leading down to the coast path where there happened to be a picnic table and toilets. I stopped to eat my leftover cheese sandwiches and cake.
The sun came out and the views across Milford Haven were lovely. It was a very pleasant walk and the primroses were out by the side of the path.
I had the strangest encounter with an old man called David Terasconi. He stopped me and pretty much talked at me for 20 minutes. It was the oddest thing. I don’t think he took a breath in all that time so I couldn’t even interject to close the conversation if I had wanted to. I learned all about his life history (his mum had severe epilepsy, his dad was Italian, fought in Abyssinia and was on a boat that was torpedoed. He was found clinging to debris in the sea 3 days later). David was a bit part actor and name-dropped every celebrity and famous person who is Welsh or has ever been to Wales (he’s met most of them and had connections to The Beatles). He had wanted to drive F1 cars but had driven Formula Ford, been to Silverstone and gets invited to test drive cars and go to events (although you have to pay for the privilege and so he doesn’t go). After meeting some of the Eastenders actors (Martine McCutcheon et al) on the coast path he’s hoping for an acting role in it. David eventually let me go and I confess to feeling completely bewildered for a good few minutes, but I am sure that encounter did actually happen. (He was walking with another man who sensibly left him when he stopped to chat to me.)
It was close enough to low tide for me to cross the Sandyhaven Pill via the little bridge and then I skirted around the edge of South Hook LNG Terminal. I counted 5 forts between St Ann’s Head and Milford Haven, two of them on little islands.
I arrived at Milford Haven, a large town, on a Saturday afternoon and yet it seemed oddly deserted.
Down by the harbour area the bus to Pembroke was ready to leave so I made a snap decision to hop on board and do the next bit around Neyland, across the Aber Daugleddau and around Pembroke Dock the easy way.
It was only 3.30 pm when I arrived at Pembroke so I had a couple of hours to take a look around Pembroke Castle.
It is one of the best I’ve come across and was the birthplace of Henry VII, the founder of the Tudor Dynasty.
The first Pembroke Castle was built by the Normans at the end of the 11th Century and after that it was fought over throughout the Middle Ages, but it was never won by the Welsh.
I spent the evening doing a bit of planning and had an (unexpectedly) really nice meal in the King’s Arms by the castle. It was only unexpected because Pembroke on a Saturday night didn’t look overly inviting and the pubs looked more like drinking dens. I shouldn’t judge the book…
The weather had calmed a lot overnight and it was good news this morning when Joan phoned the boatman. I packed my stuff, including 2 fresh eggs that Joan gave me from her hens (for breakfast tomorrow) and then my lovely host gave me a lift to Martin’s Haven.
There were 5 of us going to Skomer for a one-night stay so I was lucky to get a room to myself. The ferry only took 10 minutes but there was lots of kit to offload as volunteers going for a week have to take all their food as well as clothes, and then there’s the specialist binocular and camera equipment. Fortunately there’s a tractor at the other end to carry everyone’s kit to The Farm in the middle of the island.
With my lack of stuff and lack of food it didn’t take me long to settle in so I hired a pair of binoculars and set off on a trip around the island. After about half an hour I met Olof and Carole and stuck with them for the rest of the day (I don’t think they minded me gatecrashing their trip) as it was nice to have the company.
We spent a good 7 hours outside looking at birds, seals and porpoises. The weather was fine in the morning but closed in later and the day ended very wet. The wildlife-watching was excellent. The absence of land predators means that the birds are everywhere, often just sat on the ground, and they’re very noisy.
The highlight for me was watching a peregrine in an aerial chase of a small bird – fantastic aerobatic display. I didn’t see who won as they disappeared below the cliff top.
Other highlights included hundreds of puffins returning to Skomer in the afternoon after disappearing from the terrible winds for a couple of days, seeing 4 porpoises swimming line abreast, and the amazing Manx shearwaters that invade the island overnight (two flew into me and you have to be careful not to read on them as there are so many on the paths).
Carole and Ollie offered me the leftovers of their pasta dinner (which was much nicer than my ration pack) and shared their tea and milk with me. I provided the bara brith. Dinner in front of the fire was cosy.
At 8.30pm the warden holds ‘bird log’ and we went along. The workers and volunteers make a daily log of sightings, including numbers, locations and behaviours. Carole, Ollie and I were able to add to this so I feel like I’ve helped a little to the study of wildlife on Skomer.
It was freezing in our stone cottage but I was quite snuggly in my sleeping bag covered in a couple of blankets. It had been an excellent day.
The wind howled all night and I was very glad I wasn’t camping. I was the only guest and Joan, the lovely old lady who runs the B&B, cooked me a wonderful breakfast and phoned the Skomer boat company to check the boat was sailing. Bad news, the sea was too rough to land on Skomer. Joan said it must be bad because normally they just delay the sailing rather than cancel first thing in the morning. I always knew it was risky planning this trip to Skomer, hence they don’t give full refunds. Oh well, a new plan was required.
After a few phone calls and a rethink I decided to try again tomorrow as the winds might ease by then. In the meantime, Joan would accommodate for another night and I would walk the next section, around St Ann’s Head, to Dale, which is only a couple of road miles from Marloes. Sorted.
I set off along the road to Martin’s Haven, the South end of St Bride’s Bay, opposite Skomer Island. It was incredibly windy but nice and sunny. To keep warm in the biting wind I was wearing my windproof and my waterproof plus hat and gloves. I was also wearing shorts, sunglasses and suncream; a very odd mixture.
The National Trust and the Wildlife Trust have huts at Martin’s Haven and I spent an hour chatting to the different people working there. Gary and Chrissie were from Staffordshire and now worked the summer months for the Wildlife Trust, dealing with tourist trips to Skomer. There were some CCTV monitors showing the island and Chrissie was telling me it was full of puffins yesterday but they were all hiding from the wind today. Last year they watched ‘Mary’ the Manx Shearwater hatch from her egg live on tv. Gary was relatively hopeful for my sailing tomorrow.
I left Martin’s Haven and headed across to the other side of the promontary. Here there were great views of Skomer, Skokholm and Grassholm Islands.
It was definitely easier to manage walking the cliff top in the wind without a big pack on my back (I only had a light one today).
Marloes Sands was apparently named second-best beach in Britain by Countryfile and it was particularly beautiful in the sunshine.
The NT ladies also told me that this stretch of coast is popular with geology students as there are lots of different rock formations (Pembrokeshire came 2nd to Hawaii in this world category).
I was told to look out for the bedded sequence of Silurian rocks on Marloes Sands.
I passed a disused airfield and then, as I rounded the corner to approach Westdale Bay, the wonderful, low-lying ‘neck’ joining St Ann’s Head to the rest of the mainland came into view.
I could see right across it into Milford Haven (the Aber Daugleddyf estuary) and the Pembroke oil refinery. The village of Dale was on the other side of the ‘neck’, about 5 minutes away (or 2 hours if you walk around the coast path).
At the end of St Ann’s Head I was surprised to find 2 rows of cottages as well as a lighthouse and an old lookout (now a private residence). Quite a little community out on the exposed head.
More amazing rock formations at Cobblers Hole as well.
The wind eased off as I rounded the head into the relative shelter of Milford Haven. West Blockhouse Fort guards the estuary entrance (now a holiday residence).
The sea looked noticeably greener in the sheltered estuary. The sun had gone and the sky was very grey so although I could see lots (Pembroke, Milford Haven jetties, across to Angle Bay and even further around to Freshwater West) the drop in visibility wasn’t good for photos.
Just around the head is Mill Bay, where Henry Tudor landed on 7 August 1485 (his ships and troops landed around the corner at Dale) on his way to defeat Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth 2 weeks later.
I arrived at Dale and stopped at a cafe (run by Brummies, naturally) for coffee and a cake. Chatting to the staff paid dividends because no sooner had I set off to walk back to Marloes than two of them drove past and offered me a lift. It saved walking the roads back.
Another evening meal in The Lobster Pot pub. Fingers crossed for a calm sea tomorrow.
Ten hours in bed but only about 3 hours of sleep I think; it was very windy and rainy in the night. Unfortunately the campsite was very exposed and the wind was supposed to reach gale force today. The rain (not the wind) had abated when I woke at 7 am so I figured I might as well get up and pack away a dry tent. Packing it was difficult in the extreme wind.
I left, without breakfast, at 7.45; Jack and Deja hadn’t yet surfaced, nor had the owner of another small tent that must have appeared in the dark last night. I set off along the road behind the stony bank protecting civilisation from the sea. It was cold in the biting wind and I was wearing my fleece, hat and gloves. I had only just made it up onto the cliff when the rain started. Donning waterproofs on an exposed cliff top in very strong wind is not easy! I was cold, wet, battling the elements and not having fun, and it was only 8.30 am! I felt like I was playing a game of French cricket with the wind as it was trying to bowl me over from all directions.
At Nolton Haven I joined a minor road and gave the cliff top a miss. I could still get some views but with a little more shelter.
I came across an amazing house dug into the cliff top and next to it was an unusual roundhouse. This was built in 1910 as a croquet pavilion by Harold Fowler, an international champion. I wonder how the winds affected play?
I braved the cliff top again and battled with the increasing wind velocity. It was a struggle. There were several tankers in the Bay; I’m not sure why they are around this side and not at Milford Haven.
As I descended into Broad Haven I slipped over and so I was now cold, wet, fairly miserable and also muddy. What I needed was a big breakfast. Fortunately Broad Haven has a cafe and I took my time enjoying my distinctly below average breakfast.
I have booked to stay on Skomer Island tomorrow night and I have to self-cater. The small Londis in Broad Haven was the first food store I’d come across since Fishguard; such a shame it had so little in it and was over-priced. I left with some rolls and cheese, some chocolate and a bara brith; I’ll be breaking open my emergency ration pack for dinner on the island.
The sun had come out but the wind seemed to be getting stronger. I decided to stick to the roads and inland paths for the rest of today.
Next to Broad Haven is Little Haven, which seemed a bit more upmarket. Strange really as it was originally the export port for 5 local collieries.
I next hit the coast at the small beach of St Bride’s and admired the 19th Century Baronial Mansion overlooking it. This castle was once known as Kensington Hospital and specialised in tuberculosis treatment until the end of WW2.
From here I headed inland again to Marloes, the nearest village with accommodation to the ferry I need to catch tomorrow morning. I definitely didn’t fancy camping at either of the exposed cliff top campsites tonight. The wind was still howling.
A beautiful, sunny day. Breakfast consisted of two out-of-date porridge pots that I convinced the YHA warden to give me for free. Suncream applied, I set off quite early as I had a long day ahead. Whitesands Bay looked beautiful and empty.
Ramsey Sound is visibly fast-flowing and looks treacherous for canoeists.
As I passed St Justinian lifeboat station people were arriving for boat trips to Ramsey Island. The path was diverted around the building site created to service the building of a new lifeboat station.
I rounded the headland that marked the start of St Bride’s Bay and made good time to Porth Clais. After only stale porridge and green for breakfast I couldn’t believe my luck to stumble upon a tea shack in Porth Clais. I enjoyed tea, homemade cake and a conversation with the person serving and a family.
On to Solva via St Non’s ruined chapel and the beautiful Caerfai Bay.
A chapel was built on the cliff at the spot where, according to tradition, St Non gave birth to St David in the 6th Century. Seemingly there was a thunderstorm at the time of the birth and a well sprang up that apparently cures all infirmities.
Here I bumped into Jack and Deja again. They had wild camped outside St David’s, having diverted there to shop for food, and we’re just hitting the coast again at St Non’s. The views were stunning in the sunshine and some of the cliffs were pretty impressive too.
Just before I arrived at Solva I met a couple who were staying at the St David’s youth hostel. They had caught the bus to Newgale and were walking back. I was making good time.
The Solva inlet was formed by ice age glaciers and makes a great natural harbour. I stopped at the Cafe on the Quay for coffee and a sandwich. It was hot today and, despite the suncream, I was burning.
The Gribin ridge line overlooking Solva was the site of an Iron Age fort and it does indeed have commanding views all around.
The last section seemed very hilly and I was sweating up the steep cliffs.
Finally I looked down at Newgale Sands and picked out the beachside campsite, which looked empty and flooded. I should have phoned ahead – the campsite was indeed closed due to flooding.
It was 5 pm and I wasn’t going anywhere else. I phoned the owner (hoping they might open the toilet block) and she said that the night toilet (never come across one of those before) was open so I could use it. I found a dry spot and pitched my tent. Not fancying the idea of remaining sweaty for my first camping experience of 2016 I had a strip wash in the toilet and washed my hair under the outside tap (I am definitely a clean freak). I even washed my smalls; I do this every night so why make an exception? It was so windy they virtually dried before I headed to the next door pub for dinner. Jack and Deja had just arrived at the pub and so I sat with them and we swapped tales. They pitched next to me so at least I wasn’t on my own (the site owner had been concerned about that when I phoned her – I was more concerned about not getting a shower!). All in all it had been a lovely day.
I wasn’t in a hurry to leave the nice hostel as it was only a couple of miles to Porthgain and I was determined to stop there for lunch.
It had been 10 years since I last went to the Sloop Inn for a wonderful lobster lunch and I was keen to repeat the experience.
As it happens (on recommendation of some people I met while walking) I went for morning coffee at the Sloop and then went to The Shed restaurant for my lobster lunch (with a glass of wine). Delicious.
Porthgain was a hive of industrial activity in the early 1900s. The harbour was originally built to export locally quarried slate and was then expanded to cater for road stone and bricks made from the slate quarry waste.
It was worth stopping for a log lunch because the sun came out for the afternoon, although it was hazy so the visibility wasn’t great. I walked past the slate quarries on the way to Abereiddy.
One of the quarries had a channel blasted to the sea to flood it and is now a 25m deep pool known as the Blue Lagoon. It has been used for the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. I contemplated a triple somersault with pike but remembered I’d forgotten my swimming costume. Shame.
The walk to St David’s Head was nice in the afternoon sunshine.
I could see North Bishop of the Bishops and Clerks islands and then, when I rounded the Head, Ramsey Island loomed large.
St David’s Head itself was a stony peat bog filled with gorse, so quite difficult walking.
Whitesands Bay looked busy and there were surfers in the sea but I headed inland to the Youth Hostel and basked in the evening sunshine there for a while. The hostel was basic but nicely appointed (unfortunately YHA ones don’t provide free tea bags and milk).I had the 4-bunk bed dorm room to myself, which was just as well because it was so small that me and my kit filled it. Dinner was a ration pack as I was 3 miles from the nearest shop (St David’s).