Thanks to a trip to Caldey Island and a couple of days off, not so many miles covered this week. For the second time in as many weeks my initial attempt to catch a ferry was thwarted by poor weather. Despite this, once again I was able to delay a day and it was worth it to see Caldey Island in the sunshine.
In other areas luck has been on my side, from meeting George and Emma at Chapel Hill Fort to arriving at Amroth at the right time.
I learnt that South-facing coastline of Pembrokeshire has almost all of the county’s sandy beaches, but that doesn’t mean the cliffs are any less up and down!
This week I also saw a herring gull with a broken wing (he was hopping to avoid me), an injured raven who looked like he’d flown into a bush and was rather bloody, and I found a dead fish on a beach.
It wasn’t even 7 am when Sally dropped me off at Laugharne (pronounced Larne) and it was freezing; there was frost on the ground. Still, that’s not a good enough reason not to wear shorts, especially as the sky was bright blue and the sun was rising.
I stood at the base of Laugharne Castle and ate my breakfast (egg sandwiches) while shivering and admiring the wonderful view down the Taf Estuary.
Laugharne makes much of being the home town of Dylan Thomas and his family 1949-53. I was completely alone wandering around early on a Sunday morning. I checked out The Boathouse, where Dylan Thomas lived, and his writing shed, which has been decked out as it might have been. I even found his grave in the churchyard.
If he experienced such beautiful mornings as this, in such a wonderful, peaceful setting, then I’m not surprised he was inspired to write poetry. It was a magical moment in time.
By the time I reached St Clears I had just about thawed out, removed my fleece and added sunglasses and suncream. I crossed the Afon Taf and headed back down the other side, mostly following (albeit backwards) the pilgrimage route from Carmarthen to St David’s.
Wharley Point stands at the confluence of the rivers Taf and Tywi, and the views from this point were magnificent. Pendine Sands was just across the river Taf and I could see all the way SW to Caldey Island and SE to Worms Head.
I had been fighting a hangover all day and so, when I walked into Llansteffan at 2 pm I stopped at the Inn at the Sticks (named after an area of woodland called the sticks where locals used to meet to sit on benches, gossip and enjoy the view across the Afon Tywi). Their roast beef dinner was just the ticket.
It was only a short hop from Llansteffan to my budget accommodation (there aren’t many campsites around here).
The International Hostel at Pant Yr Athro was an interesting place. It was within a cluster of dwellings that included a posh hotel, stables and a chalet village; an eclectic mix. The hostel was dressed up as a Mexican bar…I couldn’t work that one out. The manager was very nice but I’m not sure he’s very good at cleaning. Lucky I was too tired to bother.
Sally was in Cardiff so popped over to see me and it was a good excuse for a couple of days off. My spare time was easily filled with some sightseeing (back to Tenby and Pendine Sands), lots of eating and some drinking. The Saturday newspaper contained an article on places to eat by the coast and it featured a restaurant at Coppet Hall, Saundersfoot. So, after reading about it we tried it out, and I can thoroughly recommend Coast for some top quality food.
It was a bit cold for swimming in the sea so we just admired the views from Pendine.
It rained on and off during the night, which hadn’t been forecasted. I packed my tent away wet and got going just after 9 am.
The path wound up and down through lots of woodland on the way to Saundersfoot. I enjoyed the song of all the small birds. I passed Monkstone Point and knew I’d arrived in Saundersfoot as I found myself navigating around some large houses.
Considering how posh the houses were I was surprised that the town did not seem more upmarket. It does have a nice sandy beach though. I stopped at a greasy spoon cafe for a coffee and a bacon and egg baguette. It was just what I needed.
The path to Wiseman’s Bridge mostly follows a disused rail line and goes through 3 tunnels. It must have been a nice train ride.
It was only a short hop to Amroth and, although it was only lunchtime, I was able to check in to Amroth Castle (not as glamorous as it sounds) and dump most of my kit. (I was very glad of this later.)
Amroth marked the end of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, only 186 miles to St Dogmaels! Although not even 5 miles to Pendine it was very hilly. I met some people who told me it was classified a grade A walk (I’ve no idea what that means but I assume ‘hard’). It took me 2 very sweaty hours to get there.
The sun was hot today and I had a beautiful, but slightly hazy, view right across Carmarthen Bay and back to Tenby.
It was a lovely, if tiring, walk through lots of gorse. I saw 5 buzzards gliding over the cliffs, fulmars, pipits, and a kestrel.
I zigzagged across the cliff above Marros Sands and eventually dropped down into the small cove of Morfa Bychan, which had lots of ugly, damaged concrete blocks just behind the shingle beach. I later found out this was where the D-Day landings were practised.
Another big climb and Pendine Sands came into view. It looked stunning, providing the edge to a plain that was created at the end of the Ice Age.
I was prepared for the 7-mile walk along the beach and around the corner that leads up the River Taf to Laugharne. Unfortunately the beach and the dunes on the plain belong to the MOD and the red flag was flying. (I could walk inland but I had been warned it was a boring walk next to the road.)
I descended into Pendine and immediately had an ice cream as I thought I’d deserved one. I walked along the beach to speak to the man in the tractor that was parked on the sand as part of a barrier preventing the public walking further along the beach (apparently many ignore the signs and flags). He explained that the Royal- and French- Marines were ‘playing’ here all week so public access would only be after 4 pm every day. I wasn’t too upset as buses back to Amroth from Laugharne don’t exist so it solved my problem not to walk that far. Anyway, I’ve been to Pendine Sands before; I’ve landed on the beach in a C-130 Hercules, stood on the sand while an engine-running refuel was undertaken, and then taken off again. That was fun!
After chatting to the nice ex-army, QinetiQ employee I walked off the beach and visited the Museum of Speed. It was free and had a couple of very old motorcycles in it. Pendine’s beach has long been used for motorcycle racing and was also where J G Parry Thomas and Malcolm Campbell traded World Land Speed Records 1924-27. Parry Thomas lost his life here driving Babs and Campbell still holds the British Land Speed Record, set in Bluebird on this beach, both occurred in 1927.
Pendine beach was also the take off point for Amy Johnson and her husband, Jim Mollison, when they became the first married couple to fly across the Atlantic in 1933.
This beach really has seen some speed, although it seems to operate at a more sedate pace now and has a holiday village right behind it. (They do still have races in the winter.) I sat in one of the many cafes and enjoyed a cream tea while I waited for my bus back to Amroth.
I wasn’t too cold last night but the tent was soaked with condensation when I woke up early. I snuggled down and went back to sleep, waking 2nd time around to some sunshine.
I wasn’t sure whether I was going to move on today or not – I was flexible – so I left my tent up to dry, packed light, and headed down to the harbour. After a quick coffee (and blog) stop on the way I arrived in time for the first boat to Caldey Island. It was packed with elderly people on a coach holiday and it took ages to get them all on board.
The sun was shining and the sky mostly blue. I had a good opportunity to see where I walked yesterday and admire the views I had been missing. Tenby is really well situated with golden beaches and lovely views; no wonder it is such a popular holiday destination.
Caldey Island had a lovely, tranquil feel to it, which I think was down to the lack of children. Aside from the monks there is a permanent community of about 20 adult residents, and then there is an almost daily invasion of tourists.
The first monastery on Caldey Island was founded in the 6th Century by monks from Illtud’s monastery in Llantwit Major, Glamorgan. From the 12th Century until The dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, the Island was home to a Benedictine Priory, an off-shoot of St Dogmaels Abbey in Cardigan. Monks did not return to Caldey until the start of the 20th Century. In 1928 the Abbey was handed over to the Cistercian Order of monks and they still live there and contribute to island life. I had a quick chat with one of the brothers in the Post office/museum, where I bought a bar of chocolate made by the monks for my breakfast (they also make perfume but I didn’t try any).
The tiny village sits in a sheltered, wooded valley and is dominated by the huge Abbey. It is like a pretend village catering for tourists with a post office, museum, gift shop, tea room and perfume shop. I don’t think much has changed for a century.
I walked around the Island, enjoying the views. I saw plenty of gulls, skylarks and a raft of razorbills. Chapel Point Lighthouse is on the highest point of Caldey and has great views all the way from Worm’s Head, the Gower, to St Govan’s Head.
I popped into the ancient ruin of St Illtud’s Church to see The Caldey Stone and also into St David’s parish church to admire the stained glass windows.
On my way back to the boat I nipped up the hill to the Calvey that can be seen from Tenby.
Arriving back in Tenby after 2 pm I went for a late lunch and languished in a cafe reading a newspaper. I decided it wasn’t worth moving on today so I chilled out instead. I walked back up to my favourite spot on Castle Hill and sat listening to the waves and the gulls. Eventually I headed back to the campsite for a shower and back into town for some dinner. Someone had been hard at work creating a design in the sand.
It was very misty and damp when I left the youth hostel. It was a good job I walked the extra bit for the views yesterday afternoon as it was not possible to see further than about 50m. Caldey Island was invisible and there were no views at all to speak of.
I walked through a large caravan park at Lydstep, but apart from that I didn’t see a thing through the mist all morning.
Unsurprisingly there was no firing at Penally Camp, which has been used for ‘musketry’ training since 1860. This meant I could cross it and go and take a look at the trench system that had been dug there in 1914 for training soldiers departing for the Great War. It is the only known surviving example of a trench system in the UK. It was quite atmospheric wandering through the trenches in the mist. I kept my whistle in my pocket.
Giltar Point is only a kilometre from Caldey Island and should have great views all along the coast, just not today.
I arrived at Tenby (Welsh name translated as the little fort of fishes) via walking along the beach. The old town is surrounded by the remains of a mediaeval stone wall and is built on a hill.
I stopped in a cafe for some lunch and then wandered down to the harbour to see about getting a boat to Caldey Island. Nothing was sailing due to the fog (I still couldn’t even see much of the beach). I decided to walk to the campsite heading out of Tenby and pitch my tent (no wind today).
As I was pitching the tent the mist finally started to clear. I applied sunglasses and suncream, changed my boots for sandals and wandered back down into the town; suddenly I could see it. I saw Castle Hill that intersects the 2 beaches and I could see St Catherine’s Island (which is actually on the beach) and the Victorian fort atop it.
Finally, out of the mist appeared Caldey Island, not very far away at all.
I could even see around the coast as far as Worm’s Head at the tip of The Gower peninsula.
I sat on a bench on Castle Hill in the late afternoon sunshine admiring the views.
It was blissful in the sunshine and I sat there for a couple of hours just enjoying the beauty and the sound of the sea.
Eventually I wandered back up the hill to the campsite for a shower and to change before heading back down again for some dinner.
I decided on the spur of the moment to treat myself to a nice meal at the Ocean restaurant overlooking the bay. A good way to end the day.
After a very comfortable night on a camp bed in the Master-Gunner’s house I was plied with lots of coffee by George and ate bara brith for breakfast (Emma gave me a huge chunk of the cake that was leftover from the cafe). I certainly couldn’t eat any of my porridge as, during the night, a mouse had chewed through my cooking bag and half-eaten 2 packets. I caught him in the act with my head torch during the night; I think he winked at me.
George offered to give me a lift and I gratefully accepted as the next section, after Freshwater West, involved an inland road walk of about 10 miles in order to skirt around Castlemartin Artillery Range.
George drove me down to look at the beach at Freshwater West (the waves looked good and there were a couple of surfers in the sea) and then dropped me at Bosherston Lily Ponds.
Unfortunately, due to the range being closed, it meant I did miss Elegug Stacks (locally known as “the green bridge of Wales”), St Govan’s Chapel and St Govan’s Head. I noted that if I hadn’t been in the car I would have walked a couple of dead ends down to closed gates and would have been very frustrated then at having to turn around.
I think today’s walk should have given me some spectacular views along the coast but, unfortunately, the light was so flat it was not possible to see much of them. Still, at least it wasn’t raining!
I stopped for a refreshment at Stackpole Quay and had the most disgusting Welsh rarebit I’ve ever eaten.
For the first time since Shell Island I walked along a sandy beach at Freshwater East; it made a nice change to the usual up and down the cliffs. Here I saw my first bluebells in the woods behind the beach.
At Manorbier I walked up the hill, past the castle, into the village.
It was almost 4pm and I was intent on an early pub dinner before the last couple of miles to the youth hostel in the middle of nowhere. I was the only one in the Castle Inn (well it was early) and the landlord said that all the houses in the village were second homes or holiday lets.
The sun came out at 5 pm and finally I got some views. I walked past the youth hostel in order to get a good view of Caldey Island and to see the nice rock feature at Skrinkle Haven.
Manorbier Youth Hostel sits on the edge of the Manorbier Air Defence Range and was once the instructional building for the Thunderbird anti aircraft missile system. From 1937-70 the Artillery used to practise firing at towed targets over the Bristol Channel.
There was a big school group staying – there to study the local geology. I was put in a 4-bed dorm with Isobel, a 24 year old American who was hiking around parts of Britain. I was very impressed by what she was doing and we shared stories over tea and more of this morning’s bara brith. A seasoned trail hiker, Isobel has 2 months in the UK and she’s spending it walking parts of various national trails (the South West Coast Path, the Wales Coast Path, the Pennine Way) as well as visiting Bath, Edinburgh and Shetland. I reckon she’ll end up seeing more of Britain than many Brits; good for her.
Joy of joys, the youth hostel had a washing machine. After 15 days of constant wear my clothes finally got properly laundered rather than the usual hand wash. I think everyone was grateful.