Day 74 – Neyland to Pembroke

military heritage and maritime houses; bullocks, bridges, mud and swans; a bad takeaway with a glorious view

30th June 2013

miles completed: 813
miles to go: 245

The Cleddau Bridge rises high above the estuary, dominating the view east from the Brunel Quay in Neyland, where I had parked the van. The Coast Path rises up through the back streets of Neyland to a terrace overlooking a small park and the estuary beyond.  Against the metal railings a fire grate sits with scrap wood in it, in some surreal, unfathomable parody. The path then wends its way through scrubby woodland overlooking a smaller grey-mudded tidal estuary.

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At one point I hear some whoops of delight and then some yells. A few moments later a rope swing appears and below it two boys peering down into the bracken below. I hear odd snatches:

"he just fell off"

"I saw his head for a moment, he was smiling"

"come out you f*****".

I wonder whether I should stop to check that their friend really is OK and is not lying down the bank with a broken leg. However, they seem to think he is just hiding, and, in the current climate, a lone man approaching young boys in the woods, however well intentioned, is likely to be misconstrued. How bad would it have to be before that reticence would be overcome? Would I have to hear screams, see blood?

After a while the woodland walk comes out beside the main road, and for a moment I think right by the Cleddau Bridge before I realise that while substantial, this is still a relatively small river bridge. However, the ‘small’ river it rides high above manages its own marina of vessels and a swan left dry on the mud when the tide went out.

2013-06-30 17.07.33   2013-06-30 17.07.59

As I criss-cross, taking photographs of either side, a cycling family passes with a combination of young children on small bikes, and the smallest child on one of those tag bikes behind the mother. The road is clear, so I step off the footpath to let them pass. How far are they going?  I don’t see them again, but I can’t imagine them crossing the Cleddau Bridge so assume they took some side road.

Coming to the Cleddau Bridge itself, I guess I would have been more instantly awed if I hadn’t already walked the Severn Bridge. However, it is still pretty long and pretty high.  One of my first sightings from on high was the Brunel Quay and my campervan sitting there, waiting for my return. Directly below, a little hamlet sits in the shadow of the bridge, I guess originally gathered around the old ferry jetty before the bridge was built.

It is only afterwards, reflecting, that I realise this is a pure clapper-style bridge, with no suspension cables above, or supporting arches below, just long, self-supporting spans between tall concrete pillars.

Where the roadway passes over the pillars there are maintenance access structures sitting off the side, although only projecting a few feet further than the carriageway; still, the wind made high pitched howling through them. By the time I got to the middle, the light breeze felt like a heavy wind. A cyclist passed and I was glad I was walking rather than being buffeted on a bicycle.

2013-06-30 17.47.48I almost feel guilty passing the tollbooths without paying, then turn right at the roundabout into a housing estate, part of Llanion. The estate pub, the ‘Cleddau Bridge‘ looks out over its namesake and sports a cannon matching one on the public picnic area near the bridge. This area has been an area of abandoned forts and weaponry, from Martello towers and Napoleonic forts to Second World War gun emplacements and a pre-First World War popgun. So it is no great surprise that the National Park offices are in an ex-MOD property; although to look at it I would have said wealthy Victorian industrialist or Lord Mayor‘s house, definitely admin and command not plain barracks.

As I come down to the quayside at Pembroke Dock I suddenly realise that the houses, which I had been passing by as a standard Victorian terrace, are in fact all slightly different.  While now mostly rendered, this appears to be a classic waterside accretion of cottages, even to the extent of a half-sized house being squashed into a gap, just like the ‘smallest house’ in Conwy.

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A Martello tower stands very slightly out to sea at the corner of the walls of Pembroke Dock, with windows, which I assume are really for guns, facing in all directions. I don’t know whether this is for symmetry, for subjugating rioters or for denying invaders free passage even once they have landed.

On the walls of the naval dockyard are brass plaques commemorating different aspects of the history of the docks, from oil tanks burning in the Blitz to payday for the thousands of workers who were once employed here.

2013-06-30 17.56.24   2013-06-30 17.58.47   2013-06-30 18.01.56

Following on up the road, the path cuts into more scrubby woodland before emerging at a fort that covers the top of the hill. Once a major garrison, it now stands derelict and fenced off.

2013-06-30 18.09.01 2013-06-30 18.20.44

I wiggle through the back streets of Pembroke Dock and then find myself in a combination of open farmland, lanes and yet more scrubby woodland. Twice I missed signs, but did not go too far out of the way before realising.

2013-06-30 18.58.12Going through a field of bullocks I’m reminded of ‘Walking Home‘, Simon Armitage‘s account of his walk down the Pennine Way, which I am reading at present. Armitage writes two lists during his preparation entitled ‘Not Afraid Of’ and ‘Afraid of’.  Under the former are bulls, but under the latter bullocks. I have discovered that bullocks are as timid as anything; if you even take a step towards them they disappear into the distance. However, there is something definitely spooky about the way they turn to watch you, and then gradually walk, almost in unison, towards you, like a four-legged zombie movie.

My only concern for safety with bullocks would be if there happened to be someone else coming the opposite way in a confined area (such as a clifftop path); the bullocks are so skittish the approach of a hiker can set them stampeding away … and I wouldn’t like to meet them coming from the opposite direction.

Eventually I emerge in the midst of a small estate above the shores of the Pembroke River and as I turn the bend in the road, Pembroke Castle appears, dominating the rivulet-creased, tidal river mouth. The path opposite the castle is clearly also tidal, from the pieces of seaweed strewn on it and the path-side sculptures. The bridge across the river here is also a tidal defence and river weir as the waters beyond are still, high and spreading, a swan gracefully sailing across the surface, in stark contrast to the sticky mud of the tidal-side, which is filled with an unreasonable number of abandoned oily-grey-coated bicycles.

2013-06-30 19.08.04  2013-06-30 19.06.57  2013-06-30 19.10.36

I wonder at the old meaning of North Gate Street, ‘historically known as Darklin‘, but, it being too late for a search in the local archives, I opt instead for a half of one of the pump draught beers at the Royal George, and ringing for a taxi from Castle Cars to take me back to the van at Neyland. The driver is very knowledgeable about the Coast Path as a lot of their business is connected to it, including lots of baggage transfers. He tells me about the new route along old tank routes where it skirts the Castlemartin range.

It is too late to think about campsites or accommodation, so I head back through Pembroke and on to the coast, stopping at the car park at West Fairwater, where other campervans are also parked, and eat an Indian takeaway. It is not the best: the answer, "just five minutes", when I had asked how long to wait, should have given it away. The chicken seemed to have been microwaved to a leather-like texture before being mixed with the sauce. However, the glorious view of waves and the western horizon more than compensated.

Day 73 – Dale to Neyland

tidal detours and delays, the unforgiving sea, caged paths and a town with good taste

29th June 2013

miles completed: 807
miles to go: 251

I want to walk from Dale to Neyland, just before the Cleddau Bridge crosses the river at Milford Haven. The first bus to Dale from Milford Haven is at 9:22 to get to Dale just before 10am, but to catch this I must get the 8:15 from Neyland. Unsure of how long it will take and where the parking and bus stop is at Neyland, I leave all the roof blinds open to wake me and set the alarm early, and am on the road at 6:30am. Food will not be a problem this day as I intend to get a good breakfast at the beach café in Dale.

On the radio as I drive there is a piece about a private innovation park in Caerphilly, where the owner talks very cogently about the needs of entrepreneurs and in particular managing a lot of the paperwork. This is something I wish universities could manage better.

At Lancaster, before we licensed the technology, the University encouraged Jo and I to set up a company to exploit Firefly, the intelligent lighting we had developed, but instantly you are dropped into a world of forms for Companies House, Inland Revenue, etc., many of which are nil returns, or simple copying, but take time to make sense of. I had done all this years before with aQtive and vfridge, but then with enough venture funding to pay an accountant and lawyer to help us manage. It would be so simple for the university to act as company secretary and take this load, literally a few hours a year for someone who knows the ropes, and let the academic/entrepreneur get on with developing the core products and business.

Another very relevant item was about a new ‘click and collect’ point at St David’s Centre, Cardiff.  This means that you can order things online and then collect them in the city centre in your lunch break, rather than come home to one of those postcards saying "we tried to deliver, but you were out". This was precisely one of the services I advocated for the electronic village shop twenty years ago!

2013-06-29 12.21.28Finally, also very relevant given the themes of energy use and transport that have recurred in the walk, a news report about the government’s infrastructure plans, which are based on various projections including a year on year increase in car use. This sounds sensible, whether or not desirable; we all know there are more and more cars on the road. Only that is wrong. Car use in the UK maxed out in 2002 at about 500 cars/vans per 1000 people and 8000 miles per car. The same thing happened in the US five years earlier. It turns out that at some point pretty much everyone who wants a car has a car, and they drive pretty much as many miles as they want. From an ecological point of view we may want to reduce this amount by improving public transport, but irrespective of this, the numbers are not growing. Yet the government wants to build more roads.

Brunel Quay, where I park the van, is so named because Neyland grew up when Brunel intended to create a transatlantic port at the end of the Great Western Railway. Although the grand vision never materialised, the town is here because of that vision.

An information board also talks about a rare hexagonal post box, and as I go to look for the bus stop, there it is just across the road.

2013-06-29 07.28.00 2013-06-29 07.24.41 2013-06-29 07.30.45

I have plenty of time as it only took me 45 minutes to drive from St Davids, so I write for a bit, but of course write for too long and in the end pack my rucksack in a hurry and rush for the bus.

The bus driver says the easiest change for Dale is at Tesco. I wonder if it has one of those little in-store cafés, to get a cup of tea, or even a quick breakfast to save time at Dale, but sadly there is just a coffee machine … and by ‘coffee machine’ I mean ‘coffee’ – no tea.

At the Tesco tobacconist I buy a newspaper. The man serving asked where I was walking today and, when I said Dale, told me he knows it well as his parents originally came from there.

"I do pilgrimages every year," he said, "one to St Davids, one to Fishguard and one where you went yesterday".

"I didn’t know I was on a pilgrimage route," I say, and he replies, "no, just mine."

A personal pilgrimage to places of individual significance.

So eventually, I get to Dale and have the long (since 5am) anticipated breakfast at the ‘Boathouse Café and Shop‘. Leisurely eating and more writing mean it is almost eleven before I leave, and I set off for the causeway to cross the estuary.

On the water bright-sailed windsurfers were already out and a few small yachts already launched from the slipway. Beyond them, in the wide bay, more yachts and leisure boats bobbed under the sun with the refinery across the waters a heat-mist-softened backdrop.

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However, when I get to the start of the causeway there is a sign explaining it is only crossable within three hours of low tide. I knew that would be the case when I got to the stepping stones at Sandy Haven, but had not realised that this crossing was also tidal. I asked a local man as I was walking in sandals and didn’t mind getting my feet a little wet, but he said no, the water on top of the bridge and stepping stones leading to it would be up to my thighs and with a strong tidal flow, which would sweep you off your feet. It was still half an hour before high tide, so even if I tackled it a little before the recommended time, it would still be several hours before I could continue. If I had realised I could have driven to Dale very early and done the tidal crossings then taken a bus back at the end of the day.

2013-06-29 10.59.16It was only a three mile detour and about half on roads where I would walk quickly, so I set off.

An hour or so later I looked down from the other side, such a short distance that takes so long. I imagine people in earlier times, before any of these bridges, waiting for low tide to attempt fording rivers or having to push and cut one’s way through undergrowth and forests upstream. The odd extra few miles seem far less significant.

In fact, the way had been uneventful, starting out along the road to go upstream and then through paths and farmland back downstream again. There was a large field that I at first thought was set-aside land left to grow as flowery meadow, but then realised was flax.

2013-06-29 12.10.59Although there are plenty of signs in this area, the alternate high-tide/low-tide paths made signage confusing; not for the first time I wished there was a distinction on signs between clockwise and anticlockwise routes. I know it seems obvious, and is when you are on the actual coast, but inland, even a short way, it is not always clear from which direction you are re-meeting a path. This was not helped by the exit from the large flax field. I had seen a farm gate, but there was no hint of a sign, so I scouted the length of the field, finding no other way. Happily a farmer in the next field saw me looking puzzled and directed me back to the gate. Sure enough, hidden from view until you were right by it, was a stile and sign nestled amongst the hedge.

2013-06-29 12.29.08The path now runs along the clifftop, soft red sandstone, thickly covered with vegetation. Sometimes clear views over the seas, where a boat sends hose sprays into the air, the wind-spread water like translucent insect wings. I assume this is some sort of testing of equipment, maybe a fireboat or one for dispersing oil in the case of a spillage. At other times the shrubby bushes and trees rise around you, shutting you off from the sea and all but the way ahead and heat-risen flies.

2013-06-29 12.41.58At one small bay, Monk Haven, there are the remains of an old wall across its entrance, a huge gateway in the middle, but one end curiously ending, not meeting the far side of the bay. If I recall correctly, I was later told that this had been part of old abbey lands, so the wall would have marked out the bay as belonging to the abbey, but I still don’t understand why it appears incomplete.1.

2013-06-29 13.05.52After passing more old wartime buildings and guidance beacons for the ships coming into Milford Haven, I come to Sandy Haven.

At Sandy Haven there is another tidal crossing. It is ten past two when I arrive, and based on the tide tables it should be crossable in forty minutes. A man is coming up from the shore with his dog, so I ask him where the stepping stones are.

"There," he says, pointing at the river between the opposite bank and where we are standing. It does not look hopeful, but he assures me that the tide is going out quickly; a boat that is now aground was afloat just a short while earlier when he was throwing a ball for his dog.

He tells me about the area, how the ships would come in his father’s day, beach here at low tide and the horses and carts would come to unload and load them. The stranded remains of some of these river boats can still be found a little upstream.

2013-06-29 15.17.14The tides move fast; even as we speak the boat that had only recently come aground is a full ten feet from the water’s edge, and waves can be seen above where the stepping stones lie just below the surface. Although I say waves, it is almost the opposite, a large standing wave that leaves the surface smoother than the surrounding waters, just like the slightly oily streak after a boat has passed and the bow waves settled, or one of those long-exposure photographs that smooths out wave or waterfall.

One day the man and a friend went out in a small boat on a calm day like today, but then the tide turned and an offshore wind came in and it was all they could do not to be washed out to sea or flipped over into the sea. They made for some shelter, but then, in a moment, it stopped again, as if the wind and rushing waves had never been.

Another friend had not been so lucky. Three young men from the village had been out fishing. It was near midnight as they made their way back along the shore and up the cliff path. Then a freak wave struck, dragging two of them into the sea. One managed to grab onto the rocks from where his friend hoisted him to safety using a fishing rod. The other was lost, his body washed ashore the next day.

2013-06-29 15.17.01The stepping stones are almost clear, a few bare-footed children in bathing costumes are already playing on them, and I see a couple on the far side tentatively waiting for the last of the water to clear. I sit on a slipway and write, and then notice the couple have crossed with their dog, and I start chatting to the man about dogs and walking, until the woman begins to look impatient to be off.

The way now leads past the large oil terminal to the west of Milford Haven. I am expecting to be walking, maybe, on a service road, alongside a chain linked fence, looking onto tangles of bright painted pipe-work. Instead, the path is more of a heavily wooded cliffside path, often quite overgrown as it is clearly not well trodden.

I have been told, and would have guessed anyway, that most people walking the coastal path stop at Sandy Haven and go straight to Angle, the sandy bay opposite, skipping a day of walking past oil terminal, power station and road bridge. However, I am on a mission, treading every mile of the Coast Path, pretty or not.

2013-06-29 15.55.27In fact, you can hardly tell that you are close to anything industrial, except when occasionally you see across the water to the oil refinery at Pembroke. This reinforces the slightly ethereal, other-worldly feel of the industry here, which struck me when I first glimpsed Milford Haven and Pembroke from the path in St Brides Bay. The towers and tanks are frequently seen at a distance, in a slight haze, as if a mirage or projected in Victorian theatre illusion, but when you get close there is nothing solid, nothing to touch or see clearly.

I often walk quickly, because the afternoon heat has brought out the flies in the dense undergrowth, and, if I stop, they gather quickly.

After about a mile of this, the jetty for the terminal begins to appear, with vertical stacks that reminded me of the missiles rising in the Stingray introduction, "anything can happen in the next half hour".  A sign says, ‘Danger Keep Out, unsafe structures & Deep Excavations’, and some sort of concrete foundations can be seen. I don’t know whether this is to do with past oil activity, perhaps semi-sunken tanks, or with wartime batteries.

2013-06-29 16.10.11Eventually I do start to see parts of a chain linked triple razor-wired fence and oil tanks beyond. It is real.

Then there is a place where the oil and gas pipes cross the path to make their way out to the loading jetties. The fences become more imposing, tall green metal paling with electric fencing atop, and the path drops below the concrete jetty and then rises back on concrete steps the far side.

Beyond this the path runs for some time along concrete and tarmac paths amongst shrubby woodland before emerging past a fence topped with medieval-looking wheeled spikes, and into the rather superior housing at the edge of Gilliswick Bay and the outskirts of Milford Haven.

Gilliswick Bay is the home of Pembrokeshire Yacht Club, so boatyards of leisure craft sit on the shoreline whilst oil tankers pass through the wide reaches of, according to my map, the ‘Man of War Roads‘.

2013-06-29 16.43.09I am now in a built-up area, steps lead into Hakin. I was told here was just one ‘rough’ area of Milford Haven, and I can remember it began with ‘H’, but there are two areas to the west of Milford Haven, Hakin towards the sea and Hubberston behind it, and I cannot recall which it was. The steps lead to a point where on the left appears to be council housing and to the right a private housing estate. A car passes, one of those black 1940s taxi-cab-style cars that my Dad drove when I was little.

The houses of Hakin are individual. I see a tile-fronted house, another with a steep, stepped, slate roof that would have looked more at home in the Alps, or maybe Holland, and another with a sort of concrete bridge leading to a first floor garage; goodness knows the fire and building regulations for this.

2013-06-29 16.59.41Coming into Milford Haven docks, where I had waited for the bus at Tesco in the morning, I pass the Cleddau Community Church in top-floor premises above a warehouse building, and in the water ‘Jenna’s Island Barge for hire’. The latter is a flat-bottomed barge with a crane on it. I have seen similar things before, but did not know they were called ‘island barges’.

Strictly the Coast Path leads one street in from the quayside (why?), but I ignore that and walk the quay, to see the boats and in hope of a café. I am satisfied in both with forests of yacht sails and a cheese and ham toastie é with salad, positively healthy.

Looking at the map now, I can see that the ‘proper’ path is through the shopping street at the top of the hill above the quay. As I passed off the quayside, there was a path leading up the hill, but it passed closer to the waterside, initially down a wide path that may have been a disused railway line, but then along a less salubrious public footpath behind houses, where, from the abandoned cans, the local teenagers go to drink their cider and beer.

Eventually I come out into what appears to be another of those watersheds between council housing and private housing; on a corner on one side a pub with washing hanging in its yard, on the other a general store and off-licence. Outside the latter was a man in what appeared to be a full suit and a lady in an evening gown, but I assumed the latter was really some sort of summer dress, until rounding a corner and starting down a lane, I see the Pill Social Club and a bridal party about to enter their reception. One of the bridesmaids looks at me as I take a photograph, a "don’t mess with us" look on her face.

2013-06-29 18.02.03 2013-06-29 18.07.27 2013-06-29 18.08.05

Coming now down the hillside again, towards the water, four boys accost me, two with home-made bow and arrow in their hands, every bit like William and the Outlaws.

"Where are you going to?" one asks.

"Cardiff," I reply.

"That’s a long way," he remarks, and then one of his friends adds, "five miles".

"A little further than that," I correct.

"Can we come too?" they ask.

"I’m afraid not," I say, "and it’s a long way so I’d better go on."

2013-06-29 18.25.01The road crosses the river at Castle Pill, near the site (from the map) of an old castle. A small group of houses stand clear of the river on tall retaining walls, a slipway between and boats sit on the mud below. The path stays with the road as it cuts steeply up the hill the far side, before cutting across inland farmland to skirt the next oil refinery. Partway, I pass a junk-filled farmyard, with some piece of machinery that looks at a distance as if it is a gun. The reason for this becomes obvious; it is a gun, a 60 or 80mm gun that would maybe have sat on the foredeck of a coastal military vessel during war, now rusted and (I assume!) unusable.

I see the oil terminal approach, its massive tanks standing tall above the farmland, but again, as I get close it disappears, with only a rare glimpse of rusty metal palings and triple razor wire to hint at its presence. Large white and black river signs help the ships to navigate the channels, like those I’d seen the day before near Dale, and then, in occasional glimpses, the brightly coloured pipework, blue and orange/red, of the loading jetty appears.

2013-06-29 18.39.02   2013-06-29 18.50.28   2013-06-29 18.45.47

Getting closer to where the pipes run out to the jetty, security tightens with CCTV cameras above double layers of fencing and then, like something in airport security, a metal tunnel, electric fencing to either side and above, to lead you over the lines of pipe that run beside one another down the hillside and out to sea.

The secure walkway reminds me a little of the An Turas installation beside the ferry pier on Tiree, except that here the metal walls and floor make a deep groaning as I walk across; below my feet, unseen, thousands of gallons of petrol and cubic metres of gas flow past every second.

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A little further on a bush breaches security, its trunk and branches knitting back and forth through the ageing chain link.

Then another security bridge over the second pipe run. It is slightly less major, a simple chain link above and to the sides, and metal grating beneath your feet, you can see the pipes through the gaps. Many relatively thin pipes make their way up and down the hillside. I’m not sure of the difference between the two pipe runs and the different levels of security, except that this one appears to be private and the other port authority.

2013-06-29 19.05.19  2013-06-29 19.15.09

A little further again and a final security bridge, but this time without even a top cover, just chain link sides and wide-gapped metal mesh running over a road leading to the facility. The view down through the metal grid to the road below could be disturbing for those with vertigo. The man with the dog and impatient wife at Sandy Haven had mentioned a place where the dog was scared to cross and had to be carried; perhaps this is it.

Eventually, more woody paths, wider and more trodden as we approach civilisation, lead to Hazelbeach and Llanstadwell, ribbon settlement along the waterside leading towards Neyland. Highlights include ‘Jones Casa’, in appropriate Mediterranean style, a beautiful racing-car green VW camper and jaunty angled gravestones of St. Tudwal’s church.  Like Dale church it has one of those vertical half-steps part way along the tower that looks almost as if a narrow tower and wider tower are superimposed, although this is unrendered stone.

And I almost forgot the binary house 111.

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Neyland itself has a small prom and beach to the west before coming to Brunel Quay, where I started the day and the van is parked, on the east side. On the beach a family potter, the mother and daughter picking things from amongst the pebbles, and the boy kicking at a smouldering mound, I’m not sure whether from a beach barbecue they had lit or the remains of a forgotten fire they had come across.

Father stands looking on, then, as I pass, shouts a greeting; I didn’t catch the words, but I wave and say hello back.

"You look cool," the woman shouts.

I like the people of Neyland. They have good taste.

And so, eventually, past a trio of flags – Union Jack, Welsh Dragon and Yellow Smilie, and a Masonic Hall, back to Brunel Quay, the red postbox and the van, and in time for a last fish and chips at St Davids.

2013-06-29 19.55.04  2013-06-29 20.02.06  2013-06-29 20.06.06

  1. The wall is listed, according to the British Listed Buildings website, and according to ‘Blue Sea Surf‘ it marked the boundary of the Treewarren estate[back]

Day 72 – St Brides to Dale

candles for peace and fortifications for war, a Twitter contact and a volunteer coastwatcher, a tantalising isthmus and a giant popgun

28th June 2013

miles completed: 801
miles to go: 267

I have to get up early to drive to Dale in time to catch the bus. I’m not expecting anywhere to buy food this day, so call into Nisa to stock up, mainly with near out-of-date half-price things as I’m planning to eat them all today.

On the radio as I drive there are reports first about Balsam Bashing in the Dee valley, trying to get volunteers activated to attack the ‘alien’ species that are devastating the indigenous ecosystem. I have spotted significant amounts of Himalayan Balsam as I’ve walked around, often in unexpected places, far from gardens or built up areas from where you’d expect it to spread. As I heard it, I recall the ‘Aliens’ notice near St Dogmaels.

The other major item was a Joseph Rowntree Foundation report, published that day, which looked at the items needed for ‘basic living’. It found these items, food, heating, etc., had gone up 25% since the beginning of the recession, far more than the headline inflation figure; that is the inflation rate for the poorest is far greater than that for the richer.

They interviewed someone high up in the Citizens Advice Bureau, and a working mother who is earning £16,000 a year, but also volunteering to give advice to many worse off still. She said there was nothing left to cut, the things they were wanting were not holidays or other luxuries, but simply to be able to afford to keep warm. I think of George Osborne, with his £4 million fortune and £10 burger, for whom austerity will mean choosing a slightly less vintage wine. In South Africa in the apartheid years the white government could not conceive of life for the black majority. Here it is not colour that divides, but in so many ways our government is just a different species to those who are suffering most.

A few days later, in the Western Mail, there is an article (Western Mail, Sat 29th June 2013, page 1:’Scurvy and rickets on rise in poor-diet Wales‘; and page 5: ‘Diets “worse than in the war” bring back scurvy and rickets’) that says scurvy and rickets are on the increase in Wales, diseases of malnutrition that had seemed to be a thing of the distant past, but now re-emerging as nutrition is worse than during the years of wartime rationing.

Having parked, and failed to find where I put the Garmin after changing its batteries the night before (later turned out to be at the bottom of the rucksack where I’d put it so it wouldn’t get lost), I catch the bus at Dale.

On the bus, the driver and two regulars exchange banter. As I’ve seen before, these coastal walkers/tourist buses are a lifeline also for locals. The two ladies are from Milford Haven and off for a day out (cup of tea!) at St Davids, so, like me, they change buses at Marloes, but we are now further from their regular haunts, so they do not know the next driver. They tell me that they know the first driver’s brother even better as he drives one of the buses to Milford Haven that they catch all the time.

At St Brides I go into St Bridget’s Church. The notice on the door states that it is always open during daylight hours and says:

Come in – Make yourself at home – Have a look round
Light a candle as you reflect and pray

So I do.

2013-06-28 10.55.59At the back are two windows, one of St David and one of St Bridget. St David is in full ecclesiastical garb and holding his cathedral cradled in his right arm, as bishops are always portrayed in stained glass windows. Given that, according to the stories, St David was an ascetic and wore animal skins, the bishop’s robes seemed a slight reconstruction. St Bridget‘s robes were no less ornate, but I don’t know her story. Instead of a cathedral, in her right hand she carries a lamp.

Looking to the left, behind the solid stone font, is a window portraying Christ the shepherd, and he holds a lamb in his arms. I was reminded of Skirwith Church, nestling under Cross Fell in the Eden Valley, where we lived for many years. Wainwright is a little scathing about its tower as a small steeple is attached to the top of a square tower; the story is that the landowner was miffed because a neighbour’s church was a little higher, so added the steeple in a fit of ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’.

I had also heard the main window at Skirwith disparaged for being twee as it represented Jesus with children gathered round, which reminded me of the Sunday School pictures portraying the same scene. The images of Jesus were clean-shaven and blond-haired, set against a verdant English-like landscape; all very Victorian. But, however inaccurate in terms of clothes and very non-Middle Eastern physiognomy and landscape, still they were a great reminder of the way Jesus invited the children to come, and being too young to care about tweeness or historical precision, they said that I too was welcome.

However, my favourite part of the Skirwith window was the way that Jesus held a small child in his arms. He stood, his right arm bent in exactly the same stylised gesture you see for bishops in stained glass everywhere, and indeed St David in the window at the church here in St Brides, but instead of a cathedral, a small child sits there. What a potent image for the one who said that we all have to become again like children if we are to come to the Kingdom of God.

Inside the church are various notices about the candles; one seemed particularly pertinent:

as you pass by
lighting a candle
of hope
in our land
and throughout the world

Pray for
peace in St Bridget‘s Ireland
peace in a world of conflicts
peace in your own heart

and may the peace of God
go with you
as you leave this hallowed place

I think of the news: moves to arm the favoured rebels in Syria, US troops redeployed in Iraq to prevent weapons getting to the less favoured rebels, patriot missiles arriving in Jordan; pray indeed.

There is also is a sonnet to “the Madonna of the Cherries“.  From the words, this is clearly a multicoloured statue or window, but I cannot see anything that matches the description in the church.

Outside the church I meet a couple coming in.  They are experienced walkers, having done the Camino trail in Spain. They ask if I have a religious aspect to my walk, am I visiting sites along the way? I always find this hard to answer as there are so many personal, professional, spiritual and secular aspects and, as in day-to-day life, there is no clear boundary: they are all life, and now they are all the walk.

I can’t remember how it came up, maybe the man saw the word ‘poetry’ (maybe I should have put ‘podiatry’) on my leaflet or backpack, but it turned out that the lady had just that morning started a poem about the current crisis for those in poverty based around the metaphor of a circus. They had also heard the news about the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report, and shared in the sadness, tinged with anger at the powers that make this worse for people, not least the imposition of the ‘bedroom tax’.

Back down at the water of St Brides, I notice that the rock on this side of the bay looks like old red sandstone, and have since got a small booklet, ‘The Geology of Pembrokeshire‘ to verify this. I think the black, slag-like rocks the other side of the bay are just the same rock weathered and discoloured.

2013-06-28 11.42.17The path out of St Brides is fast and easy, some worn-down sections, but always wide enough not to force heel to toe walking. I think I will lap up the miles today as there appears to be nothing along the way but a couple of car parks and public toilets, so nothing to report and a short day blog as well.

About a mile from St Brides I meet three women coming the other way. I recall seeing them at the St Brides car park pulling on boots and rucksacks. Evidently I spent long enough there for them to walk to where they were going and come back.

We pass and, a few moments later, one of them calls out, “are you Alan?”

It is Jan, a local teacher and keen walker, who, she explains, as been following me and other Coast Pathers on Twitter.

One of her co-walkers is a student at Trinity St David at Carmarthen, the old art college there that merged with Lampeter to make the current institution. The other works on disability support, and says she has been looking at wheelchair access to the Coast Path. One of her clients is an amputee, who might find it a little easier. But I’ve been noticing along the way when there appear to be wheelchair-friendly sections, and they are few and far between.

2013-06-28 12.39.32Perhaps because it is out of season, the majority of people I have met along the way have been retirees, from early sixties to late seventies. All of these clearly enjoy walking, but will become less able at some stage. I think about the discussion of mobility scooters at the Solva café, or the couple I met a few days earlier, where the lady was finding it hard going and said it would probably be the last long walking holiday.

Clearly some parts of the Coast Path will, by their nature, be tough and inaccessible, but creating disability-friendly sections will also mean they are elderly friendly, family with pushchair friendly, and, thinking about health agendas, novice walker friendly.

2013-06-28 13.02.34The day before I had wondered whether I’d have time to get further, either as far as Martin’s Haven, or where the Coast Path comes within half a mile of Marloes. This was all dependent on catching the last bus back to St Davids. In the end I’d stopped at St Brides, but I wondered how easy it would have been to find the right point to leave the path. In fact, there was a very clear finger post to Marloes, and in general I’ve been impressed with the off-path signage in Pembrokeshire.

Although this was the closest point to Marloes village, it is called Musselwick Sands, whereas Marloes sands are on the west side of the peninsula and slightly further from Marloes itself.

After this it is another short walk to Martin’s Haven where the boat trips leave for Skomer and Skokholm islands. The whole area is a marine nature reserve and Skomer is home to a large puffin population. Puffins are such glorious birds and always feel as if they would be more at home on the pages of a medieval bestiary than a modern bird guide.

I’ve only seen puffins on Staffa island near Iona off the coast of Mull. The girls were maybe six and eight, and we were on a holiday on Mull in our old VW campervan. We camped near Fionnphort and took the boat to Staffa. As is the normal pattern for visitors, we first went down to Fingal’s Cave, which I knew about from Mendelssohn‘s overture, the only piece of classical music I knew well as I’d studied it for my ‘O’ Level Music exam.  After clambering over the massive hexagonal columns of frozen lava, we went back up to the clifftop and across to where the puffins nest.

Despite, or maybe because of, the large numbers of boat-trippers, like ourselves, the puffins seem fearless and you can approach to within a few yards of where they sit at the clifftop, waiting to plunge down into the sea below. Maybe you can approach too close. Miriam, with her camera held to her eye, and oblivious of the cliff edge, walked blindly towards them. I didn’t dare move to grab her or say anything too loud for fear of startling her. Happily our gentle beckonings eventually worked.

I knew of the puffins on Staffa, although I’d never seen them, from my last year at university. I had a ‘spare’ year as I’d already completed the necessary Mathematics exams and toyed with various things, maybe a final year of the Computing Tripos or Theology, although I’d have struggled with the Greek or Hebrew language element of the latter.   In the end I opted for the post-grad Statistics Diploma; my heart is in pure mathematics, but I thought it would help ground me in more practical aspects of mathematics. My project for this was in cooperation with the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, looking at early growth patterns for young puffin chicks and their impact on eventual survival. Sadly I did not get to do any field work, I was just given the numbers, but I recall that the data on the birds came from two sites, one was Staffa and the other in Wales, I think Skomer.

2013-06-28 13.15.43At Martin’s Haven I chatted with three folks from Birmingham, who, like me, were admiring a huge boat winch. I’ve seen and photographed many of these around the coast; they are as ubiquitous as lime kilns, but this was the biggest by far, its thick cable still reeled in. We talked about the mechanism, the multiple levels of gearing so that a single person could drag up a very heavy boat, the ratchet to prevent it slipping back, and a large flat surface wheel, like a pulley in an old watermill, that we took to be where a leather strap would act as a brake. However, there were bits of the mechanism for which we could not work out the purpose – very frustrating!

We also talked briefly about the Coastguard Station on the top of the headland above Martin’s Haven. I wondered if it were volunteer manned like the one I saw in Anglesey; they didn’t know but had chatted with the person on watch there, who had a kettle and things, but had evidently run out of water. Happily it was near watch changeover time, so he wouldn’t have long to wait for his cup of tea.

They also told me that there was a small shop just a few yards up the road, which sold cups of tea. The path led past the bottom of the road, so I would have otherwise passed it by. The shop was obvious and well marked if you came down the hill from the car park, but not if you are going past on the footpath; an ‘off path’ destination can be as little as twenty yards if it is not marked.

The shop is run by some sort of trust and mainly sells souvenirs and information about Skomer, Skokholm and Grassholm islands.

At the base of the hill is another small, unmanned information centre, run I think by the Countryside Council for Wales, about the marine conservation area, with one of those interactive exhibitions that must have cost a lot, but leaves you thinking ‘so what’, and knowing far less than a simple information board.

I do wonder too at the fact that these two are so close and yet not interconnected in anyway. I know they will be different bodies, different budgets, different priorities, but …

At the shop I get my cup of tea, a paper cup from a machine, but a real tea bag and, most important, real milk, as the machine just has a ‘hot water’ option and the staff at the shop provide the tea bag and milk. They talk enthusiastically about the volunteers at the Coastguard Station, and so I decide to take the short excursion up the hill.

2013-06-28 13.59.13I see the blue uniformed duty officer, Jo, looking through telescopes out the windows. When I tentatively knock on the door, she invites me in and tells me a bit about the station. Some years ago, as the larger ships all got radios, the manned coastguard lookouts around the coast were becoming increasingly redundant, or at least not cost effective. The decision was made to close them.

Within a week of the closures, within a short distance of one of the abandoned stations, a small boat, one without a radio, was lost and two people drowned.

This was not enough to reverse the decision, as in any large enterprise every financial decision carries risks including fatal ones. But as a response a voluntary organisation was set up, the National Coastwatch Institute, who man the old coastguard stations, some on a 24/7 basis.

They watch for dangerous situations and keep logs of small craft passing. The logs are particularly useful if a boat is subsequently reported missing as its last location and course can be determined. Jo tells me of a recent case when a man in a sea kayak was late returning and his wife reported this to the Coastguard. They contacted the NCI lookout, who was able to see a kayak matching the description. An inshore craft was then able to go out to verify that this was the man, and that he was simply delayed, not in trouble.

They can also keep an eye on the large tankers that anchor in St Brides Bay in case they drag their anchor or in case an unscrupulous captain decides to clean out his tanks in the bay.  As this rich and sensitive marine environment is right next to a large oil and gas refinery, it is especially important to watch out for any potential pollution risks.

The NCI has no direct powers; for example, they cannot call out a lifeboat. However, they are in constant touch with the Coastguard and are able to report dangerous situations to them, or, as in the case of the kayak, may be asked to look out for something, or keep a watch on any developing situation.

As this station, and I’m sure most others, is in a remote and wildlife-rich location, many of the volunteers are also interested in wildlife, and this station, Wooltack Point, is particularly popular with birdwatchers. Jo, however, is a botanist, and indeed considered an academic career, but decided that, while she enjoyed the actual botany, the academic writing was not for her.

Having visited the Coastguard Lookout, I felt I might as well walk around the rest of the point, even though the Coast Path bypasses it. I was fascinated by the high bank that runs along the narrow neck of land that separates the headland from the mainland and guess it is an old earthwork. Looking later on the map I can see it is indeed marked ‘fort’. It is clearly an excellent location, a small wall allowing a large area to be secure. Although it is now remote it was once an important centre of population.

It has been a morning, and indeed early afternoon, of interesting conversations, but my first four hours of walking has taken half the day and there are ten more miles to go before I get to the van at Dale.

2013-06-28 15.38.25After a mile or so of sea cliffs, you see Marloes sands, a mile or more of beach spread into the face of the south-west gales. It is possible to get down in one or two places, but mostly the cliffs are high above the beach, so unfortunately no beach walking today. However, the tracks here are well trodden and usually broad, so easy walking.

After Marloes Beach you skirt an abandoned wartime airfield, its concrete runways and foundations of buildings feathered at the edges where grass is gradually encroaching and sprouting along the original join lines between its sections, so that it looks like a giant game of dominoes left to grey and fade in the rain and sun.

Then you see Dale, tantalisingly less than a mile away, but across the neck of Dale Head; I have more than five miles to go around the end. My feet hurt, it is starting to rain, and I am already tired. I am so tempted to go straight across now, but that would break my schedule for coming days and so, exhausted and wet, I continue.

Happily the rain does not continue for long, but the feet do not cure so easily. The track is surprisingly untrodden as this would seem an ideal circular walk, starting in Dale, going round the headland and back across the isthmus. Indeed, the next day over breakfast in Dale, I find a guidebook for exactly this walk.

Although I was tired and it was late in the day, still it was clear that this area is full of interesting things: the lighthouse on the end, old fortifications from Napoleonic times and the Second World War.

2013-06-28 17.14.11It is the lighthouse I come to first, a small automatic light now; the larger lighthouse has become a self-catering holiday let. The path cuts just short of the lighthouse itself, passing an old walled garden and then back along the clifftop. In one small bay, half buried in the sand, is something that could be the superstructure of a small wreck, or might be the rusted remains of a large water tank that has tumbled down the cliffs.

On the next two large headlands after the lighthouse are navigation guides for approaching ships. One has two diamond markers with a black and white rectangle between them, the other a single diamond marker. I assume you align these in some way according to nautical rules.  Evidently the safe approach to Milford Haven is narrow and has a sharp dog-leg, so the navigation aids are essential for safe entry.

In this section I see the first of the concrete foundations of WWII guns, and then, below, what I at first took to be another WWII structure. Two couples are unpacking their cars, evidently staying at the lower fort. Chatting to one of them, it turns out to be 18th century, one of a string of fortifications built in the wake of the Napoleonic wars and the failed French invasion at Fishguard.

On the last headland before Dale, there is a larger fort, now an outdoor pursuit centre.  According to the guidebook it was the location of a revolutionary gun that fired explosive shells. At this point it was impossible to fire the shells using gunpowder or other explosives, as this ignited the shell’s charge as well. The gun sited here was essentially a giant popgun, using compressed gas to fire the shell. However improved explosives were created that did not explode on the barrel of more conventional guns, so the popgun became redundant and was scrapped.

The final turn into Dale was so, so welcome, following along a lane for the last quarter of a mile, past the Griffin Inn, with many people outside leaning on the sea wall drinking beers. However, it was late and so I went on my way back to St Davids and takeaway curry.

Day 71 – Newgale to St Brides

satsumas and soldiers, a fragmented nation and fracturing cliff edge, and a friend well met

27th June 2013

miles completed: 786
miles to go: 282

2013-06-27 07.48.43I will be having a full breakfast at Newgale, but that won’t be for another two hours and I remember that there is a last satsuma in the cupboard.

When in B&Bs I try to have grapefruit or whatever fruit is available if possible; sometimes there are just cereals in which case I sometimes opt for the childhood delights of Frosties, although never yet have they had the ultimate cereal, sugar Ricicles. These are still for sale, although I don’t think the ‘S’ word would appear in any advertising nowadays, maybe ‘frosted’ or even ‘coated in non-sugar sweetener’ for the more ersatz versions. Somehow cocoa took over from sugar coating in the cereal of choice for children; I doubt whether this is due to children’s own recognition of the dangers of infantile obesity, so maybe a gradual shift in the gene pool, or the effects of climate change on the childhood brain.

Well, climate change has clearly not affected my brain, and, despite losing my sweet tooth in the mid-1990s, I still enjoy the odd bowl of Frosties or even (shh, don’t tell the dentist) the odd sprinkle of sugar on Rice Krispies … and don’t get me started on marmalade.

Or maybe I just never grew up?

At the hotel at Menai Bridge, on the breakfast menu there were all the usual suspects, and also ‘boiled egg with soldiers’. So when the waitress came to take my breakfast order:

"Can I have the full breakfast, but have the egg as boiled egg with soldiers?"

She did a slight double take, "you want the full breakfast *and* the boiled egg with soldiers"?

"Yes, but instead of the egg in the breakfast. Is that OK?"

"It is like I had when I was little," I explain.

This seems to satisfy her, and she goes away only to return a little while later.

"Do you want toast or bread soldiers?" she asks.

I experience a moment of confusion, as I normally don’t have untoasted bread at breakfast, but then remember it is for boiled egg. "Um, oh yes, bread; it’s got to be brum-butter for soldiers."

"Definitely," she says, "it is only right."

I wonder if she is just humouring me, but it is with clear pleasure, albeit a hint of amusement, that she brings me my egg with soldiers.

I am prompted to think about the satsuma, rather than simply eat it, because I notice the label, ‘Satsuma 3029 Peru’.  What happened to the other 3028 satsumas from Peru, I wondered.  Did the satsumas I had eaten on previous days say, ‘Satsuma 3027 Peru’, ‘Satsuma 3028 Peru’?

The satsuma comes from the St Davids Nisa, and it is a satsuma the dimensions of which I have never previously encountered; instead of the usual diminutive billiard-ball-sized fruit, it is a positive cricket ball of juice. Nisa is the ‘big’ supermarket in St Davids and as well as giant satsumas has one of the best hot cross buns I have tasted. This was not your luxury, all the finest ingredients type, but the standard, we’ll sell at any time of the year not just Easter, for the undiscerning who don’t know about fruits in season, sort of hot cross bun.

Just so you know, I am not usually the ‘undiscerning who don’t know about fruits in season’ person; I wouldn’t normally buy hot cross buns at this time of year, but, well (1) they did look good, and (2) I am on a long walk and need to keep my energy up, and (3) I am in St Davids, a cathedral city, so it is sort of Easter-ish. There, my reputation saved.

It was this very Nisa which I visited about a year ago, in the early days of thinking about the walk. I recall going in and trying to pay by credit card. It repeatedly failed, not my card, but the machines.

"Oh, the machines are new this week, they use the internet now instead of the phone, but the internet keeps going down."

I got my first indication that rural connectivity in West Wales, even in a relative hub like St Davids, was not going to be any better than back in Tiree.

And then I have to rush for the bus as I realise I’ve been spending the morning writing about satsumas and bread-and-butter soldiers.

While waiting at the bus stop I can see preparations for market day in St Davids.  Another bus arrives and as I ask the driver to double-check I am waiting in the right place, a gentleman gets out dressed in green tweeds and carrying a sack barrow. As I turn to go back to wait I half see him get back on, and then a moment later see why. He obviously went back to retrieve three basketwork hampers, which he piled on the sack barrow before heading down towards the market. I couldn’t follow to see, but I feel he must be about to set up an antique stall, or maybe a bookstall.

2013-06-27 08.51.07

On the bus to Newgale I talk to Fay, who has lived in St Davids for more than twenty years. We initially start talking because of a glorious multicoloured sweeping brush strapped to a bar in the bus. I assume it’s there to sweep away sand, but Fay tells me of a time when a farmer got on the bus with a hay bale, which the children on the bus sat on for the rest of the journey.

This leads on to exchanging stories about health and safety regulations and other bureaucracy that makes so little sense in the rural environment and for which the relevant planning and enforcement officers have little if any room to apply discretion, or plain common sense.

She also tells me about problems for locals, with housing prices driving locals inland so that the coast is incomers-only territory.

Employment is also a problem. In the past, there were busy summers but fallow winters. However, now even the summer season is slowing. With employment tight, there are growing numbers of people trying to make businesses in a shrinking market.

Fay is a complementary therapist, but there are more people being trained in this, setting up businesses and competing. She needs to work doing Saturday ‘changeovers’ to make ends meet.

Her partner, Chris Tancock, was one of the first photographers in the area, who managed, against some resistance, to get photography recognised as respectable art in local galleries.  He also runs photography courses. Now some of the people he taught, and others coming into the area, are selling to the same galleries, undercutting.

I have visited the Sands Café in Newgale before. It was the same visit last year when I was at Nisa. I had just stayed with Alan Chamberlain in Aberystwyth, and came down to St Davids for a night before meeting Parisa in Swansea the next day.

It was that time I found the Glan-y-Mor campsite where I have been staying for the past few days. Glan-y-Mor appears to be the closest campsite to the centre of St Davids, just a quarter of a mile down the road from the Oriel y Parc, but doesn’t seem to be listed anywhere. Maybe it is new or maybe too ‘basic’, certainly few frills, but clean and quite cheap, especially travelling alone as it is priced per person. Some of my days using B&Bs have been quite expensive, so cheaper camping days are very welcome. It is not just the price of the night, but most B&Bs do not allow takeaways, so you end up eating out.

I should note that full breakfast in a café does not count as ‘eating out’; it is bare necessity … albeit mixed with hedony.

2013-06-27 09.57.40I recall I originally intended to eat breakfast at Solva, but it was the day of the sea rowing competition, so, worried that I would get boxed in in the car park, I moved on and instead ate at The Sands. As I sat I overheard snatches of a conversation at the next table, which mainly consisted of who had been put away for GBH, and rivalry with another family that inevitably ended with someone getting a boot in the head.

The Celtic nations have always had a problem with internal division, one of the reasons why first the Romans and later the Saxons and Normans could invade. Even today there is a lot of distrust between North and South, let alone the borderlands.Celtic legends are full of rivalries that inevitably end up not with someone getting simply booted, but normally speared or axed to boot. So maybe the next table were simply part of an ancient tradition.

Today there is no sign of GBH, simply a sign across the road proclaiming, ‘This is a HomeWatch Area‘.  The word ‘Area’ is randomly underlined.

Unfortunately the tide is high, so I cannot walk along the sands at Newgale, but make fast progress along the roadside behind the beach. At the far end of the beach is Pebbles Café, which had confused me when I’d seen the bus timetables, as it came before the Duke of Edinburgh and I’d not realised there were two cafés. Then beyond Pebbles the route rises once more onto sea cliffs.

2013-06-27 10.37.11The rock clearly has soft patches around here as the cliffs are frequently cut by small valleys with the path dropping steeply down one side and then climbing equally steeply up the other. The steeper portions have been improved by the addition of wooden steps, but evidently some years ago, as the earth behind them has often eroded away, making them more like hurdles.

Another sign of the soft rock, an ice-deposited conglomerate that lies over harder rocks, is that areas of the cliff edge have ‘dropped’. One huge area, a semicircle a hundred yards in diameter, lies a full twenty feet below the level of the cliff, with torn raw earth edges all around. It has obviously slipped recently as the earthy tear has not greened over, but there’s no way to tell whether it moved gradually or in one cataclysmic slide. Further on a smaller semicircle is cut from the cliff face, this time a mere ten yards diameter, but somehow more worrying. The larger bite is so cataclysmic one cannot plan for it, like a meteorite strike, an act of God, but the smaller bite is more the scale of the path itself: you stand on the path, a full six feet from the edge, still the ground may slide away beneath you.

Not far from the end of Newgale Beach is a small valley with a chimney in it, the remains of the coalmines that shaped the landscape. I wonder about the valley itself, the flow of water down a little stream seems hardly sufficient to form it, so perhaps it was excavated in search of the black gold.

Coming into Nolton Haven I meet a man who was on the bus that morning. Given I’d stopped some time to talk on the phone, I’d guess he’d taken the bus on to Broad Haven and walked from there. It turned out that he was an experienced walker and had walked the complete Pembrokeshire Coast Path three times, including the bits around Milford Haven that most people miss: "they skip it and go on to Angle", he says.

Nolton Haven itself has a small beach, the Mariners Arms (families welcome; groups and coach parties by arrangement) and a small United Reformed chapel. The chapel is closed and doesn’t look so different from the very many chapels I saw along the North Wales coast, except it is still a chapel. However, looks belie, and on the notice board is an article by Chris Coe, the ‘rural officer’ for the URC in Wales; it tells of his first visit here one Easter, the church that was empty at 29 minutes past the hour, for a half past service, but in that last minute filled to bursting point and was filled with a deep sense of fellowship and worship. Given he must see a lot of churches, this was an impressive account and made me want to visit here sometime at 9:30 on a Sunday morning.

2013-06-27 11.35.04Coming up the path, on a stile I see a small plastic-covered notice advertising photography courses by Chris Tancock!

A little further from Nolton Haven is Druidston. Turning into the valley, with its beach below, the first sight is a building, which turns out to be the Druidstone Villa café, restaurant and hotel, and also something slightly space-age built into the hillside, a sort of hobbit house with green panels and portholes, which turns out to be an eco-house, one of two eco-houses in the area.

I am about to pass a couple with their dog coming up the path when the man says, "it’s Alan, isn’t it?".

It is Steve who walked with me the first miles of the Coast Path at Chester.  He and his partner are staying at Nolton Haven for a few days before he starts to teach an intensive summer course. They tell me that I should visit the Druidstone even if for just a cup of tea.

So I do, and it is a wonderful place, a combination of deep armchairs in the sitting rooms that could have been there since it was built (maybe they have) and bright wall hangings and paintings that feel more beach hut. It is also a good break while the sky decides whether the drops are going to turn into proper rain or pass away.

2013-06-27 12.11.48I have tea and Welsh cakes in the bar; not like my Mum‘s Welsh cakes, but that is another story. Becky is serving at the bar and is interested in the walk; she tells me about the hotel and the way Andy (I think that is the name), the owner, is trying to make it eco-friendly, with a wood chip stove and other measures. This is hard to do on an existing house, but attached to the house is the other eco-house in the valley, a small octagonal hut that has its own power and reed bed soakaway. Washing is in a tin bath served by the solar heating. I leave my phone number as well as a few leaflets, it would be good to meet Andy on my reprise journey.

Coming over the cliff path I meet two runners; this part is easier going than for the runner I met at Newgale yesterday, first going down the cliff path and then a few moments later back up it again. Indeed, it becomes easier still when a tarmaced path comes down from the road and passes along the clifftop for a while before ending at a viewing point. A couple of cyclists have ridden down off the road to enjoy sea views with sandwiches.

2013-06-27 13.39.57A while later I catch my first glimpse of Broad Haven beach, with something that looks like either arranged stones, a veritable Avebury of the sea, or maybe a crowd of people. And I also catch my first glimpse of Milford Haven. In fact from the campsite you can just make out two towers in the distance, but only because I first saw the lights at night, but here the whole oil terminal rises, ethereal in the hazy air, as if it were from a different world, towers and domes rising beyond, or above, the fields and cliffs.

It reminded me of the story in the Mabinogion when the protagonists, out riding, suddenly find all signs of human habitation gone, just hill, stream and mountain top. The landscape the same, but the trappings of civilisation all vanished. For a year and a day they seek for the land they knew, but while they do they make the most of this bare, but not barren land. It is only when they capture a pregnant mouse who was stealing their corn, the transformed wife of the magician who had bewitched them for an earlier slight (the Celtic curse), that all is restored.

2013-06-27 11.29.11I always say you can tell a land by its fairies: Scottish folk tales are dark, with selkies and creatures poised to pull you down in every pool or marsh; in Ireland they are troublesome, but more naughty, revelling in trickery and mischief; the English fairy is solid and earthy, the mill boggart clogging up machinery; but in Wales it seems the veil between fairy and solid land is thin, the fair folk’s world superimposed, often glimpsed briefly through the corner of your eye, but never there when stared at in full view.

It turns out that Avebury of the sea is in fact a party of schoolchildren digging tunnels, building castles and scraping messages and hearts in the sand. I’m sure the official school reports talk about the educational aims and outcomes, the learning objectives and key skills gained, as it would be unacceptable just to play.

I pop into the supermarket to ask about cafés in Little Haven; it seemed a little awkward to do so in the Broad Haven cafés.

"Yes, there is a cafcafé and three pubs," I am told, "it is a lovely place to spend some time."

So I press on to Little Haven, as its name suggests a smaller beach than Broad Haven, with a small harbour.

I go to Ceri’s Café, but there is no food until six. Happily there are sausage rolls, so I have that for my lunch. The café has pictures of New York and I wonder if this is intended to give it a ‘diner’ feel, but Ceri says she simply puts up the pictures she likes.

As well as the New York theme, there are numerous paintings of horses. Each year she buys a horse painting from a different local artist, most of them painting as a spare time activity amongst other jobs. One is from a professional, Shirley Norman, who has a gallery up the road; she normally paints seascapes, but painted a horse (riding through sea) especially for Ceri. I was amazed at the quality of the pictures, and more so given the majority came from local artists. I especially liked an image simply of hooves with sand/earth flying beneath them.

As we talk, Ian, the husband of the seascape artist, comes in, and we begin to discuss the season so far. Ceri says the trade has been slow in recent years, but doubly so this year, recession/austerity cutting yet more deeply.  This has been a recurrent, but not unexpected, story along the way, even though we are being told things are looking up in the economy. It seems the only part of the economy heading up is London house prices.

I briefly pop up the road to look at the Norman gallery. As well as her own seascape paintings there is a variety of work by other local artists, but it was the colour in a corner that caught my eye. At first I thought I was seeing pottery with metallic glaze, but then I realised it was turned wooden bowls and pots. They have been cut from the wood edge, leaving rough edges where the bark has been, and in places jagged holes. But this turning in the rough is not unusual. It is the colours: iridescent rainbow dyes, creating shifting patterns moving across the grain. It is the work of Kim Gowney, and Shirley tells me she has only had it in a few days ago, a week earlier and I would have missed it. I at first referred to Kim Gowney as ‘she’, since I’ve always known female ‘Kims’. Shirley corrects me, Kim is a man, like Kim in The Jungle Book. While on gender, I realise that I don’t think I’ve ever come across a female wood turner. While crafts often have biases, for example there are more female textile artists, I usually know exceptions, but not for woodturning; maybe you know one?

2013-06-27 16.04.44As I look out from the gallery, the sky has eventually found the strength to rain properly. Not the torrential, hose pipe from on high, bouncing off the ground kind, but more the bathroom shower, persistent kind. But I’m too late to chicken out and get the midday bus back, so I head on to St Brides. A path that leads through a rare wooded section of cliffside, welcome during the heaviest rain, a mixture of birch, beech and, I think, sycamore.

Out in the bay there are ships, waiting I assume to go in to Milford Haven, but avoiding the costs of spending extra time there. At night from the campsite their lights shine, Christmas-like, across the waters, but on this side of the bay, closer, I can sometimes hear their sea-softened machinery hum.

2013-06-27 17.17.13As the rain slackens the slugs come out, black, leech-like, covering the ground so I have to watch each step to avoid committing slugicide. Although, I wonder, am I as worried about dead slugs as messy feet? It is interesting how pretty kitten pictures abound on the Internet, but not slug lovers; and as I write I realise I too did not photograph a single slithering slug.

The approach to St Brides Haven is heralded by the appearance of St Brides Castle dating back to the nineteenth century, and now a timeshare.  It looks every inch an expression of Victorian control and tidiness.  As if to challenge this, the rocks of St Brides Haven have an almost volcanic, slag-like appearance, blistered and rough topped, covered with phosphorescent green and cadaverous white algae.

I ask where the bus stops, and find you have to go up the road slightly from the beach car park. Well, strictly it stops ‘anywhere’, you can just hail it down, but of course anywhere means along its route. Although it is ‘obvious’ what route it will take between things on the map, it is reassuring when I get to the road and find a bus timetable. I have nearly half an hour to wait, so I shelter near the entrance to the castle and find I can type pretty well one-handed on an iPad while standing under a dripping tree.

2013-06-27 17.35.06On the bus back is a lady, Sindy, whom I’ve met several times on the bus and then as we pass the Druidstone, Becky gets on. She tells me a bit about her own story, reinforcing the tales of struggling businesses and difficulties with employment across Wales. She used to work at the Sounds Café, which, like the beach café in Goodwick, was working on a principle of good value food using best quality ingredients. This would seem like a winning formula, but in difficult times it is now closed with a sign looking for new management. Happily, at just the time it was closing she found the job at Druidstone, where the proprietor takes the same care over his staff as he does over the internal decor and its external impact on the environment.  So she is very happy, but tells me how fortunate this is, given the difficulties of finding employment, especially out of season.

Day 70 – Caerfai to Newgale

words and WiFi at the Oriel y Parc, horses and lime kilns, surfers and mobility scooters

26th June 2013

miles completed: 773
miles to go: 295

I decided to take a half day to catch up and do WiFi and just walk the eight miles from St Davids to Newgale this day; this will also mean I start the next day at Newgale where they do breakfast at the beach café!

2013-06-26 13.52.16Not needing to set off until the afternoon means I can go to the Oriel y Parc for breakfast and WiFiOriel y Parc is a tourist information centre, café and outpost of the National Museum of Wales, where they currently have an exhibition of paintings and photography. The building is built as a semicircle with grassed roof and a round tower rising above it.

As I go into the café, I look up to the wooden beams and see inscribed:

There is nothing like walking to get the feel of a country. A fine landscape is like a piece of music, it must be taken at the right tempo. Paul Scott Mower

This is obviously the right choice to go for breakfast!

Unlike the restaurant on Sunday night, the WiFi works flawlessly; although, to be fair, this is now school hours, so not competing with movie and music downloads. I finish my breakfast, move to another table where I can plug in the computer power and the time passes with my head buried in the laptop screen, until it is lunchtime, and surfacing for a moment from Flickr uploads and blog posts, I see the words

Caution Grumpy Man at Work

They are written on a bright red t-shirt, XXL at least, worn by a man who looks either trucker or biker, but anything but grumpy.

To justify my continued sitting and typing, I order another tea and toasted teacake, before, with all but one day’s photos uploaded to Flickr and recent blogs all up to date, I leave, later than I intended, to walk down the hill to the van and then on down to the sea edge for the afternoon’s walking.

On the path between Caerfai, where I am camping, just half a mile south of St Davids, and Solva, I pass more horses and ponies, a tiny blood-red-winged moth, kayakers, and various old quarry buildings. Then, beside the rocks, down at the shore, I see what looks like the ribbed carcass of a sea monster. It is clearly the rusting and decaying remnant of some piece of machinery for taking things up or down the cliff face, but now sits waiting for the slow caustic corrosion of salt and water and violent battering of storm-tossed waves to finally break the back of its skeletal remains.

2013-06-26 15.11.38  2013-06-26 15.22.52  2013-06-26 15.24.55

Upper Solva is perched on the flat land above the cliffs and is clearly the ‘new’ town with houses looking mostly as if they have been built in the last 50 years.  In contrast Lower Solva sits at the head of the deep inlet, a natural harbour full of small boats. The footpath cuts down at the sea end of the inlet, and as it comes down to the first part of the quayside, by the old, but now disused, lifeboat station, there is the first example of a sign saying that one direction is not the Coast Path, but the path to the beach.

2013-06-26 15.52.00Next to the old lifeboat station is the Solva Boat Club.  Nearby are ‘Celtic‘ rowing boats. When I stayed at St Davids for a night last year, when preparing for the walk, I called in at Solva, hoping for breakfast, but the spacious car park was already near full as it was the day of a rowing race. Teams from all over were congregating to row in the sea. Back in Aberaeron, the lady at the tourist office said that she had just taken up rowing again after many years and was soon to take part in a twenty-mile race in Milford Haven. They have a team of six: four rowing, one coxing and one resting, then periodically rotate the positions.

Above the boat club is the Café on the Quay, where I break for a tea and toasted tea bread.

On the next table I overhear a conversation about mobility scooters and the hill up from Lower Solva to Upper Solva; one lady proudly tells how she drove up the other day, even though at the steepest point her scooter made struggling noises, but then one of the men tells how another woman, a mutual friend, fell backwards when her scooter tumbled where the way was so steep.

I often worry that software developers unconsciously assume Silicon Valley connectivity is the norm; clearly the same is true for mobility scooter manufacturers, based in flatter areas of the country.

2013-06-26 16.50.35Later I talk to the proprietor who wonders how I manage with buses and things. She says she tends to drive to a place, walk and get the bus. One of the waitresses also asks about the walk and, it turns out, is studying Law and German at Cardiff University.

As I take the path out of Newgale the sign says ‘Newgale 5 1/2 miles’, the other estimates I’ve seen say four, but distance on the coastal path is difficult, partly because the path itself is so twisty at so many scales, and partly because what you mean by ‘Newgale‘ varies: the Sands Café when you first get to the beach, or the Pebbles Café at the far end?  It is interesting that something that is apparently as factual as ‘distance’ is itself a matter of debate and interpretation.

As with just about every tiny cove along the coast, Solva has lime kilns, but it must have served quite a large area of farmland in its hinterland, as it has four substantial kilns. The path takes you to the top of them, but if the tide is low you can cut across the sand.

2013-06-26 17.01.53The path is relatively easy underfoot, but boy does it go up and down. I think the rock here has soft patches where valleys cut inland, so you go steeply down, then steeply up again; often steps are cut into the rock and soil to help.

Newgale itself is really not much more than a few beach shops and cafés, a pub (the Duke of Edinburgh), and a wide surfing beach facing directly out to the Atlantic. You cross a bridge over a small river, which, like so many others along this coast, is trapped behind a high storm-tossed pebble bar. Some have forced themselves an opening, but this one simply ducks under the pebbles to re-emerge below the bar at the sand line.

2013-06-26 18.32.31Coming over the bar are two youths manhandling a couple of kayaks and a black and white Newfoundland.  The Newfoundland decides it does not want to come down the steep pebbles and lies down on top, taking all of the lad’s strength to drag him up to his feet and then down the slope. We talk about dogs, and in particular the problem of controlling large ones. The lad with the Newfoundland was on holiday, but the other one was local, doing work experience at the surf school. I recall doing work experience at school (a new thing at that time); it was with the Post Office at their offices in Cardiff, using a punch tape terminal to connect to a LEO mainframe. I dearly love the Post Office, but punch tape versus surf school, something tells me that I didn’t get the best deal.

Whether the distance was four miles or five and a half, I don’t know, but I got to the Duke of Edinburgh with time to sit for a while waiting for the bus :-).

Day 69 – Abereiddy to Caerfai

sandal walking again, wild ponies and a floating seal, Hebridean havoc and the first feminist, spray drift and the true path

25th June 2013

miles completed: 765
miles to go: 303

2013-06-25 09.40.09On the Strumble Shuttle, the bus from St Davids to Abereiddy, is the same elderly lady from the day before. She did her full distance as planned, Trefin to Whitesands Bay, eleven miles. Unfortunately on the part of the path she had been on they had been strimming the grass and she had been suffering with hay fever all night. Today she is planning to walk to Goodwick, I don’t recall where from, but I did tell her about the Fairyland teas!

At the Abereiddy car park, another group of schoolchildren get ready for coasteering and are being given instructions on how to put on a wetsuit without getting stuck. I don’t wait to see if they manage it.

2013-06-25 09.37.19It is another day of relatively easy walking. My feet had got very sore towards the end of the previous day, so today I am wearing sandals again. In some ways this is not the best footwear as the path is quite stony in places, and the points of sharp stones can hurt through the thin soles of the sandals. However, I have none of the pressure soreness from wearing boots, and my feet have a chance to ‘air’. Indeed, the day before, I had to peel my inner socks off as if I were pulling off a layer of skin … and don’t think about the smell :-(.

I don’t recall anything of note between Abereiddy and Whitesands, except playing coast path ‘leapfrog’ for a while with a Canadian lady, who was walking nearly the same speed, but very slightly more slowly than me, so that I would get ahead, but when I stopped to take photographs, or chat to someone, she would pass by.

On this stretch I got my first glimpse of St Davids, indeed the only glimpse of St Davids, from the coastal path. The dell in which it is set was called ‘Vallis Rosina‘, the valley of the little marsh. St David was an ascetic, so a monastery in a marsh would probably have suited him, but above all, as has been evident from going round the coast, it is not easy to spot from the sea.

However, a thousand years ago, just as today, military intelligence serves where direct observation fails, and clearly the Vikings did, at various times, work out where it was to come to burn, loot and kill. The last attack was by the ‘Norsemen of the Isles1. These will have been from the Hebrides, which remained Norse territory, the ‘Kingdom of the Isles‘, until the 13th century … so, a link to Tiree.

The last promontory before Whitesands Bay is St Davids Head. This has been increasingly a land of ponies, who graze the moor-like areas around the clifftops and the hills inland. On St David’s Head itself there is a herd of about 20 grazing together. As in sheep country, it can be hard to tell the difference between person tracks and pony tracks and I quickly lost track of the ‘real’ Coast Path, but it doesn’t really matter so long as one keeps reasonably close to the sea and heads out along the headland.

The night before, as I drove back to St Davids, there was an interview with John Humphrys (that is JH being interviewed for once). He said that as a political journalist he wasn’t sure whether ‘truth’ was a useful concept. He tried to help people see the facts so that they could make up their minds, their own ‘truth’, and yet as he expressed this doubt about absolute truth, he could not avoid repeatedly using the word.

I think he was thinking of things like "the last Labour government was spendthrift" as opposed to "the last Labour government‘s annual deficit until the banking crisis was less than 40 billion pounds as opposed to the current government’s 120 billion"; the former a possible ‘truth’ if you decide to believe it, the latter ‘facts’.

So, is there a ‘true’ Coast Path?  There is clearly an ‘official’ one, but is it the ‘right’ one?

2013-06-25 12.22.07In fact, I am sure I wasn’t on the official one, nor even the right one, as the path I was following showed that it definitely was a pony track and petered out. However, I was able to find a different person (or maybe pony) track that led to the high point of St David’s Head, and then round the back of it where I found a cromlech (or maybe dolmen, I’m not sure of the distinction), a huge flat stone propped up by another enormous stone, like a giant rabbit snare: push the supporting stone out of the way and ten tons of rock crashes down on you, instant rabbit pancake.

Whitesands Bay itself is wide and open to the Celtic Sea. This was a calm day, so while there were plenty of surfboards on the sea, they were mainly paddling around. However, I can imagine that the surf shops in St Davids are justified, as when the wind and waves come off the Atlantic, there is nothing between America and the beach here to stop them.

It is still out of main season, so the large car park is well used but not overfull, and the beach also has plenty of people, but does not seem at all crowded. However, critically, the beach is busy enough to merit a substantial beach café! So with a ‘Surf Burger’ in my hand I sit to eat.

A man approaches me, looks at my t-shirt (the Tiree 10K one) and says, "does that say ‘Tiree‘". It turns out his wife is the mother of the Tiree librarian. They tell me about their house set on a hillside amongst a forest in the Teifi Valley. The slope of the land means their conservatory looks straight into the treetops. "It is like living in a treehouse," he says.

There is a path leading up the back of the beach, so I take that, unsure whether there will be other ways up, as the far side of the beach backs into a rocky cliff. However, there are steps up about a third of the way along the beach, so it would have been possible to get some sand between my toes.

Soon after Whitesands Bay, you turn Point St John and, instead of the open ocean to the right, there is the Sound of Ramsey, with Ramsey Island beyond. The island has steep cliffs, just like the mainland, but then, over most of the island, a plateau of flat fields, at a height, I guess, of about 200 feet.  Two hills rise up from the plain towards the centre and north of the island, but towards the south, it is as if the island has been in a car crash: the land is concertinaed into a series of small hills, like crumpled paper.

The Welsh name is Ynys Dewi, David’s Island, David not Ramsey; I’m not sure of the linguistic, national or religious politics in that.

2013-06-25 14.34.03The inlet of St Justinian is home to the St Davids Lifeboat Station, and also the point where boats ply back and forth, taking day-trippers across to Ramsey Island. One is landing as I pass, a rib, and the passengers step gingerly from the bobbing craft to the steps beside the lifeboat slipway.

On the path is a small yellow plastic square, with a metal plug, about the diameter of a tubular handrail. It was flat to the ground, so only noticeable if you look down at the right moment. I wonder if it is a plug covering a hole to insert a metal tube in, but then I cant think why you’d want to have a vertical metal rod and anyway I can’t prise it open; another one for my list of mysteries of the way.

Further on people sit on the cliff watching a grey seal floating in the water, and further again a couple sit together looking out to sea, while a sea gull stands on a rock a few feet behind, looking over their shoulder.

This is a busier part of the path, I see some people (as opposed to nobody) going my way and some in the other direction. Most are couples, but some solo walkers, like myself, and a very small number of bigger groups. Most are retirees or of that age, but in this section there are also an increasing number of younger people including the occasional family.

One couple warns me of crop spraying ahead, although the wind is coming from the sea, so should blow most of the spray drift away from me. I see the sprayer, which is a dedicated machine, not simply a tractor-towed spray, but it is moving between fields, so I am not showered.

2013-06-25 14.23.10My first job was mathematical and computational modelling of agricultural sprays in the ‘Spray Physics Group’ at the National Institute of Agricultural Engineering. Spray drift was one of the great problems then, and is still today. The drift is mainly from the very smallest drops, tens of microns across, a tiny volume of liquid, but a large number of individual drops. At these very small sizes, gravity is virtually impotent and the tiniest air currents take them anywhere.

Some of the work in the area was about trying to make sprays with more uniform drop sizes (usually in the 100s of microns, say a third to a fifth of a millimetre), so with fewer tiny drops to blow away. One of the techniques included spinning a disk very fast, like a supercharged record player, then dribbling the spray on the disk, flinging it in all directions. Unlikely though it sounds, it actually produces very good spray!

My own work was more focused on electrostatically charged sprays. That is, you put a charge on the spray using a high voltage electrode and then the spray drops become attracted to any earthed object, including the plant leaves. We were mainly dealing with water-based sprays, but ICI had developed oil-based electrostatic sprays where the electric field tore the fluid apart, making the spray as well as helping it get to the crops. We did debunk some of their more grandiose claims, but still it was an interesting system. Less good was the way they were marketing and testing the early commercial versions in Africa.

There are good agricultural reasons to use oil-based sprays in a hot climate: water-based sprays can evaporate away before they even hit the crop. And there are also good business reasons; once you have bought an ICI electrostatic sprayer, you have to get all the special fluids from them! In addition, health and safety regimes are less strict, which is ‘useful’ for a new product. Indeed the picture used in a lot of their marketing materials depicted an African labourer walking through a field of maize with a hand-held unit held on a pole at head height.  The man wore no protective clothing. The literature claimed that the spray, being electrostatically charged, would head straight for the crops. However, the truth is it will head for any earthed object, including the labourer’s head.

I have no idea whether ICI‘s system or the systems being developed at our unit have ever been widely used.

2013-06-25 16.39.18The last inlet before Caerfai Bay, where my van is camped, is Porth Clais, a narrow but deep inlet, a natural harbour with a substantial breakwater added. There are, of course, the obligatory lime kilns, but a lot of them, two either side of the harbour, so maybe this was one of the major ports for the lime for the area.

There is also a café/kiosk, but I am almost at the end of my journey for the day and continue (passing tea!).

Finally, the path passes close to the church of St Non, David‘s mother. The story is that she was being pursued by David‘s father, a local king (although I don’t know why she was running away), and the church is where she gave birth. She obviously continued to have marital problems, as she later seemed to spend her life founding religious houses, rather than playing the dutiful wife – early ‘women’s lib‘?

As the path leads down the west side of Caerfai Bay there is a flat-topped stone beside the path with a Celtic cross incised upon it; there is nothing marked on the map, so one to try to find out about later.

I exit the path on a series of wooden steps, but there is nothing on the footpath sign to say this leads to the road. In general the Pembroke footpath signs are relatively good at telling you what is off path, so maybe they were just having a bad day.

  1. See p.5, ‘St Davids Bishop’s Palace‘, CADW, 1991.[back]

Day 68 – Strumble Head to Abereiddy

local knowledge and stone circles, decayed brickworks and a deep lagoon

24th June 2013

miles completed: 739
miles to go: 319

Although a much longer distance than the previous day, this turned out to be the relatively uneventful day that I had expected the previous day to be.

I drove to Abereiddy and parked the van there on a wide flat area of rough stone and earth behind the faltering sea defences. An information board notes that the sea defences are no longer doing their job, and their future is uncertain. As in other areas of Wales, and indeed the whole of the UK, hard decisions have to be made about where it is worth fighting the inevitable driving force of the sea. Here there are a small number of cottages, which would be threatened if the sea defences were lost.

There is a large pile of huge boulders on one area of the car park, so this suggests that the decision has been made to strengthen the defences. For now, the sea is rebuffed.

I had arrived an hour before the bus was due in order to make myself breakfast and prepare for the day. As I wait for the bus a party of schoolchildren arrive and start to get into wetsuits. I’d called in the car park the previous evening on the way to St Davids to check it had plenty of room, and there were people finishing an afternoon of coasteering, so I wonder if this is what the children are about to do.

After arriving so early I almost missed the bus. I was reading when it arrived, but immediately saw it and got out of the van, and then another van, which had been stationary, started to manoeuvre between me and the bus, but happily I managed to flag it down before it left without me, although I had to pick up my SPOT device on the way as it fell out of its frayed holder with a clunk. I was glad this had happened in the car park; if it had fallen on the way I would probably have never heard. The fraying of the cover that clipped onto the rucksack started as soon as I got the device, but I’d not noticed it had got so bad. It does seem odd to make a safety-critical device and then have a holder that wears away so quickly.

On the bus the people in the seats behind were talking about their day ahead. One was clearly in her seventies and had been walking for many years and was planning a nine-mile day. However, she said that the maximum she would think of doing was a twelve-mile day … and what was it the Ramblers told me?

After she got off I moved back into her seat as I’d been on the front seat, and a lady got on with walking sticks, that is the medical kind, not the ones to help you walk distances. The buses that run round the Pembroke coast and are so useful for walkers are also a lifeline for local people in remote villages.

The lady with the sticks exchanged banter with the bus driver during the journey and also told me about some of the things as we passed. There is the large house at the top of the hill in Porthgain where the husband was an architect and the wife watched every step of the builders’ progress, "I’m paying for it and I’ll have it exactly as I want it." Then as we passed what had looked like a (modern built or restored) shepherd’s hut or road builder’s hut, she told me this was where (if I recall the name) Rhys Griffiths Jones lived, clearly expecting me to recognise the name.

If my celebrity sense was stronger I’d also have recognised and recalled the name of the female celebrity who, the bus driver said, had been reported to have been born in Trefin, but, as the lady corrected him, had lived and been to school in Trefin, but really been born in Swansea.

Several walkers got out at Strumble Head, and after turning on my various devices and taking a few photos, I seem to be the first to set off south and west.

2013-06-24 10.37.56The day is a succession of spectacular caves and bays, with sheer cliffs and crashing waves. At various points I saw a tiny black lizard flash across the path in front of me, several wrens, and dazzling blue dragonflies that hovered tantalisingly above the path ahead, or sometimes bathed on small rocks under the noonday sun, but would whirr away as I came close, sometimes dragging a mating female with them, like a small and drab shadow. In nature it is always the men who are the dandies. At one point there is a group of ponies grazing, mostly mares with one stallion.  It was standing nonchalantly while two of the mares play-fought (or maybe fought) one another, leaping, butting, entangled manes and tails, almost like one fluid eight-legged creature. The stallion did not even bother to look interested; unlike the gaudy dragonflies vying for a mate, he could simply stand there, his credentials all too clear.

There are also occasional patches with tiny holes in the path, barely 3mm across, and some fresh dug with fresh dry powdery soil dumped around. They did not look right there in the bare earth for any sort of colony insects and there was something near one that looked like a tiny blue/green wasp, so I wonder if this is some sort of ‘solitary’ wasp, which happens to be in clusters because conditions are right for digging there.

I notice at one point a couple from the bus, who must have started out a little after me; when I stop to take photographs they get closer, but as I walk they recede.

Past the Youth Hostel at Pwll Deri, the path runs briefly alongside the road, where there is a memorial stone to Dewi Emrys, 18791952 (a poet who won the Eisteddfod chair four times), and on to the mile-long headland towards Penbwchdy.

It reminds me of following one of the mountain ridgeways of Offa’s Dyke, and while they are much higher in total height, they are not so much further above the surrounding land as this is above the sea.

I meet a couple with two Cocker Spaniels, one very old and quiet, and the other bouncing with life and barking when another walker passed. She did not bark at me, maybe because I was already talking to her elder. We (that is the couple and I, not the Cocker Spaniels and I) talked about dogs and in particular Bernese Mountain Dogs as when I said we had once had one, they told me about a friend who breeds them, but where they find five Bernese at a time a bit much to handle when they visit.

As I look back along the long headland I also see the first couple who left after me in the distance, but not again.

2013-06-24 12.54.18Although my walking speed is a lot less than I had estimated before I started, I still seem to walk faster than most folk. I have never met many people along the Coast Path except close to major centres, but where I do I always overtake them, and never, to my recall, the other way round, except when there may be a period of me stopping to take photos, being overtaken or caught up, then when I continue, re-overtaking. This happened soon after this today with a young girl with a big backpack – and to be fair I carry very little – where I overtook her, then only just kept ahead as I kept stopping, and then she overtook again; the leap frog continued for some time, before she too faded into the distance.

I had thought I might develop a more leisured pace, and maybe if my distance per day calculations had been more realistic, I would, but, walking eight to ten hours a day does not encourage leisure. The speed and often lack of rest stops may well explain some of the exhaustion … not to mention seven hundred miles.

And this day the feet did hurt.

A little further on I spotted a half stone circle against the cliff edge.  It reminded me of the Neolithic fort on one of the Aran Islands where the limestone cliff has been eroded, leaving a perfect semicircle of fort perched above the waves; in another few thousand years it will all be gone, fallen into the hungry sea. I half imagine my first food (a Scotch egg) sitting where the cliff path passes the centre of the semi-circle: I’m not sure if that was a mystical or simply mathematically compulsive thought, but when I got close the stone circle turned out to be the stone cliff-top wall, giving a soft spot on the cliff edge a wide berth.  The centre of the semi-circle would not be a safe place to be.

Coming on to the beach at Aber Bach (the small mouth) the stream flows into a shingle bar and then disappears between the stones, only to reappear in multiple springs out of the pebbles a few yards further down the beach. A Coast Path sign offers an alternative route for times of ‘storm or flash flood’, the latter being when the tiny stream becomes a raging torrent, and the former because that’s what put these rocks here in the first place. Happily I suffer neither storm nor flash flood as I pick my way over the pebbles.

2013-06-24 13.32.31Up and down and you are on Aber Mawr (the big mouth), a larger beach (as you would expect).  While Aber Bach had some small boats, Aber Mawr is empty, but on the far side, as the path climbs up the hill ready to skirt the cliffs, ahead is a stone doorway, a sort of flat-roofed store room or passageway set into the hillside; the path goes on to climb and turn to go over its roof. I can’t make out its purpose; it is neatly stone sided, with what looks like a slab roof, but appears to be open on the far side, albeit covered in thick vegetation.  When going up over it the cliff side looks just as solid as the rest, but clearly there is some sort of depression there, so overgrown as to be invisible. Even looking back on the photos the hillside looks continuous. The only clue I can see on the map is ‘Quarry (dis)’, so maybe, under all the vegetation, is a small quarry and this was a short tunnel under a roadway that the current path follows.

2013-06-24 14.12.17Some way on, past more needle rocks, sheep-wool-laden fences and green tumbling cliffs, you come to Abercastle, a natural harbour, with boats sitting on the low-tide sand, mostly pleasure craft, but at least one more serious-looking small fishing boat.  The remains of some sort of old 19th century industrial building perch on the hillside and a sort of breakwater (behind where the boats lie) diverts the stream to one side of the bay. On the far side an upended cannon sits beside the path, its muzzle pointing towards the sky. I assume that rather than being set there as a form of 18th century anti-balloon gun, it was simply for tying up larger boats.

Apart from fields of leeks near Cardigan, virtually all the clifftop fields have been grazing land, but now I start to pass wheat fields, the wind creating waves of light, and so I take my first (deliberate) movie.

Further again a real stone circle appears in the distance, perched above the Trefin MillTrefin is just up the hill from the coast and the old mill sits just beside the shore. It would once have been a bustling small town with slate quarries, mill and lime kilns, but now sits quietly overlooking the sea. I know there is a pub in Trefin, but I decide to wait. I should note too that the Coast Path signs here in Pembroke do often point out the places where side footpaths lead, and certainly Trefin is clearly marked.

The path follows along the road for a hundred yards or so and I meet a family of serious-looking cyclists, father, mother and teenage girl. (Actually, thinking about it, I make so many assumptions when I see people. They could be all family friends, or anything, but I’ll leave them as a classic nuclear family for ease of writing.) They are doing various activities, including, as the mother reminds her husband, walking (I wonder if there is a family story there).

They ask me about the best bits along the way, and I mention St Trillo’s in Rhos-on-Sea, the Duke of Lancaster and walking over the Severn Bridge. I also talk about the stretch from Chester to Prestatyn being one of the most interesting, including walking through Connah’s Quay.  They are from Liverpool, but spend a lot of time in Llŷn, yet have never seen the Duke of Lancaster as you do not see it from the road, only by rail. As Liverpudlians, they attribute the difference in atmosphere between Connah’s Quay and Penmaenmawr as solely due to proximity to Liverpool. They clearly know some of the ‘rougher areas’ of Liverpool, but didn’t know about the real ‘problem’ families being shipped out to Rhyl (a bit like transportation to Australia in the 19th century).

2013-06-24 16.39.37As the path leaves the road, you go straight through the stone circle, eleven stones of substantial size, and yet unmarked on the OS map. A little further and a single megalith stands on the cliff top, not at the end of a promontory or other obvious natural feature, but presumably placed with some logic of its time. Whether this is connected with the stone circle nearby, or of a completely different age, I can’t tell, and it too is unmarked on the map. Maybe this is simply an area with too many antiquarian features to mark them all.

The rocks to seaward around here remind me of the Lost World, rising nearly sheer, but topped with thick vegetation. I can almost see those miniature dinosaurs crashing through the bracken and gorse.

2013-06-24 17.13.56A white sugar loaf, or maybe kulfi, Indian ice cream, is perched on the cliff edge ahead, and beyond it, on the next promontory, is a similar but unpainted stone structure: the harbour markers for Porthgain. Almost at once the broken remains of Porthgain brick and stone works appear.  The biggest remaining structures are the remains of huge brick-built stores, or maybe silos, for crushed road rock: Porthgain quarries were once the major supplier for roads across Britain. Each silo would contain rock of a different size, and ships would come and load at the massive quayside. The actual harbour is not huge, but the quays feel that they would not move easily, neither with wild sea nor earthquake.

The brick kilns themselves were completely demolished, and old photographs on information boards show the works with its tall chimney. The lady on the bus had told me she remembered when they were demolished with dynamite.

2013-06-24 17.40.23I was tired and my feet quite sore by this point as I’d not sat down for five or six hours, so the Sloop Inn in Porthgain was a blessing. The Sloop has photographs of old Porthgain on its wall, quarry workers manhandling huge lumps of stone, and working men in suits, lined up for works photographs. Opposite is the most remarkable building of brick and tin with, it seems, hundreds of rescued shipping net floats of every colour hanging outside. A sign says, ‘Very Sorry. No Mackerel Today’.

After this it is just another mile or so past old quarry buildings and low-sun-lit cliffs until the first buildings of Abereiddy appear, and the car park with my campervan waiting for me.  I divert slightly off path to see a deeply cut, almost rectangular, cove, clearly the remains of an old quarry by its square-cut sides and the small ruin near its end. The water is a remarkable blue-green colour. Indeed the water along so much of this coast is utterly clear, as few and small streams flow in, so there is little organic matter or silt to cloud it.

Going down into Abereiddy I discover this is called ‘the Blue Lagoon‘ and was formed when the quarry shut down and the owners dynamited the narrow neck between sea and quarry, flooding the old quarry floor and leaving a cold lagoon 25 metres deep in places.

Finally, and critically, I am in time back at St Davids to visit the wonderful fish and chip shop and get my supper for the night.

Day 67 – Fishguard to Strumble Head

an unexpectedly glorious day, Fairyland and choral evensong

23rd June 2013

miles completed: 723
miles to go: 335

This was a day that I expected to be beautiful in terms of scenery, without much happening.

It was time to leave the sea-edge campsite at Parrog, Newport.  It had a reel of garden hose at the water standpipe, which made refilling the van water easy. So, with toilet emptied, rubbish in the various recycling bins and water filled, I set off.

Today was only going to be a short walk from Goodwick, where I had stopped the previous day, to Strumble Head. This broke up the otherwise very long stretch of coast without a village, but was short enough to do and still get to St Davids in time for the choral evensong at the Cathedral.

I was aiming to park at Strumble Head, then catch the ‘Strumble Shuttle‘ coastal and walkers’ bus back to Goodwick. I was at Goodwick not long after 9am and the bus did not pass Strumble Head until 10:28, so I had time to stop at the Beaches Diner at Goodwick, opposite the bus stop. I had spotted this the day before, although it was closed when I got to Goodwick.

2013-06-23 11.01.06Happily it was open and did a wonderful breakfast, two eggs, two thick rashers of bacon, two sausages, beans, hash brown, toast and tea all for a fiver. I called in for a second cup later when the bus brought me back, and only at that point noticed that on the back of the menu it said that all breakfast items were sourced in Pembrokeshire within 15 miles of the café. For the bacon it told you the butcher and for the free range eggs the farm they were produced.

I love ‘caf’-style cafés, with Formica tables and basic food, but these often use freezer-pack sausage, etc.  Here is a ‘caf’-style place, with a ‘caf’ level of prices, but with restaurant-quality ingredients.

I typed a little while, eating my breakfast (and it was good to taste even before I realised it was also good for me and the environment!), and then drove off to Strumble Head to park the van and get my boots on.

When the bus arrived I hurried from the van in case it left without me, but need not have as there were a lot of people getting out. Amongst the first was an old gentleman with a wooden walking stick. Although I have seen many quite elderly people walking along the Coast Path, I thought he didn’t look quite up to this, but in fact he got back on the bus, he had just got off to stretch his legs.

Initially we were the only people on the bus and as we travelled he told me about the things along the way.

He pointed out the road to the church where he once, on a very clear day, saw across to Ireland; he said the Mountains of Morne, but I think from here it would be different mountains. He showed me a house where the yard in front was filled with old Morris Minors. I mentioned the old Chevrolet, he of course knew it, and as we went past he pointed out that on the other side of the lane was a collection of American cars of the space-age wings and drive-in movie variety. There is evidently an antique car rally at which both exhibit.

He also pointed out the house of the chair of the county show, who, I am told with the faintest hint of disapproval, "does not take the bus".

"How long are you staying?" he asks, "You must see the Invasion Tapestry."

I tell him I have seen it already, when I first came to Fishguard when the girls were little, but also that I had been disappointed not to see the Cardigan cardigan.  This was a cause of sorrow for him, he seemed to know people connected with it, and I think had already been telling them it should be on display.

"It is as high as this bus," he said, "with coracles and villages around."

He thought it should go in Cardigan Castle, and I told him to feel free to use my own disappointment to bring pressure on the powers that be.

The path from Goodwick heads initially up small steep roads past a memorial to those who have worked on the Goodwick railway, a building with ‘Wincarnis, The great restorative, Sold Here’, painted on its side, a street with an inordinate number of pubs, including one tiny one (The Rose and Crown) and the Theatr Fforwn Cymru, once a community centre, but now apparently disused.

The houses on the north side of the street will have spectacular rear views over Goodwick bay and the coast beyond, although I guess the closest thing is the ferry terminal.  There are evidently plans to create a marina within the breakwater here.

I take a little excursion to see the Garn Wen cromlechs, the remains of five-thousand-year-old burial chambers, but the hill is very overgrown, so I only manage to see the closest one. On top of the hill is a cross on some form of obelisk, but again I cannot get close enough to find out its story.

Continuing up the street, I see a house with a satellite dish, not unusual, but the satellite dish is painted in the Irish tricolour! Next door is a house with a small, but exuberant collection of garden statues. The biggest is of two boys playing leapfrog. Neither subtle nor designerly, indeed I’m sure both over the top and kitsch, but, so what, they are fun and brighten up an otherwise quite drab road.

As the road runs out there is a beacon and yet another cannon, and the real path begins.

This whole stretch of the footpath is easy in terms of the path, with the odd slightly precipitous cliff, but only for a short distance, and with firm footing. It is especially wide and well trodden near the Goodwick end, but fine for the whole length, which was welcome, as I wanted to be back at St Davids in time to park up the van and go to the choral evensong at the Cathedral.

So I walked along expecting the next stop to be back at the van at Strumble Head.

How do you capture an almost unbearably lovely place in words?

There was a sign on the path:

unofficial *
Home tea stop!
Dirty boots walkers and dog’s welcome
THE GUARDIAN ANGEL PROJECT as seen on TV and radio 4 coverage …
*Please note Home GALLERY unofficial* tea
stop!  Voluntary donations.  Restrictions apply sign
book as our Friends.  No bureaucrats!  We are
uninsured and this cottage does not comply with
current health & safety

This sounded just what I’d been saying was needed since almost the beginning of the walk, small informal places to stop for just a cup of tea, and maybe a cake, biscuit or other snack. There had been the churches up Offa’s Dyke that had offered free tea and coffee (although I think I always left a donation larger than if it had been in a shop!), but this was the first private example, except one farm selling ice cream near Oswestry.

Half a mile off the track meant a mile round trip, but this was so perfect and I was not in a hurry, so I set off up the footpath inland, just hoping that it wouldn’t be shut!

The path was easy, and clear to follow, with just a very slight slope, and led to a small group of houses and a church, St Gwydaf’s, Llanwnda, which I think might have been the one where the gentleman from the bus had seen Ireland.

I think the first thing I saw was the rainbow-coloured wind generator, and then, as I turned the bend into the hamlet, the boat, the Sea-Fury, brightly coloured, and, it turned out, originally built in 1860 but now with an engine converted to run off old chip fat. Then there was the garden, a glorious clutter of plant pots, bicycles, old cupboard drawers and a garden chair. I couldn’t see the teas and wondered if it was closed, but then I saw the sign.

OPEN HOME organic

and another:


and yet another shaped like, a cross between a duck and dog:

P.V. Wind

I followed the signs, and then found old road signs modified, lots of STOP signs: “STOP at Fairyland“, “STOP TOXIC”, “STOP & THINK”.

I stopped and entered Fairyland.

It was the other end of the gloriously messy garden, but, while equally cluttered, not cluttered with the paraphernalia of life, more cluttered with a cornucopia of everyday and found objects turned into magic. Brightly painted plant pots, a shed with bright red drain pipe, a bell saying ‘Please Ring’, like Alice in Wonderland‘s bottle, a sort of gate to the open door made of old broom handle and car hub cap with a plastic rat on it.

I rang and entered. Maybe it would have been useful if I had had Alice in Wonderland‘s bottle as the entrance is very low.

2013-06-23 12.49.23And inside, there is a worktop with kettles and a collection of mugs, tea bags, a fridge with milk inside, and small plate for donations. But everywhere else, anywhere your eye rested, another discovery, new paper cuttings, paintings, old china cups and jugs, a collection of snails made from seashells and clay and lots about energy and the environment. In the corner is an old solid fuel cooker, maybe a Rayburn, and on the far wall a wishing well, a stone trough inside the room with water bubbling into it.

I sign the book.

I am a Friend.

Sadly no one answered the bell, my wonderful hosts must be away for the day. Maybe in their zero CO2 car that is shown in pictures in one corner of the room.

As I leave I realise I am a little breathless and tears are in my eyes.

Fairyland at Llanwnda will go down with St Trillo’s at Rhos-on-Sea, the Duke of Lancaster near Mostyn, and the little well in Anglesey as one of the wonders of Wales.

I note that two of these are holy sites, and I think that this Fairyland is also holy, because it is founded in love and giving and that is the sole criterion Christ gave for recognising his disciples.

As I walked on I reflected. I’ve found myself getting quite depressed over periods when I felt nothing was ‘happening’; this included some very lovely areas. I am not a patient person, and the ‘mission’ of the walk is to learn (scholarship?), so if I don’t feel I’m ‘learning’ in some way or other, I then feel I’m not doing my ‘job’.

However, I have to learn that the long fallow periods are just as much part of the journey as the periods of intense harvest.

The point is not that something happens every mile that I walk, but that, by walking every mile, something happens.

As I get back to the path four people are at the point where the sign says about the teas, two are from Southern France, and two from Brittany (Wales in France!).  At first I think they are looking at the sign and enthusiastically tell them they must go up, but in fact they had already been as they were on a circular walk and had passed it earlier.  I am trying to remember the word the man used to describe it, perhaps ‘singular’.  In fact they are just waiting for the teenager in their party.

"He is more courageous," they say, "and has gone on. To the invasion rock."

As I go on I meet him, running back along the track and greet him as he is briefly in earshot.

This is the very bay the French ships landed. It does not look hospitable. I can see that on a good day it is not a bad place to weigh anchor, and there is a small shingle beach to bring long boats ashore, but then those 1,400 men in heavy uniforms, carrying guns and goodness knows what other stores, would have had to climb the cliffs. They are mostly just very steep slopes, so not rock climbing, more very hard scrambling. I guess any better port would have people in it and maybe guns, like Fishguard Bay. No wonder they all got drunk after.

At the memorial stone is another couple, and I tell them too about the teas.

"Is it still there?", the lady asks.

"Yes," I say, "it is wonderful."

So she and her husband set off for him to see what all the fuss is about.

A while later, closer to Strumble Head I pass two young men, huge rucksacks on their back, and tell them.  They are excited, not by the place, just the idea of a cup of tea. I am guessing they have come all the way from Abercastle since their last place to get anything.

2013-06-23 14.53.50And so I get back to Strumble Head, taking time to look across at the lighthouse, the lamp periodically flashing, bright even in the daylight, and I go down to an old wartime lookout post, which, in my pictures, appears to be painted white, but I recall being very slightly off-white! It is now a Bird Observatory that Bill Oddie came to visit.

If I had walked here to wait for a bus back, then the Observatory would have been a good place to shelter, as even with the sun out, the wind makes it chilly to stand around. I am glad I have the van to get into.

Having parked up at a campsite in St Davids, I make my way to the Cathedral, the smallest in the UK. The Cathedral is set in a dip so you initially look down on it from above. When Viking raiders were out to sea, there were advantages to dips.  I stand looking down on it beside a gatehouse, or what I had always assumed was a gatehouse … until the bells started. In fact the ‘gatehouse’ is really the bell tower for the Cathedral, which happens to have a thoroughfare running under it. Although most British churches had bells in a tower within the church, separate bell towers are common; I can think of one in Cumbria where the bell tower is built on a hillside above the church to allow the bells to be heard more widely, and of course the Leaning Tower of Pisa is just the bell tower for the Duomo.

In days gone by, the soprano section of a Cathedral Choir would have been all young boys before their voices broke. Now, the choir sopranos are all teenage girls. I guess that even if you are a boy who likes singing, doing so wearing a dress every Sunday will not be good for street cred.

The service itself was good, but after Fairyland it had a lot to live up to. The singing was wonderful, but why is the Anglican preaching voice so soporific?

2013-06-23 19.28.32The service was focused around the feast of the nativity of John the Baptist (basically when the Anglican church celebrates his birth), and the readings were parallel texts: one from the Old Testament about the birth of Samson, the other from the New Testament on the birth of John the Baptist. Both were born under Nazarite vows: ‘no razor shall be used on his head and he shall not have any strong drink’; well, I could manage the first of these.

Both Samson and John were wild charismatic figures, and John is fascinating: born within the establishment, and yet working outside it; a man with a great personal following, and yet always pointing away from himself to another. The facts came out, but I just wished that some of that charisma and excitement could break through the preacher’s calm soft voice; if not for me, for the sake of the choristers whom I could see struggling to keep their attention.

I was brought up in the Methodist Church, the founder of which, John Wesley, was condemned by his Anglican peers as being ‘too enthusiastic’; they could think of no more damning indictment.  So maybe the Anglican voice dates back a long way.

After the service I head for the fish and chip shop, but alas it is closed :-(. However, the small hotel/restaurant opposite is open and has free WiFi. Except that it is a Sunday evening and so the WiFi doesn’t work; no Sabbath observance here, just that it is out of school hours, when the children start connecting to games, or downloading music and videos – I see the same in Tiree. But the food is good.

The TV in the bar has been on S4C, the Welsh language channel, but evidently only because the rugby was on earlier.

The landlady tells me about the area.

"They call it ‘little England beyond Wales‘," she says, "go a little way out of St Davids into the villages and they speak Welsh, but not here."

I ask if this is due to people moving here for retirement and things like that, but she says no, it goes back far longer, but she doesn’t know why or when.

I wonder if the presence of the Cathedral has any bearing. Nowadays the Anglican Church in Wales has autonomy, but for many years it was controlled directly from Canterbury; so maybe the succession of English appointees shaped the town.

I notice later on the back cover of the book ‘Candle in the Darkness: Celtic spirituality from Wales‘, that, at the time it was written, the author, Patrick Thomas, worked at St Davids. and amongst his responsibilities was ‘assisting monoglot clergy to learn Welsh‘.

Day 66 – Newport to Goodwick

an easier day, along a coast like a half-eaten sandwich, green and black beetles, the last invasion of Britain, and the final voyage of the Lusitania

22nd June 2013

miles completed: 717
miles to go: 341

Based on the official mileage tables, Newport is exactly 704 miles, and two-thirds the total distance is 705 miles, so, depending on exactly where they count as ‘Newport1, today, or even maybe yesterday I pass another milestone.

2013-06-22 11.45.45I had originally thought of setting off early and walking to Strumble Head and then getting the Strumble Shuttle bus back to Newport. However, I had been warned the night before that Newport to Fishguard was sufficient for one day, so instead I had a more relaxed morning and long breakfast at the Morawelon Café beside the campsite.  It is obviously catering slightly more upmarket with wicker chairs and breakfast at £8.75 (tea/coffee extra), as opposed to the Fronlas Café the day before at £6.75 (tea/coffee included).

The path south of Newport is nothing like the CardiganNewport stretch.  I think this is partly because it is close to multiple access points and therefore more heavily trodden. Also the fact that it is used more will undoubtedly lead to higher investment; certainly there are places where steps have been cut here that would have been left as a muddy slope on the more remote stretch.

In one place, I note that the path below my feet has been cut flat from solid rock, not unlike the Roman Steps, except using more modern machinery. I recall the small bulldozer I was told about, but here there was obviously some heavy rock cutting also. In another place the cliff had eroded, leaving the path literally clinging to the remaining rock, but it was diverted. A few yards inland, a small section was taken and re-fenced from the farmer’s field. These are a reminder of both the initial cost and ongoing maintenance cost of the Path as a whole.

In some places, especially around Dinas Head, the cliff is as precipitous as the day before; indeed I was told that Dinas Head has the highest cliffs on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.  However, here the path is trodden wider, and where the grass and bracken might have threatened, they have been strimmed back.

I realise that the strimming may well be partly why the path is wider; if the grass is strimmed, walkers may walk on the short-cropped grass, wearing the path more evenly. Of course, on the CardiganNewport section, maintenance would involve at least a three-mile journey with a strimmer, and the more inaccessible parts may well breach health and safety rules.

I wonder about letting a herd of feral goats loose on the cliff side of the field fences to keep the grass cropped, as it was in the pony section, but then imagine meeting a feral goat on one of the narrow path sections … well, may not be my best idea.

2013-06-22 12.17.09A green iridescent beetle basks on a stone, and a bit further on a large black beetle trundles across the dusty path. Its deep black shows up clearly against the fawn earth and I realise that it is in danger crossing this open ground, just like a soldier in Afghanistan crossing a sniper’s kill zone.

In some ways the thick carapaced beetle is more like a tank, so maybe in the open it is more like the Libyan column, withdrawing from Benghazi in line with UN resolutions, then massacred from the skies, tanks torn apart like sardine cans in a rubbish tip. This brings to mind also the retreating column of Iraqi soldiers, fleeing Kuwait during the first Gulf War, tens of thousands shot in the back as they ran. It is no new thing to slaughter a defeated army; a dead enemy cannot fight again. It is the same perverted logic as Srebrenica.  Maybe the medieval solution was more humane, simply cut off the bow finger.

I am not regularly hearing or reading news while walking, but when I do, the events in Syria form a backdrop. The earlier war in Libya has exacerbated things there so much: first, for a crucial year, taking attention away from a real crushing of dissent; second, telling dictatorial powers that there is no room for compromise or diplomacy, and so giving hard-liners the upper hand; and finally, by twisting a resolution for humanitarian protection into a pretext for regime change, making future humanitarian resolutions far more difficult.

Cwm-yr-Eglwys (valley of the church) nestles on the protected east side of Dinas Island. Of the church, there is but one end wall remaining, its empty doorway looking out to sea amongst the graves. This sounds vaguely Gothic, but in fact, on a sunny day, is more picturesque, and I take quite a few photographs. A man comes into the churchyard and approaches.

"Do you want me to take one with you in?", he asks, "Sue thought you might."

2013-06-22 13.15.37He takes a photo of me with my rucksack beside me and the church remains behind.

His name is David, and he and his wife run a campsite, Greenore, at Tremain, near Aberporth.  They invite me to stay there for free, but unfortunately I’ve already passed there a day or two previously.

This is their first time at Cwm-yr-Eglwys. They sail and have spotted it from the sea and wanted to take a closer look. We talk about the coast. I realised yesterday that the coast there was only visible when walking or from the sea, no quick bus trip to a viewpoint.

As I mentioned, I was told that Dinas Head is the highest point of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, and from the map the trig point at the peak is at 142 metres (470 feet).  The views there are spectacular, thirty miles of coast open out in either direction.

The far side of Dinas Island is Pwllgwaelod, where there is a beach, a car park and a small restaurant, and I was told was a good place to stop for a beer. Behind Pwllgwaelod is a shallow-bottomed valley-like area with steep slopes towards land on the south and towards Dinas Island on the north. However, this is no simple stream making its escape: rather than rising up to the hills, at the other end of the ‘valley’ is Cwm-yr-Eglwys. Indeed whilst Dinas ‘Island’ is attached to the mainland, the connecting land is barely 5 metres above sea level. So maybe it once was an island and then the channel between it and the mainland gradually filled with the remains of crumbling cliffs or choked with tide-driven sand until it is the land we see today.

From Dinas Head the coastline towards Fishguard looked like a discarded half-eaten sandwich, each cove a tooth mark. However, up close it is the rocks that are the teeth. The vertical strata are cut and cross-cut by fissures and fault lines, so that battered by wave and rain, they shard and stand from the sea like filed incisors or a scene from Jaws, dragon teeth gnashing rabid, but ineffectual, against wave and air.

It is less well trodden than the stretch between Newport and Cwm-yr-Eglwys or around Dinas Island, and not without precipitous cliffs, but still nothing like the CardiganNewport stretch.

The landscape is lovely, but I find it a little monotonous, into one cove, round it, round the next little headland, into the next cove. Each one is lovely, and yet I found myself counting down the miles.

On the final headland before turning in towards Fishguard, a small gun battery sits on a rocky outcrop where four cannons point to sea. I don’t know when these were installed, but they certainly act as a reminder that Fishguard was the site of the last invasion of Britain.

It is one of those things I feel I should have learnt about in school, especially in Wales, but is largely forgotten. I first learnt the story when my own children were little and we were touring in the VW campervan, probably the same year we first visited AberaeronFiona had heard about a tapestry at Fishguard, produced on the 200th anniversary of the invasion, and we went to see it.

In 1797 a force of 1,400 French soldiers were landed on the coast near Fishguard.  Their intention was to initially take Fishguard itself and then move on to Bristol. In times past the Welsh and the French had taken common cause against the English, so it may be that the French hoped that they might find sympathisers when they landed, but this was not the case, and widespread looting did not help.

In the end the somewhat shambolic French army, many drunk on wine looted from Welsh farms (it was evidently still difficult to get good food and wine in France in those days as well as today), surrendered to a force of local militia a fraction of their size.

Amongst many small skirmishes with locals, a group of Welsh women led by Jemima Nicholas, a cobbler, and armed only with pitchforks had already captured a dozen Frenchmen.  They set out again looking for more, dressed in the traditional dress of a tall black hat and red dress that you still see in picture postcards.

The story is that the French mistook them for approaching red coats, hence contributing to the surrender. However, I think it more likely that they were recognised for what they were and the French laid down their arms in fear. No man, whether French, English, or Welsh for that matter, can stand up to a Welsh woman when her anger is raised.

This lesson was not forgotten during the Rebecca Riots, one of the earliest examples of grassroots social unrest in Britain (well, Robin Hood excepted).  In order to attack the hated Toll Houses, the men dressed as women, it is said to protect their identities, but I think because they were more frightening that way.

The tolls were charged on lime, the essential fertiliser on the acid soils of Pembroke, and on cattle being driven to market, a double whammy. They underline that, whether in Wales in the distant past, or more recently in the Arab Spring or London riots, it tends to be economic, not ideological, reasons that bring people to the streets in popular uprisings. These can be uprisings towards greater freedom and democracy, or towards more authoritarian and repressive regimes that promise certainty in times of trouble. The latter is especially important to remember as some of the historically most volatile parts of Europe are mired in the deepest economic recession since the war.

The Coast Path goes through the little village of Fishguard Lower Town, once a bustling herring port, then skirts to the headland on which Fishguard is built; I only see Fishguard centre later from the bus.  I had decided to go on to Goodwick, the port a mile or so on from Fishguard centre, but if I had decided otherwise, I would have been stuck, as it is not clear when and where to branch off the path to get to the bus stops.  Looking at the OS map, I think it’s probably best to follow the main road up the hill out of Lower Town, but, as elsewhere along the path, the signage offers no help.

2013-06-22 18.21.03Goodwick is a large port from which ferries go to the Irish Republic, but in its heyday, in the early years of the 20th century, it was a main port for transatlantic ferries, the Mauritania and Lusitania forming a regular service to the USA. However, after the First World War Cunard shifted its main operations to Southampton, leaving only the Ireland run. The last transatlantic sailing to leave from Fishguard was the ill-fated Lusitania a few months before it was sunk by German torpedoes.

And so, back on the bus to Newport for the night; I am the only person on the bus and the bus driver tells me things have been very quiet. I ask him if things get busier once the school holidays start.

"They used to," he said, "but not in the last couple of years, people can’t afford holidays."

Once in Newport, I carry a takeaway from the China Inn back down the hill to the campsite, and get an early night.

  1. Strictly, the path actually misses Newport itself, but goes through Parrog, but the two run into one another.[back]

Day 65 – Cardigan to Newport

“It’s hard, very hard”, arduous vertiginous path and rural life for the incomer, not to mention twenty dancing virgins

miles walked: 18
miles completed: 706.3
miles to go: 354

"It’s hard, very hard."

I was slowly nursing a half pint at the Webley Arms, between St Dogmaels and Poppit Sands, knowing that when it was finished I had to go back into the rain with no more places to stop until I got to Newport, when I overheard these words.

I had started walking late as I’d moved the van from Aberaeron to Newport and then had to wait for the bus. The bus routes form ‘watersheds’ along the coast and effectively make Fishguard to Cardigan a separate section of the coast, with an hourly bus service and no changes.

By the time I had parked the van, paid the site and walked the half mile up the road to the centre of Newport, I had just missed one bus so had time for a breakfast at the Fronlas Café before getting the noon bus. So it was nearly 1pm by the time I was on my way out of Cardigan.

2013-06-21 12.27.41The coast route pretty much misses Cardigan, although it is only a five-minute walk into the town centre where I’d caught the bus to Aberaeron the previous day. The route does take you under the town walls and to the quayside, with its statue of an otterOtters have been reintroduced into the Teifi, and I notice signs the previous day warning boat owners to keep away from the shores to protect the otters‘ habitat.

In one of the maps at Lampeter there was a remark on one river that it was the last place that an otter, or maybe it was a beaver, was seen in Wales, and it may even have been the Teifi.

The otter statue is close to the footbridge over the river that runs parallel to the old stone bridge, still used by traffic, but effectively single file for modern vehicles.

My OS map shows the Ceredigion Coast Path following the Teifi very closely, but the Wales Coast Path zig-zags through lanes and fields a short way from the shore.  Maybe there have been access problems on the old route, or maybe the Wales Coast Path planners thought the shore route too easy.

2013-06-21 13.13.53Both routes take you to St Dogmaels, where you can see the ruins of a Norman Abbey, itself built on the set of a fifth century monastery.  While Cardigan, a mile away, was the administrative and military centre with its castle, St Dogmaels was the religious centre of the area.

Beyond St Dogmaels, the path follows along beside the river passing the ‘Answer Stone‘ or ‘Blessing Stone‘, believed to be the capstone of a dolmen, where fishing boats were blessed by the Abbot of St Dogmaels.

Also at St Dogmaels, just past a flag-draped mermaid, is the plaque and plinth declaring the official start of the Pembroke Coast Path. The plaque has a footstep marked on it, and I place my booted foot beside it.

2013-06-21 13.27.30And it had started to rain, not hard but slow dampening drizzle.

Getting increasingly damp, I decided to take a half pint at the Webley Arms, which I thought the last point of refreshment before Newport, although I later realised there is a café, maybe half a mile further, before the road climbs away from the river and sea.

When I came in, the bar was empty, but then three young men came in and this was when I overheard the words. He was talking abut the problems of having recently moved to the area, and his colleagues sympathised, and also talked about winter employment, and going away for the winter to do seasonal work in ski resorts.

It seems transhumance is not uncommon in West Wales, both the ‘summer by the sea and winter inland’ of the retirees in New Quay and this seasonal search for employment. Four thousand years previously, Neolithic tribes would have moved camps depending on when different foodstuffs became available, and the seasonal movements of the animals they hunted, and in West Wales not so much has changed.

The landlord tells me later that it can be very hard for incomers, unless they have some personal connection such as marrying a local. There is no underlying animosity or intention to exclude, but communities are tight and existing relationships strong. In addition, it is hard for those used to the bustle of the city, the winters are very quiet and even the summers depend critically on weather.

2013-06-21 13.25.57Furthermore, the natural language of the area is Welsh. When we talked about experiences in Anglesey, Rosie complained of the rudeness when at a bar, two people she had been talking to in English would suddenly say a few words to each other in Welsh.  Because she knew they could speak English, it felt impolite to be excluded. My guess is they were not even aware of the language switch, just like you change the vocabulary you use when switching between talking to a child and to its parent.

That morning I’d been asking the lady at the reception at the campsite whether there was a hose fill point for the campervan. She said there wasn’t, but maybe there was something about.

"I’ll ask one of the boys," she said, referring to the ground staff.

Going out of the building she saw one in the distance, and instantly called out in Welsh.

I think it is hard for English speakers to realise that while everyone *can* speak English, and indeed will do so without apparent effort, it is more like going to Spain or Italy to live.  You can get away with speaking English and most people will understand and respond, but when rapid communication is needed, you should not expect to be able to understand what is said. I recall many evenings in Italy with groups of Italians, who would start the evening talking in English for my benefit, but would then lapse into Italian as they got tired, after a while notice, apologise, maybe have a short English conversation, before once more lapsing into their native tongue.

The landlord also talked about jobs, or rather the lack of them.

I have seen some Eastern European staff at cafés and hotels, but far fewer than, say, in London. I guess the very fact that they are here would be seen as some a sign of British fecklessness; why aren’t all those unemployed out there taking these jobs? Of course the truth is that they are no more so than the Austrian or Swiss youth, when young folk like those in the bar go abroad for the winter, or the Spanish or Greek youth, when Mediterranean resorts fill with British tour guides and bartenders seeking summer sun and fun.

Transhumance is fine for the retired or young couples, but not the best basis for starting a family. I spent a significant portion of my own children’s young years working away from home, although that was more about family choices of where to live and I was fortunate in mostly only having to be away for part of the week. For many professional couples the need to maintain two careers can involve travelling across countries or even continents.

2013-06-21 14.29.06The route past Poppit Sands leads along small roads or paths beside them, past the final café and signs warning ‘the aliens have landed’ (Himalayan Balsam), until eventually it comes to an end and there is a stark sign warning you that you are about to enter a ‘remote, rugged and challenging stretch’ of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, 13 miles with ‘numerous very steep hills’ and few exit points.

Although the landlord of the Webley Arms had also warned me that this was the hardest part of the Pembroke path, I had seen signs like this on the Ceredigion Coast Path, so was not terribly daunted,

This is not Ceredigion.

I was about to start what will be the most arduous day of the walk so far (and I hope the whole walk).

Later that day I spoke to Paul, a local who recalled the creation of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, I think 20–25 years ago. They drove a small bulldozer along it, he recalls.  It would have once been wide and flat like the stretches of the Ceredigion path that had equal dire warnings. But 20 years of feet, rain and erosion have taken their toll. The path itself is heavily rutted, in places down to around 10 inches wide, but an equal depth. You have to place your feet one behind the other, like walking a tight rope, and at each step risk catching one foot against the other or against the sides of the foot rut.

There are glorious views, and, happily, soon after I started the path, the mists and drizzle passed and so most of the afternoon was spent in sunshine, so, in a way, I had it as good as it could be. However, looking up to the view always led to a trip on a stone, or tussock, so was better reserved for occasional poses between staring several steps ahead attempting, but not always avoiding ‘trip hazards’.

The fine dusty soil had become oil-slick-like in the light drizzle, but happily dried quickly where the sun could get at it. I can’t imagine what it would be like in real rain.

2013-06-21 15.18.45Beside the narrow rutted path, the grass and bracken had encroached, and varied between knee and waist height. Straight after the drizzle, it was still wet and quickly soaked my bare legs, which then drained down into soggy socks and eventually water-filled boots. I squelched on each step and water squeezed out of the seams as if I had a small spring with running water emerging from between my toes.

And of course the high grass made it hard to see the stones, tussocks and occasional rabbit holes, meaning that even lifting my feet, tramping-style, at each step, I would still trip occasionally.

As well as being hard work, tripping is not pleasant when you are aware of 300-foot cliffs close to the side.

Around Scout campfires we would sometimes sing (to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic)

He jumped from twenty thousand feet and forgot to pull the cord (x3)
and he ain’t gonna jump no more
refrain:  Glory, Glory Alleluia (x3), and he ain’t gonna jump no more

They scraped him off the pavement like a lump of strawberry jam (x3)
and he ain’t gonna jump no more

They packed him in a matchbox and they sent him home to mum (x3)
and he ain’t gonna jump no more

At first I had thought that these cliffs were of the scratched arms, bruises and broken limb variety rather than a strawberry jam class as the grass and bracken seemed to slope away, albeit steeply at 75é80 degrees to the horizontal. However, looking forward and back I realised that this steep grassy slope ended between 10 and thirty foot below at a vertical drop down a rocky cliff.

Paul, who told me about the mini-bulldozer, said that he always told walkers that they had not had any fatalities from the cliffs, "it is the farmers you have to worry about".  Walkers who want to give up on the cliff path have no official exit, so they climb and break down fences, understandably angering the farmers, although the bodies of tourists full of shotgun pellets, Paul admitted, was hyperbole.

Certainly the pig-netting fences between walker and fields were topped with two strands of barbed wire; I have never seen this elsewhere. I was uncertain whether this was to keep the walkers on the cliff side of the fence, where they belonged, or as an extra mechanism to keep the cattle and sheep inland, since the cliffs are too dangerous for any animal, barring walkers.

About halfway is last of the exit points at Cwm Trewyddel, where the village of Moylgrove nestles about a mile inland.

Another sign threatens more challenging walking for the final, and totally inescapable, seven miles.

I press on.

2013-06-21 16.21.28I said the soil was largely sun dried. There were exceptions, where the grass was too long for the heat to penetrate, or when shadowed by the land.

There was one such steep slope, that began as steep step-like footmarks in sloping grass, but degenerated into a slithery mud slide.

I recall the old maths puzzle:

A snail climbs up a wall two feet a day, then as it sleeps overnight slips back one foot. How many days will it take to climb a six-foot wall?1

This slope is just like that. Eventually, on the steepest section, I am virtually on hands and knees, holding on to the grass at the side, but trying to avoid putting my hands on the gorse seedlings spaced sporadically to catch the unwary.

And this was simply after drizzle.

A short while after Cwm Trewyddel the path becomes wider, more grassy, and I think it will be easier going now.  The reason is that there are ponies grazing on the cliff side of the fence in this area, which is also more open with a slightly less steep slope down to the sea.

However, the hopes of an easy run back to Newport are soon dashed, as the area with the ponies are is left behind and the path once more narrows to a single, rutted, overgrown track.

In high school we used to have ‘comprehension’ lessons in English.  We had a small book with passages of maybe half a page, and then a series of questions to answer about the passage, some factual, some more interpretative. One passage was Edmund Hillary‘s account of the last part of the ascent of Everest. He and Sherpa Tensing are making their way up the ridge and again and again a tantalising peak ahead makes them think that at last they will be at the summit, but again and again, as they reach the peak, they see the sun-sharp, snow ridge still stretch away ahead to another, higher peak.

2013-06-21 18.01.32Since rounding Cemaes Head, it seemed a lifetime ago, but barely four hours, a large peaked headland had dominated the coast; looking now on the map, the peak is Foel Goch. Throughout the afternoon it slowly, too slowly, got closer, until eventually I was on the final stretch.  By this time the path had again degenerated, and I had reached that "just wish I was at the end" point, but I was nearly there, and the time was not too bad, I might get to Newport earlier than I’d expected, and certainly in plenty of time for a meal at one of the Newport pubs which serve until 9pm.

Looking now at the map, spread out, the lie of the land is obvious, but it was less so looking at a small segment of a folded-over map. I rounded the ‘final’ corner and ahead was another, smaller headland, I rounded that and another appeared. Ahead Dinas Island appeared, and I began to fear that maybe it too, albeit far distant, was yet another headland before Newport. Happily, eventually, Newport town appeared far across the bay, and with great relief I began the slow descent towards Newport Sands.

It was only then that I realised the tension in my body, my breathing was shallow, and I’m sure my heart rate high. In some stretches of the path there may be a short place where one has to step carefully, but here for nearly six hours the ground underfoot had been difficult, threatening to trip one if a foot was placed badly, and there was nearly always a precipitous slope beside.

Now I should say, there is a small element of hyperbole of my own in the account. There have been fatalities along the coastal path, but I think where people have strayed off the path, and as Paul told me, "no one has been killed on the cliffs" in this section (although, I note, he didn’t say "no one has fallen").  And, compared with Alpine passes, or, I am sure, with many other coastal and mountain paths in the UK, this is an afternoon stroll. However, it is an area where you cannot afford to be careless. Maintaining that concentration for six hours is exhausting in itself.

As on other occasions when the going has been tough for various reasons, I think again of Arry *running* the coast path and my admiration of her achievement grows.

As I drop down to Newport Sands there is what appears to be a game of beach rugby in progress. The path heads off the beach itself and cuts across a golf course. I might have been tempted to walk around the beach and rejoin the path the other side of the golf course, but it was late and I was worried I would be too late for food; I had a tin of Heinz sausage and beans in the van, but I felt more solid sustenance was in order.

The landlord of the Webley Arms had told me that I should call in on the Golf Club, as it serves the best beer in Newport and the Coast Path passes within a few hundred yards across the greens, but, alas, time was short.

From Newport Sands to Newport itself is three miles by road, but happily a little closer by foot up one side of the estuary, then down the other. At one point I think I can hear the sound of drumming, maybe some kind of African or native American rhythms, but then decide it must be distorted echoes of distant rock music from a parked car.

2013-06-21 20.15.09Yay, at last, I see the boats ahead, pass the boat club building (a working place, no public bar or food), and trudge the half mile up the hill to arrive at the Royal Oak with just fifteen minutes to spare before the kitchen closes.

As I order someone calls me by name; I have got used to that: "Alan, what does it say on your back?".

However, this time it is not my rucksack banner, but my t-shirt.  I am wearing one of the HCI course t-shirts that I took in order to wear to CHI. On the front is a rather nice logo, but on the back a slightly embarrassing slogan advertising the online course, added by Arunn, who has a marketing background. I usually try to hide the back by wearing a rucksack, but had taken it off and left it at my table.

I explain to the group of three men about the online course and also the walk. I had mentioned Ramblers at one point, and the one who originally called me pointed to another and said, "he’s a rambler".

"No, I’m a walker," he responded.

Clearly there is a whole set of subtleties I’m missing here, does he mean long-distance rather than afternoon walking, or maybe to do with Ramblers as an organisation?  I decide best not to dig.

It turns out he has done various long-distance walks including the Pennine Way. He described how he would get lifts:

"I’d be in the bar and say loudly, ‘anyone going to Hebden Bridge tomorrow’, and usually someone would say, ‘yes’ and offer a lift."

I explained that while I was not good at declaring myself so forthrightly, the banner on the rucksack helped as it then prompted other people to ask me about what I was doing.

As we talked the men explained they all came from Moylegrove, the village inland from the last ‘exit point’ of the stretch today. Moylegrove no longer has a shop, post office or pub, so they come to Newport.

They also say I should go back down the path to see the Carreg Coetan Burial Chamber, as this night is Midsummer and there will be twenty naked dancing virgins. This does explain the drumming I heard, but I’m not convinced about the dancing; I think twenty naked virgins will be hard to come upon nowadays, and it is not the nudity that is problematic.

Later as I sit eating my food, the walker (not rambler) comes over and offers me a pint. He tells me how kind people were when he was walking up in the Pennines, how people would not accept anything when they gave him lifts, except maybe a pint. In turn I told him about some of the moments of hospitality and kindness along the way, including the hard day ending at Harlech and the lovely folk at the Lion Hotel.

This day had been a different kind of hard: physically and mentally, yet not so emotionally demanding; but the friendliness and kindness here was equally welcome.

It was only the following morning, as I planned the next day and reworked out mileages, for the first time for a week or more, that I realised that Newport was 704 miles, two-thirds of the way round. The challenging day a fitting point to reach a milestone.

Addendum: The spelling corrector recognises ‘vertiginous’, so it must be in the dictionary, and I hope means what I hoped it would mean when I wrote it, but with no dictionary and no internet to hand as I write, here is my definition:

vertiginous (adj) – the property of engendering vertigo


  1. In case you don’t know this one, the answer is five days, not six. The mathematician might think "it goes up a foot a day in total, so will take six days", but the last day it will just get to the top so not slip back. It is one of those examples used to emphasise that both mathematics and common sense are needed to solve ‘real’ problems … although no snail I’ve seen is really *that* slow.[back]