I make an early start, leaving the B&B by 8:30, as I am uncertain how difficult the terrain will be coming round the end of . (In fact it turns out easy, so I will arrive at at 5:30 after a relatively uneventful day.) , the landlady at , tells me that there is a beach café at , so that is my target, about halfway along, for lunch.
I walk the short way fromto the coast at , where the path leads for a short way across the sands. It is good to feel sand beneath your feet.
The path fromto is almost all exactly along the clifftop except for a short excursion inland just before getting to .
On a headland I spot a small shack, but as I approach I realise it is one among several shacks above a small sheltered cove,, where some fishing boats are moored. On the opposite side of the small headland a sandy cove, , has a slipway, where more boats are launched and, from the tractor and trailer on the slipway, one just recently. The gabled end ruin of a once substantial house suggests this has been a port for many years.
The boats that go out are small craft, I think mainly dropping creels, very like the fishing boats from told me about the proposals to turn the coasts around into a ‘highly protected’ area, I guess range like the proposals for . This would have ended the traditional fishing industry around as well as some tourist activities. showed me the noticeboard with copies of protest letters and official responses. Although the number of fishermen is small, they are part of the culture of , as well as each having families to look after.. The previous night , the landlady of
“It seems to have passed,” she says, but that also means the rich ecosystem is unprotected. We wonder why it seems beyond the wit ofbureaucrats to create conservation plans that prevent large-scale trawling (by boats from far away), but allow small-scale fishing to continue.
Further on, along an orchid-fringed cliff path, I come to another small cove, where an old lady sits stitching outside a postcard cottage, ‘ ‘. Out to sea two men in a small boat are having problems. From the shore a man wearing a baseball cap proclaiming ‘skipper’ shouts instructions. He thinks they have forgotten to loosen the cap on the petrol tank for the outboard, which lets air in as the fuel is pumped out.
“Remote debugging”, I suggest, as he shouts again. “Yes,” he replies, “I don’t know whether to dial 999 or 111 for them.” “Well, at least they have oars”, I say, and as I continue I see the men at sea rowing for shore, where I’m sure skipper will relish their discomfort.
On a stile a scallop shell is fixed. As I stop to photograph it I see a notice, posted by the:
Pilgrims are Welcome
to camp here or
use our facilities.
One bright spot (or at least less dim spot) of the road detour I had taken at the end of theto day, was that I passed another holy well, the well of , in . I say “less dim” rather than “bright” as the well was roofed in and this included adding a lockable, and locked door.
However, the well and the welcome at the campsite are reminders that, as I go down, this is a not just a coast path, but also a pilgrim route. Later I also notice a post with a simple cross carved in it.
Of course, this journey is a sort of pilgrimage as the spatial endpoint may be where I began, but the point of pilgrimage is not the spot on earth where you end, but the change within.
Eventually the path takes its inland detour, happily well signposted, and drops back just at the end of the whispering sands … and they do whisper, or almost sing, as you step on the dry sand, or rub your feet with a high-pitched squeak.
And the beach café is indeed open and so, stocked up on ham and eggs, and my feet bathed with a quick paddle, I proceed on the second part of the day towards the end of.
After some more clifftop walking, the path leads up toward, a name that always makes me think of a funeral parlour, but is a small farm huddled under the slopes on . The path does not go over itself, but skirts its coastal edge until, having crossed a small bridge over one of many small streams leading to rock coves, the path fragments into numerous criss-crossing sheep paths that cover the sloping cliff slides like a spider’s web, or maybe a labyrinth. Some look more well trodden than others and I wander sometimes higher, sometimes lower until ahead I see a last bridge and spot a marker post. I realise I should have been following the uppermost path, beside the fence, rather than wandering aimlessly below.
It would have been better to have followed the right path, but, in the end, all the paths, both the right path and the others, lead to, and after there is but one path, and it may be hard, but it leads ever upwards.
These are almost the words I spoke into my voice recorder and as I heard myself it seemed they were a parable for the pilgrimage route.
Often I have heard the metaphor of the cross as bridge between humankind and , and this seems not a bad model for the journeys we take. There are many paths we take on our own pilgrimage through life. Not all are equal, but when we cross the bridge, whatever path we have taken is forgotten; the way onward may not be easy, but it leads upward.
Well, it sounds good, but in my experience of footpaths andlife the criss-crossing sheep paths do return. Maybe I should take my moral compass out of my pocket more often?
Well maybe this is different as on the pilgrimage route this is the final ascent, with just the boat journey toon the other side of the last mountain. I hear the strains of in the bass and tenor voices of a valleys male voice choir: “Land me safe on Canaan’s side“. Checking the words on , I see a ‘verbatim translation’ (transliteration?) that translates the Welsh “Fi, bererin gwael ei wedd” into “Me, a pilgrim of poor appearance“. Amen to that!
At the top of, the ‘big mountain’ (less than , but big for the end of ), is a coastguard station, which was also a defensive lookout during the war. Dropping down the far side I see the concrete bases of further wartime buildings, with a family having a picnic beside. I’m reminded of the playground in the killing field of , and the demolished concrete that holds the dunes together on . Although when we see conflicts today it seems impossible that the pain will heal, the land does eventually forgive and the heart forget.
itself is a strange island with a large hill facing the and the low, flat, habitable land facing west into the . You can understand the hermits’ logic, shunning the world as they sought in the open horizon; and subduing their bodies as they faced the January gales. But it is perhaps also significant that it faces , the place of magic in the soul. I do not understand, but I cannot resist the drag of the western ocean: Tir-na-nÓg, the lost cantrefs, cry out. seemed to be able to take hold of the best of the old ways and old knowings and then flood them with the new wine of the kingdom.
On the way back I pass the ruins of an old cottage, huddled between pathway and rock face. A ruin, like many other ruins, except one of the walls contains a six foot slab of rock that I assume was already in place and the rest of the walls built around. I feel there is another parable there, but it is late, so a parable for another day.
Finally intowhere the solid stone church sands firm against the elements and a sign says:
A Parish Church
A Pilgrim Place
A House of Prayer for all People
CROESO – WELCOME
It is locked.
Happily the lovely pub on the quay next door is not locked. I resolve to go in, drink a cool pint below the falling sun and get directions to my accommodation for the night and wishing that it were this lovely place by the sea. And then I see the sign, ‘‘ – it is my accommodation for the night.