Date Walked: 28th April 2013
Approximate Distance: 17.8 miles (heroic, considering I was carrying my camping gear)
OS Map required: OL36- South Pembrokeshire
Suggested walking guide book: Pembrokeshire Coast Path by Jim Manthorpe
This section of the path is within Pembrokeshire. Their Coast path Officer is Dave MacLachlan. His email is DaveMac@pembrokeshirecoast.org.uk
The Pembrokeshire Coast is also a National Park who are responsible for planning decisions.
The National Trust are having a competition to invite people to share what they love about some of the areas of the Welsh Coast that they manage. The prize is a Coasteering or Kayaking experience under instruction for you and up to 4 others. You need to have a Facebook account and to have visited the place within the last 6 months of your entry and make your comment by October 30th 2013. Follow this link then choose the place that you’d like to comment on. Freshwater West is one of places on this walk that they manage.
Paul had declared himself to be a snorer but I slept soundly enough and our tents were pitched sufficiently apart that it wasn’t until around 6 that I was conscious of some activity from his direction.
It was time to make a cup of tea. Paul had been unable to work out a sensible return route to his car at Manorbier by public transport and so had resolved to re-trace his steps today whilst I walked on towards Milford Haven.
By 7 we were saying our goodbyes at the southern end of the Bosherston Lily pond and 10 minutes later waving goodbyes as we lost sight of each other. I had enjoyed our time together and was pleased that Paul was going to join me in June for part of The Dales Way.
Just half a mile from Broad Haven the path enters the very extensive (5880 acres according to the author of my guide to the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path) Castlemartin MOD Artillery range. I had checked beforehand (telephone 01646 662367 – a recorded message gives up to date information) that no exercises were due on this Sunday, so the sentry box was empty and I was able to continue to keep to the coastal route (on firing days the detour inland at this point is significant – 3 miles on “monotonous” roads).
But not before making the very short detour to see the little St Govan’s chapel built into the side of the cliff just a couple of hundred metres away. Perhaps it was too early in the morning for me but I found no resonance of spirituality or atmosphere within its walls. It just seemed empty.
My spirits were raised, though, by the song of the skylarks, even more so by spotting one of them as I searched the sky for the source of this musical greeting. It was easy walking for the next couple of miles along pretty level ground. The path presented one stunning, scary drop to the sea after another.
The sea has eked out sharp deep inlets and massive bays, Bullslaughter Bay being the most impressive. I kept close to its edge for the better view.
A little later I spotted the only evidence I saw on the range of shelling. A hard plastic baton about 3” in length with a blue end.
There was other evidence of the military use of the land, though. A couple of discarded vehicles that might, I guessed, be used as targets, a gun emplacement of sandbags very close to a cliff top and several bricked up shelters. But somehow this place still felt secluded and very peaceful.
By around 9 I had reached Stack Rocks where, firing or not, the coast is out of bounds. At this point are two of its most striking natural formations, the Elegug Stacks (anotyher name for Stack Rocks) and just a couple of hundred yards further The Green Bridge.
I gave both these monuments to geomorphology some time.
I had texted Paul a couple of times as I walked so I knew he was making good progress and I had complained to him that I had no idea where my breakfast was going to come from. Then I found a perfectly good banana sitting on top of an explanatory board!
The road that I was required to take inland for the next mile or so was not unpleasant but it was quite busy despite it ending at the car park serving the tourists (and perhaps climbers).
My guide book was warning me that there was going to be no refreshments available between nearby Merrion and Angle. This did not prove to be true but I thought that perhaps if I stocked up at Merrion I might wild camp somewhere around the mouth of Milford Haven. I read in the guide that the owner of The Old Smithy in Merrion, who runs a bed and breakfast, also allows campers and will sometimes offer a cooked breakfast to them. I thought I would push my luck and phoned her to see if I could have the breakfast sans tent. “That’s a first” she said but was happy to oblige and by the time I got there 20 minutes later she was clearing away the table and was quite happy to also provide a packed cold supper. “You can have a shower if you like”. I didn’t look this gift horse in the mouth either and after a smashing fry up and fruit salad I had a hot shower. Bliss. Stuffing a round of cheese sandwiches, a pork pie and some chocolate biscuits and another banana in my bag I felt well set up for the rest of the day. That was £15 well spent.
From Merrion I carried on along the road that climbs gently through Warren and passes a remarkably ugly building where visitors can come and view the firing range in action. What larks!
A cafe was open at Castlemartin, a mile further on but I didn’t stop. Still on the road, I caught my first glimpse of industrialisation across the fields (a refinery on Angle bay, I think).
The path now provides views towards the mouth of Milford Haven and drops down to a car park at Gupton Burrows.
Here, a van was offering bacon sandwiches to the hardy kite-surfers who were struggling in the stiff breeze to get their boards and kites to the beach without getting launched into the dunes before they had even touched water. Shunning the “Porta cafe” I did make use of the toilet bock and then headed for the beach myself. The tide was out and the beach near deserted and it was a good trek being blown along the firm sands of Freshwater West. At the end of the beach I fancied that I could find a way up through the low cliffs to the path but a couple I passed doubted the wisdom of this so I changed tack and clambered up an easier route just by Gravel Bay.
The path becomes challenging again for the next few miles with steep sided little valleys running down to the many small rocky bays.
Although it was only mid afternoon, I had walked about 12 miles and was tiring so I stopped for a while to dry out the tent from the morning dew. On my map a blue glass of beer at Angle and a blue tent and caravan were enough to weaken my resolve to wild camping favour of the easier option of a campsite and a hot meal in a pub. I phoned to check that the campsite was open (amazing isn’t it that I could get a signal in sparsely populated Pembrokeshire but I get none where we live just a few miles from Chepstow).
The thought of beer and chips added strength to my weary limbs as I tackled a wide loop opposite Sheep Island (we like sheep –in joke for Anne) and turned the corner of the peninsular near Rat Island (no rats seen).
By the time I was approaching West Angle Bay I felt I was beginning to almost stagger but a grumpy man who was doing up a very ugly building asked me not to take the short cut up his drive to the village, but he only added half a mile to my journey.
At the car park at West Angle Bay I did leave the path, though, and headed straight up the road past The Hibernia Inn through the village to the Castle Farm caravan and camping ground that sits right by Angle Bay. There were no other tents and not too many caravans. I pitched my tent and scrambled inside for a well earned doze.
The chips at the Hibernia Inn were a greasy floppy disappointment and though the beer was good, I hate sitting in a bar with a TV on (this vile intrusion seems to be getting more and more common) so I thought I would have a wander.
It was still light when I reached the track that lead to the campsite. What was muddy before I went out was now under water and the boats in anchorage had been lifted by the tide.
I saw a sign that suggested that there was a pub further around the track. It was a nice evening and although I had decided to skip the couple of miles along the coast by my detour through the village I thought that I would at least have a look at the pub. On the far side of Angle Bay the lights of the Pembroke oil refinery had begun to twinkle in the dusk.
The tide had actually covered the track as it reached the Old Point House but I was able to get in through their garden. The cosy little front room with its open fire was so welcoming that I sat myself in the corner and ordered a double malt. I don’t understand why Manthorpe described the pub as “eccentric” in his Guide. Maybe he has led a sheltered life.
A few locals were having a chat and there was talk of a band coming. My heart sank at this as music in pubs is for me, live or not, usually an unwelcome noise. The band – a fiddle, banjo, acoustic guitar and accordion (folk music is probably my most favoured genre) only turned up at 10 – they had forgotten about the flooded road. No one else came and from the outset I enjoyed the bluesy relaxed music, the landlord joining in occasionally on his harmonica. So here’s a treat for you: “Let it rain” by The Welcome Guests”.
Another double malt followed a pint of the most awful Somerset draught cider (a cross between cows pee and amonia – NB to self. Follow my friend Dave’s example and ask for a taste in future). I wasn’t legless when I left at 11 but I certainly felt that I had had a good night. And I was slightly kicking myself that I had not booked to stay the night at this very special place. The sight of the refinery on the way back was wonderful.