Date Walked: 27th April 2013
Approximate Distance: 11 miles (a very gentle pace!)
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 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. Stackpole is one of places on this walk that they manage.
As I left the Castle Inn in Manorbier I overheard “It’s going to be a cold one tonight”. “Good” I thought, as I wanted to test my new Voyager 600 sleeping bag. The path back in the dark was a little spooky. The main window of St James Church was lit, which was beautiful but in the churchyard opposite one of the graves was also lit. I didn’t think we did that in this country.
Negotiating getting sorted in the dark in my little tent was a bit of a hassle. I’m a warm sleeper but in view of the local forecast I donned long Johns and a base layer before zipping myself into the bag. Cosy! And I was still cosy when I was woken by the brittle splatter of rain. The splatter turned into an auditory assault and I lay there trying to come up with words for this unique experience of being rained on in a tent. Peeing in the night was a pain trying to sort out all the zips and then keep my knees dry. I think I might try one of those comfort bottles for the incontinent next time.
I woke finally at 7 and managed (awkwardly) to make a cup of tea before emerging at 8. The foot of the tent had created a bird bath, but the fact that it was holding the pool was testament to the tents’ waterproofness. I was due to meet my friend Paul at the café in Manorbier but when I got there at 9 I found it wasn’t open until 10. Which was a bit of a boo-hoo as I really fancied a full fry up. Paul rang from the car park and walked up to meet me. The excellent village shop was open and had fresh pastries and hot coffee. Joy! We wiped off the seats outside and took stock.
I realised how much anxiety I had been carrying about how I would manage the walking/camping thing and was feeling much relieved. Paul was stressed out from working his socks off all week dealing with the measles crisis in his patch near Swansea and was feeling (understandably) angry about how all his extra hard work jabbing people goes straight into the pockets of the GPs in the practice. Paul usually gets angry about something on our walks (and always apologizes for doing so).
He carried on his rant whilst we strolled down to the car park by the beach where he kitted up and I brushed my teeth in the toilets (very refreshing). We did not have a fixed destination in mind as Paul was joining me to wild camp that night. Our only requirement was a pub within a short walk.
It was a fine day and it wasn’t long before we were “ooing” and “arring” over the views from the cliff tops to the inlets and bays. Both of us take as much pleasure in the aesthetic pleasure of rock formations as we do the attempt to understand the processes that lead to such wonderful geology.
Freshwater Bay’s long sweep of sand was sparsely populated, despite it being a fine Saturday.
After here the coast wiggles up and down and from side to side, which made for much huffing and puffing on my part but which Paul tackled more easily. We made a mistake at one point of following a track which turned out to be more suited to suicidal sheep and after due democratic process we decided to cut our losses and wade up through the thick gorse to re-find our path above. Paul, (Short in stature, Big of Heart, Flight of Foot), does not wade easily in gorse.
These inlets and small bays also led to much pausing for photographs. Paul always seems to take far more care over his composition than I do. Well he is an artist, so he should. An orchid (the only one we saw all day) excited us both and we attempted a close up (I failed) of this (in this context) rarity. Paul did better than me (with a little tweaking from me!). Paul is painting orchids for an exhibition that will form part of an orchid festival at the National Botanic Garden of Wales in September 2013 ( I can vouch for his beautiful butterflies!).
At one such bay with a stony beach and a good line of flotsam (or was it jetsam) we stopped for a bit. While I unpacked the wet tent and shook it out to dry in the brisk wind, its several layers of gossamer thin material billowing out like an enormous fancy kite, Paul got out his sketch pad. I gave my feet and socks an airing, too: several have suggested to me that this is a good way to avoid blisters. (It wasn’t successful as I developed one later and Paul came to my rescue with a clever plaster that behaves like skin.)
One of these bays had a sandy beach that appeared to have no route to it for those travelling by road (my Guide confirms it doesn’t). I’m pretty sure that this is Barafundle Bay. On its beach a couple were arranging sticks and taking photographs.
Paul’s eyes lit up as he recognized fellow artists at work. He joined in.
Inspired, I took one of my tree pics immediately afterwards in the little wood that climbs back up the cliff.
Stackpole Quay is just after Barafundle and most certainly deserved a picture, its impressive harbour wall is nearly as impressive as the excellent tea room which adjoins it but I failed in this regard. I think I was hungry.
After Stackpole the path begins to keep to a more even altitude and red-painted markers began to appear near the cliff edge.
We speculated on their purpose (measuring cliff erosion?) but I discovered later that they are to warn rock climbers not to descend at these points in the nesting season. I have to admit to a slight irritation about their presence despite the laudable intention – they just seemed out-of-place.
Just off the shore from Stackpole Head a magnificent pinnacle of rock, standing away from the shore, took our fancy. I began conjuring up thoughts of Tolkien, which seems facile now. Paul wisely kept his counsel. My picture does no justice to how splendid it was. I have no excuses to offer- I must have had a better vantage point than this.
Several more superb bays followed before the cliffs provide a view over the sandy inlet of Broad Haven and the Stackpole Nature Reserve.
It must have been after 6 by now and Bosherston was less than a mile inland (and shown as having a pub). A group of tents were pitched on the far side of the bay and though this would have been a lovely spot I was feeling pretty tired and wanted to be closer to the village so we took the narrow path around the lake.
It’s a super spot and clearly popular as we were passed by several people out for a stroll. But the lake side rises steeply through a wood and I couldn’t see any potential spot for a camp. I was getting anxious that we might have to walk through Bosherston and out the other side before finding a suitable spot but then a turn in the path occurred where a little valley joined it. There was a sort-of track punctuated with bramble that seemed worth exploring. At the end, about 100 yards off the path was a locked metal gate and beyond the most perfect little wood that had been colonised by wood garlic.
Over we went and found a perfect spot to pitch our tents. It was only when we had done so that Paul saw someone above us. Fearing that we might be about to be turfed off we sat and waited. The man and his dog re-appeared on the other side of the valleys edge and had clearly seen us but walked on as I waved him a greeting.
Paul remained a bit anxious about us being trampled in the night by cattle, me by having our camp destroyed whilst we were away in the pub but we both agreed that wild camping necessarily entails a little anxiety and that it was best dealt with by alcohol.
We had time to have a little look around the church.
I started with a stained glass window so here I will finish with one.
The St Govans Inn was PACKED and had just one person serving at the bar which was mad but we found a table and I joined the queue and had a friendly chat with a pretty rock climber from Oxford. I’d stayed here years ago with Neil. He comes for walks occasionally.
The food was good when it eventually arrived, the beer excellent and I shared my worldly wisdom with Paul about relationships. He’s a lucky fellow.