Tuesday, 6 July 2010

I do love to be beside the seaside

And just as well really since I decided to do a section of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail from Strumble Head to Abereiddi - 16 miles of it. No problem, I thought, it will all be flat, it's by the sea after all. How wrong I was!

The starting point was Strumble Head lighthouse

 Actually, the starting point was catching the Strumble Shuttle bus from pretty much outside my cottage all the way through twisty turny back lanes to the starting point for my walk. An excellent service, mainly because it allowed me to do a non-circular walking route but also partly for the sheer entertainment of seeing where a little bus could go. To be honest, it went down roads I would have been nervous about taking the car down!

So back to my walk. I started out from Strumble Head lighthouse (built in 1908 for £70,000 and still working today!) Apparently the fog horn sounds 4 times a minute, luckily it wasn't foggy so I still have my hearing. Ahead of me were 16 miles of Pembrokeshire coastline, and as I quickly saw, much of it is quite craggy. So my hopes of a gentle flat walk were fairly quickly dashed. Admittedly, it was nothing like some of the munros I've tackled this year, but it was up and down all the same.

It was beautiful, however. And surprisingly peaceful. It was only towards the end of the walk that I started meeting people going the same direction as me. For most of the time I had the place to myself - all the better to enjoy the sound of the waves crashing against the cliffs, the sea birds squealing and the wind gently (ok, a bit more than gently!) blowing through the barley. There may not have been many people, but there was plenty of wildlife - butterflies a plenty, sea birds, raptors, sheep, ponies, cows (safely behind fences for the most part) - and stunning wild flowers, ranging from gorse and heather on the uplands, to thrift on the cliffs and foxgloves and other meadow flowers by the more inland sections of the path.

From Strumble Head, the path hugged the coastline over craggy cliffs and took me past Pwll Deri (with its Iron Age fort and memorial to Dewi Emrys, who I'm guessing was a Welsh poet of note.

The route then took me along the top of some very impressive cliffs and across several more headlands. The walking was relentless but the view was spectacular and the sense of wellbeing overwhelming. I spent a long time watching what I thought were dolphins in the sea at one point, only to realise they were actually waves! Still, it was magical for the moments I thought they were dolphins!

From there it was onwards to lunch - and Aber Mawr beach. I was just starting to realise that the downside of not climbing a hill is not having a clear stopping point for lunch - no summit to aim for - when I turned the corner and saw the beach. There was nothing else for it but to stop and have a bite to eat - where I was joined by a dining companion.

Aber Mawr beach is one of those pebble beaches you sometimes find. I don't mean sand with lots of pebbles either, I mean just pebbles galore - and all of the washed smooth by the waves, which made a fantastic sucking sound as they lapped the beach.

Ironically enough, Aber Mawr was also the terminus for the first Atlantic submarine telegraph cable in1873 - and was one of the few points on the whole walk that I had absolutely no mobile phone reception. Sadly that meant I couldn't brag about the beauties of my lunch spot to my normal dining companions - sorry guys!

From Aber Mawr it started getting really hard - not the terrain, just my ability to put one foot in front of the other. Did I say it was hot and sunny yesterday? Luckily the sea breeze did help to keep me cool but it was hot sweaty work all the same and I quickly discovered that shaky tired legs and a coastal cliff path are not really a good combination. To cheer me up, the National Park Authority had posted encouraging signs all along the route - welcome to Pembrokeshire, enjoy your stay!

The next section brought me to Abercastle - or Abercastell in Welsh. (Welsh, the language of hyperactive consonants!). Also known as the Bay of Boats (Cwm Badau), it is a pretty little spot - which to my delight also had a bench for the sitting on thereof.

It was also one of the stops for the Strumble Shuttle, but alas 3 hours too early and I was stubborn enough to want to walk on further. If I'd been 134 years earlier I could have hitched a lift and shared travel experiences with Alfred Johnston who'd just made the first solo trans-Atlantic voyage. Hmm, think his tales were probably scarier!

By this stage I was yomping, all I could think about was getting to the end point - which by now I'd decided was Porthgain, site of two very important things - a bus stop and a pub.

 I raced through Aberfelin and its ruined mill building - very pretty but not as rewarding as the slate seat - and headed on across the headland to Porthgain. 
Never had the sight of old stone hoppers been so enticing. It was a fairly gentle stroll down the hill into the village and from there a short flop to the pub, where I rewarded myself with a small libation . The yomping had been worth it, I had 50 minutes to wait for the bus - just along enough to have a half, not long enough to fall asleep and miss it.

So, all in all, a successful day. I may not have completed the full 16 miles but I did do about 14 of them, in less than 6 hours and more to the point, experienced some amazing scenery. I felt a real sense of achievement and, despite the aching limbs, a strange sense of well-being. I realised while walking that I talk as much when I'm on my own as when I'm with other people. Ok, some of it is inside my head, but not all. I also realised that while the story of my life may be thinking I see dolphins when in fact they're really waves, I'd really much rather live hoping for dolphins than expecting just waves!

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