There’s no question about it – first and foremost I am a mountain man! Still, sometimes a change of scene is a good move, which is why Chris and I, plus Border Collie ‘Mist’, were down by the seaside. The seaside in this case was the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, part of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.
Say ‘coastal path’ to most people and they might imagine a gentle stroll across flat beaches, but that’s rarely the case. The reality is a path that twists and turns for 186 miles along one of the most rugged bits of coastline in Britain, with a total height gain of around 10668 metres (35,000ft), higher than the ascent of Everest if you started from sea-level. However, Everest was a bit much for the few days we had, so we settled on a walk out by St Ann’s Head near Milford Haven.
The first thing we had to do was to get to the actual coastline, but down near St Ann’s Head the access is pretty good, and a short section through agricultural land soon got us on the Coastal Path. In fact, this section was possibly the most interesting, with the path running along the top of the cliffs in places. Typical of this section was ‘The Vomit’ – I’m guessing that’s due to the white, foaming waters below, and not to the look on Chris’s face as she briefly peered over the edge.
We had a quick look at the southernmost point of St Ann’s Head, marked by the HM Coastguard helipad, but far more interesting was the adjacent cliff with one of the best examples of rock folding you could wish for. Then it was time to head north, passing the old coastguard cottages, built at a time many years ago when the Coastguard actually DID guard the coast. Obviously before Government cutbacks!
Next stop was Mill Bay, where a certain Harri Tudor landed in 1485 – he brought a few friends along, 4000 in total carried in 55 ships. Harri knew this bit of coast well, having been born in Pembroke Castle, but his family supported the Lancastrian side in the War of the Roses so Harri spent part of his life in exile. When the time seemed right, he landed with his 4000 mates and went in search of the Yorkist King Richard III – they caught up with him at the Battle of Bosworth, leaving Richard dead, buried in what in later years would become a car park and leaving Harri as King Henry VII of England.
Not far beyond Mill Bay we passed the West Blockhouse. The original Blockhouse was built by Henry VII’s son, Henry VIII, with the aim of keeping the Spanish (or French or whoever else England was at war with) out of the huge natural harbour of Milford Haven. The site was occupied by the military until 1956, but the only time that shots were fired in anger was during WW2 when anti-aircraft guns located there engaged German bombers heading for the naval base at Pembroke Dock. The harbour is now home to a massive oil terminal, and in 1996 was the setting for the Sea Empress disaster, when the tanker ran aground spilling 72,000 tonnes of crude oil.
Further up the coast is the small harbour of Dale Roads. The name Dale doesn’t sound very Welsh, which is probably because it isn’t – the Old Scandinavian word Dalr means ‘Valley’, and it is believed that the area was settled by Norse raiders in the 9th and 10th Centuries. The area has been English speaking since the 12th Century, and is known as ‘Little England beyond Wales’, and the locals speak English with something like a Somerset accent. We found a good spot overlooking the bay for our lunch, but a visit to the Griffin Inn delayed our departure a bit.
A short land crossing by Dale Castle soon had us back on the Coastal Path at Westdale Bay, where it was back to the ‘ups and downs’ routine and a more rugged coastline than the east side of the peninsula. A herd of young bullocks decided to check us out, but their nerves got the better of them and they scarpered when we turned to check them out. After that it was time to head back across the fields, but with another outing planned for the next day.
Text and images © Paul Shorrock with the exception of the Image tagged (RD), which is © Roger Davies, and taken from the Geograph Project and reproduced here under a Creative Commons Licence.
p.s. The blog is about five days late this week – sorry for that!