The Pembrokeshire Coastal Path around St Ann’s Head (see post #206) had been a good day out, so good in fact that this mountain man was ready for another bit of coast the next day. Repeating the winning formula, we went for another circular route, made possible by leaving the path, then re-joining it for the return leg after visiting the local pub – it’s good to have a plan!
We joined the Coastal Path at Wooltack Point, near the tiny harbour of Martin’s Haven, but briefly left the path to go out to the headland via the old coastguard lookout station. The view out to the islands was great, and we also had a good preview of our first bit of coast.
One characteristic of walking along coastal paths is the amount of ‘up and down’ that takes place – because of this, coastal walking is rarely an easy option, as every stream heading to the sea usually results in a plunging valley where height is lost then regained. This wasn’t the case for most of this route, resulting in an easy, level path – I found myself thinking that I could get used to this sort of thing.
The first notable point along the way was the unmistakable outline of Gateholm Island. Despite the name, it’s possible to cross the narrow gap between island and mainland at low water – what’s more, the intrepid can take an easy rock-climbing route to gain the flat plateau, which is about ten acres in area.
At one time the island contained about 130 roundhouses built at the time of the Roman Occupation, but the island continued to be used after the Romans left, and may well have been the site of an early Celtic Christian settlement. It was interesting enough to tempt BBC archaeologists to film there in 2012 for the ‘Time Team’ program, but they used a cableway to get on to the island – the previous residents in Roman times probably found the rock route a bit awkward when popping out to the local Tesco.
Beyond the island, we had our first view of Marloes Sands. On a coastline full of unspoilt sandy beaches, this was the jewel in the crown. There is an approach for the tourists which involves a half-mile walk in, losing almost 50 metres in height. This is a sufficient deterrent to keep the truly idle away, and even on a warm, sunny day the 1.5 kilometre stretch of sand is big enough to absorb crowds without actually getting crowded – there are no ice cream vans though!
We carried on along the cliff tops, gradually moving beyond Marloes Sands, before it was time to abandon the coast for a while and to head for the disused WW2 airfield that was once RNAS (Royal Naval Air Station) Dale, or to use its more nautical name, HMS Goldcrest. Although used by the RAF and the Royal Navy for flying operations, the airfield was also the setting for an idea that was bonkers or ingenious, depending on your point of view.
Early in WW2, the shortage of aircraft made it difficult to allocate resources to train Fighter Direction Officers (FDO’s). This problem was overcome by commandeering tricycles from Walls Ice Cream, and using them to simulate aircraft. One trike representing an enemy aircraft was pedalled in time to a metronome, with the course triangulated and reported to a dummy Fighter Direction Office. A second trike representing a fighter was vectored to the ‘enemy’ trike by the trainee FDO using radio. It sounds like something out of Monty Python, but it worked
The old airfield is now largely overgrown, but the old perimeter track gave us a good access route to the nearby village of Marloes. The attractive clock tower was built in 1904 in memory of someone rich, ‘knobby’ and famous – far more interesting to me was the nearby Lobster Pot Inn, where there was even a welcome for Border Collie ‘Mist’.
After a cheeky little cider, it was back to the coast, heading for our start point at Martin’s Haven. As well as marking our start point, the tiny harbour is also the start point for boat visits to nearby Skomer Island, which, judging by the number of boat crossings, must be a popular destination in summer. I was happy enough just taking in the sea and the cliffs – with all that and a cider included, I could take to this coast walking lark!
Text and images © Paul Shorrock