St David’s Head Ahead!
Starting at Cardigan, I managed two days on the Pembrokeshire coast path before Storm Erik took his turn at disrupting my walking schedule. With 55mph winds and driving rain, it made no sense for me to be out alone on remote cliffs.
In addition to some tough walking on a dramatic coastline, animals, ocean liners, transatlantic communications, the patron saint of Wales and the last attempted invasion of Great Britain have all played a part in my disjointed week.
My first day was a long, tiring 17 miler of wild, rugged and strenuous walking on the North Pembrokeshire coast. I was lucky enough to find a small sheltered bay – not always easy to do - for a lunch stop before pushing on to the Witches’ Cauldron. The footpath led me over a tapered land bridge with water on either side. The inner chasm has been created by the collapse of a sea cave’s roof. Beneath the footpath a narrow sea passage connects the cauldron with the sea. Keen not to end up being stirred by a witch, I made sure my feet weren’t distracted!
That evening we were kindly hosted at Dyfed Shire Horse Farm where they have bred drum horses for the Household Cavalry and the Royal Cavalry of the Sultanate of Oman. These magnificent and muscular animals were so much larger than the ponies I met later in the week being used to assist with conservation grazing.
I continue to see sheep who regularly believe ‘the grass is greener’ on the other side of their fence. One afternoon I encountered a young ewe who had got her head stuck in mesh fencing. Judging by her agitated state and the amount of wool stuck to the fence, she’d been there for quite some time. Removing my rucksack, approaching her slowly and talking quietly, I managed to calm her before helping to release her head. Churlishly she ran off at speed without a backward glance of thanks.
My second day on the path took me to Fishguard along another equally dramatic piece of coastline. From Dinas Island (which isn’t an island at all but a wedge of land divided from the ‘mainland’ by a glacial channel) I had wide views back to Newport Bay and ahead to Fishguard. It’s easy to see how weather has ravaged the coastline over the centuries: I saw the remains of St Brynach’s 12th century church at Cwm-yr-Eglwys which suffered its first bout of severe damage in the Great Storm of 1859. On that same night 114 ships were also wrecked along the Welsh coastline, including the clipper Royal Charter carrying a cargo of gold bullion.
Fishguard is a fascinating place and we were fortunate that the local Sea Cadet unit, TS Skirmisher, in Lower Town could accommodate the Victory Van. Housed in an ancient warehouse, but modernised inside, the unit’s facilities are quite outstanding. The cadets’ enthusiasm was also evident judging by the number of competitions they have won. A great place where we enjoyed a lively evening!
Fishguard’s Royal Oak Inn is famous for the French surrender, following a failed invasion attempt in 1797. Although I didn’t venture into the pub, on my walk out of Fishguard to Strumble Head, I did see the Carreg Goffa memorial which marks the place where the French troops landed. The invasion is also depicted in a pavement mosaic at Goodwick, Fishguard’s neighbour.
Goodwick had initially been a port for steamers travelling to Ireland, but by 1909 the lengthy North Breakwater had been built with the intention that Goodwick would become a terminal for ocean liners too. Cunard’s flagship, Mauretania, called for the first time in 1909 and the Great Western Railway helped transport passengers in and out of the town. Nearby, the Fishguard Bay hotel also operated by GWR, provided accommodation for wealthier passengers before they embarked on their sea journeys. The start of WWI, harbour silting and Cunard deciding to base its fleet at Southampton all led to the ocean business being abandoned. However, ferries still run to Ireland, the railway link has been retained and the hotel has survived.
Walking the cliffs out to and beyond Strumble Head there were yet more interesting things to see. The lighthouse, stuck out on a tiny nodule of land, was hidden from view for most of my approach but was clearly visible for many miles afterwards as I headed towards St David’s Head. Later, I came across the Cable Hut at Aber Mawr. Now a holiday cottage, this stone and corrugated iron hut once housed the first telegraph, later telephone, lines laid across the Atlantic in the 1860s. These were the technological marvels of the age, just as our satellite communications are today.
Continuing on my route, I could see how the Irish Sea has caused cliff erosion, natural arches, jagged rocks, caves, and much more – all of which I’ve noticed during my hours on the paths. I’m always conscious of cliff overhangs, so when I overheard seals below me, I was cautious in my approach. Below I saw over 30 seals of various shapes, sizes and colour sprawled across a shingle cove. From a distance they resembled those speckled Belgian chocolates made in the shape of seashells!
Turning the corner at St David’s Head was a very special moment for me. Ahead lay the expanse of St Bride’s Bay and I’ve been told that the South Pembrokeshire coastline is easier walking. Ramsey Island and Sound with its strong tidal currents were clear to see. The walk by Whitesands Bay was wonderful, and above me a friendly drone recorded a happy Victory Walker striding towards St Justinians and onward to St Non’s, reputedly the birthplace of St David. I felt as if I’d reached the pulse of Wales.
See Photo Album Numbers 65
- Pembrokeshire Coast Path
- Strumble Head Light
- Seal Watching
- St David’s Head
- Walking near Whitesands Bay (from above)
- St David’s Head Ahead!