Angle Point to Pembroke 1.1.17

Angle Point, on the first day of 2017 is wet, grey and cold – but it is January after all………

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As we step out of the car the wind picks up and pushes us firmly down the path running along the expanse of mud and sand that makes up Angle Bay. It starts to rain, heavily, and for the umpteenth time I find myself thinking “What the hell are you doing this for? ” But I always come back for more.

Across the bay is the oil refinery, so wonderfully lit up last night…………

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At one point the path leaves the estuary and runs through fields of sodden vegetables –  inspired by his Danish Christmas dinner, Damian decides to help himself to a red cabbage.

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The path curves round in front of the massive brooding structures of the oil refinery.  On the tarmac some brave souls are setting up for a spot of wind surfing  – I can think of nicer places to do it.

We are now walking on a narrow tarmac road leading to Popton Point with its Victorian stone fort built to protect the industries of Milford Haven. It is now owned by Texaco and closed to the public. A long jetty extends out into the estuary where a couple of large ships are docked.

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We follow the Welsh Coast Path signs off right, round the back of the oil refinery and through a pleasant stretch of woodland which allows us glimpses of moored ships.

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Leaving the power station at Pwllcrochan behind we find ourselves walking through the middle of a farmyard. Battered caravans, wrecked cars and rusty agricultural machinery are strewn around the yard and it is eerily quiet. I keep expecting a wild man with his mad dog to rush out and demand to know what we’re doing – it’s all a bit Deliverance.

Eventually, after a few dead ends and tense discussions Damian finds a battered sign pointing to the path – thank goodness.

From now on there are no photos as it starts to rain and anyway the path is on the road for a while until we turn off left back to the coast, past the sewage works and back on to the road that takes us through Monkton and into Pembroke. Not the best walk of my life.

Distance: 14 miles

 

 

 

 

 

 

St. Govan’s Head to Angle 31.12.16

From St. Govan’s Head the Pembrokeshire Coast Path continues through MoD land but as it is a bank holiday there is no firing and the area is open to the public. We pass through the metal gate and pick up a car wide earth/gravel path that runs parallel with the coast – rusting relics of tanks and other decommissioned military equipment litter the landscape. We veer of the path a few times to peer over the edge of the cliffs at caves and natural arches.

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At one point the force of the waves has carved almost a perfect circle into the sheer cliffs – I keep my distance.

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Making good progress on the flat land we soon arrive at Elegug Stacks which are the highlight of the walk today.

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Here the land has surrended to the sea and all that’s left standing are a series of Gulliver’s boots – it’s a heady experience.

This is our turn off inland as there is no path registered on the map to enable us to continue through the artillery range. From the car park we walk north to join the road to Castlemartin. Nothing much happens on this road, we take a look at a lonely checkpoint hut equipped with just enough space for an armchair and a small table. There’s a kettle, a telephone and a few books – I wonder how long the shifts are……..

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Castlemartin offers no creature comforts, the community cafe is closed and I’m already weighing up in my mind how long the biscuits and banana will last if we don’t find anything else before Angle. This is one of the downsides of walking in isolated spots in low season – not even a stray ice-cream van.

Acting as a roundabout just outside the village is a stone built structure which the plaque reveals is Castlemartin Pound, used to round up stray cattle.

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Inside is a circular gravel path, raised flowerbeds and benches – probably a pleasant spot in the summer as long as the traffic was light.

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Anyway, on we trudge, up the main road which will eventually leads us back to the coast.In the distance are the chimneys of the oil refinery which we will be passing tomorrow.

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At one point we pass a dead fox lying up on the verge, covered with a white jumper. It looks so peaceful and there is no sign of injury but I think it must have been hit by a car and perhaps the motorist, as a sign of remorse, or attempt to keep the animal warm, had sacrificed his/her sweater.

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We have urban foxes on our embankment and stories of stolen babies, upturned dustbins and bloodcurdling screeching in the middle of the night – as they fight for territory or with cats – has not endeared them to me. A rural fox is a different species altogether………

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This is the last picture of Damian’s lovely cashmere hat which at the end of today will have joined the ranks of the world’s mislaid possessions – “fantastic lost things and where not to find them.” I am reminded of the high jinx of a host of inanimate objects with lives of their own in Tom Robbins’ Skinny Legs and All and how I’ve never looked at a spoon in the same way since.

After the relentless road walking it is with great relief that we reach Gupton Burrows and the beautiful golden beach of Freshwater West lays itself out before us. Unfortunately we have no time to lose, as we are again worried about the failing light and the lack of any roads inland between here and Angle.

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Despite a host of surfers there is no friendly tea van so we tuck into the banana and biscuits, washed down with water. Far off in the distance is what we think is a lighthouse on a headland just before Angle and it looks very very far away.

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From here on we clamber up the steep ascents and stumble, panting down the other side.   Damian sets a fierce pace until we meet a couple with a dog who put us straight on how long it will take to get to Angle Bay – what we had been looking at was on the Milford Haven side of the estuary ……….chill…….

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We pass Rat Island and Sheep Island until we reach Angle Point. Across the water from the friendly pub on the point is the oil refinery doing a passable impression of Manhattan by night.

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The open fire burns brightly, the beer is just about drinkable and Damian forgets his hat (we think).

Back in Tenby, we are too tired to eat our New Year’s dinner so while we wait for a taxi we marvel yet again at young Welsh girls in mini shirts and high heels, sheer sparkly short sleeve tops and bare legs. Goose pimples must be fashionable.

Distance: 16 miles

 

 

 

Manorbier (Maenorbŷr) to St. Govans Head 30.12.16

We start at the car park overlooking Manorbier Bay and stand for a while watching the surfers vainly trying to catch anything that looks like a wave. There is very little wind and the sky is a leaden grey apart from a few celestial rays penetrating the clouds.

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The narrow grassy coast path follows the cliff edge around the next headland to Swanlake Bay – there are no swans. The earth is a deep sandstone red and reminds me of the paths in Devon. Later on in the day I am again reminded of those paths when faced with some very steep torturous ascents, but for the moment the walking is easy.

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Coming down to Swanlake Bay we come across a pile of rubbish, which someone has collected to be taken away (How? Who? when there are no access roads) and a beach sculpture which reminds me of the work of Barry Flanagan that Damian and I went see at Tate Britain in 2012 – doesn’t time fly….

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Soon after we reach the wide sweep of Freshwater East where we drop down for some beach walking. There are very few people about and there is no obvious tea spot, so we decide to press on, particularly because we suddenly realise we have a long walk to do before sunset at 4.30pm.

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The path winds up onto the cliff edge again, coming dangerously close to the vertiginous drops down to the sea. Bands of coppery sandstone and milky limestone run through the cliffs.

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………..and just as we think we won’t get any refreshment on this walk we reach the welcoming tea shop at Stackpole Quay – god bless the National Trust.

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The cafe is busy with families out for an afternoon walk and there is not a Welsh accent to be heard – like Cornwall, the beautiful places have been invaded.

Welsh cakes are still alive though and along with a cup of tea we both feel we’re now ready to tackle the last stretch before sunset. Our path down to Barafundle Bay (which sounds like it should be in Ireland) is on steps through a stone archway. The steps were built by the Cawdor family of Stockpole Estate and this was their private beach! Here’s Damian making a grand entrance.

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…..and on the beach, a poignant reminder of his mother who passed away in November.

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At the other end of the beach we walk up stone steps which lead us through a patch of woodland and eventually up onto Stockpile Warren.

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The cliffs here are stunning – dramatic rock formations and shadowy caves – I try my best not to run screaming away from the edge.

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Damian has no such fears…………….

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By the time we reach Broad Haven, a “broad” beach encircled by dunes, the light is fading and I am tempted to suggest taking the road inland to the nearest village (Bosherston) which is in fact our final destination.

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Reluctant to give up we take a quick look at the map, which encourages us to think that we can just about make it to St. Govan’s Head before dark. Onwards ever onwards we meander through the soft dunes and eventually find the path back up on to the cliffs. There now follows an uncomfortable half an hour when we find ourselves thrown into a relentless series of very steep ascents and descents – my walking pole comes into its own despite the fact that I don’t like to use it too much after the frozen shoulder incident.

Eventually we walk through the checkpoint indicating the beginning of the Castlemartin firing range – no red flags flying thank goodness.

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From the car park where the road runs inland into Bosherston, is a path leading to a flight of stone steps which wind steeply down to St. Govan’s Chapel – it’s almost like walking into the slate roof.

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There are a few people standing around in the narrow rocky inlet, all probably trying to imagine what it must have been like to live here as a 6th century Irish monk. The story goes (one of two) that on the run from pirates, the cliffs at this spot mysteriously opened up to allow him to escape by hiding in a cave. He then decided to move in, living on fish and water from a nearby spring. His devotion to his maker earned him a sainthood and in the 13th century the chapel was built over the cave in his honour.

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The road into Bosherston is thankfully flat and after allowing Damian his five minutes of quality Dr. Doolittle time, it doesn’t take long before we are ensconced in a corner of St. Govan’s Country Inn which is the local pub.

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The publican is friendly and calls up a local taxi for us.”Want to try my Christmas beer?” he asks. “Can’t stand the stuff myself.”

We are nevertheless very happy with it.

Distance: 13 miles

 

 

Cape Cornwall to Pendeen 22.9.16

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A cape is a headland separating two bodies of water and at Cape Cornwall it is the Atlantic that splits and flows either into the English or the Bristol Channel. There are only two in the UK, the other is Cape Wrath on the north west coast of Scotland. From the road I take  a picture of the enormous chimney stack, now a navigation aid, rising up from the imposing granite mound that is the headland. I also discover, on this glorious morning, the name of the mansion on the hill………………………………………………………………….

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A wiki on Porthledden tells me that it was built by Captain Francis Oats, a local man who at the turn of the nineteenth century, went to South Africa to make his fortune in the diamond mines – he later became chairman of De Beers. Since his death in 1915 the house has been a hotel in the 1920s and 1930s, a gentleman’s club, a girl’s evacuee school during WW2 and a wedding venue. It lay derelict and in a deteriorating state of decay for over twenty years until 2003 when a Grade II listing helped its sale and the subsequent start of an extensive 10 year restoration program.

Following the coast path signs I find myself walking down into a peaceful valley and I suddenly realise just how noisy the sea can be. I normally don’t notice it but when it disappears for a while I am transported  back to all the inland walks I have done over the years. Of course it wasn’t always so – the ruined buildings and chimney stacks bear witness to what once was a thriving tin mining industry, which most certainly would not have been a quiet affair.

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The ferns that line the very narrow path as it carves its way through the valley are so tall that I almost tread on this poor little bird – I nudge it gently with my finger and it shudders but doesn’t respond to any further attempts I make to revive it. I carefully move it into the ferns, there’s not much else I can do.

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From here on I begin to feel like I’m part of an interactive lesson on the history of Cornish mining.

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Even more so when I reach the restored Levant Beam Engine mine where in the 1840’s men, women and children once toiled to extract the tin and copper from beneath the waves.

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img_3036All Brexit voters take note of the “substantial grants from the EU”…………..and no that is not the Scottish flag.

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A little further on the path opens up into a wide stretch of stony ground where visitors have been inspired to mark their presence – it’s all very Andy Goldsworthy.

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By this time I realise that I cannot go on ignoring what is known as a “hot spot” on my right big toe. This is not as exciting as it sounds and usually means the beginnings of a blister. Sitting down on the grass I inspect the damage and slap on a plaster hoping against hope that it won’t bother me for at least an hour. Sadly, by the time I get to Pendeen Lighthouse the huge blister has burst and despite the temptation to walk on in the brilliant sunshine I am forced to admit defeat.

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Sitting on a cairn by the side of the road I nurse my foot and consider the options – there are not many. The lighthouse sits at the end of a narrow tarmac road and there are a few cars around, so I could try and hitch back to St.Just and then a bus to Penzance. Otherwise …………well, there is no otherwise. Suddenly I see a little bird of a woman in a headscarf  approaching, camera bouncing wildly from her thin shoulder. “Are you alright ?” she says in a broad Yorkshire accent, reminding me of my stint in Sheffield in the summer,  “is there anything I can do to help?”  Well – now you mention it.

I am constantly amazed by the generosity of ordinary people I meet on my walks. The woman is on holiday with her brother and they drive me all the way back to St. Just where I don’t have long before a bus comes along to take me back to Penzance. After a further dressing of my toe I hobble along the seafront and come across this beautiful lido, closed now for the winter – I am delighted to see signs that this one is alive and kicking.

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Distance: 6 miles

 

 

 

 

Porthcurno to Cape Cornwall 21.9.16

Today starts with a senior moment which sees me climbing the steep stairs up to the Minnack Theatre once again. At the top I follow the signs across open ground, back to the cliffs and the path leading to Porthgwarra.

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Not long after the village comes into view built around a small but perfect cove……

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At the foot of the cove’s slipway is a tunnel dug by tin miners from St Just to give farmers horse-and-cart access to the beach to collect seaweed to use as a fertiliser.

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At some point after I am faced with the choice of two signposts for the path on which someone has helpfully indicated which of the two I should not take – the annotation reminds me that I need to get my tax return in soon.

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As I near the lookout station on Gwennap Head I start to wonder if I’ve stumbled upon a piece of outdoor sculpture. Later research tells me that these two objects are Runnelstone navigation markers to warn ships of the dangers of submerged rocks – the Runnel Stone. The idea is that from the sea the black and white one should always be in sight and that if the red one ever obscures it completely you are literally in deep trouble.

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After Gwenapp I walk across the top of the cliffs and come across a couple of twitchers. Usually I avoid talking to them as I imagine any disturbance could be irritating but as I am pretty much alone I decide to find out what they are looking for.

The answer is “choughs” (pronounced “chuff”) and I am indeed chuffed when one of the men beckons me over to look in his telescope at the red billed chough sitting on a rock at the edge of the cliff. These birds can be seen on the Cornish coat of arms but suffered a steady decline in Cornwall from the end of the 18th century til the mid sixties, when there was only one pair left. They then died out completely until a few brave ones decided to make the journey from Ireland in 2001 and the rest is history.

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Here is a picture of one I have at home…………………….the picture, not the bird.

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From here on I walk past a series of dark caves cut into the cliffs, reminding me of the time Damian and I went on a trip to the small Hebridean island of Staffa. Here we took the time to sit and listen to the sound of the sea rushing in and out of Fingal’s Cave – an inspiration for Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture.

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But I’m not close enough to hear and anyway I am impatient to get to Land’s End. There are however, a few hurdles – large rocks barring the way ……………………………..img_2988-1

……….and photo to be taken of amazing rock formations – this one looks like a giant’s game of building blocks – and how do they remain so perfectly balanced?

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As I get closer to Land’s End the scenery becomes less dramatic, almost like the land is crumbling into the sea like a broken biscuit. In the distance I can just about see the group of rocks known as The Longships which form part of the mythical lost land of Lyonesse, referred to in Arthurian literature.

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At last, I arrive at Lands End which is crowded and a bit of a disappointment – but a milestone for me! I enlist the help of an obliging Italian tourist and get my photo taken before heading for the nearest tea shop.

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On my way I stand and watch groups of people take their turn (for a small fee) to slot in their names on the celebrated signpost before having their photo taken. I play with the idea of putting up Joining the Dots but then decide it might be a bit naff.

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Suitably refreshed I leave Land’s End and head up towards Sennen Cove – passing the rusty hulk of half a ship washed up on the rocks.

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The path takes me up onto the cliffs again until I start to see the roofs of Sennen Cove. I then follow signs down a very steep slope through the houses but the path is not clearly marked and after a few dead ends I find myself wandering aimlessly round someone’s lawn. Not wanting to linger I am just about to give up and head back up the path when I notice an overgrown, stony “impression” of a path which does lead me down, coming out opposite the harbour.

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Here I turn right and head over to the long sandy beach which makes up Whitesand Bay.

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Not knowing whether the tide is coming or going or, as my map is not showing it, whether I can get back up onto the cliff path further on, I decide to chance it.

The sand is quite soft and my anticipated easy walk turns into a trudge but I enjoy watching the surfers.

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A little further up the beach I stop a couple coming towards me and ask if they know of a way to get back up onto the cliff. The woman catches on very quickly – they always do – but it takes a while for her husband to understand what I’m saying. He then tries to compensate by advising me as to the best way to navigate a high rocky breakwater just a  short distance away up the beach. I thank them but as I turn away she grabs my arm and in a whisper points to another part of the breakwater which does look a bit easier to deal with. img_3008

It is great fun navigating my way across the rocks, deciding which ones look safe to tread on – I used to love it as a child.

On the other side I follow their directions,  past a young man meditating on the rocks and up a loooong steep set of steps. Panting with exertion I spill out on to a road where there are no clear signs of where to go. Fortunately, a passing walker tells me that I have missed the turning and that I need to go back down the steps and turn right! With a sigh I turn round and retrace my steps and sure enough there is the track, winding its way up onto the cliff.

By now it is getting quite late and I can feel the beginnings of a blister but I have at least another two hours to walking to go. To make matters worse both my camera and iPhone are low on battery so I take no photos on the way. I meet very few people on the path up to Cape Cornwall and they are all coming towards me but I take heart from a group of brash American women who have come from the Cape and are able to give me a rough idea of how long it will take to get there. There is just enough battery on my camera to take a photo of this imposing county house which stands on the hill overlooking the Cape. I will investigate tomorrow but for now it’s shower, food and bed.

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Distance: 10 miles

 

 

 

 

Mousehole to Porthcurno 20.9.16

The bus drops me off in Mousehole and it’s not a bad morning, “enough blue sky to make a sailor suit” as my mother used to say. I walk through very narrow winding streets, passing small granite cottages, all tightly clustered around the harbour. “The loveliest village in England” is how Dylan Thomas described it in 1930 and apart from more holiday lets I’m sure it hasn’t changed a lot since then.

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On the edge of the village I pass this sign with two words that just should not appear in the same sentence – makes me feel a bit queasy.

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After a coming to a stop at a few dead ends I eventually find the coast path which climbs very steeply up though a stretch of woodland – the earth is an African red.

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and then it mysteriously changes colour and gets rocky, very rocky, twist your ankle rocky.

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Progress is painfully slow as I head down to Lamorna Cove (such a romantic name) and I am very glad I have my walking pole. My map shows a nature reserve called Kemyel Crease which is a very apt name for a narrow deep rocky path with sheer drops to the sea.

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I am relieved to reach Lamorna Cove, a pretty little hamlet apparently favoured by artists, craftsmen and writers since before the first World War – famous names include Augustus John and John Le Carré. Unfortunately, this is the only photo I took of the place – must have got distracted.

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After Lamorna, the path continues to hug the very edge of the coast, causing me some concern in places. It was the Scottish mountains that introduced me to exposure (“how do you do….”) and I still get a little giddy and anxious when it happens. I also feel it is time for a rest and somewhere in my rucksack I know there is a soggy sandwich.

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Penberth Cove feels like a working village – the houses do not appear to be holiday lets and there’s a lot of evidence of lobster fishing. I find a bench and settle down for lunch.

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Just behind me and set into the wall is a National Trust collection box – I fish out 50p and slide it into the slot where it stays until I give it a shove with another coin. I wonder how regularly it is emptied.

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I am now not far from Porthcurno where I will stop for the day. I have set up a night in a YHA hostel some miles inland and I need to find a bus to take me there. I am also keen to take a look at the famous open air theatre built into the cliffs.

The beach at Porthcurno is stunning – one of the most beautiful beaches I have seen on this walk.img_2965

Following directions from a few locals I climb the path up the cliff to the theatre. The steps  are steep and there’s not a lot between me and the sea below – I pray that nobody is on their way down.

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This is the beach from the top………………..

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The cafe at the top is closed because there is a performance of Mikado going on – I pay my £1 to shuffle onto a viewing platform where beneath me Nanki-Poo and Yum Yum are in the throes of declaring their love for each other.

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Putting tragicomedy aside I make my way down the road back to the village to catch the bus to the hostel, where I spend a surprisingly comfortable night round a table with beer, food and good conversation. Hostels have come a long way since I was young.

Distance: 8 miles (roughly, as my Jawbone let me down)

Praa Sands to Mousehole 19.9.16

When Cornish weather men say low cloud they must mean drizzle – grey, persistent drizzle, the kind you get in my part of Wales, the slow but steady process from a bit damp to sodden. Head down and walking away from Praa Sands, my mind returns to such a day when I was 11 years old – leading not riding my horse because he had just been shod and had started to limp. Murmuring encouragements in Dandy’s ear with the occasional hymn thrown in, I squelched my way through five miles of country lane and rough muddy ground. My riding mac gave up, my clothes and boots soon drenched but when I think about it I don’t believe I was fed up – I just resigned myself to my fate.

So, here I am facing the weather, not daring to get the camera out, just a quick swipe of the iPhone will have to do – and even in the rain, the colours are beautiful.

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Eyes down I follow the narrow path across the cliffs until I reach the charming cluster of cottages which circle Prussia Cove. The jewel in the crown of this exceptionally beautiful cove is a grand grey stone house which looks like it’s been built into the granite promontory on which it stands. I cannot get a good photo of it in the rain but I later find out that it was built in 1903 and is listed – I catch a glimpse of heavy wooden doors, leaded windows and slate roofs. Rounding a corner I bump into a distinguished looking woman who in response to my enquiries tells me that the house is a holiday let – as most of the other houses in the cove are – and is being used at the moment for an international musicians seminar to prepare for a series of concerts held in churches all over Cornwall.

This is a picture of the other side of the cove and what I found buried in the ground on the headland – no idea.

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I have now reached Cudden Point and a little later the vague outline of St Michael’s Mount can be seen, rising out of the mist.

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Soon the path starts to dip downwards through a stretch of woodland – it is very peaceful and I fall into that familiar state of calm that I love so much about long distance walking. So much so that I am shocked when the path suddenly leads to nowhere but some steps  leading to a beach with a haphazard collection of large boulders. Confused I make my way back about 50 yards to see if I have missed any signs but no, this is the way.

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Gingerly, I make my way across the slippery rocks and clamber up onto the path at the other end. Looking at the OS map later I see that this area is bizarrely named Little London.

I am now nearing the outskirts of Marazion, from which I get a slightly better picture of the Mount – I am by now very wet and in need of a cup of tea.

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Coming out of the teashop I find myself weaving through large groups of tourists, looking a little forlorn but gamely taking on the causeway out to St. Michael’s Mount. From here it looks like I can walk along the beach all the way to Penzance, but a local tells me I’ll have to stop at Long Rock.

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A group of horse riders are gathered on the road and slowly make their way down to the beach. Judging by the body language of most of the riders I somehow think there’ll be no wild galloping with wind in your hair performance today. I myself have only done it a few times, on a pony trekking holiday on a small island off the coast of Denmark – but you never forget it.

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By now the weather has cheered up a bit and it doesn’t take long to walk through Penzance  and on to Newlyn where, to honour lives lost, an impressive lifesize bronze statue of a fisherman waits for his boat to come in to port.

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Newlyn is where I will be spending the night so after lightening my load in my Bnb I set off to walk to Mousehole where I know I can get a bus back.

On the way out of town I walk past yet more eccentric garden sculpture that Cornwall seems to love.

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It does not take long to walk to Mousehole ( pronounced Mozul) and the sun has come out at last.

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I find myself a pub with fish and chips and my favourite local ale – it looks like it’s going to be a better day tomorrow.

Distance: 11 miles