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.
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.
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….
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.
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.
………..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.
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.
…..and on the beach, a poignant reminder of his mother who passed away in November.
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.
The cliffs here are stunning – dramatic rock formations and shadowy caves – I try my best not to run screaming away from the edge.
Damian has no such fears…………….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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