After finishing the South West Coast Path, I had been left with a taste for more coastal trails of a similar superb quality, but had got sidetracked as usual on various cycling trips. But Jill found a guidebook for the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, a sort of 'little brother' of the SWCP, and after leafing through the tantalising photos it was hard to resist. Based on my insistence that the weather was always good at the end of May, we booked a couple of weeks of holiday. Something seemed to go wrong with my forecast though, and as the trip drew nearer there seemed to be rain for weeks on end, as one front after another rolled in from the atlantic.
The start of the 2 weeks arrived, and the day itself wasn't too bad, dull and a bit chilly but dry. After 3 train connections (including the traditional summer delays), and a total of 6 hours of travelling, we finally rolled in to Kilgetty. We walked the short distance down the road and pitched up in a small campsite at Stepaside, then walked over the hill to Amroth, where we excitedly found a small plaque identifying the start of the coast path, then went for a curry. After all the anticipation it was quite exciting to finally be walking along the seafront at Amroth, and the cold, grey, windy evening (but still dry), and the noise of the big waves crashing in against the pebble beach made it all quite atmospheric.
By the morning the rain had started up again though, and we had full waterproofs on when we left Stepaside. The path went past some old semicircular lava flows after Wisemans Bridge, then through some tunnels, before reaching Saundersfoot. It looked like quite a pleasant little town, and dripping wet we adjourned to a cafe for breakfast and a pot of tea. After Saundersfoot, there were some ups and downs through small pine forests, with patches of strong smelling wild garlic, and occasional views of Tenby through the drizzle. Tenby eventually arrived, and we came across a small health food shop which did tea and cake, and superb views out across the beach and harbour below.
After the tea stop, the rain started easing off, and the sky looked a lot brighter. The path headed across the lovely golden beach, with good views of Caldey Island, before climbing up on to grassy cliff tops. According to the book it was possible to camp at Manorbier YHA, so we were looking forward to hot showers and cooked food. But when we got there the warden rather disinterestedly informed us that they had stopped allowing camping, and didn't have any beds left either. Very poor show. We pushed on to Manorbier, past an interesting narrow vertical cleft through the cliff, and then walked up past the castle to the pub for dinner.
After dinner, we walked on round the headland towards the camping near Swanlake Bay. There were lots of horses hanging about on this section, and they had left the path very churned up and muddy. The detour up to the campsite was deep in mud, and involved climbing over electric fences. Our struggles attracted the attention of a chap in a caravan, who came out for a chat, and pointed us in the right direction. The farm seemed deserted, but there were some vans and tents in a field, so we pitched up beside them.
All the fresh air must have tired us out, and despite the festivities round the campfire next door, we slept very soundly. In the morning we backtracked back down to the path, where we bumped into the bloke from the caravan who had given us directions, taking his greyhounds for a walk, and stopped for a chat. We left Swanlake Bay through a field of buttercups, then dropped down through thick bushes and sand dunes, to Freshwater Bay. We were a bit worried about our lack of supplies, but there was a small shop at Freshwater Bay holiday park, and we were able to get crisps, liquorice, and cans of fizzy drink for breakfast.
The next bit had impressive red sandstone cliffs, stacks covered with orange lichen, and big jumbles of blocks that had tumbled down. There were quite a few short up and downs, with occasional muddy bits, and sometimes nettles lining the sides of the path. But eventually the path popped out at a very busy tea room at Stackpole Quay. Everyone was outside enjoying the sun, but after hours of walking in the sun we were quite happy for a bit of shade, and adjourned to the quieter tables inside. There didn't seem to be much in the way of facilities on the next stretch, so we stocked up on cake and crisps too.
From Stackpole Quay the coastline changed from red sandstone, to taller limestone cliffs, often with easier flatter walking along the tops. There was a nice clean yellow beach at Barafundle Bay, with surrounding limestone cliffs riddled with little caves, and some interesting fins of limestone full of holes leading down to the sea. The path led through a small wood and on to Stackpole Head, with great views of the steep vertical cliffs, and quite a few climbers in action. There was an ice cream van at Broadhaven Beach where we stopped for an ice lolly, and the path then crossed into the military range. It was a bit of a slog along here, on a flat dirt track, and there were some interesting deep coves, but eventually the track through the range came to an end, and there were superb views across to sea stacks that were thick with birds on top, and the huge arch of the "Green bridge of Wales".
The next section was a bit disappointing. For some reason the military have permanently closed off the next bit of the coastline to the public, so you are forced to head inland on the road. We followed the road to Castlemartin, where at least we had a campsite and a pub to look forward to (according to the book). But when we got there we found that both the pub and the campsite had closed down! Not much in the way of unofficial camping possibilities either, given that all the surrounding land is part of the military range. Fortunately there was a B&B at the Old Rectory, which was full, but the owner very kindly let us pitch up in her garden! It was fortunate that we had bought some emergency cake at Stackpole Quay, otherwise we would have gone hungry that evening. Given the lack of other stuff, it might be worth booking a night here in advance.
While I was off having a wash, Jill heard a grunting noise, and looked out the tent to find a boar poking its head over the garden wall. We packed up and pushed on down the road to Freshwater Beach, where the path rejoined the coast after the military range. There were lots of surfers getting ready, and quite a few people out in the water already. The beach looked nice and clean, until we came across a sewage pipe further along, which was discharging brown waste. The beach was fringed with large dunes, and if nothing turns up in Castlemartin then these might provide some informal camping opportunities.
At the far end of the beach, signs warned that you entered the following arduous stretch of path with no facilities, at your own risk. That seemed a bit dramatic, and it was actually a very pleasant section, lots of ups and downs, windy on the tops but suntraps in the little valleys, almost totally desserted, and interesting spiky rocks and slabs. We started seeing views of the small row of white houses at St Anns Head, way across on the other side of Milford Haven, and still a few days walk away. Eventually things got flatter, and we started seeing a few more people, before arriving at the busy Wavecrest cafe (first facilities since Stackpole Quay!), where we enthusiastically got stuck into breakfast and a pot of tea.
There was an easy section to Angle, past a lifeboat station, lots of boats on mudflats, and an interesting looking old pub at the end of a dirt track. From Angle, the path pushed on over some boggy fields, skirting round Angle Bay, with large oil refinery towers looming in the background. After that there was a road section right in front of the refineries, happily the smoke was blowing in the other direction. After passing the ivy-covered Fort Popton, the path dropped back down into woods, through buttercups, pink flowers, and the last of the bluebells. It went under some huge pipes, complete with a sign to refinery workers that said in large letters "Do not block the coast path". Despite all the heavy industry, the paths in this section weren't too bad, very leafy, lots of flowers, dragonflies, well signposted and maintained, and all the huge towers in the distance felt a bit surreal at times. There was a flurry of excitement as we passed gate 400 (they are all numbered!), then after picking our way past a very muddy bit we popped out on a road and walked up to Hundleton where there was a nice quiet campsite, with hot showers, and a pub just across the road.
From Huntledon it was only a short walk to Pembroke, and the path went round the very impressive castle, before crossing the Pembroke River. We took a short detour to the main street, where we adjourned to a cafe for breakfast and mugs of tea. After stocking up on bombay mix and other essential emergency items in the small supermarket, we pushed on. There was a mix of little bits of woodland, fields, and small stream crossings, before arriving in Pembroke Dock via a long downhill towards the river. Some local kids asked Jill if she had been skiing, and we met a bloke who told us about his recent trip to Patagonia.
On leaving Pembroke Dock, the path crosses the very long Cleddau Bridge, then continues on a pavement alongside a busy A-road. There was quite a fierce headwind while crossing the bridge, but it was sunny, and there were excellent views back out over Milford Haven. This was about the most inland point, so from here we were heading back out towards the sea. After another bridge, the path suddenly dropped steeply down some gravelly steps to pop out on a cyclepath by a marina. The marina also had a small cafe, so we had a short stop for afternoon tea.
After tea, we walked through the small village of Hazelbeach, with its tidy houses and well kept gardens, before the path climbed uphill on a track between hedges. It was getting quite hot by now. We crossed a mass of pipelines on a red bridge, then followed a wire fence, with thick greenery on both sides of us, and a faint smell of oil in the air. A fox appeared in front of us, and then ran into the undergrowth. Nearer to Milford Haven there was a bit on a busy road with no pavement, but thankfully half of the road had been coned off for roadworks so we had our own exclusive bit of road to walk on. We soon reached Milford Haven, and were rather disappointed to find that all the shops were closed, despite it only being 5:20pm. In the end we got some food from a big supermarket at the edge of town, and had a snack sitting on a seat overlooking the harbour.
The last stretch out of Milford Haven seemed to drag on a bit, but probably because we were quite tired by this time. Sandy Haven started to appear in the distance. The path was surrounded by thick thorny scrub, with some ups and downs, and some boggy bits. And great views over to the Angle Peninsula. Finally we reached the campsite, where we pitched up and got very welcome hot showers.
At Sandy Haven you have to cross the creek of Sandy Haven Pill on stepping stones, which are only uncovered a couple of hours either side of low tide. Low tide wasn't until 4pm, so we had a leisurely morning, washed our socks, and lazed in the tent. I went down at midday to have a look, but the water was still quite deep, and there was no sign of the stones. We had another look at 1:25, and they were uncovered, in fact we could probably have gone a bit earlier. After the stones, the walking was fairly easy, with good views out towards the mouth of the Haven, and we eventually went down on to a very pebbly beach, and the second river crossing of the day, over The Gann Estuary, on wooden boards followed by stepping stones. There was a bit more shingle before arriving in Dale. We adjourned to the sailing club cafe for a pot of tea and a snack, and read a load of newspaper cuttings on the wall about a local dog that can ride a surfboard!
We pushed on round Dale Peninsula, passing a plaque marking the landing point of Henry Tudor, then the solitary street of white houses that had looked quite intriguing from the other side of the haven a couple of days ago. And there were good views back across the Haven to Angle and Freshwater bay, but these disappeared as we rounded the peninsula, and a whole new island came into view. There wasn't much in the way of proper camping places round here, but we found a nice secluded spot near the end of the peninsula in some very long grass.
We woke up quite early and got going. The long grass had made everything very wet, so we pushed on for a little while before having breakfast sitting on a stile which led back across the neck of the peninsula to Dale. It was quite warm already, although everything was still covered in dew, and the path passed through a profusion of wild flowers, and bright blue dragonflies flitting about. At Martins Haven, the path went through a packed car park, and there was a huge queue of people waiting for the boat to Skomer, but disappointingly no refreshments available.
It was so busy that the nearby campsite had been pressed into action as an overflow car park, but after that the path quickly quietened down again, before turning a corner and the huge sweep of St Brides bay swung into view. It was easy walking, through grassy banks full of flowers, and smooth slabs of rock plunging down to the clear green sea. At Musslewick Sands we took a detour into Marloes, where we adjourned to a very empty pub for lunch.
The next bit after lunch took quite a bit longer than expected. It was fairly flat, but very hot, and quite busy. We stopped for a rest at a strange boulder with a hole through it. After that it got hillier, with quite a few headlands to walk round, before going into a forest, which was a very pleasant escape from the heat. We eventually reached Small Haven, but we pushed on up the steep road towards Broad Haven, and found a small campsite high up overlooking the village. The tent was still soaked from the morning, but it quickly dried out in the warm evening sun. Broad Haven had looked like quite a big place from the path, but when we actually got there, there wasn't that much to it, a pub and a shop and that was about it! But that was enough to be going on with, and after quick showers we adjourned to the pub for evening meal and a swift half.
Actually there was a cafe in Broad Haven too, that we hadn't noticed in the evening, so we got a decent breakfast before getting moving. We pushed on to Nolton Haven, where we had a quick refreshment stop at the Mariners Inn, then on to the to the huge beach at Newgale. After that it got a bit more hilly, and looking back we could just see the tops of the refinery chimneys of Milford Haven poking over the hills behind Broad Haven. We stopped for a picnic beside a stream in a lovely valley, full of ferns and small trees. Further on, the path went down a steep hill into an impressive wide glacial valley, and then over a ridge into another one, and the little village of Solva with its coloured houses, and small art galleries. After a quick pub stop we pushed on to Caerfi where we camped at a very busy site on an organic farm.
After showers we wandered up the road into St Davids. We walked down to look at the cathedral (which qualifies it as a city, despite it being smaller than most villages!), and then had a look round for somewhere to eat. It was a bit disappointing on the food front though, most places seemed to be closed, despite it being a friday, and those that were open were full to bursting. In the end we gave it up as a bad job, and made do with some of the snacks that we had been carrying for tea.
The next morning, St Davids reedemed itself after the dismal lack of eating opportunities the previous evening. There was a cafe just opening up as we got there, where we got a good breakfast and a large pot of proper leaf tea. Then we found the main village shop was really well-stocked, with every sort of organic or wholefood product you could possibly imagine! They also made sandwiches to order, so we got some very healthy looking chunky houmous and salad sandwiches for lunch.
It was easy walking from Caerfi, with good views of the cliffs and rocks below, and superb visibility in the clear green water. And more excitement as we passed through gate 200! Ramsey Island looked like part of the headland as we approached it, and it was only when we got closer that the passage of Ramsey Sound became visible. As the path turned the corner, to walk alongside the Sound, the previously calm and clear sea changed to become a lot more energetic. The visibility in the water totally disappeared, and we could see strange currents tracking across the surface. The cliffs changed in character too, from more rugged and steeper, to smooth clean slabs stretching down to the sea.
At Whitesands there was a signpost with a full map of the path, and some interesting blurb. Apparently the whole path contains 537 stiles, 56 gates, 4257 steps, and over 9000 metres of climbing (somewhat higher than the figures from my altitude measuring watch). It was quite a popular beach, and there was a decent cafe in the car park where we got some cold drinks. We pushed on for another 10 minutes and stopped for lunch at a small bay just after Whitesands. There was a huge gang of kids building a large dam, and tiny transparent jellyfish swimming about in pools.
After lunch the path got a lot more interesting. Around St Davids Head it got much more rocky, with granite cliffs, and heathland covered with gorse and heather, almost reminiscent of bits of the South West Coast path near Lands End. We passed the three big Carns of LLidi, Perfedd, and Penberry. It was quite hot by this time, and there was a stiff pull to get past Penberry, before we eventually rolled in to the campsite at Pwll Caerog farm, just before Abereiddy. The showers were in an old converted barn, and two swifts flew through the barn and perched on a beam at the end as I was showering.
In the morning we rejoined the coast path, and walked the short distance to the actual village of Abereiddy, where we passed by an old flooded slate quarry, remains of slate miners houses, then a small stone lookout on the headland. The path followed a wide grassy track towards Porthgain, which looked like the route of an old tramway. At Porthgain there was more evidence of the quarrying industry, with huge old concrete and brick buildings surrounding the harbour. There was also a small tearoom, where we got a pot of tea and cake for breakfast. Further along at Aberdraw were the remains of the old local flour mill, complete with intact millstones still in-situ.
After Trevine, there wasn't much in the way of villages or places to stop, so we detoured into the village and got a decent curry for lunch at the pub (apparently the last pint for the next 30km to Goodwick), then some takeaway sandwiches from the teashop next door. We spotted a lizard as it darted across the path, then we kept seeing huge ghostly white jellyfish drifting past in the water.
The final section to Pwll Derri was of absolutely superb quality. The path climbed through heathery slopes, before surprising us by turning right on to a rocky ridge, with steep hillside and cliffs down to the sea below. There were great views ahead to the tiny looking Pwll Deri youth hostel, perched near the edge of steep cliffs, and onward to Strumble Head. We hadn't made a booking, so we didn't know whether we would be OK or not, but there were plenty of beds left, although in separate dormitories. They had a small amount of food available behind the counter, so we bought some pasta and sauce, which we enjoyed while taking in the views from the comfort of the conservatory.
From Pwll Deri there was more rocky, heathery path, complete with delicate pink, blue and white flowers, and lots of pink orchids. The path passed through a few marshes which were quite dry thanks to the hot weather. It took a bit longer than we expected to get to Strumble Head, but there were good views of the lighthouse, and we sat down for a snack. Looking carefully at the sea, we could spot the occasional porpoise surfacing, and glimpses of fins. By this time it was sunny and hot, and the path took in lots of little ups and downs, and very winding, with little cairns alongside in places. We saw some big seals floating vertically in a couple of the coves, and lots more huge jellyfish drifting by.
We passed a big stone at Carreg Wastad, commemorating the last invasion of Britain, by a French fleet in 1797. By now it was even hotter, and we squeezed under a spikey tree to get some shade for a rest and a snack. There were views of Fishguard Harbour, and its long breakwater, then views of Goodwick and Fishguard appeared quite suddenly soon after. There was a bit of a hike from Goodwick to Fishguard, alongside wide roads to the Ferry terminal, and filling stations, then up a long path before popping out in Fishguard centre. We found a fairly comfortable B&B quite quickly, and then went out to stock up at the supermarket, followed by sampling the local curry house. We were intrigued by the descriptions of some of the curries, and settled for two dishes described as "Not suitable for beginners"!
After climbing all the way up from Goodwick the day before, the path now dropped all the way back down to the harbour at Lower Fishguard. From there it climbed back out on the road, but was then soon back on a footpath again, winding its way round high headlands. About an hour out of town it passed through a caravan park which had a small number of nice looking tent pitches, and even a launderette. We saw a troop of seals bobbing around in the water, then went through a field full of horses. We eventually made it to the end of the headland of Dinas Island, and sat right at the tip watching the views for a while. Leaving the peninsula, there were good views of the small rock stack of Needle Rock, covered in sea birds.
The path emerged at the small village of Cwm-yr-eglwys, where we were able to fill up with water from a tap. By the beach there were the remains of an old ruined church, with only one wall left standing. The next section was very quiet, passing a small deserted beach where a large heron was standing in the river, and some impressively overhanging cliffs, with lots of birds precariously perched. We soon reached Parrog, and passed lots of small boats moored on the sandbanks, and sea walls made of huge chunks of slate. The campsite was right beside the harbour, just behind the coffee shop. While we were pitching up, Jill discovered that she had lost a contact lens, which was a bit of a blow.
After pitching up and showering, we walked the short distance up the road to Newport. Some of the post boxes on the way up still had the initials VR on them, signifying that they had been there since Queen Victoria was on the throne (in the 1800s). On the hill overlooking the town was an impressive castle, some parts in ruins, other parts turned into someones house. We went to the Royal Oak Inn, where we had the best curry of the whole trip, or any trip for that matter, superb flavour, full of fresh vegetables, and huge homemade vegetable samosas. Very strongly recommended!
The final section was described in the book as the toughest section of the entire walk, with nowhere to stock up on food or water enroute. We got a very early start to avoid some of the midday heat and were already crossing the iron bridge over the Afon Nyfer by 7am. After crossing the golf course there was a final drinking water tap at a public toilet, and we stopped to top up. The hills got quite steep straight away after the public toilet, it was only 8am and it was already quite hot and windless. A sign warned that the following 12 mile stretch was very strenous. The path was deserted. There were lots of ups and downs as it skirted high cliffs and landslips, topped by steep bracken covered hillside.
Eventually the path dropped down to the Witches Cauldron, where we saw some other people for the first time. The Cauldron is formed from a collapsed sea cave, leaving an impressive natural bridge that the path crosses. This was a good place to stop for lunch, and we clambered down to a rocky area beside the sea, with good views of the rocks and tunnels round the cauldron, and some large rock overhangs where we sheltered from the sun. Soon after the Cauldron there was a short bit on the road, then the path started climbing again towards Cemaes Head, with superb views of the cliffs with their wildly contorted strata. There were lots of short ups and down, and lots of false summits, before we finally arrived at the highest point on the entire path (at 175m) just before Cemaes Head. After this it gets less interesting, joining a road for the last downhill to Poppit Sands, where there was a cafe, which we adjourned to for a pot of tea, and a plaque marking the end of the path. Except the official end has now moved to St Dogmael, so we pushed on for a further couple of kilometres of fairly uninteresting walking along the road. The new end isn't marked, the path just seems to fizzle out at a small park on the outskirts of St Dogmael, not even a solitary sign, a bit of an anti-climax!
We hadn't really worked out the best transport options for getting home, but after a celebratory lemonade in the pub at St Dogmaels, we took the bus back to Fishguard. The woman in the B&B was a bit surprised to see us again! In the morning we took another bus from Fishguard to Haverford West, which seemed to be the main train station in the area. Don't make the mistake of thinking that Fishguard station will be any use, it only seems to get about 1 train a day! Aside from that though, the public transport on the path itself is really good, there is a bunch of regular shuttle buses that take in all the small villages along the path. So you could easily use the buses to do just a couple of days worth of the path, or selected bits, and and we saw a lot of walkers making use of them - the SW Coast path could learn a thing or two from this!
We were very lucky with the weather, after weeks of rain beforehand we had a mini-heatwave for most of the walk! On the whole, we found the path well worth the trip. There is plenty of great scenery, and lots of variety. A lot of people seem to skip the bit round Milford Haven, but we didn't find it too bad, in some ways the contrast between the leafy paths and the huge industrial towers was quite interesting. The inland section walking on the road to pass the military training area is annoying though, and sorting this out would be a huge improvement. Overall, it is quite a bit easier than the SW Coast path, its a lot shorter of course, but also the hills are a lot less severe. We only carried the guidebook itself, but the OS map Landranger 157 covers quite a bit of the path, from just past Castlemartin, to just before Newport, and if you don't mind the extra weight it is worth carrying for seeing what is coming up, or identifying islands or headlands on the horizon. Here is a summary of the walk facts: