WITH a whole month having somehow passed since my previous walk, I thought it was high time that I embarked upon another perambulatory adventure. I thus found myself alighting, on a cold, bright and misty Saturday morning, from the earliest train to reach Tenby from Cardiff (where I had stayed overnight).
The earliest train wasn’t actually all that early, getting into Tenby (Dinbych-y-pysgod) at around half past nine. Or, as my stomach informed me in rumbling tones, ‘half past breakfast’.
The first order of the day’s walk was therefore to stop walking, not all that far from the station, and purchase myself a full breakfast. My body much appreciated this contribution of walking fuel while my brain refused to contemplate its healthiness or lack thereof, preferring instead to appreciate Tenby’s fine thirteenth century walls, through which I had just passed
While the walls are from the thirteenth century, the earliest reference to the actual settlement is in Etmic Dinbych (‘In Praise of Tenby’), a ninth century poem, which is itself preserved in the fourteenth century Book of Taliesin.
Its early history was a little turbulent (hence the walls), with the area falling under the (Norman) Earls of Pembroke following the Norman invasion. It was William de Valence, 1st Earl of Pembroke, who had the walls constructed, perhaps mindful of Llywelyn the Last’s successful sacking of the town in 1260.
Tenby Castle was slightly less successful than the walls, being likewise built mostly in the thirteenth century on the site of an earlier earthwork but falling into disrepair by the fourteenth. There’s not much left of the castle now, which state of affairs was probably not helped by the English Civil War when, at different times, each side managed to hold on to it while under attack from the other.
Tenby also saw excitement of a kind in an earlier civil war of English making, namely the Wars of the Roses. Henry Tudor, who would later defeat Richard III and become Henry VII, sheltered within Tenby in 1471 when his fortunes were low, before sailing off into (temporary) exile. His uncle Jasper was another Earl of Pembroke.
Prior to my own, self-imposed departure from Tenby, I allowed a convenience store to supply me with water and a sandwich for later, which I packed into my bag in such a way that when I retrieved it I would find it had been pummelled to the point of disintegration.
East Rock House
I then headed towards castle and beach, first passing a blue-painted house (East Rock House) in which Admiral Lord Nelson stayed in 1802, while visiting the dock development at Milford Haven. A small blue plaque on the wall attested to this, also noting that Sir William Hamilton (A Scottish-born diplomat) and his wife had stayed there then also.
Lady Hamilton was of course Nelson’s mistress, a state of affairs encouraged by the much older Sir William, who greatly admired the admiral and who lived with his wife and her lover. Their visit was something of a colourful episode therefore, which suits a colourful house.
Turning in the Road Using Forward and Reverse Gears
I was temporarily prevented from heading down to the beach and thus the Pembrokeshire Coast Path by a lorry whose driver had taken the concept of ‘complicated’ and ‘triangles’ to heart. The lorry was blocking the street near the harbour as it executed a three-billion-point turn in an effort to change facing and be able to move out of the way before we all died of old age.
St Catherine’s Island
The tide was out when I finally descended onto Tenby’s beach and I could have crossed to St Catherine’s Island (Ynys Catrin), a tidal island just 100 m offshore. The island, which once belonged to Jasper Tudor, is home to a Victorian fort which is currently closed to the public but which may soon be opened as an additional tourist attraction.
The fort is a Palmerston Folly, dating from the Royal Commission of 1860, the War Office having bought the island from Tenby Corporation for £800. Its inhabitants, namely some sheep, didn’t get consulted.
A pleasant and leisurely stroll along the beach followed, initially with the colourful houses of Tenby looming on high atop the cliff. After a while these gave way to dunes and a mile or so of sand. It was lovely. For a particular, sub-zero temperature, value of ‘lovely’.
Somewhere along the way, Tenby’s South Beach turned into Penally Beach, each being an end of the same bay. The latter is named for the nearby village of Penally (Penalun).
St Nicholas and St Teilo’s Church
Penally’s church, which is dedicated to St Nicholas and St Teilo, contains a Celtic cross. St Teilo is said to have lived in Penally in a monastery which stood in the village in the sixth century.
Later, Penally Abbey was built there and the site is now home to the gothic-style Penally Abbey Country House Hotel. A spring called St Deiniol’s Well also rises in the grounds, near ruins thought to have been a mediaeval chapel dedicated to the saint.
Penally Training Camp
Penally was home to a military training camp in both world wars and the clifftops nearby are still part of an MOD firing range today. I was pleased to see that no red flags were flying and thus I would not need to take an inland detour in order to avoid being shot.
Famously the Welsh national flower, daffodils are known in Welsh as cenhinen Bedr (Peter’s leek). It’s best not to confuse them with leeks though, nor their bulbs with onions, as the alkaloid toxin lycorine causes vomiting, diarrhoea, convulsions and, if you eat enough, death. Daffodil salad anyone?
‘You’re My Wonderwall’
Just past the daffodils, I glanced back down towards beach level and saw a message, written in stones:
I had a vague sense of déjà vu up on the cliffs near Penally, with the sea on one side and the village visible on the other. Much as with parts of my walk around Cornwall, this was one of the places I went on holiday with my grandparents as a child and, though my memories of it are less clear, it led to an eerie sense of familiarity.
The path continued somewhat similarly for some time, taking me past Giltar Point and what should have been an excellent view of Caldey Island except that the mist got in the way.
Caldey Island (Ynys Bŷr) is home to a Cistercian abbey and a small village; its English name is actually Norse and simply means ‘cold island’.
I would have quite liked to have visited Caldey but I was a month too early for the ferry season to have started. So all I could do was to look at it as the mists slowly parted.
The path down into Lydstep Haven continued to be eerily familiar but, unlike the path near Penally, this one was flanked by snowdrops instead of daffodils. Which are also poisonous, causing — of course — vomiting, diarrhoea, convulsions and possibly death. That Suicide Salad is getting ever prettier by the minute.
I didn’t actually want to eat a diet of deadly botanicals and I wasn’t quite ready for my sandwich but I did want to pick up some more water and maybe some chocolate.
Lydstep Haven is a broad bay and beach onto which faces a holiday park. I spotted an elderly couple sat outside, watching the sea and asked them if there was a shop (it was a holiday park, I’d have been astonished if the answer was ‘no’). Their first answer was less than helpful, amounting to ‘it’s near some caravans’ but then they recognised how useful this was in a place comprising nothing but caravans and walked with me up to the shop.
Manorbier & Lamphey
I left the holiday park, climbing halfway up the road that leads to Lydstep hamlet but then breaking out into fields and back onto the cliff path before I got to the hamlet.
Air Defence Range Manorbier
These cliff tops were very similar to those between Penally and Lydstep, right down to the detail of having an MOD base right on top of them. This too was a firing range of sorts, specifically one for firing missiles and a rather understated warning sign advised me that I might ‘experience sudden noise’.
The path skirted right round the perimeter fence of the actual base, after which the cliffs got a tad more rugged.
The King’s Quoit
The path wound around the ins and outs of the coastline and at one point took me past a flat table of rock that I completely failed to recognise as the King’s Quoit, a cromlech or megalithic burial chamber. Shortly after that, it deposited me in Manorbier Bay.
Manorbier means ‘the manor of Pŷr’, also known as Piro in English.
Piro was the abbot of the original Celtic abbey on Caldey Island (hence its Welsh name of Ynys Bŷr) but was actually pretty rubbish as an abbot. After he died from drunkenly falling into a well, his successor, St Samson, soon resigned as the monks were ungovernable thanks to Pŷr’s lax rule. Samson later founded an abbey in Dol in Brittany.
A Sorry State of Sandwich
I could have done with a drink myself, although not a fatal dunking in a well, but I made do with my sandwich, which looked as though as I’d let the MOD fire missiles at it.
While I scraped its pulverised remains from the cardboard and ate them, I sat and watched a woman throwing a ball for her wildly overexcited dog, vaguely wishing I could somehow steal some of its energy. I had lost time on the cliff tops and I needed to make some back if I wanted to reach Bosherston before nightfall.
My sandwich eaten, I set off again…
The castle was built in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and was the original seat of the influential Anglo-Norman De Barry family.
Odo de Barri, a Norman knight, was granted Manorbier, Penally and Begelly for his part in the conquest and built a (late eleventh century) motte and bailey castle. His son, William de Barri, refortified it in stone. And one of his sons, his fourth in fact, was the twelfth century Welsh chronicler and Scholar known as ‘Gerald of Wales’ or Geraldus Cambrensis in Latin.
‘In all the broad lands of Wales, Manorbier is the most pleasant place by far,’ wrote Gerald.
As the village lies roughly a half mile inland, I didn’t really put that to the test.
East Moor Cliff & Swanlake Bay
The path out of Manorbier Bay rose up 73 m to the top of East Moor Cliff. As I climbed, I caught sight of the next bay, evocatively named Swanlake Bay.
West Moor Cliff
The path onwards climbed another 85 m up from sea level onto West Moor Cliff, where the vegetation was scrubby gorse and the geology was red sandstone. From there I descended into the next sandy bay, which was called Freshwater East.
Freshwater East is a village, the majority of which is actually on the cliff overlooking the bay. Right next door is Portclew (Porthlliw), the earlier settlement, which is named for the Lliw stream which runs across the western end of the beach, into the sea.
Down by the beach is a car park and a public convenience that was actually open (as opposed to closed until the summer tourist season). I availed myself of its services and was pleased to find it clean and well kept. Time was still of the essence though and so I pressed on.
At the western end of Freshwater East bay, in the valley of the Lliw, is a holiday park called Trewent Park. Its buildings, though as colourful, lacked the charm of Tenby.
To my utter lack of surprise, the path climbed back up to the top of some gorse-covered cliffs and then proceeded to drop and rise again for some time. The whole next stretch from Trewent Point to Broad Haven would be owned by the National Trust (and, of course, also part of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park (Parc Cenedlaethol Arfordir Penfro)).
Near Stackpole Quay, I suddenly found myself near a road and then by the quay itself, a tiny harbour built to service a quarry. It lies about a mile away by road from the village of Stackpole and a similar distance from Cheriton, also known as Stackpole Elidor. The latter has a twelfth century church dedicated to both St. James and St Elidyr (hence the village’s alternate name).
The main Stackpole village was actually moved in 1735 by the powerful landowning family the Campbells of Cawdor, who flooded three small valleys further along the coast to make the Lily Ponds and didn’t want the village blocking the view. It currently nestles next to the upper reaches of one of those valleys. Its original site had dated back to mediaeval times.
After Stackpole Quay, the whole character of the terrain changed abruptly, with red sandstone giving way to limestone and flat, level cliff tops dotted with sheep. It was very reminiscent of the Lizard in Cornwall except for being adorned with short grass rather than ankle-high gorse.
Also, when I heard a high-pitched noise that I thought might be choughs, it turned out to be almost more jackdaws than I could shake a stick at. Almost. A walking pole is a stick, right?
Actually, when I say that the ground was level, that’s not entirely correct. Because one of the defining features of limestone is that it is quite susceptible to acid erosion, hollowing out subterranean caves until they grow too large to support the roof. And when that happens you get sinkholes. Like this one:
At some point, the limestone cliff tops somehow became cliff-high sand dunes and then I was looking at Broad Haven, a sandy beach that grew as the accidental by-product of damming those aforementioned three valleys.
Sunset was imminent at this point and I had two more miles to traverse. I crossed the stream on a small bridge and followed a not entirely clear path through the dunes of Stackpole Warren, uncomfortably aware that to stray off the path in this place could mean treading on old MOD ordnance and blowing myself sky high. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learnt in Wales, it’s that sand dunes aren’t proper sand dunes if they’re not also a minefield.
St Govan’s Head
I left the dunes via some hard concrete steps which led away from St Govan’s Chapel.
St Govan was a sixth century hermit who lived in a fissure in the cliffs. As one does. A chapel was built in the fissure in the 14th century and the nearby headland became known as St Govan’s Head. The chapel looks a bit like someone built a stone shed in a narrow rocky bay. But I won’t show you that; my camera is not keen on low light levels. Just take my word that it’s awesome.
St Govan’s Country Inn
At the top of the steps was the road to Bosherston, a small village nestling beside the western branch of the Lily Ponds. It’s quite a small village but it has an inn, St Govan’s Country Inn, which is where I was staying.
The bar was deader than an eater of daffodil salad, since the following night would be Mothering Sunday and the pub-going public was saving its going-out money until then. I thus enjoyed, in no particular order, a couple of gin and tonics, a plate of bacon and leek pie and a three to one ratio of staff to customers, where ‘customers’ basically means me.
Later, I slept like a proverbial log. But not like any actual logs, which were mostly on the open fire, keeping the pub toasty and warm.
This time: 17 miles
Total since Gravesend: 1,276 miles