I AWOKE on Mothering Sunday a little before dawn and, in my half-asleep state, careered about my room like a drunken elephant with numb legs. A shower helped wake me up, as did a splendid Continental breakfast left on a tray outside my door (I would be leaving before the inn’s usual breakfast time and they had offered – practically insisted in fact – that I could have something left out for me). Breakfast mostly comprised a croissant with some excellent ham and tastily mature cheddar, washed down with a glass of apple juice.
I was going to need a good breakfast- my plan was to walk twenty-six and a half miles, reaching Pembroke by sundown. Some of it would be very up-and-down indeed.
By the time I had finished stuffing my face the first hints of daylight were bathing the village of Bosherston. Pausing only to stuff an individual packet of cornflakes into my pocket — I planned to eat them later like particularly breakfast-y crisps — I stepped outside and set off on my journey.
Pembroke was, I mused with not a little amusement, a mere four miles away at this point, were I to go direct by road. Well, I started on the road, passing by the parish church of St. Michael and All Angels.
St. Michael and All Angels’ Church
Bosherston is an Anglo-Norman name with not a hint of Welsh. It derives from a man named Bosher, who served in the conquering Norman armies (the ton part meaning a farmstead or enclosure, cognate with the modern word ‘town’).
Forgoing Norman armies in favour of evidence of a more modern one, I quickly branched off onto an unpaved track which apparently formed part of a cycle route. It was also, quite clearly an old and possibly disused track to the unmanned side gate of yet another MOD firing range. Forbidding signs warned that this was no entry and I believed them. My own route sent me off at right angles along another track which soon brought me to Carew Farm and some actual metalled roads.
It was now that I first diverted from the official coast path, which seemed to be heading off across a muddy field with a local permissive footpath, although the waymarking left a lot to be desired. I stayed with the road, finding myself on a long, straight country lane that cut across the countryside of Pembrokeshire (Sir Benfro).
Ignoring the opportunity to head down a concrete-surfaced military side-road and then get lost in a field made of mud, I resolutely stuck with the roads, following the one I was on until it met with the B4319 at Lyserry Farm.
I then followed the B-road to Merrion, which is not so much a hamlet as the gates to the main encampment of Castlemartin Army Training Area.
Castlemartin Army Training Area
The training area was created in 1939 for what should be obvious reasons and remains in use for much of the year almost three quarters of a century later.
Having been set up to train our army to fight the Germans, the army base then played host to them from 1962 to 1996. The reason for this strange reversal was that the British Army of the Rhine needed a good tank training area in northern Germany and so duly turfed the Bundeswehr out of one of their own ranges, bundling them off to Wales as a swap.
A Leopard tank complete with Iron Cross emblem sat outside the gate, left as a present when they returned to Germany, which had got bigger in their absence and now had a more bases to play with (not to mention far less need for the BAOR).
Facing the Leopard was this:
I passed the two tanks and continued away from Merrion along the B4319, looking out where the hedges permitted over a vista of fields. Off to my left a church spire pointed up into the sky, marking the tiny village of Warren.
A side-road led off towards this village, taking the route of the footpath with it; I naturally followed suit, at least as far as when it charged off across a field containing a handful of cows. At first, with a shrug, I headed into the field but, once again, I found the waymarking less than ideal and rapidly became convinced that it was sending me in the wrong direction. It wasn’t, as it turned out, but I thought it was and so I returned to the road and continued into Warren.
St Mary’s Church (1)
St Mary’s Church, whose spire I had spotted, dates from about 1290. The parish was small (and today is mostly part of the Castlemartin ranges) and belonged to the Bishop of St David’s — who was Thomas Beck in 1290 — rather than the Earl of Pembroke, who owned everything else for miles.
The village remains as tiny as it ever has and, no sooner had arrived in it then I was leaving it again.
The Firing Ranges
I left Warren along a narrow country road that led, according to a sign, to a spectator area. The spectacle in question being exercises on the Castlemartin ranges. Another sign suggested what such exercise might entail:
And so, I wandered along the road to Castlemartin, with the weather experimentally trying an occasional drizzle while, in the distance, true to the MOD’s word, I heard the sound of intermittent gunfire.
Castlemartin (Castell Martin) takes its name from a motte-and-bailey castle that once stood on the site, combined with the dedication of the village church (to St Martin). It comprised a number of houses, one of which housed a dog that went completely mental as I walked past.
It also had a roundabout, that most quintessential of British road features, in this case containing an old animal pound.
The pound was formerly used for detaining stray animals although WW2 saw it converted into a heavy machine gun post.
These days, it is a small formal garden (which in early March appeared to be growing twigs and sticks) with some handy benches on which to rest. I rested on one of the benches. It seemed rude not to. I also texted a message to my mother, it being Mothering Sunday and all; it had a decent phone signal.
At the roundabout I was reunited with my old friend the B4319, which I followed past the old post office (now just a private house) and back out into the country. Where the hedge permitted I could see out to my left across green fields to the unearthly towers of the Rhoscrowther Oil Refinery.
Closer to, there were cows and a herd of them followed me excitedly, they gambolling about on their side of the fence and me on mine. I think it was probably milking time and the poor things were hoping that I was going to oblige. They were sadly out of luck.
Freshwater West is a beautiful bay with a mile of sand and is quite popular with surfers, although the swells that they like make it a dodgy place to swim.
A small seaweed-drying hut near the beach resembles a shed roof that’s lost its actual shed. This is far from the weirdest building ever to grace the bay however; that prize goes to the full size Shell Cottage erected for the filming of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It has since been removed.
The path, which was also the road, narrowed and snaked through the dunes of Broomhill Burrows. I could see an alternative path running up and over them but I wanted no part of that. Dunes are hard work.
The path parted company from the road at a car park, where it immediately got lost in the dunes on account of bad waymarking. Since I was still determined not to traipse up and down dunes unnecessarily, I simply followed a fence until they converged.
Moments later, I was out of the dunes and up on the cliff path, which was aiming to be just as undulating but at least had solid rock underfoot.
It didn’t occur to me to photograph the massive, gaping gap in the path until after I had clambered my way round it; I tried not to dwell on how likely another such collapse might be. As it turned out, the thing most likely to collapse would be me, as I forced myself up and down some steep inclines on a coast that undulated like an eel with the hiccups.
A Salute to Serious Walking
There were one or two particularly steep bits where I was glad to have walking poles. There were plenty of other bits where it was less extreme.
At one such place, I encountered two blokes heading the other way who opined that I looked like was walking ‘seriously’. We briefly discussed our walking plans for the day and they greeted mine with a salute, which was
The haven is a ria fed by the Pembroke River and the Daugleddau Estuary. It’s been used on and off since at least the eighth century when Hubba the Dane sheltered there on his way to get killed by Odda of Devon in the Battle of Cynuit. Nine hundred years later, Shakespeare mentioned it in Cymbeline.
Today, it forms the largest port in Wales and the third largest in the UK, managed by its own Port Authority. Most of its shipping is related to the oil refineries that crowd along its shores so I was surprised to see a large ferry sail past; Irish Ferries operate a twice daily service between Rosslare and Pembroke Dock.
A Peninsular Vista
Shortly thereafter, the twists and turns of the coast meant that I was looking across the Angle Peninsula to the village of Angle on the far coast while beyond that, across Angle Bay, the Rhoscrowther refinery formed a spiky backdrop, its towers reaching into the sky.
West Angle Beach
With Angle still a mile away on the far side of the peninsula, I found myself at West Angle Beach, which is linked to it by a road. There, I paused and rested for a second, watching a woman spending as few seconds as possible exercising her dog on the icy cold, windswept beach.
A quick jaunt round the end of the peninsula followed, affording me an excellent view of Thorn Island and its Victorian fort. Constructed n 1854, the fort is a ‘Palmerston Folly’ resulting from the Royal Commission into the country’s defences.
It never fired in anger but its rocks managed to sink a newly built sailing ship, Loch Shiel, in 1878. The Angle lifeboat rescued about thirty people, earning two medals in the process. Much of her cargo, including beer and whisky, was never officially recovered. Unofficially however…
Having trekked right around the peninsula, I finally reached the village of Angle, timing my arrival impeccably. Assuming, that is, that ‘impeccable’ means ‘exquisitely badly’. In this case, I not only missed the village shop, which had shut an hour beforehand, but I also missed food at the inn.
My only option was a healthy lunch of snacks bought at the bar, washed down with gin and tonic. The inn’s other patrons, who all seemed to be the Angle lifeboat’s modern day crewmembers, paid me little heed as I wolfed down more chocolate bars than can possibly be good for me.
Angle Tower House
St Mary’s Church (2)
A break and a rest reinvigorated me, which was just as well as I still had another ten miles to go.
An easy, level path carried me along the bottom of Angle Bay and past a derelict site that I think may have been the old BP oil terminal that functioned from the 60s to the 90s. Directly outside the gates of this site was my last chance to take a significant shortcut, as a road led off cross country that would bypass another jutting peninsula. I decided that I was doing okay; I had just enough daylight hours to make it. I pressed on.
From this point up to the end of the bay and Popton Point there was an actual road, which made for even easier going. All the while I was on it I was skirting round the outside of the Rhoscrowther refinery yet, being close up, I could actually see less of it than before.
At Popton Point I found another Palmerston Folly in the form of Fort Popton, which now forms part of the refinery complex.
After the refinery, the path became surprisingly wooded. I had been expecting something of an industrial wasteland, probably dotted with derelict buildings and structures. Apart from one point where I passed under oil pipes leading to (or from) a jetty, what I actually got was mostly leafy woodland and an undulating path.
On the far side of the refinery the path turned inland, leading me through a field of cows which were, once again, rather more pleased to see me than I was comfortable with. Even though I could see that they weren’t hostile, I was acutely aware of how much bigger than me they all were as they ran round me excitedly. I was glad to reach the far side of that field.
Before long I was no longer in a field but back on a public road in what is left of Pwllcrochan. This tiny former cockling village was largely abandoned in the 1960s when the refinery was built. Now there are just a couple of houses and, tucked away in a corner, the village church:
St Mary’s Church (3)
Pembroke Power Station
I was pretty tired by now but I also needed to pick up my pace. I left the roads behind and plunged into yet more woodland, skirting the edge of Pembroke Power Station which, funnily enough, is fired by gas and not oil, although its predecessor (1968-2000) was.
I had just one hour of sunlight remaining as I passed the power station.
Moving on, I passed a farm (Lambeeth farm) and dropped down into two leafy valleys with streams in. At the second of these, the coast path joined a road for four fifths of a mile and, given the failing light, I elected to stay on the road when the coast path detoured off it. In this way, I arrived in Hundleton, a village just two miles from the centre of Pembroke.
The most obvious route to Pembroke from Hundleton was the one all the signs pointed to, namely the B4320. However, I took the time to sit down and consult my map in the now failing twilight and saw that the B4320 kind of looped south in a detour I didn’t feel like making — I was feeling pretty tired by now.
Bentlass Road / Mill Back
Instead, I struck north on the road to the hamlet of Bentlass, then almost immediately branched off eastwards on what I assume was the old Pembroke road. This descended into a valley and crossed a marshy creek just as proper darkness arrived, causing me to fish my torch out of my bag.
I’ve learned from my previous errors and have a new torch, which kicks out a ridiculous level of brightness using LEDs.
The torch lit my way up the far side of the valley, where this narrow road rejoined the B4320. I was now on the edge of the village of Monkton, which is theoretically separate but actually forms part of a continuous conurbation with Pembroke.
In consequence of its built up nature, streetlights began at Monkton, meaning that I could put my torch away. It was now just a question of following the road into Pembroke’s town centre, pausing only to stop at a handy Spar shop to buy some final chocolate to renew my flagging reserves.
Pembroke is Penfro in Welsh, the English name being a corruption of the other. Penfro is also the Welsh name of the county and, in times past, was the name of the cantref within the Kingdom of Dyfed. It means ‘land’s end’.
For me it was also the journey’s end, at least for the day. I found my hotel, which was not far from the station, and made the most of a long hot shower followed by something substantial to eat. That I was tired, if any doubt was remaining, was aptly demonstrated when I ordered a final gin and tonic and then knocked my glass right over, having lost any semblance of coordination.
But I slept well.
This time: 26½ miles
Total since Gravesend: 1,302½ miles