I AWOKE absolutely ravenous on the morning of the 22nd of May. I had pretty much gone to sleep the previous evening without eating very much at all.
Fortunately, a full Welsh breakfast awaited me downstairs and, for the second morning in a row, the inexcusable vileness that is fried tomato was magically substituted by some delicious black pudding. It was, and the pun is entirely intentional, bloody good.
Plans for the Day
Leaving at Lunchtime
Having suitably refuelled my body, I started to think about my plans for the day, which mostly involved catching a train back to London at about lunchtime.
A Bus After Breakfast?
I had idly looked at local bus times to see if I had time to do the last six miles from Strumble Head to Goodwick, which is where I was staying. Alas, the bus timetables said no. But they, I realised, were not the only transport available. There should also be taxis.
Taking a Taxi
In fact, I knew there were taxis in the area — or at least there had been in the past — because I once caught one from Fishguard to the reconstructed Iron Age village at nearby Castell Henllys in order to spend a weekend painted blue for some Iron Age Celtic re-enactment. It was awesomely good fun and I got to sleep in a roundhouse. I also got to see a very lovely ex-girlfriend for the weekend, which was why I went.
I raised the question of taxis with the landlady of the B&B, hoping she could tell me where to look for one. Her response was to phone for one, check its availability and prices and then, having confirmed that I was happy with these, to book my journey for me.
Strumble Head Lighthouse
A short while later I was back at Strumble Head where I still couldn’t see any dolphins. I could see the lighthouse on Ynys Meicel and I took what I thought was a frankly excellent photo of it. A photo I later deleted in a particularly incompetent moment of telephonic fumbling.
I would have included the photo just here. But there isn’t one.
The Absence of Rain
It had been vaguely trying to rain as the taxi made its way out to Strumble Head, as though the weather recognised that it was Wales and rain was therefore de rigueur but really didn’t want to be doing any of that. It had given up by the time I set off walking and glorious sunshine was looking to be the order of the morning.
Birds sang, the breeze was gently cooling and the sea sparkled bluely as I made my way along the undulating coastline. I looked upon pebbly beach of Porthsychan, which I understand is a favourite haunt of seals whenever I’m not walking past it, and stared across lush green fields towards the stubby tors of Garn Fawr, Garn Fechan, Y Garn and Garnwnda.
Soon enough, a different type of stubby stone protuberance appeared on a headland before me and I knew I was approaching Carregwastad Point.
The Attempted Invasion of 1797
The Invasion Plan
In February 1797, a brigade of the French Revolutionary Army nicknamed the Black Legion (La Légion Noire) on account of the colour of its uniforms — they were captured English red coats dyed a deep brown-black — landed in the small pebbly bay beneath Carregwastad Point. Its colonel was an Irish-American, William Tate, who didn’t speak a word of French while his troops were mostly pressed militia and convicts.
While Tate’s mission was largely diversionary, intended to distract attention away from French attempts to land troops in Ireland, his objectives were to land in Wales and rouse the Welsh against the hated English in support of their Irish cousins. Having gained an enormous army of angry Welshmen to supplement his 1400 or so French soldiers, he was then to march on Bristol and capture it. Had he achieved this, it would have been absolutely crippling.
It was a pretty good plan and General Lazare Hoche, who dreamt it up, was a pretty competent general but he overlooked one very important detail: Tate was utterly useless.
He also vastly misjudged the Welsh who, while they might well love to hate the English, have also provided some our island’s most stalwart soldiers and weren’t about to swap sides.
How It Went
All in all, it didn’t go well.
Having landed in what he hoped was secret, Tate immediately lost control of most of his force — about 800 of which were convicts and pressed men, remember. These promptly deserted and took to looting local farms and hamlets, which ensured that there was now absolutely no way on Earth that the Welsh would be at all welcoming.
Tate was left with about 600 regulars, including some grenadiers, the shock troops of their age.
The British Response
Meanwhile, the British Army was not ignoring the danger, although it wasn’t necessarily doing much better than the French were.
Lieutenant Colonel Knox, commander of the local militia, was an inexperienced 28-year old who had purchased his commission and was now in a bit of a panic. Having gathered his forces in Fishguard, and knowing that reinforcements were coming, he ordered the spiking of the cannon in Fishguard Fort (the gunners outright refused) and then retreated towards the reinforcements. In fairness, he did have fewer than 200 militiamen against 600 trained regulars.
Knox met up with Pembrokeshire landowner and cavalryman Lord Cawdor, who was heading north from Haverfordwest with a mixture of cavalry, infantry and sailors totalling about 400 men. At this point, I imagine Cawdor asked him why the hell he was heading in entirely the wrong direction. Taking command, Cawdor took Knox and his men back to Fishguard and planned his next move.
The Balance of Power
At this point, with Tate’s irregulars having scarpered, the forces were about equal although Tate’s situation was somewhat worse as he was in an enemy country where the locals now hated the looting, raping Frenchmen with a passion. Also, the French naval squadron that had dropped him off had long gone, not wanting to be caught by their opposites in the Royal Navy.
Realising that the game was up, Tate tried to negotiate terms of surrender. In response Cawdor bluffed that he had more forces than he did and demanded unconditional surrender. He got it.
From landing to surrender the great diversionary invasion lasted about 30 hours. In terms of rousing the Welsh population to arms it was quite successful, but that hostility was aimed at the French and not the English.
A week later, the ships that had carried Tate across the channel were captured by Captain Sir Harry Burrard-Neale, having been crippled by bad weather in the Irish Sea. We’ve heard of Sir Harry before; he was the mayor of Lymington in Hampshire who furnished that town with gas lamps.
Halfway to Goodwick
I rested for a while by the monument and reflected partly on the history that it represents and partly on the fact that it meant I was about halfway to Goodwick.
I then set off to find that the path descended into a delightful wooded valley with a small stream emptying into the bay. On the far side the path climbed steeply and then almost immediately dropped again, on which incline I encountered a thirteen-strong walking group going the other way.
From this point it was mostly easy going and I paused on the headland near the mouth of Fishguard Bay (Bae Abergwaun) to take in the view ahead.
Soon enough, I found myself walking the edge of Fishguard Bay itself. Below me was the breakwater of Fishguard Harbour, opened in 1906 as the Great Western Railway’s new sea port to replace Neyland.
The harbour was never the success that GWR hoped and various issues prevented the larger ships from using it. A smaller additional breakwater on the open side of the harbour, which was meant to improve things, instead caused the harbour to silt up.
Today, it serves Stena Line, which operates ferries between Fishguard Harbour and Rosslare, while there are also plans for a marina development.
The path arrived in a part of Goodwick (Wdig) called Harbour Village, a collection of houses high above the bay in which the workers building the harbour were housed and which was also the departure point for the first successful flight between Great Britain and Ireland.
Nestling below Harbour Village, Goodwick (pronounced ‘good-ick’) is the town to the west of Fishguard Bay, while Fishguard (Abergwaun) lies slightly further south-east.
Prior to the arrival of the railway, it was a small fishing village but, long before that, it had been a Norse trading post, taking its name from Norse góðr (‘good’) and vik (‘bay’).
These days, it relies on tourism and the ferry, once again welcoming strangers from foreign lands.
Fishguard & Goodwick Station
I made my way down into the heart of Goodwick, where I found food and drink. I also unexpectedly found a very handy railway station — Fishguard & Goodwick — which isn’t on my map on account of Dr Beeching. Like many of his closures, this one has been recognised as a bit of a cock-up and the station was reopened in 2012.
Fishguard harbour Station
Not knowing this, I bought had a ticket from Fishguard Harbour, the station in the ferry terminal, located down half a mile or so of very boring access road. It was a good discovery. A short time later I was on my way home.
This time: 6 miles
Total since Gravesend: 1,388 miles