MY EIGHTY-sixth walk was not a particularly long one, being only twelve miles, but it was another of those moments of synchronicity where such a distance not only brought me to a convenient stopping point (in this case Newport, which is not to be confused with the other, larger Newport on the South Welsh coast) but also achieved a nice round number of miles since Gravesend, namely one thousand, four hundred.
Fishguard & Goodwick
Beginning with Breakfast
The sky was grey and overcast when I awoke but I was not fooled for I knew that the forecast was for blue skies and scorching hot sun by mid-morning. I therefore covered myself with what felt like my own bodyweight in sunscreen before heading downstairs to devour a hearty breakfast.
I was staying in the same place in Goodwick that I had stayed previously and, once again, the landlady did her magical trick of transmuting vile, horrid, disgusting fried tomato into delicious black pudding.
I don’t like fried tomato. Can you tell?
Suitably fuelled, I soon headed out into Goodwick, obtaining a bottle of water and various snacks on the way. The view across the harbour was gloomy but the clouds were moving apace and would clear soon enough.
Next door to Goodwick is Fishguard (Abergwaun), which is divided into two parts. The larger part (‘Main Town’) sits atop the hill beside the harbour and looks down on Goodwick. I peered up at it, unable to see much as it silhouetted itself against a sky that was starting to show patches of blue.
The path between Goodwick and Fishguard ran between the harbour and the road and was mostly unexciting. Here and there attempts had been made to make more interesting though.
The path climbed up the hill to the edge of Fishguard and then skirted round the edge of the town, following the cliff edge. Once it had rounded a small headland it revealed the other part of Fishguard, namely Lower Town, which is clustered around a small quay.
Lower Town is much smaller than the main part of Fishguard and sits, as its name suggests, at the bottom of the hill at sea level, straddling the River Gwaun (Afon Gwaun).
It is not only the lowest but also the oldest part of Fishguard, occupying the site of the original hamlet that later grew into the town. Fishguard dates back to somewhere between 950 and 1000 and takes its English name from the Norse fiskigarðr, meaning a fish trap, via ‘Fiscard’, which is how it was spelt until the early nineteenth century.
Lower Town retains a fishing village feel, with narrow streets and an equally narrow bridge. An old lime kiln sits disused near the shoreline and a cannon has been mounted overlooking the quay.
Under Milk Wood
The film of Dylan Thomas’s play Under Milk Wood, starring Richard Burton, was filmed in Lower Town.
Not being a fan of Dylan Thomas, I shrugged at this information and set off up the road up the hill towards the remains of Fishguard Fort.
Perhaps surprisingly, the fort was not built as part of Great Britain’s extensive defences against the French but was constructed in response to an incident involving pirates…
In 1779, the French privateer cutter Black Prince — actually captained by an American, Stephen Manhant, and crewed by English and Irish sailors — seized a local vessel and demanded £1000 in ransom, with the additional threat that she would also bombard the town if not paid.
The militia were roused and no ransom was forthcoming so Manhant, true to his word, opened fire on Fishguard with his 6-pounder guns. St Mary’s Church and a number of houses were damaged and one person, a woman named Mary Fenton, was injured.
In response, a local smuggler, whose own vessel mounted just a single gun, opened fire on Black Prince. Supported by a second cannon, which had been dragged to the cliff edge by the militia, the smuggler kept up sufficiently sustained and accurate fire that Manhant decided to withdraw.
Building the Fort
Since relying on armed criminals for the protection of a prosperous port was not considered an ideal defence policy, work was begun on a fort soon thereafter. Construction was finished in 1781.
The fort’s battery comprised eight 9-pounder guns, manned by a trio of invalid gunners from Woolwich Arsenal in London. It would be this fort’s gunners who would later refuse to spike the guns, as the local militia commander panicked in the face of the 1797 invasion.
The Fort Today
Following the close of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, the fort was allowed to fall into disuse and disrepair.
From Fishguard Fort, the path struck out along the top of rugged cliffs, with an aquamarine sea on one side and rolling green fields on the other. The sun, as promised, became pretty fierce and I tried to stave off suburn with yet more factor 30 sunscreen.
Near the rocky headland of Penrhyn Ychan a caravan site shop furnished me with more water and the first ice cream of the day. Ahead, I could see the squat bulk of Dinas Island — actually a peninsula — rising to Dinas Head at the far end.
The path descended to a rocky beach at Aber Bach — there are a number of bays with names like Aber Bach, which basically just means ‘small river mouth’ — where I found myself talking to a couple on holiday who joked about how crowded the beach was now that there three of us on it.
The couple had also done a fair bit of walking and I sat and chatted to them for a while. They seemed quite keen to know how far it was to various places but, once again, I found myself being asked not in terms of distance but of time.
Time being something I didn’t want to lose too much of myself, I soon bid them goodbye and hurried on along the undulating cliff path until it returned me to sea level at the edge of Dinas Island in a bay named Pwllgwaelod (pwll gwaelod, ‘bottom pool or cove’).
The Old Sailors
Beside the beach at Pwllgwaelod, sits an old, squat pub called the Old Sailors. Dating to 1593, it was previously called the Sailors’ Safety on account of a light it showed in its window to act as a guide for ships.
The Old Sailors provided me with lunch and a gin and tonic and a leisurely rest before I ascended Dinas Head.
When I was ready I set off, ignoring a nearby lime kiln — lime kilns are as ubiquitous on the west coast of Wales as Martello towers are on the south coast of England but to my mind less than half as interesting — and ascended the path towards Dinas Head.
I had been warned that it started quite steeply, and so it did, but it soon evened out and the climb was actually quite gradual.
The head itself stands at 142 m above means sea level and commands some awesome views which would probably have made for some awesome photos if they didn’t have a giant oily thumbprint obscuring almost all the picture.
At one time feral goats roamed Dinas Island but they were all destroyed in 1947. That seemed a bit of a shame to me; I quite like goats.
Having rounded Dinas Head I left Fishguard Bay (Bae Abergwaun) behind me and could now see along the curve of Newport Bay (Bae Trefdraeth) to Newport (Trefdraeth) about six miles away. This was not only the literal high point of the day’s walk but was also the halfway mark.
The High Path
The path along the east side of Dinas Island branched, giving me the option of staying along the top of the coastal slope or descending to traverse a path halfway down it. I stuck with the excellent views from on high and, having later looked back to see how undulating the lower path became, I think I made the right choice.
The two paths soon reunited anyway, becoming a narrow leafy corridor as it plunged through a patch of woodland to emerge in the tiny hamlet of Cwm-yr-Eglwys, which means ‘the valley of the church’.
Cwm-yr-Eglwys is a hamlet rather than a village using the traditional distinction, namely that it doesn’t have a church. This might seem a bit odd given its name but that’s because what I should have said is that it doesn’t have a church any more.
St Brynach’s Church
In fact, Cwm-yr-Eglwys hasn’t had a great deal of luck with churches: the first church there was burnt down by Vikings and the second, a twelfth century church dedicated to St Brynach, was destroyed in 1859 by the powerful Royal Charter Storm (named for a ship that it drove ashore at Anglesey with the loss of over 450 lives).
Ice Cream Time
Cwm-yr-Eglwys also had an ice cream van, which had gathered a considerable queue.
Feeling that it was easily time for another ice cream — it’s always time for another ice cream — I waited patiently in the queue idly listening to the people in front of me. These were a man with his young granddaughter, to whom he was firing off simple sums in Welsh. She was duly working them out and replying and this was, by coincidence, just about the only conversation held in Welsh that I had the remotest hope of following. That amused me somewhat.
My ice cream, when I got it, was excellent. Sufficiently so that I made no attempt to share any of it with my camera.
The path left Cwm-yr-Eglwys along a narrow, tree-lined country lane but soon broke out for the freedom of the cliff path. There I had a moment of heart-stopping uncertainty as a knobbly stone in the centre of the path moved as I approached.
The stone turned out to be a common toad, apparently unaware that common toads are crepuscular and hide during the day.
It sat on the path for a couple of minutes before diving off into the undergrowth. This was a good choice for an amphibian that would otherwise have quickly dehydrated in the baking sun because, dehydrated or not, he wasn’t getting any of my ice cream, either.
The cliffs lining Newport Bay became quite crinkly indeed, alternating jagged rocks with impressively sheer drops and punctuating both with little wooded coves. The first significant example of the latter was Aber Fforest, where a stream met the sea beside a beach of slate pebbles. There, a family of four were having a picnic.
Just round the coast from Aber Fforest was a shallow bay comprising a narrow beach which could only be accessed by falling down some rather steep cliffs.
The path descended into another leafy cove at Aber Rhigian, where a little wooden bridge crossed a stream. This was a beautifully isolated spot, with neither road access nor cottages (both of which were present at Aber Fforest).
Smiling at Slow Worms
On leaving Aber Rhigian, I was on the home stretch towards Newport and was striding along at some speed when I noticed an odd-looking twig on the ground. A twig that moved.
As I got closer, it looked more like a huge worm and I realised that what I was seeing was a slow worm, a species of legless lizard (but not a snake).
A protected species in the UK, slow worms eat slugs, worms and caterpillars and are themselves eaten by various predators. Like many lizards, slow worms can shed their tails to distract would-be predators while they flee.
The slow worm and I went our separate ways, mine carrying me closer to Newport.
Approaching the Parrog
Up ahead, round the next bay of precipitous cliffs, lay the Parrog, the harbour area of Newport at the mouth of the River Nevern (Afon Nyfer).
Lying in the cantref of Cemais in the kingdom of Deheubarth, Newport (Trefdraeth, meaning ‘beach town’) was founded in about 1197 by a Norman named William FitzMartin.
William was the son of Robert FitzMartin, the first Norman Marcher Lord of Cemais, and was married to Angharad ferch Rhys, the daughter of Rhys ap Gruffydd, ruling prince of Deheubarth (known as ‘the Lord Rhys’).
That William was his son-in-law in no way stopped Rhys from expelling him from Robert’s castle at at Nevern (Nanhyfer), further upstream, and it was this that prompted William to create a new capital for his marcher lordship at what is now Newport.
In other words it’s called Newport because it was a new port over eight hundred years ago and we’ve never changed the name. I love that we do this.
The Marcher Lordships
1197 proved a terminally eventful year for the Lord Rhys and, after his death, Deheubarth was divided and diminished allowing the Norman marcher borough to flourish.
Marcher lords ruled the Anglo-Norman border regions and possessed much more power than the lords of regular English counties, being answerable only to the King.
Newport thrived, becoming a significant mediaeval port and a centre of the wool trade.
These days, Newport depends largely on tourism but not entirely: on its outskirts lies is a bus depot belonging to local operator Richards Brothers, whose business may benefit from tourists but is by no means confined to them.
I had had a cafe in Newport — Fronlas — recommended to me for its cake, although I had then promptly forgotten that. I only remembered when I went in there anyway, searching for a cup of tea, and the staff laughingly tempted me with various types of cake. I didn’t take all that much tempting and their chocolate cake, it must be said, was truly magnificent.
Later a bus whisked me off to Cardigan, where I would be staying that night. There I found myself dinner and a drink with which to celebrate my fourteen hundredth mile.
It might have been more than one drink.
This time: 12 miles
Total since Gravesend: 1,400 miles