THE end of November 2013 saw my first walk in six months, a period of perambulatory abstinence that was by no means voluntary but which came about because midway through June I ran for a bus.
Well, I say ‘ran’… what I actually did was take about four steps and crumple like a rag doll, screaming something like ‘HnnnghhhrrrARRGHohdearGod!’ which is how one says ‘my knee’s not quite right’ in conversational Agony.
This is, of course, a behaviour guaranteed to have most Londoners rolling their eyes and tutting loudly in reproof — couldn’t I possibly do that somewhere not in front of the bus doors? Somewhere well out of sight for preference? Well yes, I could, provided it was somewhere within crawling distance…
A Sprain’s a Pain
The problem was a sprain, to rhyme with ‘pain’, and it meant that for the next few months even the (normally) seven-minute walk to the nearest shops was an epic and time-consuming challenge.
Recovery and Relapse
Gradually, though, it healed until I could walk sedately on level ground, at which point I promptly forgot it was injured and ran for a train. And when that had finally healed up enough that I could walk about normally, I gave it another month just to be safe. Which brings us on to last weekend.
Returning to Cardigan
So, I made my way back to Cardigan via overnight travel from London, with a 3-hour wait between the last train of Friday depositing me at Cardiff and the first train of Saturday whisking me away to Haverfordwest and a much needed bacon sandwich breakfast. One bus later — boarded at a cautious non-run — and I was standing beside the Russian cannon called the Unicorn (a relic of the Crimean War) by about twenty past nine.
Taking It Easy
My walk for the day was set to be fourteen miles at an easy pace — I didn’t want to overdo it. Besides, it being December, I had only so much daylight.
Fortunately, the heavens were smiling, and what the daylight lacked in duration it made up for in intensity as the last day of November insisted on unseasonal summeriness. And so, picking up a sandwich and a bottle of water on the way, I headed out of Cardigan not ten minutes after arriving, following the banks of the River Teifi (Afon Teifi).
The Teifi continued to meander towards its mouth, passing St Dogmaels (on the far side of the water in the photo above) and the pub in which I ate dinner on my last walk, way back at the start of June. I however found myself taking a rather more direct route which initially conveyed me along a tree-lined country lane.
A Country Lane
Mouth of the Teifi
The lane became a path and then a road but not before it had treated me to a view down the Teifi and straight out of its mouth. To the left I could see the beach of Poppit Sands. To the right lay the hamlet of Gwbert. And directly ahead, beyond the horizon, lay Ireland…
The sun streamed down and I started to divest myself of as many layers as were legally advisable, while wondering if not bringing sunscreen on the last day of November would prove to be a mistake. I looked around to see how others were coping with the unseasonal sunshine and discovered that there weren’t any.
I didn’t see anyone as I headed into Gwbert; it was deserted. And shut. Not that there was much of it to be open.
Gwbert (pronounced ‘goobert’) is tiny, comprising two hotels and a number of houses and didn’t really exist until the end of the nineteenth century. There was a grandiose plan to make it a major holiday resort to rival Brighton under the slightly more genteel-sounding name of Gwbert-on-Sea. It was not a success.
Towards Cardigan Island
The road took a sharp right turn in Gwbert and the coast path turned with it. In theory, it should have struck out to follow the coast as it passed Cardigan Island, providing great views of dolphins and seals. But that part of the path is closed and diverted on account of painfully drawn-out legal action by the owner of Cardigan Island Farm Park, Mr Lyn Jenkins.
The crux of the legal dispute appears to be that Ceredigion Council and the Welsh Government consider that compulsorily purchasing the land for the Wales Coast Path is a good thing to do and a boost to Ceredigion’s tourist industry. Mr Jenkins, whose business model appears to rely on charging people to be able to stand on that bit of coast and look at the seals, disagrees.
Some of his rants can be found online and feature a tragi-comical amount of capitalised ‘shouting’. So far as I can tell, the High Court seems to disagree with his disagreements but the legal battle lingers on…
Y Ferwig Village
The road from Gwbert was mostly long, straight and uphill but completely traffic-free. This was a good thing as it was also fairly narrow. At the end of it lay Y Ferwig, a village lacking pub or shop but which did have a handy bench on which I could sit and eat my sandwich.
The sandwich was a festive turkey and cranberry affair, which seemed altogether wrong for the weather (or vice versa). But then all the tastiest things are wrong in some way.
The name Y Ferwig, sometimes anglicised as ‘Verwig’; appears to have actually started out as the Anglo-Norman ‘Berwick’ although the village itself may have preceded the Anglo-Norman conquest and remained mostly subject to Welsh law thereafter.
St Pedrog’s Church
Y Ferwig’s church — St Pedrog’s — was probably founded by the (Welsh) Lord of Cardigan in about 1200 but was rebuilt in the nineteenth century apart from its tower, which was a well-known local landmark. The tower managed to survive another few decades until it was demolished in 1968.
I finished my sandwich, turned my back on the shopless, publess village and its towerless church and struck out for the coast, following another narrow farm road. This one led me past a shed full of cows and past several farms until it came to an end at the gates of another named Nantycroy.
Uncertain as to whether I’d gone the right way, I peered over the gate and startled the farmer, who was sat in his tractor staring into space.
The Farmer of Nantycroy
‘Oh yes,’ he said, when I asked if I was heading the right way. ‘The footpath goes right through here and why not? I’ve never had any trouble with walkers. Well, there’s the odd one ruins it for everyone but that’s how it is with everything, isn’t it?’
Over the next ten minutes or so we established that the weather was awesome for the time of year, that the coast was lovely, that the farmer was semi-retired and just farming for the love of it and that he was looking forward to watching the rugby that afternoon.
He described where the footpath would take me, noting that it hugged the coast all along except for the bit by Cardigan Island. On that subject he executed a masterful stroke of neither criticising or disparaging his neighbour nor agreeing with him either by simply noting that in forty years of farming he’d always had footpaths across his land and never had issues with them…
We bade each other farewell and I strode purposefully across his farmyard towards the far gate.
Not That Way
‘Not that way,’ rumbled his Welsh baritone. ‘Over there. In the corner.’ He gestured towards another farm track that, now that I saw it, had a footpath sign. But in some ways the sign was optimistic.
Foel y Mwnt
I splashed and squelched my way along the track for some distance until it spat me out into fields that in turn returned me to a path. Now, I was back beside the coast again, with the blue sea stretching out to the horizon.
Closer to was the towering lump of Foel y Mwnt, a 76 m conical hill visible from much of the Ceredigion coast.
Mwnt basically means ‘mound’ but was formerly anglicised as the related word ‘Mount’, which sounds similar. I got about halfway up it when I thought to myself, ‘you bloody idiot, this is hard work for no purpose: I’m only going to have to come straight back down again – I can see where the coast path heads away at the bottom.’
Holy Cross Church
The Church of the Holy Cross or Eglwys y Grog dates mostly from the fourteenth century but stands on the site of a sixth century predecessor. It was chapel of easement, catering to mariners and to pilgrims heading to St Davids in Pembrokeshire. Its twelfth century font is carved from stone from the nearby Preseli Hills and its altar is made from slate.
The Red Sunday of the Mound
Somehow I made my sun-dazzled way back down the Mwnt and rested near the beach.
This was the site of a twelfth century massacre when a bunch of Flemings decided to invade in 1155, only to find the Welsh of Deheubarth rather more resistant than expected.
So much so, in fact, that for years afterwards they celebrated the first Sunday in January as Sul Coch y Mwnt — the Red Sunday of the Mound. The Welsh, that is. The Flemings didn’t do much celebrating on account of being dead. It is said that their bones still surface from time to time on the beach. And let that be a lesson to them…
From the Mwnt onwards the path became rather more undulating and I started to really feel how out of practice those months of reduced mobility had made me become. It was really hard work in places though I’m not sure that it should have been.
Eventually, as I neared Aberporth, the path veered inland again, following the valley of a stream and then cutting through woodland and across fields in order to divert around this:
The site belongs to Qinetiq, the stupidly-named offshoot of what was once DERA — the Defence Evaluation & Research Agency.
Aberporth is the home of their missile testing range and may or may not currently be a hive of frenzied development relating to unmanned attack drones. Because there’s already a UK military communications system called Skynet — no really, I’m not joking — and obviously killer flying robots are the next thing we need.
The robot apocalypse won’t happen by itself, you know.
Aberporth itself, into which I soon arrived, is a small town that developed in the sixteenth century as a subsidiary port of Cardigan. Over the next couple of centuries, it thrived, becoming a significant local port and a centre of the herring fishing industry. But, as is the way, industries subsequently declined and the herring numbers dwindled.
These days, its economy is mostly based on tourism. Well, that and arming our imminent robot lords and masters.
Community History Mosaic
Arriving at Sunset
It was bang on sunset as I left Aberporth with about a mile and half to go before I would reach Tresaith: Just enough time to make it before the light failed. And so it proved.
The coastal village of Tresaith grew up in the mid-nineteenth century, becoming a minor port mainly because the owners of the Ship Inn were also owners of actual ships. Prior to this boom there were only two buildings — a single thatched cottage and the inn.
The Ship Inn is still there in Tresaith and is in fact where I stayed. That night I slept not the sleep of the just but just the sleep of the exhausted.
This time: 14 miles
Total since Gravesend: 1,431 miles