I have now completed the Wales Coast Path and this is the second of 4 blog posts covering the entire 870-mile route from Chepstow to Chester, completed in stages over a year as time allowed.
Returning to Ferryside, I sought to time my arrival to use the new ferry service to Llansteffan to cut short a walk along the estuary into Carmarthen and back, but the tides are wrong and they have a problem with the engine. This means a days walking to the hostel I can see on the opposite bank.
I am accompanied by Red Kites, floating and twisting above the fields and continuous springtime birdsong along paths exploding with bluebells and wild garlic. A short section of exposed road walking – during the school run is a pain, but soon enough I receive a warm welcome and the offer of Mexican food at the independent hostel in Morfa Bach. It is great to be back in Wales again.
I have one last estuary to conquer. The River Taf ebbs and floods into St. Clears and it will be another day until I reach Laugharne. I cross bridges which mark the tidal influence of the stunning woven channels that seek their way to the sea. The famous Dylan Thomas boathouse and writing shed command prime views to the south. I could have swam the short distance and saved a days walking, but there is a hidden danger in this beauty.
A pop-up Thai food shack serves a welcome meal, before I walk on to a campsite in Brook. A fox has got into the coop and beheaded all of the chickens. The owner is clearly upset and her dog has an expression of guilt, having failed to protect the flock.
Now the three estuaries are behind me I can start to make progress westwards. The hills after Pendine Sands wake my legs up with steep ascents and descents all the way into Tenby, but compensate with marvellous views along the endless stretches of sand across to the Gower. Tenby is busy with holidaymakers walking along the beaches at low tide. I meet Peter, a long distance thru-hiker from California and we stop for a while to chat. I point to the IAT signpost above our head. The International Appalachian Trail represents a route you could have walked some 250-million years ago, when the super-continent of Pangea was formed. He has walked from Chester and is making good progress to Chepstow, where he plans to keep going around the South West Coast Path to Bournemouth over the coming months.
I only have a few miles to go to the youth hostel at Manobier, which is full of badly behaved children (and parents). Fortunately I have a quiet dorm and wake early to set a path to the open firing range beyond Stackpole Warren, timed perfectly to allow me to reach the Green Bridge of Wales on the weekend.
I meet a couple from Scotland, who are walking the British coast in sections and we walk together for the day. It is lovely to have the company of like minded people as we drift across the ranges carpeted with blue Spring Squill flowers. On reaching the Elegug Stacks, huge rafts of Guillemots float in the sea awaiting their spot on the cliff face, which is alive with seabirds. Razorbills can also be seen, layered in the rocks and getting on with the business of breeding. We stop for a while to take in the sight of such thriving wildlife before saying our goodbyes. I walk on to Gupton Farm, which to my delight has a Sea Festival in full swing, with lovely local food and folk music, to spend an evening sipping local ales.
The culinary delight continues for breakfast, where I am equally delighted to see Cafe Mor open for business. I have been told about this wonderful food shack, in the shape of a fishing boat, for many days now. A wild tasting seaweed flavoured burger sets me up for the day. My joy of walking turns to concern as I feel blisters emerging again. This time I am wearing trail running shoes. Their initial comfort has been replaced with a distinctive pain signature, that reveals huge blisters when I reach Pembroke. They leave me in no doubt I must return home yet again.
Determined to get to the bottom of my repetitive injury I book a session with a Physiotherapist. After careful and scientific analysis of my stride mechanics and foot placement, he sucks though his teeth to announce that I have stiff hips! The prescription is a foam roller and a schedule of exercises to remove any muscle knots and extend my range of motion in my hips, calves and feet. I religiously follow this regime until the blisters have healed and set out once more to Pembroke, staying at the same B&B I left some weeks ago.
The industrial landscape of Milford Haven would not be considered a highlight, but it has its merits, not least the excellent Bus Stop cafe, which is haven to a soaked walker in search of calories. My fuel levels refreshed, I can walk through the drizzle to Sandy Haven, where the tides once again dictate a tedious inland route to Dale.
An overnight camp now marks the start of what I know will be a lovely section of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. My spirits are lifted as I turn past St Ann’s Head to reach Marloes Sands, just as the sun emerges. The former youth hostel is now a superb restaurant, that is tough to pass by. Once again refreshed I can now settle in to a relaxing pace, fully enjoying the spectacular St Brides Bay coastal scenery. I have been walking for weeks to reach what many would consider a highlight and want to savour every step north.
My fitness levels have improved and my feet are holding out, this time back in my faithful Meindl boots and new socks. This section of coastline is familiar as I walk through Nolton Haven, Newgale and Solva to reach St. Davids and an opportunity to stock up with food before camping nearby. The weather is settling fair and the coming days walking to Fishguard are a delight. I meet a strange sight of Asian tourists along a remote section north of Whitesands Bay, complete with selfie sticks and wheeled luggage. I direct them to the car park by pointing and showing the route on the map. They would look more at home in the Heathrow T5 arrivals hall.
An overnight bunkhouse, more used to catering to schools and large groups is restful as I progress along the rugged coastline towards the youth hostel I am praying with have space in the dorm. Pwll Deri has perhaps the finest views from a YHA in all of England and is full of walkers and birdwatchers. We spend a very pleasant evening discussing our experiences watching the sun go down over the Irish Sea – a memorable time together, with hours of shared enthusiasm for the outdoor life.
Strumble Head marks another turning point, opening up new vistas north of headlands I will walk around over the coming days. I can’t believe I am walking such distances, which have now settled down to 20-mile 7-8 hour days. I seem to be more energised when the walking is tough and get weary of boring road walking but usually set a rough destination based on accommodation options and weather conditions. My goal for the day is Newport, which I reached in good time, but soaked to the skin in a late afternoon storm. I ask where I can pitch my tent, but the owner insists that I can stay with them in their cottage in St. Dogmaels.
I am too tired to argue and spend a lovely evening with my hosts before catching a bus to Parrog to continue north along another exposed and rugged section of the path, mostly overgrown with ferns and bramble. Poppit Sands is another welcoming hostel, with guests who I met a few days earlier, who have brought with them a treasured fleece I left behind at Pwll Deri. It is a long path, but a small community of people who you will meet as each journey unfolds, we catch up on shared gossip and make notes on places to visit and stay.
I walk through Cardigan and along easy going paths towards Mwnt, to see the first of many Bottlenose Dolphins that day, feeding in the Bay. Fellow walkers tell me they are a resident pod and that I am unlikely now to see the Harbour Porpoises I glimpsed at St. Davids. The sight lifts my spirits, even through the drizzle as I walk alone with my sea borne friends for several miles to Aberporth. I have booked a room at the Pentre Arms in Llangrannog for the night, a treat for walking for over a week without injury or blisters.
I can still see the Dolphins in the Bay as I wake, from a sea view room. I have to return home now for work and to meet other commitments and decide to catch the bus from New Quay to Aberystwyth. By chance this happens to be the half-way point of the Wales Coast Path. The angel of a ticket lady at the counter spends a bit of time finding a split ticket option home, which saves me a small fortune.
I can’t wait to get back on the path, even more so because I have found the root cause of my blister malady.