Tales from the Big Trails, in print on 2nd September 2021, available now for pre-order from Vertebrate Publishing. Featuring all 15 National Trails in England and Wales, and the 4 designated long-distance Scotland’s Great Trails. This is the story of the people I meet, the landscapes and coastal scenery and the sheer joy of walking these iconic long-distance routes in the UK. Click on a link below for a copy.
(Photographs pre-digital era, scanned film prints)
Also read Wales Coast Path, which includes the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, which I walked in 2019.
A great alternative to the SWCP, if time is limited. An excellent introduction to the pleasures of coastal walking. Outside the holiday season, the path is quiet and there are numerous remote cliffs, headlands and beaches to rival any in the British Isles. Rugged and rewarding. Pay attention to the tide tables at Dale and the military range closures at Castlemartin, as alternative routes involve road walking.
Completed in September 2004, my first National Trail, inspired by a journey I took when I was 15 and responsible for committing me to this lifelong adventure.
Time of year
Ideal times are late Spring or early Autumn when the YHA hostels are quiet and the bird life is more pronounced. Seal Pups can be seen from September and wildflowers proliferate in the Spring. Early morning and late evening walking will almost guarantee sightings of Dolphins and Porpoises. Peak summer means booking accommodation in advance, and the best ones go quickly.
Length of walk
186 miles. Which took me 10 days, although I probably walked further due to diversions. If you’re not fussed about walking the full trail, you can skip the industrial section surrounding Milford Haven, perhaps taking public transport or a taxi from Dale to Angle. Ascent and descent are equivalent to 35,000’ and at times exposed, so take care in strong winds.
The YHA Hostels are all superb and I highly recommend staying at any that fit your schedule, they are nicely spaced. I managed to stay at Poppit Sands (the ideal 1st day after travel), Pwll Deri, Whitsands Bay and Marloes Sands – all delightful and full of like-minded people. Other nights I needed the heavy and indestructible backpack, with my trusty MacPac tent, Trangia, worn out sleeping bag , and far too much gear. This gave me shin splints at the end of the walk. Lighter gear and B&B accommodation would have perhaps worked better, but I wanted to sleep outdoors when Hostels were not available.
I knew this was going to be a good trip when a steam train pulled into Reading station, unfortunately not my train to Carmarthen, but setting the scene for the adventure ahead. A bus to Cardigan, followed by a short walk and excellent Fish & Chips, led me to Poppit Sands YHA Hostel. Cosy. An early start gives you an immediate introduction to the rugged cliff strata and birdlife (Peregrine Falcons, Choughs) and a strange abundance of Valella jellyfish covering the beaches.
Day 2 led me to Pwll Deri YHA after an exposed cliff walk from Fishguard around Strumble Head. I had to wait until 4PM for the hostel to open but was greeted by an angel of a warden. I ascended to a heavenly warm bunk, shower and meal.
The next section is leading to St. Davids Head is rugged but some of the best, Whitsands Bay YHA another gem, and popular with surfers. Ramsey Sound produced the second pod of Dolphins I had seen, after the cliffs near Abereiddy (nice pub) before rounding St Brides Bay into Newgale for an overnight camp, watching the Bass fishermen haul in some mighty specimens.
The 10 past forecast on Radio Pembrokeshire indicated blustery days ahead, but this is when the coastal scenery is at its most dramatic. Seal pups with their mothers in St Martin’s Haven keeping out of the surf. Seeing a powerful tug battling the waves to the entrance of Milford Sound from St Ann’s Head left me with a renewed respect for seafarers. A quick break in Dale to wait for the tide to go out saw Don, a 78-year-old, also walking the PCP, accompany me across the estuary to a deserted campsite at Sandy Haven.
The next section is pretty industrial, leading into Pembroke, for a luxury stay at a B&B, topping up supplies. A short day to Angle for another overnight camp, in what seemed to be an unoccupied field. That was the case until out of the blue a sheep transporter dumped a couple of hundred hungry sheep into the field, just as I was nodding off too! I thought my tent and gear would be consumed in a flash, but fortunately, the shepherd, with some assistance from me and a hyperactive collie, drove them into the higher fields.
Onward to Bosherton, following the inland route as the ranges were open and the path closed, but rewarded with a lovely Cafe stop, before heading into Freshwater East to camp, after lingering around Stackpole Head to watch the Gannets and Porpoises. I’ll have to come back here later as I missed the view of the fantastic rock arch. Penally Ranges are closed and the path is open, so the route into Tenby is a pleasure, particularly to views across South Beach. Camp at Monkstone, with a welcome cup of tea from a fellow caravanner, with a psychotic dog who goes bonkers if you try to leave him.
The last day saw me reach Amroth and the end of the PCP, with shin splints (you don’t want to know) the result of too fast a pace and a 12kg pack. A proper bed that evening, after taking the bus to Tenby and a surprisingly fast InterCity 125 service that saw me home in few hours.
- Day 1 – 1.5m – Travel to the start at St. Dogmaels walk to Poppit Sands YHA
- Day 2 – 14m – Newport (Trefdraeth)
- Day 3 – 21m – Pwll Deri YHA
- Day 4 – 20m – Whitesands Bay YHA
- Day 5 – 16.5m – Newgale Campsite
- Day 6 – 19m – Marloes Sands YHA
- Day 7 – 14m – Sandy Haven Campsite
- Day 8 – 16m – Pembroke B&B
- Day 9 – 14m – Angle Wild Camp
- Day 10 – 21m – Freshwater East Campsite
- Day 11 – 20m – Monkstone Campsite
- Day 12 – 2m – Amroth and travel home
I haven’t worked out why that doesn’t add up to 186?