Rest Day, 20th April: Tenby
Without launching themselves off any cliff, Thelma and Louise packed and headed on their way with hugs of thanks and a strong bid for the best blaggers prize. There really wasn’t much else for me to do other than sort and upload a few photos, update my blog, catch up on a few phone calls and emails. However, time goes quickly and former work-mate, Rob, arrived mid-afternoon and I ventured into yet another introduction to Snickers.
Stage 53, 21st April: Tenby to Castlemartin
Having successfully dodged the heavy rain of yesterday, I headed back to Tenby South Beach to follow the reassuring and familiar acorn sign of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. I have no idea whether it is a coincidence that they use the same logo as the SW Coast Path or not, but either way I am beginning to find an acorn as comforting as a ragged old teddy bear.
The tide at Tenby was, for me, a rare high. Most beaches I had crossed to date seemed to be when the tide was low and the water lapping around the top of the beach was something almost new to me. Once onto the path, the acorn sign wasn’t the only familiarity. The path was similar if a little more gentile than the SW path and though nothing was particularly remarkable, nothing was disappointing either. A very keen looking walker approached with a broad smile across her face indicating the now familiar recognition of a like-minded long distance walker. A good twenty minutes was spent chatting to Rebecca Morris about her walk around the Welsh coast in aid of Shelter. We compared notes about logistics, kit, difficult sections and injuries and left having swapped cards and contact details.
I crossed three lovely little beaches at Freshwater East, Barafundle Bay and Broad Haven and these were separated by rugged low cliffs punctuated with the occasional cave.
At Broad Haven a strategically placed ice cream van meant I could change tack a little and go for a nice orange lolly as a healthy option and clearly one of my five-a-day. This was a much-needed thirst quencher in the growing warmth of the day as I walked up onto Castlemartin Ranges. The ranges consisted of one very long loose hardcore track which was just far enough inland for me not to be able to hear or see the waves. It was six miles of pretty bleak heathland edged with warning signs about certain death if I ventured off track and the eventual sight of Rob in his day-glo orange top cycling back to meet me was a very welcome sight and a stark contrast to the dull grey track which had mesmerised me since my lolly had melted onto my tongue.
Stage 54, 22nd April: Castlemartin to Pembroke
With thanks to Windmill Hill Caravan Park for another cracking freebie stopover I headed out into the drizzle and along the lane to Freshwater West. Once again the Pembrokeshire Coast Path was trying to say a full hello but as I rounded the headland out of West Pill I got my first sign of an oil tanker with tug heading inland towards Pembroke. Another headland and I got my first sign of the many jetties poking out into the deepwater haven from both sides. In the distance and to the East I caught my first proper sign of the Pembroke oil refinery and its little sister over the water at Milford Haven. Looming out of the low clouds they had a cathedral-like presence which dominated the horizon.
I briefly dipped into the sheltered Angle Bay and sat on a bench to eat my lunch and enjoy the serenity as the water barely lapped against the shore. The peace was only broken by my first cuckoo of the year in the woods behind the bay plus a fisherman muttering to himself as he tidied his boat across the water. However, if I turned my head ninety degrees to the right the Pembroke oil refinery loomed ever closer (photo).
The mass sight of stacks, chimneys and storage vessels was soon supplemented by the low hum of pumps, motors and generators which became an ever-present growl as I made my way around the perimeter and dipped under the jetty where the tanker I saw arriving was already offloading its cargo. The noise was joined by a mild and very familiar petroleum distillate odour which followed me until I reached the relative quiet of the power station and beyond to the scruffy suburb of Monkton. Pembroke was a slightly quaint and welcome end to the day.
Stage 55, 23rd April: Pembroke to Dale
As forecast quite precisely by Kate, the heavy overnight rain stopped bang on the dot of 9 a.m. I left Pembroke for a brief muddy and deep wet grassy start towards Pembroke Dock and a crossing of the Cleddau Bridge. As I crossed the bridge the weather brightened and the sun shone like a spotlight on the multi-coloured picturesque houses of Neyland. I headed West to a slightly disappointing and slowly deteriorating Milford Haven and the third ex oil refinery now used solely as a storage terminal. It was only then that the Milford Haven oil refinery poked its head into view from its hideaway tucked a little way inland. I ducked under more jetties before the proper coast path refreshingly emerged. Now the refineries and jetties only lurked and lingered over my shoulder.
A short while later I decided that the mud and wet grass of the early morning had finally found a way of leaching into my boots and that enough was enough, I needed to stop and change into some dry socks before foot rot set in. I planted my backside on the only dry mound of grass I could find and aired my slightly aromatic toes. As they wiggled in the breeze I glanced down and caught sight of a red ant crawling over my hand. As I lazily flicked it off it dawned on my that he was not alone. A quick check and it was immediately clear that my entire crotch was a seething mass of the little sods! I jumped up and flapped at my legs like an irate and slightly deranged chicken hoping that the little nippers hadn’t found their way in. Luckily, I was just in time, they hadn’t. With a little fortune and a degree of decent haste I avoided a nip or fifty!
At Sandy Haven my map said that there was a footbridge. In truth these were stepping-stones. A further truth was that these were only accessible two and half hours either side of low-tide. Low-tide was still four and a half hours away. Hence I trudged myself up the road for a joyous four mile tarmac topped inland diversion. I had a Feast from a village shop and sulked. I got a nice full view of Milford Haven refinery, my mood was still low. Rob pulled up alongside me in Snickers, I think he got the message and drove on.
On getting back to Sandy Haven the tide was still satisfyingly too high to cross. I bumped into photographer and yet another coastal path walker, Gareth Phillips, who was doing some feature for the Guardian about walking around Wales. He sported a proper wilderness beard and a man’s rucksack indicating that he was doing things properly and not being a big softy like me by living in the comparative luxury of a motorhome. I voiced respect for his efforts, saying that I didn’t think I could carry a rucksack as big as his over such a distance at my age. He responded by saying that he didn’t think he could do 5,000 miles. I’m still not sure if I can but I’ll give it a damn good go.