After lunch, I ask the bartender to refill my water bottles. Then I leave the pub and cross the road to walk next to the shore. I’m looking forward to reaching the next village – Amroth – and passing over the border into Pembrokeshire, because this will mean I’m finally joining the famous Pembrokeshire Coast Path.
It comes as a surprise to find a marker plinth and realise I’m already there! So this is the start of the official Pembrokeshire Path? I feel a tingle of excitement. I’d been looking forward to this moment. A photograph is necessary…
… and it’s also time to swap maps. I put away OS 177 and open up OL 36. Hello, new friend! The double-sided OL36 map should see me through almost as far as St Davids, by which time I will be more than 1/2 way along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.
Reaching Amroth, I pass a pub where men in black suits are standing outside holding pints and cigarettes. Black suits? I remember the ladies on the bus this morning who were going to a funeral. This must be the wake.
At the end of the village the land rises up in a tree-covered cliff and the road turns away from the coast.
The path branches off to the left and runs along the top of the cliffs. Along with the bleak warning notice, ‘CLIFFS KILL’, it is wonderful to see the familiar acorn marker, a reminder that I’m back on an official National Trail. And another sign tells me I’m walking along the International Appalachian Trail. What?!
I’ve heard of the Appalachian Trail, of course. It’s a 2,000 mile trek along the mountain range that runs down the eastern side of the USA. I’ve read Bill Bryson’s account of walking part of the trail: A Walk in the Woods. But why is the Pembrokeshire Coast Path claiming to be part of the International Appalachian Trail? Strange.
This section of today’s walk is particularly pleasant as I follow a winding footpath through woodlands.
I join the road again at Wiseman’s Bridge. A sign points to ‘Pleasant Valley’ and ‘Stepaside’. What wonderful names! But they’re not very Welsh-sounding.
There is a pub, a car park, and a long pebbly beach at Wiseman’s Bridge. Ahead I can see a promenade winding around the coast towards the next village, Saundersfoot. This gentle path comes as a relief because I was anticipating a steep climb over the next headland.
Groups of people are strolling along the pathway. I stop to take a photograph looking back towards Wiseman’s Bridge. Unfortunately, the sun is covered by clouds and the hot and humid air has created a thick heat haze, so visibility is poor, but it’s a lovely place.
The path unexpectedly dives into a tunnel. It’s long and lit by weird red lighting, so that it feels if I’m entering the portal to a hellish underworld.
Between the red patches of light, the floor is pitch black. It takes an act of faith to keep walking through the dark patches, but the path’s surface is flat and solid, and I pass through without stumbling.
After the first tunnel there is a second tunnel, but this one is much shorter and less dramatic. And at the end of the second tunnel, I find myself in Saundersfoot which has a lovely sandy bay. I take an out-of-focus self-portrait.
I managed to rehydrate myself during lunch (with a combination of cider and water), but I’m still feeling hot and sticky. So I buy myself an ice-cream and sit on a bench for a rest, before setting off up the wooded slope on the other side of Saundersfoot. As I climb the path, I stop to take a photograph of the beach and the marina below me.
The path is delightful, weaving up and down through the trees. On a particularly steep section, I meet a group of walkers wearing orange charity tee shirts. They look hot and tired. Then I meet another group. And another group. These two men were puffing badly and were the last ones to pass me. I wonder how far they’ve walked?
It makes me feel better to meet other walkers looking more exhausted than I do. Their discomfort perks me up, and I really enjoy this section of the walk through mixed woodland, where the tree branches twist and turn in corkscrew shapes around me.
I walk down a steep hill and find an inviting bench, sheltering under the huge branch of an ancient tree. Time for another rest and a drink of water.
Down goes the path, steeper and steeper. Until the final few steps… and I find myself standing on a beach. This is an unexpected but lovely treat. The beach is a beautiful crescent of sand, cradled by rocks and cliffs. I walk up and down, looking for the continuation of the trail. But soon realise there is no way out. It’s a dead-end.
I realise I must have taken a wrong turn. I shouldn’t be here. Out comes the map. It’s Monkstone beach, named after the pointed rock that guards the end of the sand.
My heart sinks. But there is no alternative. I must backtrack and climb back up the steep path. Will I ever reach Tenby? I’m glad I’m staying in the town, and don’t have to worry about bus schedules.
Back at the top of the hill, I try to figure out how I made the wrong turn. The path I took – the wrong path – is the wide one on the left of the photograph above. The right path is much narrower and straight ahead. The finger-post is ambiguous, pointing unhelpfully at a point between the two.
The new path passes along the edge of fields, near to a radio mast and a caravan park. Across the water I can see the cheerful, coloured houses of Tenby. Not far now.
Today has been exhausting. What with unexpected steep climbs, the hot and humid atmosphere, and the wrong turn, I feel terribly tired and don’t enjoy the remainder of the walk as much as I should. It is just over a mile to Tenby, as the crow flies, but I seem to spend ages getting there.
I walk down into valleys, where trees are being felled to prevent the spread of ash dieback disease. I think this is Lodge Valley. Followed by the delightfully named Rowston Dingle.
More glimpses of Tenby. It doesn’t seem to be getting any nearer.
I go down into the valley of Waterwynch Bay and take a path that leads towards the beach. The land is privately owned, but the beach is public below the high tide line, of course. An information board tells me I can walk along the sand to Tenby if the tide is low. But, as I get nearer to the sea, I realise the tide is far too high still, and I’m forced to turn back again.
There is another steep climb out of Waterwynch Bay. The surface of the path is odd – corrugated concrete is the best way to describe it – and the hill seems to go on for ever.
Until finally I emerge into residential streets. I’m on a slope overlooking Tenby.
I make my way down towards the sands, which are punctuated by dramatic rock formations. The light is dull, but it’s a calm and warm evening. The houses around the harbour are brightly painted and attractive. No wonder this is a popular seaside resort. It’s beautiful.
Below is a wonderful painting of Tenby harbour, produced by my artist in residence, Tim Baynes, based on the photo above.
I wander around Tenby for a while, stopping at a café for a well-deserved fish and chip supper, before making my way back to my B&B.
Later I discover the International Appalachian Trail does indeed exist. It is an extension of the Appalachian Trail beyond the borders of North America. The promoters have the ambitious aim of connecting all the geographical regions that once formed a continuous range in the ancient super-continent of Pangea, before the movement of the earth’s tectonic plates drove the mountains apart and the sea flowed into the spaces between.
Miles walked today: 14.5 miles
Miles along Wales Coast Path: 303.5
Total distance around the coast: 1,910.5 miles