I catch the bus back to Manorbier and spend a long time on the beach, just soaking up the views and taking photographs. It rained last night and the humidity of the last few days has been flushed out of the air. Everything is crisp and fresh.
In fact, today is one of those glorious summer days you dream about, with hardly a cloud in the sky. The sea is a tropical shade of turquoise and the air dazzlingly clear.
I’ve managed to remember to bring a walking pole with me, but I hardly need it. My walk begins as an easy amble across the top of cliffs. After leaving Manorbier behind, the first beach I come to is called Swanlake Bay. It’s a beautiful name for a beautiful place.
The sunshine has brought out walkers and I meet plenty of people on the path. Some are serious hikers. Others are just heading for the beach. Still, you can hardly say it’s crowded.
The path leads over the top of West Moor Cliff. To my right is farmland. To my left is the sparkling blue of the ocean. Flowers line the route. I’m heading for Freshwater East.
The village of Freshwater East clings to the slopes that surround the bay, but the beach has an isolated feel. This is because the houses are tucked behind the dunes or hidden within the surrounding trees and bushes.
The cliffs are warm coloured: burnt umber and sienna red. Streaks of yellow ochre on the lower rocks create golden reflections on the wet sands.
I walk to the end of the beach, where a group of young people are driving around in buggies, wearing wet suits. The sea looks too flat for surfing. I wonder what they’re planning on doing. Swimming? Diving?
I come off the sands and walk up a slipway, where I perch my camera on a handy gate and take a self-portrait.
It’s hot with the sun right overhead. I find a bench in the shade and stop for a drink. A couple walk past with two dogs. The man is shouting ‘here’, trying to get his dog to walk to heel. They don’t see me in the shade. The training isn’t going well and the dog runs about doing exactly what it wants.
I was hoping to find somewhere for lunch in Freshwater East. But the building that I thought might be a café turns out to be a holiday home, complete with swimming pool. I can’t see any other buildings down by the sands. And I don’t really want to trek up the hill into the village.
Then I hear the jingle of an ice-cream van, and head down a track to the car park. Surprisingly, I’m the only customer. I take my ice-cream back to my shady bench. Not a very healthy lunch, but delicious all the same.
From Freshwater East, I climb up to Trewent Point. Here, thanks to the clear air, there is a fantastic view across the sea. I pull out my map to work out what I’m looking at.
The far shore is… well, it must be The Gower. Yes. I recognise the outline of those hills. On the far left, almost hidden behind the closer cliffs of Manorbier Camp, is Llanmadoc Hill. The long low mass to its right is Rhossili down. Worms Head is an unmistakable clump of rock. And beyond that there is more land. Is it the Mumbles? Really? I think it might be.
I’m surprised and delighted to see the familiar shape of The Gower again. I’d thought I’d left it behind long ago. Now it keeps me company for the rest of the day.
Onwards, and I’m walking into the sun as the afternoon progresses. There are plenty of cliffs. The distant beach must be Barafundle Bay. It’s supposed to be one of the prettiest beaches in Britain. But I’m ending my walk before I get there. At least, that’s my plan.
I pass more walkers. And take more photographs of the distant blue shape of The Gower peninsula.
I’ve become use to these warning signs: ‘CLIFFS KILL. KEEP TO THE PATH.’
The cliffs here are really magnificent with remarkable colours. They look unreal.
I enjoy the walk, but am hot and tired by the time I arrive at Stackpole Quay. This is a tiny rocky cove with an old stone jetty. A boat has just pulled into the shore, and young people wearing wet suits are climbing out. I wonder what they’ve been up to? They’re chattering excitedly in Italian, I think.
I am planning to catch the bus from Stackpole, which is a village just inland of Stackpole Quay, but I’ve arrived very early. So I am delighted to find a café near the quay. Perfect. Time for a drink. Maybe a piece of cake.
There is nothing else down here, just the café and a car park. But I’m not the only person waiting at the café. In fact, there is a long queue and it’s hot inside. Stuffy. I look at the soft drinks, and they seem overpriced. So I decide to walk on a little further.
From Stackpole Quay the path climbs up onto the low cliffs via a flight of steps. Then there is a gentle amble across a grassy slope. This is busy with people. It’s a popular area. But the short walk is worth it. I soon come to Barafundle Bay, and the beach really is beautiful.
There are steep steps down to the sands, but instead of going down to the beach, I climb up onto cliffs overlooking the bay. I sit down and finish my water and eat some chocolate. It’s lovely up here. Hot and everything blue and bright. I could be in the Mediterranean.
As the sun gets lower, people begin to leave the beach. A steady stream of families are making their way back to Stackpole Quay. In the distance, across the water, I can see Manorbier – both the beach and the military base above it.
Some noisy blackbirds distract me. Hang on… they’re not blackbirds. Choughs! I’m a little slow with my camera, and only manage a blurry shot before they fly away.
I could make my way up to Stackpole village via the road, but I see a sign indicating a permissive path through fields, and decide to find my way inland via this route. The path is signposted as leading to a bridge called the Eight Arch Bridge, which sounds intriguing.
Unfortunately, this route takes me far longer than I anticipated. To make matters worse, the permissive path is not marked on my map and the area coincides with edge of the OS sheet, so it’s difficult to work out where I am and I find myself disoriented and confused. I begin to panic. If I miss the last bus, how will I get back to my B&B?
I end up rushing – almost running – and cursing my stupidity for taking an unplanned and unmarked route, desperately worried that I will miss the bus.
After crossing the bridge, I follow a winding path through woodland along the side of a pretty lake. But there is no time to stop to take photographs. I find the main road, at last, and have a mad dash up a very steep hill, until I arrive in Stackpole with five minutes to spare before the bus arrives.
I needn’t have worried, because the bus turns out to be 15 minutes late. Once aboard, and to my surprise, it leaves the main road and heads down a narrow track, and ends up in the car park at… Stackpole Quay! I needn’t have bothered trekking up to Stackpole village after all!
Miles walked today = 11.5 miles
Total along Wales Coast Path = 324.5 miles
Total distance around the coast: 1,931.5 miles