I ask for an early breakfast, and catch the 9am coastal cruiser from Pembroke. This is the express service, avoiding beach detours, but my bus driver is the same as yesterday. He quizzes me about my walking plans. Am I going to spend the whole day in the pub again?
When I tell him I plan to continue yesterday’s walk to Castlemartin, and then go on to Freshwater West and Angle, he raises his eyebrows. It’s a long way. And it’s all road walking to get around the firing range, with nowhere to shelter if it rains, he tells me. I explain I have a Plan B if it rains, which is to come inland at Freshwater West and catch the afternoon bus. But no, I don’t need a return ticket. If Plan A goes well, my husband will be picking me up this evening from Angle.
He has very expressive eyebrows. I’m not sure he believes (a) I will make it to Angle and (b) I really have a husband. (Following a fall last week in which I injured my hand, I have been unable to wear my wedding ring.)
The journey is an interesting one. We rattle at a hell of a pace, making up a few extra minutes between stops, so that the driver can nip off the bus and have a quick fag by the roadside. The only other passenger is a man with a florid complexion and a mass of greasy hair under a stained cowboy hat. He was on the bus yesterday as well, and seems to be suffering from dementia.
I don’t know why more people don’t travel by bus. Every journey is interesting and eventful!
I get off at the pub in Bosherston and, just as my bus driver predicted, I’m forced to follow the road. But’s it only for a short distance, before I can turn off along an old track.
I’m pleased to be walking on a firm surface, with minimal mud. The lane is nicely overgrown, with weeds poking through the tarmac in patches. I pass an old quarry. And then I come to a barrier.
The checkpoint is unmanned and looks unused, while the way is barred by a very insecure-looking locked gate. It would be easy to climb over. But I can’t ignore the no-entry sign and the ragged red flag. It’s a weekday and the range is closed to the public.
Footpath signs direct me up another track, to my right. Now I am moving steadily uphill, and further away from the sea. But I have no alternative.
From somewhere in the depths of the artillery range I hear the sound of gun fire. A machine gun? Short, sharp intermittent bursts. Da, da, da, da, da, da, dat. And the occasional boom! of an explosion. I’m glad I didn’t climb over the gate!
My bus driver was wrong about the road walking. A footpath sign directs me off the track and I follow the Castlemartin Range Trail, which turns out to be a pleasant grassy ramble through fields around the periphery of the range.
I pass through unmanned check points and signposted gates. The going is easy. The dark clouds have disappeared and, although the ground is still wet from yesterday’s rain, the sky is blue today.
In the distance I see the church tower of St Twynnells. Yesterday, on the ‘slow’ bus, we went up to St Twynnells for some reason, before turning round and heading back down towards Bosherston. Nobody got on or off the bus during this detour.
I come to a farm track. Tractors, driven by terribly young teenagers, are shuttling to and fro, collecting some crop from a nearby farm. When they meet on the lane, they have difficulty passing each other.
Footpath signs direct me straight across the track and into a field on the other side. The path becomes overgrown. The wet grass does its nasty work, and fills my boots with water. I squelch along, through nettles and cow parsley, around the edge of the field. Until I come to a gate…
… and find myself back on the farm track. I’ve gone in a big loop and returned to the track a few hundred metres from where I crossed over a few minutes ago. Who designed this path? The price of my unnecessary detour is soaking wet feet!
The sun is shining and I take my boots off. As the tractors continue to pass to and fro, I lean on the gate and watch my damp socks steam gently in the sunshine, while I try to sponge some of the water out of the boots with tissues. To make matters worse, along with wet feet I am suffering from hay fever. And so I daren’t use too many tissues in my boots, because I need them for my running nose.
With slightly drier feet, I continue onwards up the lane. It’s very beautiful. This might be ‘road walking’ but it’s the perfect road for walking!
Until I reach Merrion Camp. Now the footpath skirts round the side of a fierce fence. Interestingly, the few security cameras I find are all pointing inwards.
I join the B4319, my bus route of this morning, and the road that runs along the northern boundary of the Castlemartin Artillery Range. There is no pavement, but traffic is light and there is a mown grass verge, so walking along the road is easy and I make rapid progress.
I pass the main entrance to Merrion Camp, where two tanks stand guard. One is a British Chieftain tank, the other a German Leopard.
From here the road continues, straight and rather boring. Over to my right the land rises and I take a photograph of St Mary’s on the ridge, a rather large church set in the tiny village of Warren.
I come to a significant road heading off to the left. This goes through the ranges and down to Stack Rocks on the coast. Of course, the road is closed today. If I had been able to walk through the ranges, this is the point at which I would have had to come off the coast and up to join the B4319 anyway.
I’m pleased to reach this point. I feel I’m back on the official Coast Path again. Except, I’m not really. Or am I?
My OS Map shows two possible routes for the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. One route follows the road. The other heads northwards and up to the ridge, where it follows a different road into Castlemartin. All the signposts seem to want to direct me to this latter route. Maybe it’s more scenically interesting? But, it involves moving even further away from the sea.
I decide to stick to the familiar B4319.
When I come to a checkpoint with a red flag, I think I might have made the wrong choice. This point is manned, but in a rather lackadaisical fashion. The guard seems to have arrived by bike. He gives me a cheery wave. At first I think the way ahead is blocked, but it’s the side road that is forbidden. I continue onwards.
Overhead planes are droning. Maybe it’s only one. Every few minutes it flies in low, over the road, south towards the sea. Suddenly I’m startled by a very loud burst of machine fire. I guess the plane is firing at some target just off the coast.
There is very little traffic on the road. Just as well, because there are no pavements. A small car hurtles past me and somebody throws a can of coke from the window. It nearly hits me. How rude!
Over the fields I see coloured houses. Castlemartin.
The road takes a right-angled turn, and climbs steeply up the ridge to the village. I don’t actually go through Castlemartin, which seems tiny. (The bus driver told me there used to be a pub here, but it closed down years ago.) Instead, I stop at the roundabout at the entrance to the village and sit on a handy bench for a drink and a snack.
Over the road is yet another checkpoint and guard hut. This one is empty. There whole of its tiny interior is occupied by a battered, but comfortable-looking armchair. Some joker has stuck a TripAdvisor sticker to the window.
[To be continued…]
Route this morning: