After walking for several hours, I’ve finally reached Castlemartin, and I’m back to where I should have ended my walk yesterday if I hadn’t spent most of the day sheltering in the pub! I feel a sense of relief. I’m back on track.
The coastal footpath seems unsigned through Castlemartin, but I take the first left off the roundabout, go down a lane and find the path. To my right is farmland, to the left is the artillery range – and in the distance is the sea. I’m heading back to the coast.
I meet a man with a dog and a backpack. The first walker I’ve met all day. He tells me he has walked from Angle. I ask him if the path between Angle and Freshwater West is difficult.
‘Yes,’ he says. ‘My knees are complaining. At least six or, maybe, seven big ups-and-downs. I thought they would never end.’
My heart sinks. I’m walking further than I planned today, to make up for the missed miles yesterday. And it sounds as if the final stretch is going to be the toughest.
‘There’s a bad bit of mud ahead,’ he says, as if trying to depress me further.
But the mud doesn’t turn out to be as bad as I feared. Only a surface layer. And no cows on the path, only horses in an adjacent field.
Beyond the farm track, the path joins the road. I was resigned to tarmac walking, but in fact there is a footpath on the other side of the hedge. And so I walk between the hedge and a fence, along the edge of the boundary of the military range. The fields are full of glorious wild flowers.
Further along, a sign tells me that the wild flowers have been specifically chosen and seeded to create a bumblebee haven. Some rare species, including the near-extinct shrill carder bee, are thriving here.
I wish I’d known about the bumblebees earlier. The notice comes at the end of my trek around the Castlemartin ranges. (Although, if I was walking the other way, it would have been at the beginning!)
So, full of ignorance, I hadn’t bothered looking out for bees. But I did take some amazing photographs of butterflies. This one is a peacock.
Sadly some of this section of path is badly overgrown. I get stung by nettles and scratched by thistles. And I risk a twisted ankle, as I am unable to see the ground, which feels very uneven beneath my boots.
It’s a relief to get back on the road and away from the hazards of the path. Across fields I see a reminder that I am nearing Milford Haven – the tall chimneys of an oil refinery.
The road is quiet with very little traffic… and there is a stunning view across the bay.
Wales has a habit of recycling place names. For example, there are two places called Newport. And yesterday, I walked across a bay called Broad Haven, but I know there is another bay called Broad Haven further ahead. The day before yesterday, I walked around Freshwater East. Now I’m approaching the beach of Freshwater West.
It turns out to be a glorious place. Very windy. Wide, flat sands, surrounded by unspoilt cliffs and rocks. When I see a fellow hiker is sitting on a rock beside the road, I can’t resist taking her photograph with the beach as a backdrop.
I check to see if she is Ursula, a young woman who is walking thousands of miles across and around Wales to raise money for charity and who I was hoping I might meet along the way. But it isn’t Ursula.
In the car park I find a mobile food trailer. This menu looks great, and I’m tempted to try a laverbread sandwich but I’ve brought a packed lunch with me. Instead of sandwiches, I buy a piece of ginger cake and a cold can of coke.
The wind is ferocious. I find a sheltered spot in the lee of a sand dune and take off my socks (still damp) and my boots (still very wet). It’s a perfect place for a picnic. What a view!
The cake turns out to be a chocolate brownie, not ginger. But I don’t go back to complain. It’s too delicious to resist.
The wind soon dries my socks, but the linings of my boots remain soggy, despite more mopping attempts using the napkin my cake was wrapped in. As a result, the insides of my boots end up both damp and chocolate coated.
With a hard trek ahead, I make myself rest for 1/2 an hour. Then I set off across the beach. On the other side, the path rises gently up the slope. This doesn’t look bad at all. What was I worrying about?
I meet other walkers. The wind makes it hard to concentrate and nobody stops for a chat.
The views back across Freshwater West are stunning. White waves, bright sands, red rocks.
I come to a gate with a warning sign. “This is a challenging stretch of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path...” Uh-oh.
But the sign says it’s only 3.4 miles to West Angle Bay. I almost there! And can it possibly be worse than the north Cornwall coast? I remember Rusey Cliff and the climbs around Crackington Haven. Nothing to worry about, I tell myself. Onwards.
The path is rugged. It plunges down into little valleys and climbs up to the top again. Sometimes there are steps, sometimes just a rocky scramble. I try to count the ups-and-downs, remembering the first walker I met who warned me there would be six or seven. But I lose count. And I decide to give myself over to the walk. Yes, it’s a rollercoaster. Just enjoy it.
The best way to walk is to stay in the moment. After all, it’s not the destination that’s important, it’s the journey.
Dark clouds scuttle across the sky. A few drops fall and rain showers continue, intermittently, for the next mile or so.
Ahead I see a bench perched on the top of a cliff. My legs are growing tired and I’m thirsty. When I get to the seat, I promise myself, I’ll stop for a rest and a drink.
I stop for a rest anyway, and the sun comes out. I put away my waterproofs.
I’ve passed over East Pickard Bay, West Pickard Bay (more examples of the Welsh economy with names.) Somewhere below was the rocky arch of Guttle Hole.
According to the map, I’m standing on a promontory above Parsonsquarry Bay. Ahead is Whitedole Bay and Sheep Island. The cliffs show evidence of recent rock slides.
Sheep Island is linked to the mainland at low tide via a rocky isthmus. I wonder how the island got its name, and if any sheep manage the scramble across that causeway?
Beyond Sheep Island and the path becomes flatter and easier, with only a few easy dips.
Ahead is the mouth of Milford Haven. And over on the other side of the water is… St Ann’s Head. I look forward to walking there in a few days time.
Another ruined building stands proud on a precarious piece of headland. I think this is the remains of East Block House, built in the sixteenth century by Henry VIII to guard the approach to Milford Haven. If I wasn’t so tired, I might have gone down to explore it.
I pass a number of old gun mountings, looking considerably more recent than Henry VIII’s era. And then, growing nearer, I see the pretty beach of West Angle Bay.
I’ve been to West Angle Bay before of course – only briefly – as part of my meandering bus journey to Stackpole Quay yesterday.
The walk down to Angle is easy, but the landscape changes. Signs of civilisation now dominate: black-costumed bales of industrial farming, a caravan/mobile-home park ahead, the pastel coloured houses of Angle and, towering over it all, the tall chimneys and storage tanks of the oil refinery.
From West Angle Bay I walk up the road towards the village of Angle. It’s only 5:15pm and I’ve a couple of hours to wait before my husband arrives. He’s making the long journey by car from Lincolnshire to join me for the weekend.
In Angle, I’m disappointed to discover the pub on the main road doesn’t open until 7pm. I know there’s a second pub nearby and, although I can’t work out how to get to it, I manage to find their phone number on my iPhone. No, they don’t open until 6:30pm.
There are no benches by the roadside, so I sit on a wall near the entrance to the village and wait. Somewhat later than 5:30pm, the Coastal Cruiser drives past, heading for West Angle Bay. I wave to the driver. A few minutes later the bus returns. The driver waves to me.
A man parks his car nearby and gives me a funny look. Ten minutes later he walks past, with a dog in tow, and gives me another funny look. It takes me some time to realise I’m sitting on his wall! Will he ask me to move? Should I move? If so, where can I sit?
Luckily, before the man comes back from his dog-walking, my husband arrives. For once he’s early.
Miles walked today = 14.5 miles.
Total along Wales Coast Path = 348 miles
Total distance around the coast: 1,955 miles