I know the first part of today’s walk will be coastal. But later I’m anticipating an uninspiring slog around the edges of the oil refinery, surrounded I’m sure by the nondescript sprawl of industrial estates.
West Angle Bay is beautiful in the morning sunshine. To the side of the beach is a rocky area with a natural sea-water swimming pool. The backdrop is St Ann’s Head.
Out to sea are the remnants of military defences. This is Thorn Island, with some kind of fort structure, optimistically labelled as a ‘hotel’ on my map.
Unfortunately, as I round the headland, the path disappears into a tunnel of high vegetation. It’s rather claustrophobic. And I only get the occasional view through gaps in the bushes, when I can see across the mouth of Milford Haven.
Further along, past an old fort (Chapel Bay Fort), I walk through woodland. And then, through gaps in the trees, I get the first close-up view of the huge liquefied natural gas storage facility across the water. The largest in Europe.
Below me, according to the map, is a lifeboat station. I can’t see it through the bushes. And then I’m walking round the corner of the headland – Angle Point – and I stumble across the second Angle pub. The Old Point House. This is the one I couldn’t find yesterday.
The publican is collecting glasses left out overnight, and talking to a couple of friendly ponies. It’s a lovely setting, overlooking the sheltered waters of Angle Bay. Unlike the beach and rocks of West Angle Bay, this area consists of marsh and mud, but its beautiful nonetheless. Unfortunately, it is far too early to stop for a drink.
The path skirts around the edge of the bay, and I suddenly realise why The Old Point House pub is so difficult to find. This narrow track is its only access road. I also realise I’m doubling-back on myself, heading towards the village of Angle.
My map shows a bridleway off to the left – called The Ridge – which cuts across the marshy inlet and bypasses the village. But I can’t see a pathway. So I continue down the track and walk through the village again, passing the corner where I waited for my husband yesterday. There’s the wall where I sat, beside the blue house.
Straight ahead, down a ‘dead-end’ lane, and I’m back on the edge of Angle Bay.
There’s a great deal of mud. Marooned boats. And a coastguard Land Rover, waiting with its door open. As I watch, the Land Rover inches forward. I wonder what it’s up to? And then I realise there is a causeway over the mud, although the middle section is still submerged. That must be the route of the mysterious bridleway.
I hang about for a few minutes waiting to see if the Land Rover will make the crossing. But the driver is obviously waiting for the tide to drop further. I wonder if he’s heading for the lifeboat station by Angle Point? It would be quicker, I think, to drive around the way I’ve just walked!
The Pembrokeshire coast path follows a private driveway skirting the bay, before turning into a narrower path through woodland. It’s lovely. Peaceful. I meet a solitary dog walker.
Further along the path emerges into fields, where I get horribly bitten by some nasty flies. I stop and cover myself in insect-spray. (My husband is amused by the amount of stuff I carry in my rucksack, but some of it is sometimes useful!)
As I apply the insect repellent, I hear the faint sound of people talking, and notice there are a couple of walkers following me. They have poles and big back-packs. Proper hikers. They are still some distance away, but I speed up my pace. Although I’m a very slow walker I still don’t like being overtaken, especially by people bent double under huge packs. I have some pride!
Around the far side of the bay and the path curves towards the oil refinery. I like the shapes of the chimneys against the clouds, and take far too many photographs.
(I would have stopped and taken many more photos, but I’m still trying to keep ahead of the following walkers.)
At this point, I’m surprised to find myself standing at the end of road. It isn’t marked on my map.
I’m not the only person to be taken by surprise. Behind a parked car, and screened from the road but clearly visible to me, a rather large woman is squatting for a pee. I pretend I don’t notice and walk on.
Across the bay is a fantastic view. The mud is bright with streaks of vegetation, and I can see back to Angle Point and the boxy shape of the lifeboat station on stilts. On the other side of Milford Haven are the piers and infrastructure of the liquid gas storage terminal.
Unfortunately, the view is soon obscured by high vegetation as the road slowly climbs uphill, making the next mile or so rather tedious. I seem to have left the other walkers behind, but I’m not alone. A couple have parked their car and come for a stroll with their dog, who keeps disappearing into the undergrowth.
I wonder why – with so many wonderful footpaths to choose from – they’ve chosen this particularly boring stretch of road to walk along?
The road rises slowly. I overtake the walking couple. Ahead is Popton Point, a stone fort, and another jetty. Fort Popton would be interesting to explore, but there is no public access.
The road takes me inland and uphill. The sun has been beating down relentlessly and heat bounces off the tarmac. At the edge of an empty car park I find a brick structure – maybe a pumping station – and I sit down on the wall for a drink and a lunchtime snack.
From here the path winds around the edges of the oil refinery. Contrary to my expectations, this turns out to be a really pleasant walk, through bushes and woodland, past some overgrown and ruined houses. On my left I get intermittent views of the water, where large ships are moored at a long jetty.
The path goes under one of the piers leading out to the jetty. The sun makes stripe patterns on the water and supporting structures.
This is the only real indication I have of industry – the bulk of the oil refinery is completely invisible somewhere above me.
But, as I walk under the pier, I hear a tremendous roaring sound. Is it gas rushing through the pipes? Or the sound of petroleum products? Is it normal for the sound to be so LOUD? Maybe the whole thing is about to explode?
No. The noise is coming from the other side of the pier, where a construction of rusting metal seems to be on fire. Within a cloud of red dust stands a man in a huge helmet. He looks like a spaceman. In fact, he looks like a Martian.
One sign says DANGER, GRIT BLASTING. Another sign says ‘Do not obstruct the coast path.’
The Martian has a young companion who is lounging on a seat nearby and, rather belatedly, realises there is a walker passing. He presses a button on some sort of device and the noise switches off. The silence is almost as deafening as the roar of the grit-blaster.
I would like to take more photographs of the Martian, but in the stillness and silence – and with two men staring at me – I feel very self-conscious and walk quickly onwards.
The next hundred yards of path is horribly overgrown. Maybe nobody has walked here for some time? Perhaps the grit-blasting has forced other walkers to turn back? I’m glad I have brought a pole with me and can slash a route through giant ferns, brambles and nettles.
I reach a field of short grass and, with no marked path on the ground, resort to my Garmin to find the exit. But the view from the top of the field is encouraging. I can see Pembroke Dock ahead. Not far to Pembroke!
But the apparent closeness of the town is an illusion. I have first to make my way around the outskirts of a power station, and then around the marshy estuary where Goldborough Pill joins the mouth of Pembroke River.
I see 5 metal towers ahead. It takes me a while to realise these belong to the power station. (I’ve seen a gas-powered station before, near Avonmouth, but the chimneys weren’t lined up in a series like this one.) First I have to navigate a field of cows. Luckily they keep their distance.
My walk around the power station turns out to be remarkably rural. I come across none of the supporting industries, yards, roadways, storage areas, etc. that I expected to find. Only a few unobtrusive pylons. And the occasional view of the 5 chimneys.
It seems likely that houses were cleared to make way for the oil refinery and the power station, which explains the ruins I came across earlier. And it is also likely that the path follows the lines of old roads, now disused and reclaimed by vegetation.
It’s lovely. I don’t meet any more cows. But come across some beautiful horses. They are sleepy with the midday heat.
After more woodland, I am above the estuary at the mouth of Pembroke River. Somewhere down there is Goldborough Pill, but there are so many watery channels snaking through the marsh, I am not sure which it is.
The path dips down into a couple of river valleys – although they are carved by streams, not rivers. Down in a shady section, I meet a man with a rucksack, the first walker I’ve seen since lunch. He nods as he passes and I notice an odd wooden trident sticking out of his back pack. What on earth is it? I would like to ask him, but he’s marching purposefully onwards.
I join a road for about 2/3 of a mile. A Pembrokeshire Coast Path sign is very apologetic about this.
There is no pavement, and the road is narrow, but I only meet a couple of cars. (Actually, it’s the same car, going somewhere and then coming back!)
I find this section hard walking, mainly because I’m hot and seem to be going relentlessly up hill, but also because the high hedges mean there are no views. And not much breeze either. In fact, I’m exhausted.
The tree in the photo below offers the only shade. I want to stop for a drink and a rest, but the verge is overgrown with thistles and nettles. There is nowhere comfortable to sit.
Struggling on, I reach the top of the hill, where the path turns off to the left and leads down a track towards a collection of houses. Brownslate, says my map. The track seems wider than the road. At the entrance, there is a hedge of tall bushes and an open gate. I sit, leaning against the gate, and rest in the shade of the bushes. The view is lovely, but there is no sign that I’m getting closer to Pembroke.
I’ve been walking for over 6 hours and with only a short break for a snack at midday. The best thing to do is have a rest and something to eat. Luckily I have brought an emergency bar of chocolate. I text my husband and tell him I might be late at our rendezvous. Then I finish off my water and make myself sit still for 20 minutes, ignoring the ants that are crawling all over my legs.
After the rest, I feel better. In fact, I make rapid progress. The track swings to the left, but my path goes off to the right, dipping down to a little bridge, and taking me through wooded glades…
… and along the side of fields, following the course of Pembroke River. While Pembroke town seems to draw ever closer.
(Later, I realise the houses I am looking at are in Pembroke Dock, not Pembroke! It’s a good job I didn’t realise this at the time.)
I join a road, with signs that warn of flooding, which takes me down to Quoits Pill. The tide is low and a sad-looking boat is marooned in the mud.
I follow the road into a place called Monkton. This seems to be a popular destination for Pembroke buses. I don’t know why, because there is nothing much here. At Monkton, I fall off the edge of my current map. I walk past a church, meaning to stop and turn the map over and check my progress when I find a convenient seat, but before I can do this I recognise where I am.
Pembroke! Monkton merges seamlessly into the town. It comes as a shock. I’m there.
I take a photo of the castle.
And walk up the road towards the main street.
I’ve arranged to meet my husband at a pub, which is unfortunately situated at the other end of the street. I feel I deserve my half pint of cider. But first, a glass of cold water!
Miles walked today = 15 miles.
Total along Wales Coast Path = 363 miles
Total distance around the coast: 1,970 miles