196 Milford Haven to Dale

Most B&Bs like to make you wait till 8am or later, but the Heart of Oak serves breakfast between 6:30 and 7:30am. Full of eagerness, and full of bacon and eggs, I’m out walking before 9 o’clock. This early start makes me feel like a proper hiker – but turns out to be a mistake.

heart of oak, Ruth Livingstone

(If I’d hung about I would have missed the worst of the rain and cut out miles of unnecessary walking, for reasons I’ll explain later.)

It started raining steadily when I set off and I soon come to the sad realisation that my boots have sprung a leak – the right one, anyway. They’re my oldest and favourite pair. I’m going to have to ditch them when I get home. I’ve not brought another pair with me.

The Pembrokeshire Coast Path constantly surprises me by the way it avoids any indication of an industrial landscape. After following the road out of Milford Haven, I end up on path that winds above the sea, surrounded by vegetation. I was expecting to get a good view of the liquid gas storage facility, whose perimeter I’m following. But as usual the industrial structures above me are completely invisible and I only catch occasional glimpses of pipelines below me.

01 rainy day walk, Milford Haven, Ruth Livingstone on Pembrokeshire Coast Path

The rain forces me to keep my camera in my rucksack. The views are lousy – dull and grey – so it doesn’t really matter. I do sneak a photo of one of the many grid-reference markers. They’re a good idea.

02 national trail markers and grid references, Ruth hiking in Wales

Today I’m walking with an umbrella. One of my fellow walker-bloggers suggested this (Conrad, I think). And I’ve just finished Nicholas Crane’s book, Clear Waters Rising where he describes his walking trek across the mountain ranges of Europe, during which he carried an umbrella called Que Chova (meaning ‘what rain?’).

Actually, my new Pakka jacket (from Mountain Warehouse) seems pretty waterproof, so I’m not sure if I need an umbrella. But I was determined to give it a go. Here is a self-portrait of me with it on one of the many little beaches that indent this section of coastline.

03 Ruth walking with an umbrella, Wales Coast Path

I meet a solitary male walker, coming towards me. He is dressed in full waterproofs. We exchange a few words about the wetness of the weather. I don’t know what he thinks of my umbrella!

The views are uninspiring, with everything shrouded in mist and rain, and so I don’t take many photographs of the scenery. But, under the shelter of my umbrella, I take photographs of signs I come across instead.

04 leave nothing but footprints, Ruth Livingstone's coastal walk

cliffs kill signs, Ruth hiking the Pembrokeshire Coast PathI like this one on the left.

‘Enjoy our beach. Leave nothing but footprints.’

What a nice sign. It implies, of course, don’t leave litter and dog poo. But this is a much nicer way of putting it. Very positive and NLP-like.

Close by is a starker official sign: ‘CLIFFS KILL’.

What with the early start and the lack of photographic opportunities, I reach Sandy Haven ridiculously early. I’d worked out I should get here about 1pm, in order to use the stepping-stones across the river. But it is only 11 am when I arrive. It’s clear the tide is too high.

06 Sandy Haven, Ruth walking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path

I linger for a few minutes. Should I wait? Or walk the 3-4 mile detour around by the nearest bridge? It is still drizzling and I can’t bear the thought of sitting in the rain for two hours. So, reluctantly, I turn away from the water.

The alternative route takes me along a narrow lane, lined by high hedges. When a council worker drives up behind me in his truck, there is no verge to stand on, and I have to march swiftly to the nearest passing place to let him go by. I thought he might be annoyed at being held up by a walker. But he gives me a cheery wave as he passes.

I continue my trudge up the hill towards the village of Herbrandston. The rain stops and, at a zig-zag bend in the road, I take a photograph looking back to the mouth of Sandy Haven. The tall tower on the far headland is a shipping beacon.

07 distant view of St Ann's Head, Ruth hiking in Pembrokeshire

In sleepy Herbrandston there is a pub and, when I planned my walk, this was going to be my lunch stop. But I’m too early and the pub isn’t open yet (sigh). I buy some snacks at the village shop – which seems to be a community venture and has nothing much on the shelves except for tins. I buy a pack of peanuts and a can of diet coke, and sit on the bench outside the shop for a rest and refreshment break.

[Later I learn Herbrandston is one of the few doubly-thankful villages in the UK.]

From Herbrandston I follow a road towards Rickeston Bridge. The road has a steady stream of traffic and no pavements, so I’m relieved to find the path runs down the edge of a neighbouring field. It makes a pleasant walk. And stops raining.

08 walking through fields towards Rickeston Bridge, Ruth's coastal walk in Wales

The path re-joins the road just before Rickeston Bridge bridge. A woman in a car slows to a stop beside me. At first I think she is offering me a lift. But she has a flat tire. I feel an uncharitable twinge of smugness. As a walker, I don’t have to worry about punctures. Just wet feet. And tiredness. Tarmac walking is hard on the legs.

I put my head down and get on with it. The bridge, when I finally get there, takes me over a swampy area cut through by a pathetic trickle of water. So this is Sandyhaven Pill? It hardly seems worth the detour!

Then I’m marching up yet another hill. From a bend in the road, I take a photograph looking southwards and over the tiny river. In the distance is the oil refinery at Milford Haven, completely invisible from the coast path, but now it dominates the landscape.

09 view across Sandyhaven Pill, looking south, Ruth's coastal walk in Pembrokeshire

A tractor passes me and the stench from its manure-laden trailer nearly makes me vomit. Pigs or chickens? A few hundred yards later, I walk past a chicken farm and I’m surprised to see the birds roaming free. There is not much of a smell here. Perhaps they’ve just cleaned the barns out?

10 chicken farms, above Sandy Haven, Ruth hiking in Wales

At the top of the hill, my path turns off the main road and heads down a side road. This is very quiet. I don’t meet any traffic. And, after a mile or so, it changes into a narrow track. I’m heading steadily downhill, descending from fields into woodland, where I come across some mysterious ruins.

11 mysterious ruins, Ruth walking near Sandy Haven

And, at last, I’m back at Sandy Haven. I go down to the muddy beach, but I still can’t see any stepping-stones, just a vague outline of what might be a submerged causeway. I ignore a ‘Private’ sign and climb onto a slipway to take a photo.

12 stepping stones, Sandy Haven, Ruth's coast walk

A local man calls to me from his garden. At first I think he intends to tell me off for climbing onto his slipway, but he only wants to say the crossing will be clear of water soon. I explain I’ve just walked around the detour and came to check that the extra miles were worth the effort.

Through my zoom lens I can see a couple of walkers waiting on the other side. Yes, perhaps I could have waited, instead of walking, but if I had I would still be over there.

13 walkers waiting for the tide, Sandy Haven, Ruth's walk in Pembrokeshire Coast

I take a final photo looking up towards the mouth Sandy Haven. More mud than sand from this viewpoint.

14 Looking up Sleeping Bay, Sandy Haven, Ruth's coastal walk

The next couple of miles are hard going. It starts raining again and I feel frustrated by the weather, knowing this section should be scenically beautiful but it’s hard to appreciate a world shrouded in mist and drizzle. The cliffs, for example, are a wonderful red colour and would look dramatic in the sunlight above a blue sea.

15 red rocks, Ruth walking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path

I walk past Little Castle Head, Butts Bay, Chester Point, Longoar Bay, Great Castle Head. beacon, Ruth walking in Wales

Both Castle Heads were the sites of ancient forts, with strategic positions overlooking the mouth of the estuary. Great Castle Head also has a radar station marked on my map, although I’m not sure if it’s still operating. Nearby there is the navigation beacon, which is definitely operating – it has a flashing light when viewed from the seaward side. It’s a modern lighthouse really. Just not as elegant as a traditional one.

I only know all this because I stop for a rest somewhere just beyond Great Castle Head and close to Rook’s Nest Point. The sun is shining weakly through a covering of half-hearted clouds. I find a gap in the hedge which is sheltered from the wind, lay my rain jacket on the grassy bank, sit down, take off my socks and boots, have a snack and a drink, and pull out my map.

16 looking back to Grey Castle Head, Ruth walking in Pembrokeshire

As I sit and rest, several pairs of walkers pass by along the path. These are the first hikers I’ve met since the single male walker, and they will have come over the Sandy Haven crossing. Now they’ve caught me up and are overtaking me. I must be the slowest walker in the universe!

After half an hour, I get going again. My footwear is still damp, but not too uncomfortable.

Shortly afterwards, I’m overtaken by a solitary female walker. She fires off a series of staccato questions. Where am I going? Where did I start? It a strange, shouty conversation, as she is walking quickly and I soon fall further behind.

17 Ann, on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, towards Dale

Eventually she slows down and waits for me to catch up. She’s Welsh and older than me. Also slimmer and fitter! She explains she’s in a hurry because she missed the first coastal bus this morning and is worried she won’t get around St Ann’s Head in time to catch the last bus from Marloes. Do I think she will?

I can’t answer this. It’s 3:30 pm now and I’m stopping at Dale which is only 3 miles or so further along and just visible in the misty distance. The last bus back to Milford Haven leaves Dale at 6:25, so I know I have plenty of time. But I can’t advise her because I haven’t checked the distance around St Ann’s Head and I have no idea where Marloes is.

She changes her mind about getting around St Ann’s Head. (Later, when I look at the map, I’m sure this is the right decision.) And, as she slows down, we end up walking together.

We go down to look at the beach at Monk Haven, and then reach Musselwick Point. Here another river (unnamed on my map) opens out into a bay. There is a flat expanse of shingle, marsh and water ahead of us. My companion wants to go inland towards a car park, but I know nothing about a car park.

I explain the tide is low and so we can take the shortcut. What shortcut? I point out the wooden gangplank. The alternative is a 2-3 mile inland detour.

18 The Gann crossing, Musselwick, Ruth hiking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Over The Gann and the path follows a ridge of shingle, called Pickleridge. The sun comes out and, for a glorious few minutes, we have wonderful views across the bay, back to Musselwick Point. I can even see the sands of West Angle Bay in the distance.

A family on the ‘beach’ below us give the impression we could simply walk across the bay, but on careful inspection it is clear they are ankle-deep in mud!

19 Musselwick Bay from Pickleridge, Ruth hiking in Pembrokeshire, Dale

The rain starts again. My companion – whose name is Ann – pulls her bright cagoule on so that it covers both her torso and her rucksack. I take my umbrella out.  We join the road and walk together towards Dale. We may look inelegant, but at least we stay dry.

In Dale we find a pub. All the tables are empty – but reserved for diners. My heart sinks at the thought of having to stand but, since it’s not yet 5pm, we are allowed to sit down after all. Ann has a cup of tea. I have a cup of coffee and then a cider. We chat.

Ann is Welsh and tells me she ‘escaped from the valleys’ and now lives in Cardiff. She has been on her own for many years and she is walking sections of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. Yesterday she went to see the puffins on nearby Skomer Island. She shows me photos on her phone. They look adorable.

Ann must catch the bus to Marloes, which leaves at 6pm. The sun comes out and we both stand and take photographs while we wait.

20 Dale, with Ann, Ruth Livingstone

What a difference the sunshine makes! Dale is beautiful, the sea is blue and full of bobbing boats. The mist has lifted further and I can see the oil refinery across the water. Its tall chimneys seem entirely in harmony with the masts of the boats on the bay.

21 Dale, Ruth walking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path

At Marloes the bus will turn around – Ann says – and come back to take me on to Milford Haven. She seems to know all about the buses, while I find them very confusing. She even carries a spare timetable, which she kindly gives to me.

Ann’s bus finally arrives. It’s late, as usual.

22 Service 315 to Dale, Ruth Livingstone in Wales

Tomorrow, she will be walking from Marloes back to Dale. I’ll be walking from Dale up to Marloes. Our paths should cross.

Today was a special day. I don’t normally walk with a companion – except occasionally with my long-suffering hubby. But I enjoyed my brief time with Ann. It’s unusual to meet another solitary female walker on my trips.

But the real reason for the day being special has nothing to do with companionship. When I add up my miles later, I realise I’ve passed the 2,000 mile mark!

Miles walked today = 15 miles.
Total along Wales Coast Path = 394 miles
Total distance around the coast: 2,001 miles


About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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22 Responses to 196 Milford Haven to Dale

  1. Rita Bower says:

    Congratulations on passing the 2000 mile mark – how exciting! Just a few more thousand miles to go then…..carry on adventuring!! Well done – a brilliant achievement!

    • When people ask me how far I’ve walked, I’ve been saying ‘nearly 2,000 miles’. It seems I’ve been saying that for ages! Now I can say, ‘over 2,000 miles’. Sounds more impressive 🙂

  2. Jane Morgan says:

    Well done on the 2000 miles – you are eating up the miles. I am still reading and “walking” with you. I too carry an umbrella, since reading Clear Waters Rising! My thought was that is Nicholas Crane can do it, so can I! We are off to Kent tomorrow to continue our walk – hopefully we will be at Gravesend by the end of the summer and I will update the blog in a week or two 🙂

  3. Alan Palin says:

    Hi Ruth, congrats on chalking up the 2K miles.
    Well they say “Time and tide ……..blah blah” . You’ll be pleased to know that there are no further tidal problems on the remainder of the PCP. In fact, you were quite lucky to get over the Gann Estuary (the wooden duck board one) otherwise that would have been an extra 3 miles.
    Below are 3 photos from my 2006 crossing of them, just cut and paste into your url bar.

    BTW, managed to finish the SWCP after a 21.5 mile walk from Lynton to Minehead. Concentrating on the WCP now, so we may cross each other somewhere in Mid-Wales.
    Looking forward to the next section of your walk.
    PS. Supposedly, all the stiles along the PCP are numbered (497 in all) although I found many descrepencies.

  4. Alan Palin says:

    Brill…. no need to cut and paste!

  5. jcombe says:

    Despite the weather your photos have come out well. I also learnt what a doubly thankful village is (I had to look that up!). The last photo does show what a difference the sun makes though. I can recommend a visit to Skomer Island a good few years ago and still remember it well as I saw many puffins too. I went to Staple Island (one of the Farne Islands, Northumberland) a few weeks ago and there were a lot of puffins there too. If you want to see the Puffins I’m told late March to Mid August is the time, they live at sea for the rest of the year, so will likely soon be gone from Skomer. I think the boats to Skomer go from Martins Haven if I remember rightly. Looking forward to hearing if you meet Ann again.

    • I knew what a ‘thankful’ village was, but had never come across a double-thankful one. There are very few of them. I think I’ve missed the Puffins this year. Maybe next year.
      Thank you for your kind comments about the photos. I have to confess they have been heavily tweaked on this occasion!

  6. I’d never heard of a ‘thankful’ or ‘doubly thankful’ village before. I’d never have guessed what it meant either if I’d not clicked on the link. Truly something to be thankful for. Congratulations on reaching 2000 miles as well.

  7. Marie Keates says:

    2000 miles! Fantastic going. My lovely old walking boots sprang a leak a few months back and I’m still looking for replacements. I know I’m going to need them soon enough but I’m wearing shoes at the moment. It’s so sad to say goodbye to a comfy pair of boots isn’t it? Once in a while I meet people on my walks and walk with them for a while, usually learn something from them but mostly I like to walk alone with my thoughts. The mysterious ruin was interesting. I think I’d have been googling like mad trying to find out what it was. The doubly thankful village was an I teresting thing too. I can’t think there are many of the, about.

  8. Congratualtions on reaching your two thousandth mile!

  9. Pingback: Coastal walk – May miles – iwalkalone.co.uk

  10. Karen White says:

    I had never heard of ‘thankful’ or ‘doubly thankful’ villages. I’ve just followed the link you gave, interesting and definitely a good reason to be thankful.
    What a thrill it must have been to pass the 2,000 mile mark.

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