There are only 3 buses a day from Milford Haven to Dale and I catch the earliest one. It is comparatively crowded with day-trippers. I look out for fellow walkers and see a possible candidate hefting a big backpack. But she is wearing a pink skirt so I know she can’t be a walker.
Dale looks even prettier with the tide high. I stop to take photos. The pink-skirted woman heads off somewhere – she is on the far right of the photo below.
I feel a momentary twinge of loneliness – an unusual feeling as I enjoy my own company and prefer walking alone. Maybe it’s because yesterday I was here with Ann. Our paths should cross today. I look forward to meeting her again.
Setting off along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, I follow a road through Dale and come across a collection of wonderfully bizarre driftwood sculptures. This one (a fish swallowing a human leg) makes me laugh.
The road I follow is heading for the Dale Fort Field Centre, and is an easy tree-lined route. The sky is dull, but it’s not raining and through gaps in the foliage I can look over the bay. This stretch of water is called Dale Roads on my map.
Before I reach the Field Centre, the path heads off to the right, cutting out private land around Dale Point. I come across a group of young people – from the Field Centre I presume – who have placed a wooden frame down on the grass and seem to be counting something within its square. ‘We can’t do the count without trampling on the very thing we’re supposed to be counting,’ one of them is saying.
The path ducks down and wiggles in-and-out around the shoreline. Sadly the views are obscured by bushes.
But I soon emerge onto open land. And see a couple of walkers ahead of me. Fuelled with energy after a ‘full Welsh’ breakfast, I overtake them.
I pass around West Blockhouse Point, where there is another navigation beacon. Does this one have a light? I don’t see any flashes, but maybe they are only visible from the sea.
The path becomes very overgrown. Luckily the fierce breeze has dried the vegetation and I don’t get wet. But I attack the brambles with my walking pole.
(There is an art to bramblecide, which I perfected on my walk from Angle to Pembroke. The stroke has to be rapid, but short, or else your pole will hit the ground and jar your shoulder. Get it right, and you hear a dull ‘thwack’ as the stalk breaks. It doesn’t fly loose from the bush, just hangs miserably like a broken arm. The sight is immensely satisfying.)
The path bifurcates. The lower route – the one I would normally take – is closed for maintenance. The sign creates a barrier. I’m not sure if this is deliberate or if it has simply fallen over.
I take the higher path. Below I hear a growling sound. Some mechanical machine is massacring the brambles down there with considerably more efficiency than me. The foliage is dense and the slope steep, so I can’t see the operation taking place.
Now I’ve reached Mill Bay and am nearly at St Ann’s Head, with its collection of cottages and squat tower. I’ve seen St Ann’s before but only from a distance across the mouth of Milford Haven. It will be the first major milestone of today’s walk.
First I have a steep descent to cross over a stream via a wooden bridge. Movement on the bridge catches my eye. Are they newts? I take a quick photograph, but only manage to get the surrounding grass in focus, not the little creatures. It’s a blurry shot.
Over the bridge and I puff and pant up the steep slope. At the top I find a weathered plaque. This is where Henry Tudor came ashore with his fledgling army in 1485. Two weeks later he defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth and that’s how Henry became King Henry VII.
I look over the Mill Bay. The cliffs are steep and unfriendly, with evidence of recent rock falls. Why would you choose this place to land? Maybe it looked different in Henry’s day?
And I also marvel at how Henry managed to get his army to the Leicestershire town of Market Bosworth in two weeks. Two weeks! How far is it. 150 to 200 miles, according to Richard Wharram’s blog post. That’s at least 20 miles a day.
I feel a connection with these long-ago events. My home town, Stamford, is close to Richard’s birth place at Fotheringhay and only 40 miles away from his place of death at Market Bosworth. Very recently the local news was full of the details of how Richard III’s body was found after careful excavation and re-buried (amid controversy and after a judicial review) in Leicester Cathedral. I keep meaning to go and see the tomb.
The Tudors changed the world. But I have a feeling Richard III would have been a better king than either of the Henry Tudors, who did their best to blacken Richard’s reputation after his death.
I walk further up the slope, and then take another photo of Mill Bay. It looks equally unfriendly as a harbour from this side too.
I walk onwards, following the path up the slope. Signs warn you must stick to the footpath, and so you’re not allowed to walk around St Ann’s Head itself, unless you trespass. Shame! But it is now so windy that I am almost glad to have an excuse for missing out the headland.
The squat white tower is the lighthouse. The round structure on the right is a foghorn. I didn’t realise that foghorns were still in use, but a Trinity House sign warns of loud noises ‘at any time and without prior warning’. The only sound I hear is the whipping of the wind.
The black and white tower, which I had previously thought was the actual lighthouse, is no longer in use as a light, and is now a private holiday home.
Having looked forward to reaching St Ann’s Head, I find the experience rather disappointing and dispiriting. No information signs. No access to the cliff edge. Stick to the path. Private property signs everywhere. Thank goodness the National Trust has acquired significant stretches of coastline, or the whole of the coast could be like this.
Since Mill Bay, I have been playing tag with a couple of hikers, a man and a woman. I stop for a rest and a drink and let them get ahead of me.
From St Ann’s Head the path becomes wilder, winding around the edge of jagged cliffs along the west coast of the peninsula. I’ve left the cosy shelter of Milford Haven. This is the Atlantic.
Actually, it’s probably the Irish Sea, but it’s certainly wild and windy. I’ve been walking in a tee-shirt, but now I pull on a long-sleeved cycling jacket. The path is very exposed.
I come across a group of white ponies, standing as still as ghosts, the only movement coming from their manes which float in the wind. Signs have warned me not to approach the horses, but they are standing on the path and so I don’t really have a choice. As I get nearer, I realise they have their eyes closed. They’re asleep.
Not wanting to startle them, I bang my pole on the ground to make a noise and wake them up. One opens his eyes and gives me a cursory glance. I obviously look extremely boring, because he almost immediately closes his eyes and returns to his nap.
I sidle past without incident.
Ahead the cliffs are dull red, reminding me of parts of the Jurassic Coast in Devon. The blue sea carries a pink smear of sediment. This coast, too, is gradually being worn away.
A few hundred yards later, and I pass by the walking couple who are sitting on the grass and eating their lunch.
I’m surprised when I check my watch. It’s 1pm. After walking for three hours – at a relatively rapid pace for me – I expected to have made better progress than this. I find sheltered spot between a rock and an overhanging bush. Here I stop for a rest and a snack.
To my left is the rough swell of the Atlantic Ocean/Irish sea. To my right, in complete contrast, are rolling green fields and a view down to Dale Castle and the sheltered bay. I realise I’ve walked for three hours and am nearly back where I started!
My landlady told me that an eccentric and grand Lady used to live in Dale Castle. She owned much of the land around her, including most of Dale village. And she kept things exactly the way they had always been, which is why Dale is so pretty and unspoilt.
The walking couple overtake me while I’m sitting and eating my lunch. I should be moving on too, but I’m overcome with a strange reluctance to continue.
All my walking plans are dictated by the bus timetable and pick-up points. When I set off this morning, my plan was to follow the coast path until I got around the next significant headland from St Ann’s, a place called Martin’s Haven. A few miles further along and I would pick up a linking footpath and climb up to the village of Marloes, where the bus stops.
Now I realise I could cut across the neck of the peninsula and return to Dale. I remember the pub. And there is an afternoon bus leaving Dale at 2:25. If I hurry, I would have time for a pint of cider and make the bus.
Why am I so tired? I’ve only walked six miles and the terrain hasn’t been particularly difficult. I think it’s the wind, making each step an effort of concentration. It’s been hard to keep a rhythm going. In addition, the left side of my chest twinges with pain whenever I twist and I think I may have strained one of the facet joints in my thoracic spine. This will be my seventh consecutive day of walking – a long expedition for me.
But, I remember Ann, who will be walking towards me from Marloes. What will she think if she completes her walk and doesn’t find me? She’s older than I am. If she can do it, I can too. Onwards.
The next section of coast is beautiful. It’s a shame the dull day leads to poor photography. I meet plenty of other walkers on the path around Westdale Bay and out towards Hooper’s Point. Looking back I take a photo showing how the slopes of Great Castle Head have crumbled into the sea, perhaps taking some of the ancient Iron Age Fort along with it.
(This is the second Great Castle Head I’ve come across in 2 days. The Welsh, as I’ve noted before, are very good at recycling names.)
Around Hooper’s Point and I am staring at the length of Marloes Sands. Over a mile long, this is a lovely beach beneath a range of dramatic cliffs.
As I continue above the sands I overtake more walkers, and am overtaken by others. It’s almost crowded! I walk past holes where bumble bees are nesting. On my right I pass the concrete footprints of a long-deserted airfield.
Below there are people on the beach, sheltering behind windbreaks. I even see some swimmers. Brave. At the northern end of the beach the sand is interrupted by a series of linearly scored rocks – Raggle Rocks. Great name.
The end of the beach is bounded by Gateholm Island. It’s not really an island because it’s connected to the mainland by a rocky isthmus. Is the farther island Skomer Island where the puffins live?
At this point the wind becomes a serious problem. It whips and lashes, blowing me sideways. Luckily it’s blowing inland or I’d be in danger of being flung off the cliff. It’s hard to concentrate on anything. And impossible to get my map out. Every time I open my mouth, the wind whistles through my teeth and dries the back of my throat. If I was walking with a companion speech would be impossible.
I’m reminded of Ann. I’ve nearly reached Martin’s Haven. Where is she? Have I missed her? Maybe she was down on the beach?
From Gateholm Island, I walk over the site of another iron age fort. The coast is rugged – sharp cliffs and rocky coves. Watery Bay, Victoria Bay, Little Castle Bay, Rainy Rock – I check their names later on the map – Pitting Gales Point, Deadman’s Bay, Renney Slip.
To my right there are flower meadows sloping downwards. And I can look right across and into the next bay, where a huge ship is anchored. Over in the misty distance is yet more coastline. St David’s? One day I’ll be walking there.
In the meantime, I grit my teeth against the gale and get on with today’s walk. My plan was to walk around the Marloes peninsula at Martin’s Haven, which is all accessible land (bless the National Trust!). But I realise I’m too tired to enjoy it.
According to Ann, there is a bus from Martin’s Haven which connects with the bus at Marloes. I decide to head into the village to find a café and the bus stop.
First problem. There is no village at Martin’s Haven. In fact, there’s nothing at Martin’s Haven. Only a car park, public toilets and a single building where you can buy tickets for Skomer Island. Luckily the ticket place sells cold drinks and has a bench outside. I buy a can of coke and sit down.
I pull out Ann’s timetable. She told me there was bus from Martin’s Haven and it would take me to Marloes village, where I could connect with the bus to Milford Haven. But, I have 90 minutes to wait and, when I look at the timetable carefully, it seems the Martin’s Haven bus arrives in Marloes a few minutes too late to make the connection.
My brain seems fogged and I find it hard to decide what to do. I think I have 3 choices and I slowly work my way through them.
(You don’t have to read the next bit, but it illustrates some of the difficulties every walker faces when tired and trying to make itinerary decisions.)
- I could stay here and wait for the bus in the hope the timetable is wrong and I make the connection. But what if I miss it? Will I be able to get a phone signal strong enough to call a taxi? Would a taxi come out this far? What would it cost? Have I got enough cash? And in the meantime I have a long and boring wait here, where there is no shelter and nowhere to sit except for this single bench which belongs to the ticket shop which might close at any moment.
- I could stick to my original plan, but miss out the Marloes peninsula, and follow the coastal path a couple of miles further around into the next bay where I should find another footpath taking me up to Marloes. The official path bypasses the peninsula anyway. But what if I can’t find the footpath? Or what if it is too overgrown to follow? And will I have broken my rule number two?
- Or I could walk up the road to Marloes, a distance of a couple of miles, and hope the traffic isn’t bad. And hope the pub is open (Yes, there is PH in Marloes, according to my map). If the pub is closed, perhaps I could find somewhere else to sit and wait for the bus.
Option three seems the best. When I return for my next walk I will still have the opportunity to walk around the Marloes peninsula. Maybe I could even book a boat ride and see the puffins? Yes, option three is best.
It’s uphill all the way to Marloes. I’m too tired to take photographs and my camera is nearly out of battery power. There is an intermittent stream of traffic, as people leave the coast, and I get fed up with having to dive into the ditch every time a car draws up behind me. Thinking it will be quieter, I head down a bridleway to take a parallel road, but discover the main car park for Marloes Sands is sited here, and this road is equally busy.
But the walk has a good ending. The pub is open. Hooray! And sitting in it I find the pink-skirted young woman I first saw on the bus this morning. She is Australian and is hiking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, carrying everything on her back.
We have a good chat. She started off intending to sleep rough, but got fed up with waking up covered in dew – Pembrokeshire rain she calls it. And so she stays in hostels and cheap B&Bs instead. She tried to get into the Heart of Oak, where I’m staying, but it was full.
This is a coincidence. Solitary female walkers are a rare breed, and I’ve never spoken to one before. Now I’ve met my second in the space of two days.
I go outside to wait for my bus and, just as it turns up, someone in a cowboy hat and a lime green jacket races up and thrusts a piece of paper in my hand. It’s Ann. She’s written down suggested places where I should stay on my next walking trip.
We barely have time to exchange words, so worried am I about the bus leaving without me. She says we must have missed each other at Dale – and I wonder if Ann cut her walk short this morning at the same place as I nearly did. Perhaps she was as worn out by the wind as I was?
I needn’t have worried about missing the bus. It’s going nowhere in a hurry. In fact, it’s waiting for the Martin’s Haven bus to arrive! Ann was right after all. ‘He always makes me late,’ my bus driver grumbles. I resist the urge to show him the timetable. Of course he’s always late. The other bus is not supposed to get here until a few minutes after this bus is supposed to leave. The timetables aren’t just confusing, they’re conflicting.
While we wait, I leap off my bus and take a photograph of Ann and my new Australian friend (whose name I’ve forgotten). They’re waiting for the arrival of the Martin’s Haven bus too. It will take them up the coast to their respective hostels.
My bus sets off for Milford Haven. I’m alone until a couple of Danish hikers get on near Dale and get off somewhere near Sandy Haven, after which I’m the only passenger. It’s a struggle to keep awake.
I was half-thinking of extending my walking expedition by another couple of days. But somewhere on the windy cliff above Deadman’s Bay I decided I’d had enough. It’s time to go home and recharge.
Miles walked today = 13 miles.
Total along Wales Coast Path = 407 miles
Total distance around the coast: 2,014 miles