197 Dale to Marloes

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.

01 Dale, Ruth walking the Pembrokeshire Coast

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.

02 driftwood sculptures, Dale, Ruth travelling through Pembrokeshire

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.

03 views over Dale, Ruth hiking to St Ann's Head, Pembrokeshire Coast Path

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.

04 rocky shore through trees, Castlebeach Bay, Ruth walking to St Ann's Head, Wales

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.

05 hikers walking towards St Ann's Head, Ruth in Pembrokeshire

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.

06 navigation light, West Blockhouse Point, Ruth's coastal walk, Pembrokeshire

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.

closed path

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.

07 St Ann's Head, Ruth hiking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Wales

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.

08 newts,Mill Bay, Ruth's coastal walk, Wales

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.

09 Henry Tudor landed Mill Bay, Ruth Livingstone

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.

Mill Bay, Ruth walking the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path

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.

11 old lighthouse, St Ann's Head, Ruth walking the coast, Wales

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.

12 lookout station, St Ann's Head, Pembrokeshire, Ruth hiking in Wales

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.

13 St Ann's Head on a windy day, Ruth Livingstone

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.

14 Cliff top walking to Frenchman's Bay, Ruth in Pembrokeshire

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.

15 sleeping white ponies, Frenchman's Bay, Ruth walking the Wales Coast Path

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.

16 rugged coast, near Dale, Ruth in Wales

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!

17 Dale Castle, Ruth walking in Pembrokeshire

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.

18 Westdale Bay, Ruth hiking the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path

(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.

19 Marloes Sands, Ruth walking the PCP, Pembrokeshire, Wales

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.

20 Raggle Rocks, Marloe Sands, Ruth Livingstone

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?

21 Gateholm Island, Ruth walking near Marloes, Pembrokeshire Coast

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.

22 Martin's Haven, Ruth walking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path

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.

seat, Martin's Haven, Ruth livingstone

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.)

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.

 Lobster Pot Inn, Marloes, Ruth hiking in WalesBut 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.

24 Ann and Australian, Ruth hiking in Wales, Marloes bus stop

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

Route:


About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, Doctor, woman, etc.
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16 Responses to 197 Dale to Marloes

  1. Zillah Holliday says:

    Enjoying your blog tremendously Ruth. We stayed in a cottage 3 years ago up on the cliffs in Solva. Very pretty. Whilst the rest of the country bathed in a sweltering heatwave, we had 2 weeks of cold weather and high winds. Some lovely beaches around though that we could have sat on had the weather been better. It was so bad we left a day early, unheard of! My husband is partially disabled so can’t walk far. Absolutely loved your South/west coastal path walk. We know that really well. We drove to Milford Haven one day and there was supposed to be a regatta. Nothing there and I found it a very disappointing place. We loved Tenby though. There is a lovely area coming up for you. Before you get to Solva. I can’t remember the name of the 2 or 3 coves without looking on the map. It’s just before a very large beach with huge rollers of waves. Keep safe and I think you are doing brilliantly and what lovely supportive hubby you have.
    Zillah

  2. Alan Palin says:

    Hi Ruth, I think it was West Hook Farm that I stayed at for 1 night, it is right on the Coast Path. Went for a meal in the Lobster Pot Inn, which was ok. Great to put a name to the face with your photo of Ann and the Aus lady. Looking forward to your next section.

  3. I battled round that part in all-day-non-stop-rain and ferocious wind.

    “That was one tough walk…there was satisfaction in finishing (at Marloes) with all my kit in my rucksack dry and my clothing under waterproofs nearly so”

    “”The sights of crashing waves and white foam viewed from on high and excitingly exposed positions on the cliff tops had added to the day’s drama”

    A couple of days later I had a similar problem to yours – “It is not often I have to resort to Plan D” and the other possibilities are written out in detail very similar to yours.

    Your logistics were becoming marginal, but something always turns up – I found the Welsh people unbelievably helpful.

    • You’re right. The Welsh are really helpful and friendly. I just hate being dependent on others. I’m pretty sure if I missed a bus, somebody would probably offer me a lift, or find someone else who was going that way.

  4. europabridge says:

    Yes, I find it interesting to read how extended hiking forays into the coast of Britain challenge a person mentally – making decisions, keeping calm, all of that. I understand completely. Good thing you’re surrounded by solid people.

  5. Helena says:

    Lovely photo of your two fleeting companions. Random meetings and unexpected happenings can be a real joy, especially when you travel alone.

  6. Debbie Yates says:

    Hi Ruth
    Have at last managed to read up on all your walks and it’s been so fascinating and inspiring. It’s been interesting to read about places I know and have walked, the South Coast, Kent and the Cornwall coast. I got very nervous walking along the Cornish cliffs earlier this year but I feel such a wimp reading about some of the paths you have walked!
    I live on the Isle of Wight and feel I have walked most of the paths on the Island. it was interesting to hear you worked here when you were doing your medical training, I worked at the Royal Isle of Wight County Hospital in Ryde from 1979 to 1989 in the Medical Records and Outpatients Department; I wonder if you were there at that time? Also I read that you were born in Kenya; I spent quite a bit of my childhood there, living in Nairobi, it was an exciting childhood. Like you I have never been back but my dad (who is in his 80’s) returned a few years ago to do voluntary work and he says it has changed so much from the way he remembers it.
    It is so interesting to hear about your coastal walk, and it has definitely inspired me, I have a list of long distance trails I want to walk, the Solent Way is nearly done and then I will move on to the next one!
    Thank you Ruth for your wonderful blog and showing that us ladies of 50+ can achieve whatever we want to! I love your photo of Ann and your young friend from Australia.
    Looking forward to your next walk.
    Debbie

  7. How interesting: our lives have overlapped. I worked as a surgical houseman in Newport for Mr Oliveira and Mr Langridge in 1979/1980. And we have Kenya in common too, although I lived in a village near Mombasa and never went to Nairobi.
    Thank you for saying such nice things about my blog and glad I have inspired you to undertake more long distance trails. I’ve just got back from another 5 days in Pembrokeshire, so have some more progress to write up shortly… 🙂

  8. Marie Keates says:

    So many of my walks have internal arguments about stopping or turning back and changes of plan or thoughts of changes of plan. I think windy walks are very energy draining. Good for you to keep going and good job you caught the bus and met Ann. There really aren’t that many lone female walkers about so it was odd to meet two in one walk.

  9. Di iles says:

    Thanks Ruth, another great read as ever. Love to read your accounts before I do my walks. That’s one of mine next for week so can’t wait .🚶👣

    • I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, Di. It is a beautiful place. Hopefully it will be calmer and you won’t have to battle the wind! And I wonder if you will be visiting the puffins on Skomer island? I think this is a good time of year to see them.

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