Today is a vibrant day, full of light and staggering scenery. And seals.
I start where I left off last night, on the road leading to the Pwll Deri Youth Hostel. My husband drops me off, but my mother-in-law stops to admire the view. Towering above the sea is the impressive ridge, along which I walked yesterday.
[The stone pillar in the foreground is a memorial to Dewi Emrys – an interesting character who was at various times in his life a journalist, a preacher, a rogue, a beggar, and a poet.]
Soon I reach the Youth Hostel – perched with fantastic views across Pwll Deri bay. Here the path leaves the road and begins to wind through vegetation on the slope above the rocky cliffs.
Every little cove seems to be home to groups of seals. The pups are easy to spot – white against the grey shadows in the coves below, while their mothers are more cunningly disguised as large rocks!
And echoing around each secluded cove are wailing noises. Spooky sounds. It takes me some time to work out that the wailing is coming from the seals.
In the distance is the lighthouse that sits off Strumble Head. It seems very close. Won’t take me long to get there…
… but it takes ages, of course, as the path twists and turns, carving an irregular course along the indented coastline. I climb to a high point above Pen Brush, thinking I must be nearly there. I’m not.
I stop and take a self-portrait in front of a pile of rocks.
Strumble Head is still in the distance. But I am no longer alone on the path. The lovely day has brought out groups of walkers.
Every turn in the path brings another wonderful view – and Strumble Head slowly grows nearer.
In the car park above the lighthouse I come across a row of vintage cars. It must be some sort of pre-arranged outing. The vehicles are gleaming and well maintained, while the sea provides a stunning backdrop.
Just below the lighthouse is a little cove, and on the cliffs above some people are sitting and peering down through binoculars. I hear a familiar wailing noise – like a dog’s howl, but with the end truncated, as if a group of children were playing at being ghosts. It’s a sound I’ve come to associate with seal pups.
I climb down the grassy bank to get a better view. Yes, floundering about in the rocky cove is a white seal pup, along with its speckled mother.
But I can’t spend all day watching seals. I have walking to do!
I visit a squat white building with wide, glassless windows. It turns out to be a restored observation post, where a couple are peering out to sea, hoping to spot dolphins, but there are no signs of any today.
The coastline stretches ahead. I am walking into the morning sun, heading eastwards, which makes for poor photography. The shore looks rugged and deserted and I can see for miles ahead. So I’m surprised there is no sign of Fishguard. It must be hidden around one of those headlands.
Strollers are out, with cameras and binoculars. Nearly every sheltered cove has a quota of seals.
And there is that wailing noise again. I follow the path down into the base of a cove, and see a white blob sitting on the beach. It’s a seal pup, only 50 feet or so away from the path. I sit down and watch it.
The pup flounders about, turning over and over, flinging itself about among the tumbled stones and the strands of seaweed. It looks helpless and clumsy, its movements purposeless. Meanwhile, just off the beach, a seal head is bobbing up and down in the waves. Mum is keeping an eye on her baby.
Eventually I stand up and set off again, stopping every few minutes to admire yet another wonderful vista.
On a high headland, called Carregwastad Point, I come across another stone monument. This one commemorates “the landing of the French” in 1797. The French? Here? Why?
[Later I learn more about the ill-fated invasion attempt by the French, who landed in the bay below and intended to march overland and capture the port of Fishguard. But, of the 1400 men who landed, over half were conscripted convicts and prisoners. They soon discovered a large batch of wine, which had been salvaged from a wrecked Portuguese ship a few weeks earlier. Drunk and ill-disciplined, the invading force were outwitted by bands of local defenders. Believing they were being opposed by a much larger force, the French soon surrendered unconditionally. The invasion lasted only two days.]
The next few miles of coastline are not only beautiful, but covered in seals. Unwittingly, I have arrived at one of the best times of the year for seal-pup spotting.
But I’m not the only seal spotter. This section of the coast path is dotted with walkers with binoculars, all looking at the seals. A local couple begin to chat to me. They explain how the mother seals come ashore towards the end of August and give birth. They spend about 2 weeks on the beach feeding their pups. Then they return to the sea to hunt for food, returning regularly to the beach to nurse their pups.
During this time (early September) the mothers begin to call to their pups to encourage them to take to the water. The spooky wailing noises – which I took to be the pups calling for their mothers – is actually the sound of the adult seals trying to entice the pups into the water.
As well as the joy of looking at seals, this walk is memorable for the views. The air seems unusually clear, and I seem able to see right across Cardigan Bay. In the distance, curving around the rim of the horizon, are mountains. Is that really Snowdon? I think it might be.
Ahead the cliffs begin to drop down towards Fishguard Bay. Across the water is the high ground of Dinas Head, where I will walk tomorrow. It looks beautiful. But first, I need to get to the town of Fishguard, where my walk will end today.
I come across a group of white and grey ponies. They are ‘wild’ I think, brought in to keep the gorse and other vegetation under control. I walk gingerly past them. They close their eyes.
It’s strange how horses are very different to cattle in temperament. Most of the wild horses I meet simply pretend I don’t exist – often closing their eyes, like this crowd. Cattle, meanwhile, seem intensely interested in me for some reason, often charging across the field to investigate my progress.
Onwards. My path has turned in a southerly direction. The light is low and flitting clouds create shadows across the distant headlands. Below a harbour wall stretches into the bay.
I reach the outskirts of Goodwick, where I join a road, before the path plunges down the side of the hill towards the shore.
And I come across a rather forbidding bridge, lined with wire fencing.
I cross over a wide highway and realise I’ve just crossed over the approach road to the ferry port. I’ve noticed the ferries coming and going during the course of today’s walk, and am rather disappointed not to find one in the harbour.
I follow the road around the side of the bay, leaving Goodwick behind and approaching Fishguard. The view across the bay is beautiful, even with the tide out and a large expanse of muddy sand.
There is a series of breakwaters and then the path becomes a tarmac walkway, leading up to Fishguard.
This is the Marine Walk. A popular spot. And very attractive.
In fact, the walk winds right around the bay, just below the outskirts of Fishguard, so I don’t walk through the town at all.
I reach Saddle Point, and the path continues round. On the far side of Fishguard is a pretty little harbour, with typical pastel-coloured houses that are traditional in Pembrokeshire. This is Lower Town. The last rays of sunlight are just catching the ships in the harbour.
And at this point – reluctantly – I leave the coastal path and turn inland, heading towards my B&B. It’s time to end today’s walk.
Miles walked today: 12 miles
Total along Wales Coast Path = 484 miles
Total distance around the coast: 2,091 miles