Our adventures from the States to Wales began in September of 2014.
My older sister Jackie and I planned to visit the country of our (far off) heritage in our twilight years. Being fans of British mysteries, we’d discover what brogues, Wellies, and Anoraks (the attire) were and put them to use. We would wear tweed jackets and carry stylish walking sticks carved with elaborate designs.
Too much Agatha Christie and Foyle’s War?
The facts are that we lost Mom in August 2008 from lung cancer and Dad eight months later to ALS. In 2013, Jackie was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. This autoimmune disease impacts a person in numerous ways. Jackie manages her RA well and knows how far to physically push herself before taking a break. The onslaught of RA and never knowing how long we’re here, saw us bringing our travel forward by 20+ years. It’s good to create special memories now, right now, when you’re able. Rather than living the response Dad famously gave when his little kids requested the impossible—like a pony, “Someday.”
I’ve rambled around the Italian coast from La Spezia to San Fruttuoso and on four of the Hawaiian Islands. These are exquisite places, allowed to be self-righteous about their magnificence. Water colors vary from blue to green to transparent enough to see through. Waves move from crashing and surf-able to smooth and soothing. The terrain changes between easy strolls to hiking-poles-required-steepness. All of it combines to produce tremendous beauty. My overwhelming love of Wales takes nothing away from what a trip to either of these places can do for a wander-lusting spirit.
Planning the first Welsh Adventure
It took us five years to put together that initial trip. What finally pushed us into taking that first step—literally—was learning about the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. Incredibly stunning views await as you hike north/south from St. Dogmael’s to Amroth and fifty towns in between. In three journeys, we’ve hit fifteen stop-points so far. See why we need to keep going back?
Our first trip we stayed in Goodwick, the second Saundersfoot, the third Saundersfoot and Newport. Each trip expanded in time from ten to fourteen to sixteen days. I’m ready for a month, but don’t tell my husband.
Part of the reason for repeating Saundersfoot was the owner of Edith Cottage, a homey place to rent. Sara is delightful, as a temporary landlord and long-term friend. We followed up our first trip by sending her sister-adoption papers. The second trip, we got together for lunch and later enjoyed ice cream as we strolled along Saundersfoot’s promenade. For us, connecting with place goes hand in hand with connecting to people.
When you travel from Pennsylvania and Montana to West or South Wales, know the trip will be long. We’ve landed in Birmingham, Heathrow and Cardiff. Our pending trip may have us deplane in Bristol. Next comes a train, then a taxi, and sometimes a bus or a walk.
Wales and Pembrokeshire are where I want to go. Now.
Perhaps one aspect of hiking in Wales is the variety of people enjoying these trails. There’s something extraordinary about the ready wit and friendliness of the Welsh. Even a casual conversation reveals the generosity that hums underneath the surface of everyone we meet.
On our way to the ruins at Stepaside Ironworks, we met Janette and her husband Granville going the opposite direction. Retired and from near Merthyr Tydfil, they were going to the beach to search for cockles. Being from landlocked states, they had fun explaining what a cockle is and how to cook them. They taught us that cockles are an unusual find near Amroth, mostly available only on the west coast. We scrunched up our noses, none of us being fans of mollusk of any kind.
After exploring the moody brickwork—the misty, brooding day provided a perfect setting—we headed back down the path. What laughter as Janette and Granville approached us with two bags of cockles—one for them and one for us! We politely declined, which caused them to laugh even heartier.
Wales is a Distinctive UK treasure
The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is Britain’s only coastal path, putting pressure on it to be awesome. No worries there, though, because truly every step we’ve set upon it has provided its own bit of remarkable.
Our first trip included husbands, the second trip was only us, the third trip we brought Jackie’s daughter. A thirty-something, Jenny listed three things she wanted to do:
- Drink beer in a pub where she couldn’t grasp the locals’ accents.
- Drive on the wrong side of the road.
- Hike along a cliff edge.
Check, check, and check.
Wales makes it easy to live life outside, banter with locals, and hike until your feet scream, enough it’s time for a pub!
One day, you hike from the Fishguard Fort to south of Goodwick and the coast is lovely and you think I’ll take tomorrow off…. You arise and the Bosherston Lily Ponds to Stackpole Head call out to you. That bit of trail under the sturdy sole of your Oboz or Merrells or Keens, keeps calling. The following day, you ramble around Dinas Head. Stretches of sandy coastline roll out before you then disappear as the next turn shows craggy bluffs. There is never-ending splendor to see along every bit of the 186-mile length of this path.
The Pembrokeshire Coast Path Provides Hikes to Suit Everyone
There are easy parts of the path, like Saundersfoot to Wiseman’s Bridge. It’s akin to the level land that takes you from Manarola to Riomaggiore in Italy’s Cinque Terre National Park. Then there is a four-mile stretch between Tenby to Saundersfoot. It isn’t difficult, but there is a great deal of assent and descent. Prepare your muscles or your legs may protest movement the next day. Jenny, ace of the Bridger [mountain] Ridge Run (20 miles), said, “It’s okay to go up 25 steps and stop.” Useful advice as we climbed some of those vertical areas.
Hiking Stackpole Quay and Stackpole Head are both leisurely walks, belying the dramatic views uncovered as you stroll. You turn a bend, realizing you would not have glimpsed this spectacular view without taking those last several steps. There are several circular walks where you dip on and off the Coast Path at various spots. One we love is Needle Point on Dinas Head.
Loving an island that isn’t…
At three miles, you might think hiking Dinas Island, connected to the mainland, is a piece of cake. But your start from Cwm-yr-Eglwys begins with a steep clamber, only tapering off for short stretches. If you’re wise enough to stop for chats with other hikers, three miles will take at least two hours. The pathway itself is narrow, but not harrowing even on the Needle Point trail that runs along the cliff edge.
Stopping at the Ordnance Survey Trigonometry Station at the top, we visited with a couple from the Brecon Beacons. (OS trig point if you’re using the OS maps mentioned in the 10 Tips for Americans Driving in Wales). Meeting folks from other parts of Wales, is a testimony of the importance of the path to Welsh culture. They tell you, again and again, that this is their favorite place to hike.
Speaking of Meeting People
We don’t leave Wales without adding to our family. This time it was the owner of the cozy, three-hundred-year-old cottage we stayed at in Newport. The snug home comes with a delightful elderly gentleman named Leslie. Arranging the stay involved emails with his son, Martin, also a delight. We easily took Leslie into our hearts as he embraced our friendship. Getting around town on an electric scooter, we joined him on an estuary stroll to watch a family of ducks. Learning it was my birthday, Leslie presented me with a box of Lindt (a favorite!) chocolates. The card was signed by him, adding the names of his sons and their wives. That was in 2018 and we still email and exchange letters!
As the twilight years get closer for two sixty-something-year-olds…
My writer’s brain ponders, assessing what is it that draws me and Jackie, and hopefully, Jenny to this country again. What does God want us to take away from any place, any journey he sets us on? To learn that the world is small, that people are the same and different all across it? I suppose the lessons can be that simple.
Yet, there feels a mysterious undercurrent of more. Have you felt it on a trip? Is it being in the land where your ancestors lived? If you have a sense of history and connection to family, perhaps that longing to know the past draws you to a location. That awareness pulls your heart in, providing the sensation of coming home.
I feel such a connection to Wales that I’m writing a women’s novel where the main character moves there. It’s easy to get lost in the story as I imagine, what if…
My character roams, strolling, blissfully hiking the coast. She, make-believe she, slows me down and suspends me in the moments of being there. I spend so much time speeding through life that anything keeping me in the present is a blessing. Walking in the land of castles and Griffith heritage brings peace and calmness to an ever-restless soul.
Traveling with Others
Sometimes, you need a little time to yourself. Don’t hesitate to take it. Separating from your companions, even much loved ones, can give you all a break.
I’m a morning person. As the other two slept, I crept out of the Newport Cottage walking the slightly downhill half-mile to the Parrog. The port is an ideal place to people watch in the evenings and to contemplate life in the early hours. An easy-smiling gentleman carrying a backpack and wearing two days of white whiskers asked me where the bus stop was. I automatically began to respond, I don’t live here when I brightened. Having just passed that spot on the main street, I gave directions!
Returning, I glimpsed him near the Spar Market. I stopped to take a photo of a huge truck parked on the narrow street. Catching him in my shot he smiled and said it was okay for me to take his picture.
Traveling Helps You Figure Out Life’s Interconnectedness
Little exchanges with people tether you to a spot beyond the photograph that prompts a memory. We know the power of a picture to recall an experience is intense. When you stop to converse with Stuart on the Goodwick hike, you tie that piece of turf to an interesting chat. You recall discussing the path, growing up in Fishguard, and each of your travels around America. After an hour, you realize that not once did you prattle about the topics—typical and irritating—of Americans. What do you do for work and how many kids do you have? A friend who waitressed once told me, “This is what I do to earn a living, but it’s not who I am.” She was not demeaning being a wait person, but rather stating, I am more than what you see me do.
That is what we are when we hike—we are hikers, explorers, travelers. We are not just our paychecks, our kids, our spouses, our families. The trail lets us learn new lessons and repeat ones we love—the lessons of life.
The Blessings of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path
This is what hiking the path gifts you … the new and different and diverse conversations with people. The addictiveness of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path beckons me to return. I have a hundred miles to check off my completion chart and room in my heart to add new friends.