Adventures in Wales began in September of 2014 when Jackie and I decided to move up the plans to go there in our twilight years.
Being avid fans of British mysteries, we figured in our eighties we’d learn what brogues, Wellies, and Anoraks (the attire, not the person) were in real life and put them to use. We’d wear tweed jackets and carry stylish walking sticks carved in elaborate designs.
Blame it on growing up reading Agatha Christie, later falling in love with the Foyle’s War television series, and expanding from there.
Not to put a sad shine on this story, but when we lost Mom in August 2008 from lung cancer and dad a mere eight months later to ALS, we started to discuss moving our time table forward. Since we never know how long we’ve got on this old earth, it’s good to create special memories now as opposed to living the response Dad was famous for giving when his little kids requested the impossible—like a pony, “Someday.”
Planning the adventure
It still took us five years to put together that first adventure and the thing that finally pushed us into taking that first step—literally—was learning about the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. This trail of incredibly stunning views takes you north/south from St. Dogmael’s to Amroth and fifty towns in between. In three journeys, we’ve only hit fifteen stop-points so far. See why we need to keep going back?
I’ve been lucky enough to amble around the Italian coast from La Spezia to San Fruttuoso and on four of the Hawaiian islands—Oahu, Hawaii, Maui, and Kauai. These are exquisite places, allowed to be self-righteous about their magnificence. The colors of the water from blue to green to clear enough to see through, the rhythm of the waves from crashing and surf-able to smooth and soothing, and the terrain from an easy stroll to hiking-poles-required-steepness combine 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.
Perhaps one aspect of hiking in Wales
is the variety of people enjoying these trails. There’s something extraordinary about the 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 Stepaside Ironworks, fully closed by 1930, we met Janette and her husband Granville going the opposite direction. Retired and from near Merthyr Tydfil, they were on their way to the beach to search for cockles, educating us that they are an unusual find here, mostly available only on the west coast. Being from Pennsylvania and Montana, they had fun explaining what a cockle is and how to cook them. We scrunched up our noses, none of us being fans of mollusk of any kind.
After exploring the moody ruins—the misty, brooding day was a perfect setting—we headed back toward the path. We burst out laughing when Janette and Granville were coming toward us with two bags of cockles—one for them and one for us! We politely declined, which caused them to laugh.
The ironworks might be brooding, but our visit with Janette & Granville was bright enough to lighten anyone’s mood.
Jenny & Pete – Castlemartin gate keeper
We couldn’t get to St. Govan’s Chapel due to the military practicing at Castlemartin, but we had a lovely visit with Pete–there since 4:00 just because he loves watching the sun come up across the water.
Anne and Trevor – Bosherton Lily Ponds
We chatted over the photographic pleasures of hiking this area and what it’s like to hike here.
Baby Toad Crossing
(I could do an entire post about Welsh signage)
Anne & Trevor had the joy of seeing the baby toad’s, but they were grown and gone during our visit.
A UK Treasure
The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is Britain’s only coastal path, which puts a great deal of 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.
Just when you think to yourself at the end of the day, well I hiked from the Fishguard Fort to south of Goodwick and the coast was lovely and I’m sure that’s good enough…. The next day, you hike from Bosherston Lily Ponds to Stackpole Head and you’re excited to continue as you feel that bit of trail under the sturdy sole of your Oboz or Merrells or Keens.
Your next ramble is around Dinas Head and as you see those stretches of coastline roll out in front of you then lose them when the next turn shows craggy bluffs instead, you know there is much more to see along every bit of the 186 mile length of this walk.
So you keep coming back. Sometimes you bring your niece/daughter with you and get another person addicted to the place. Jenny, Jackie’s 30-something adventurous kid, finally understood what we’d been going on about when discussing Wales.
Where to stay
Our first trip we stayed in Goodwick, the second was Saundersfoot, and the third was Saundersfoot and Newport. Each trip expanded in time from ten days to fourteen days 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 a delight—as a temporary landlord and as a friend. We connected so well in 2016 that Jackie and I adopted her as another sister. We were excited to see her again and spend a bit of time over lunch and later in the week, enjoy ice cream and a walk along Saundersfoot’s promenade. For us, connecting with place goes hand in hand with connecting to people.
There are easy stretches of the path, like Saundersfoot to Wiseman’s Bridge—it’s that same soothing bit of level land that takes you from Manarola to Riomaggiore in the Cinque Terre National Park in Italy. Then there is a four mile bit between Tenby to Saundersfoot—that isn’t difficult, but there is a great deal of assent and descent, so prepare your muscles or your legs may protest movement the next day. As Jenny, the CrossFit participant and she who aced the twenty rugged miles of the Bridger [mountain race] Ridge Run of 2017, kept telling her mom and aunt, “You know, it’s okay to do twenty-five stairs and stop for a moment.” Useful advice as we climbed some of those vertical areas.
Soak in the sights
Hiking Stackpole Quay and Stackpole Head are both leisurely walks, which belies the dramatic views you uncover as you stroll along. You turn an ever so slight bend and see what’s ahead and realize that it’s a brand new view—one that you could not have glimpsed had you not taken those last several steps forward. Although we researched several circular walks where you dip on and off the Coast Path at various spots, the only circle we ended up completing was on Dinas Head.
At only three miles, you might think the Dinas Island—so called although it is connected to the mainland—hike is a piece of cake. But your start from Cwm-yr-Eglwys begins with a steep clamber up, only tapering off for short stretches. If you’re wise enough to stop for chats with other hikers, it will take you at least two hours. The pathway itself is narrow, but not harrowing even on the Needle Point trail that runs along the cliff edge.
We visited with a couple at the top when we stopped at the Ordnance Survey Trigonometry Station (OS trig point if you’re using the OS maps I mentioned in the 10 Tips for Americans Driving in Wales post). It’s a testimony to both the importance of the path to Welsh culture and to the aesthetic appeal of it when time and again you meet folks from other parts of Wales who tell you this is their favorite place to hike.
View from Dinas Head
The views change constantly on this hike–from smooth seas to flat beaches to craggy rocks covered with birds.
Dinas Head trail
That is the narrow path along the slope that drops down into the ocean. It looks more intimidating than it is.
we joined him for a stroll to the estuary to see how a family of ducks was faring. Learning it was my birthday, Leslie wrapped a box of Lindt (a favorite!) chocolates and got me a card signed by him, adding the names of his sons and their wives.
As we move along, my writer’s brain spends a great deal of time pondering, assessing what it is that draws me and Jackie and most likely Jenny to this country again and 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 this mysterious undercurrent of more. Is it being in the land where your ancestors lived? Perhaps if you have a keen sense of history and connection to family, this longing to know the past draws you to a location, pulling your heart in, providing a feeling of being home.
Roaming, strolling, hiking along this coast slows me down and puts me in the moment. I spend so much time going speedily along that anything that helps keep me in the present is a blessing. Walking here, in this land of castles and Griffith heritage brings peace and calmness to an ever restless soul.
One morning as the other two slept, I crept out of the snug Newport Cottage and took the slightly downhill half-mile or so walk through to the Parrog. The old port is an ideal place to people watch in the evenings and to contemplate life in the early dewy hours. A gentleman with an easy smile and a day or two of white whiskers carried a full backpack asked me where the bus stop was. As I automatically began to respond, oh I don’t live here, I brightened and answered him—I knew this, having just passed that very spot on the main street through town!
I glimpsed him on my return to the cottage when I paused to take a photo of a huge truck parked on a narrow street near the Spar Market. Catching him in my shot he smiled again and said it was okay for me to take his picture.
Little exchanges with people tethers you to that spot beyond what a photograph can do and we know the power of a picture to recall an experience is intense. But when you stop and have those conversations with people like we did with Stuart at the end of the Goodwick hike, you tie that piece of turf to the interesting chat you had discussing hiking the path, growing up in the area, and traveling around America. You realize after the hour has passed that not once did you discuss the topics so typical—that can be 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.
And that is what you figure out the more you travel,
the more you see the new and different and have those diverse conversations with people. The Pembrokeshire Coast Path beckons me to return—I still have a hundred miles to check off my chart of completion and room in my heart to add new friends.