Today the walking starts in earnest. We have eleven walks to do in eight days – whether we get them all finished or not depends largely on the weather, although Harri always reserves the right to delete a route from the final list. Walked or not, if a route’s not good enough to recommend to other hikers, it doesn’t feature in his book.
This happened when we were here in late June. Harri wants to include some walks in every part of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and not just circular walks along the coastline. Stunning as the cliffs and beaches of west Wales might be, he recognises that other areas in the park are also worthy of visiting. Unfortunately, our first Cleddau Estuary walk was a disaster; missing waymarks, overgrown footpaths and the absence of any decent views meant that we abandoned that particular route halfway through and returned to the car along quiet roads.
Disappointingly, the pre-weekend weather forecast that promised a return to summer now children were back at school had proved a tad over-optimistic. It had rained overnight and was set to be cloudy with bad visibility (though at least dry) for the rest of the day. Hardly the Indian summer we’d hoped for and far from ideal light conditions for me to take decent photographs.
Harri thought it best to start slowly and build our daily mileage as the week progressed (and the weather hopefully improved). This meant we only had 15 kilometres to cover today. Our circular route began at Ceibwr Bay and hugged the Pembrokeshire Coast Path almost as far as the Teifi estuary which forms the boundary between Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, after which we’d head inland. In 2007, we’d walked this stretch of coastline in the opposite direction and struggled to catch up with a local woman in her eighties who was heading to Poppit Sands for her morning swim.
If you are walking in a westerly direction from St Dogmael’s expect it to be tough day, for this stretch of coast is home to some of the most dramatic cliffs in Pembrokeshire, not to mention some spectacular geological folds. About two hours into today’s walk, we passed two hikers laden with large rucksacks – men who I judged to be in their late 30s. The more exhausted-looking of the two stopped to ask, ‘is the rest of the route as bad as the first bit?’
The men had already passed the highest point on the Pembrokeshire coast – Cemaes Head which towers above the towers above the waves at 574 feet (175 metres) – but there was an awful lot of undulating footpath ahead of them. Harri tried to sound reassuring but I think our grimaces said it all.
The Pembrokeshire Coast Path joined the International Appalachian Trail in October 2010, becoming the first trail section of IAT Wales (the Wales Coast Path signed up in December 2012). Using the memorable strapline ‘Reuniting what oceans are dividing’, the IAT aims to establish a long-distance walking trail across all the geographic regions once connected by the Appalachian-Caledonian orogen (a belt of the earth’s crust involved in the creation of mountains) which was formed over 250 million years ago on the super-continent Pangaea.
Those behind the International Appalachian Trail hope it will connect people in different countries and cultures, by promoting ‘natural and cultural heritage, health and fitness, environmental stewardship, fellowship and understanding, cross-border cooperation, and rural economic development through eco and geo tourism.’ Phew! Though there’s nothing wrong with being ambitious.
The weather and the lack of anywhere to sit meant it was impossible to stop for elevenses, and though our hopes were briefly raised by a distant building, the brick hut we eventually passed was dilapidated, unappealing and on the wrong side of the fence. Some joker had chalked these words on a piece of black slate:
At Cemaes Head, we had wonderful views of the Teifi estuary, Cardigan Island, and the whole of Cardigan Bay. In fact, the whole of Ceredigion seemed to be basking in glorious sunshine, while our bit of Pembrokeshire had a big grey cloud pegged above it.
We left the coast and passed through Allt y Coed Farm, a popular campsite in an idyllic and sheltered position, which would have been even prettier if there hadn’t been so many decaying items strewn across the land. Sorry, but it’s one of my gripes– how many rural dwellers appear to have no qualms about ruining an otherwise gorgeous landscape with abandoned, rusting vehicles and farming implements, building rubble and all sorts of other waste materials. In June, we left the slopes of Foel Eryr in the Preseli Mountains and joined a farm track where someone clearly thought it acceptable to dump all manner of rubbish right there on the moorland, creating an ugly blot on an otherwise wonderful landscape. Of course, it’s possible that the culprits drove to this secluded spot specifically to dump their rubbish. There are more and more reports about how farmers are struggling with the increase in fly-tipping on their land. Whoever is responsible, it’s depressing that so these people have so little regard and respect for our natural spaces.
Once we’d left the coast, the walking was relatively easy, and our route took us along quiet country lanes, through a pretty wooded area and eventually back to Ceibwr Bay. This tiny sheltered cove had been associated with smuggling for centuries and has been used for such scenes in films and television), but in the mid 1980s locals grew suspicious that Ceibwr was again being used for smuggling activities. Police involved in Operation Seal Bay uncovered a fake cave full of drugs.
No seals spotted today (we were so high up) but as it’s the breeding season,, I’m really hopeful that we’ll see some pups later this week.