From craggy cliffs to golden sands, Vincent takes us on a journey along the glorious Pembrokeshire Coastal Path.
The little town of Pembroke is best known for its barnstorming Norman castle, built in 1093 by Arnulf de Montgomery to repel the revolting Welsh. And on a light-and-shade morning in spring, I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be. The Georgian high street, with its pastel-painted curio shops and Camberwick Green clocktower, is great for mooching around.
At 10.03am, church bells ring me out of town aboard the Coastal Cruiser chuggabus towards Bosherston, and one of the all-time-great bits of British coastline. Within an hour I’ll be lording it over the clifftops, cherry-picking my favourite strip of Pembrokeshire seaside. Scratch that: I reckon it’s my favourite strip of the entire Welsh coast – though I can’t pretend to have hiked all 870 miles.
Three years ago Wales spent £14 million to thread together its shining shore for walkers, becoming the first nation on earth whose coast you can traverse wholly on foot. The trail is gorgeous all-round, taking in castles and cathedrals at Conwy and St David’s; the wilderness coves of Anglesey and the Llyn Peninsula; Dylan Thomas’s Laugharne and Patrick McGoohan’s Portmeirion. But for epic drama, this stretch takes some trumping.
My bus trundles out across the Castlemartin Artillery Range, a hinterland of stunted blackthorn trees and concrete gun emplacements, and decants me on an eyrie above the sea to begin my roller-coaster ramble along the cliffs. The chunk of coast that runs east from Elegug Stacks is landscape dynamite – 160ft walls of rock steeple above the surf, with names like the Cauldron, Bullslaughter Bay, Ripper Cliff, the Devil’s Barn and (slightly less fiercely) Moody Nose. Thousands of fulmars scrap for space on the sea stacks in summer, and according to the signs posted by Welsh Marine Rescue, even the seal pups bite. The next three miles are a soul-scouring blast of pure ozone and astringent, sea-salty air. Complete exhilaration.
My adventure climaxes at St Govan’s, a bijou chapel built down on the shore by a Celtic missionary in the sixth century. It is reached via a reputedly uncountable flight of steps, and looks like it might have been washed up by the tide. You can drive here – there’s a little car park – but don’t expect to arrive with the same sense of wild-eyed wonderment you get on foot.
Next stop on the coast path is Bosherston, where I take a breather at Ye Olde Worlde Café. Here, in the cramped front parlour of an old coastguard’s cottage, 93-year-old ‘Auntie Vi’ Weston has been serving Pembrokeshire’s best tea and scones since 1952. Today I order a hunk of nuclear-yellow cheese on toast and an iced slice: perfect.
Bosherston was once part of Lord Cawdor’s Stackpole estate, famous for its Georgian manor house and extravagant lily ponds. Today it is a dreamlike oasis of lily-lakes and woodland, where thousands of floating flowers explode into bloom every June, a Monet watercolour made real. Even in high summer you might have it to yourself – everyone else will be busy on the nearby beaches of Broad Haven and Barafundle Bay.
I sit awhile in the old boathouse, waiting for the otters and the kingfishers to come. They are shy today, but I’m in no hurry. Finally, it’s up the lane to the Stackpole Inn, a Sawday’s favourite, with cascading lawns and a menu stuffed with Welsh lamb and fish specials straight from the coast. It is a fine place to linger over a pint of Double Dragon, as I wait to be scooped up by the bus back to Pembroke.
Planning: Follow the waymarked Pembrokeshire Coast Path all the way from Elegug Stacks east to Stackpole – about seven miles. Search for the Coastal Cruiser timetable at www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk.
The Stackpole Inn is on 01646 672324, and has B&B doubles from £90. For more on the Wales Coast Path, visit www.walescoastpath.gov.uk.
Photos: Visit Pembrokeshire