Pembrokeshire Coast Path – Day 3

Date – 15 April 2017

Walked from – Merrion

Walked to – Pembroke

​​Distance – 24.6 miles

I stopped walking almost three hours ago, but my feet still feel as if there’s enough heat pouring out of them to power a small town – Pembroke perhaps, as that’s where I’m staying tonight.
I wish I could say, upon first glimpsing the 11th century Pembroke Castle, that I uttered something about it being historically fascinating – location, as it was, of the birth of King Henry VII. I didn’t. I swore – I couldn’t believe how far away it still looked, when I was feeling so very done in (for today, at least. I am very much relying on the restorative powers of sleep right now). 
Still, scorching hot soles and tired legs aside, today had lots to keep me entertained – from the curious calves who came over to greet me near Castlemartin, to the snails that littered the paths through the sand dunes at Freshwater West beach. And they weren’t just any old beach and dunes – they were the dunes where ‘that scene’ with a certain house elf was filmed in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Oh Dobby… I cry my heart out every single time…
There were some bumpy bits at West and East Pickard bays, but nothing a SW Coast Path veteran wouldn’t take in their stride, and then it was easy cliff top walking all the way around to West Angle Bay. Had a hot chocolate in the beach cafe there, and then just two miles later the sun came out so I did a little bit of basking in it at the pretty Old Point House pub while having a light lunch. Its harbour location, looking out onto the mudflats, is positively picturesque – as long as you don’t look too far over to your left at the oil refinery!
I could have quite happily finished at the pub yesterday, having walked 12.5 miles already. But no such luck – I had another 12 to go. Around the shoreline at Angle Bay, past the oil refinery and Fort Popton and then it was a trudge through fields and woodland paths until the outskirts of Pembroke. But there was something I’d promised myself in Pembroke that kept me motivated. A trip to the castle? Nope, that’s for tomorrow morning. A long hot soak in a bath? Nah, no bath in the shared B&B bathroom tonight. Something way more important to the soul – a chocolate Easter Egg. Yup, after 40 days of Lenten abstinence from eating the good stuff, I was ready to fall off the Cadburys Wagon. #EasterIsForChocolate 

Photos: Me talking to some calves / the road at Freshwater West (a bus goes down there!) / snails / fields near Angle / the mudflats at Angle / oil refinary / woodland flowers on the approach to Pembroke



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Pembrokeshire Coast Path – Day 2 

Date – 15 April 2017 (Good Friday)

Walked from – Manorbier YHA

Walked to – The Old Smithy, Merrion

Distance – 20.2 miles 

I’m sitting in my PJs, in the warmth of my B&B, listening to the rain do its thing – really quite heavily – outside. And I am oh, SO grateful that the 20.2 miles I walked today was done without the wet stuff falling from the sky, and without any mud either. 
Today wasn’t warm, but it was dry – and wow, it was beautiful. I was up and out on the dot of 7am, and aside from meeting one man (who used to work for London Underground – small word) and his dog at Manorbier beach, I only saw a few other people – all at a distance – until I got to beautiful Stackpole Quay and its conveniently located cafe (this blog is brought to you via the healing powers of hot chocolate). 
Highlights of today’s walk were the wonderfully named Barafundle Bay, the hidden, tiny 14th century St Govan’s Chapel, just off the easy walking route across the MOD base near Bosherton, and the elegant natural arch known (in English) as the Green Bridge of Wales. My favourite spot was just before the ‘bridge’ though – Stack Rocks are the Pembrokeshire Coast Path equivalent of a high rise building in a busy city, with every visible non-vertical centimetre of it populated with seabirds. My internet wandering tell me that I was looking at Guillimots, and possibly some Kittiwake too. All I know is, those slender rocks were teeming with birds, as was the sea surrounding them and the sky’s overhead. I’m no twitcher, but even I knew it was a sight to behold. 
Photos: near Stackpole Quay (photos 1&2) /the beach at Barafundle Bay (best name ever? Discuss.) / St Govan’s Chapel / The Green Bridge of Wales

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Pembrokeshire Coast Path – Day 1

Date – 13 April 2017

Walked from – Amroth

Walked to – Manorbier YHA

Distance – 14.5 miles

Today I walked the first day of a planned 10 day hike of the 186 mile Pembrokeshire Coast Path, in Wales. With all being well I’ll get to St Dogmaels in nine days time, and celebrate completing my 14th of the English and Welsh official National Trail. Walking geeks of the world, unite 🙂

Anyway, today was easy and fairly short – once I’d got my arse to the start (I had to stay overnight in a hotel next to Swansea station because it takes a billion years to get from London to Pembrokeshire… which probably explains why this is the last national trail I’m tackling). Just 14 and a half miles of easy walking, feeling very happy about not being at work, and bimbling along on dry dirt tracks along small cliffs, through woodland and along wide beaches.

The real joy of today, apart from the views of an almost becalmed sea, were the spring flowers that followed me almost every step of the way: the purple bluebells, the blue forget-me-nots, the whites of the hogweed and Ramsons (AKA Wild Garlic. AKA the bane of my mum’s gardening life) and the yellow of the primulas and the ever present gorse. Oh, and Tenby. Why on earth has no one ever told me how damn pretty Tenby is? I loved walking towards it, the colourful jumble of buildings coming into clearer focus as the dramatic seacoast line surrounding it dropped away. And it was just as gorgeous in town too. Another place to add to my holiday location / seaside cottage wish list.

I’m also pretty excited about my home for the night (as long as I don’t get a snorer in the dorm room) – Manorbier YHA is really cool. It’s very comfortable but it also looks pleasingly odd; my guide book describes it as a sardine tin, but there are far too many random shapes attached to it for that to be quite accurate. Originally build as a storage building by NATO, it’s as if a child had a tantrum and thew down a collection of different shaped but plain coloured building blocks, which have landed haphazardly and co-opted some corrugated iron into joining in the fun. And I’m booked in for the burger dinner at 7pm – no-one can say I don’t know how to have a good time… 

Photos: obligatory ‘start point’ photo / Tenby from afar / crime spree in Pembrokeshire / Tenby / approaching Lydstep 

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The Thames Path

Walked: The Thames Path

Date: 31 August 2013 – 10 September 2016

Distance: 184 miles

Walked with: Alone or with various ‘guest star’ walkers

Weather: Often wet, cold and muddy 

Today I finally finished the Thames Path, after a number of other attempts earlier this year were aborted due to the tendency of the Thames – pretty much as soon as you get past Kingston – to flood. National Trail #12 now completed!

I’ll tell you straight out; as far as National Trails go, this one is right at the bottom of my list (The Ridgeway is juuuuust above it). For me, it’s at it’s best in London, when the constantly changing river and cityscape envelopes it with an urban hug. And to be fair, that’s where most people finish it. But as I live not far from The Thames Barrier, it was inevitable that I’d start in SE London before gradually making my way out. And by the time I got as far as Windsor I realised… I was committed to section walking the flipping thing.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a bad walk. But I love hill walking, and there’s only one (tiny) one, near Pangbourne. I like expansive views; this is lots of very expensive houses, an incredible amount of WW2 pill boxes (in Oxfordshire), and, well, a river. Signage and mud are often both an issue as well, and today, being my final day was no exception – the way marking between Cricklade and the Source could definitely do with some work.

That said, I have seen some really beautiful buildings, wandered in to some truly posh local pubs, and in the winter it can be quite lovely. So here’s a few photos from my various trots along the Thames Path -including a number of my favourite flooding ones!

   
    
    
    
 

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Glyndŵr’s Way – Part 1 – Knighton to Dylife

Walked: Glyndŵr’s Way – Knighton to Dylife

Date: 27-30 May 2016

Distance: 60 miles

Walked with: It was a solo adventure 🙂

Weather: Dry, still, scorchio!
A strange thing happened over the second May Bank Holiday weekend. A little like entering a parallel universe that looks like our own but is somehow, magically, different, I spent four days walking in mid Wales… and not only did it not rain, but I spent the last two days walking in 25 degree sunshine. I got an actual, honest-to-God suntan. The few people I saw were walking around with bewildered expressions on their faces, staring in wonderment at the alien ball of fire in the sky… Ok, I am slightly exaggerating on that last point, but only a bit. Point is, the weather was abnormally good. For Wales.

Glyndŵr’s Way is the 12th National Trail I’ve now embarked on, and I’m planning to go back a couple of times over the summer to complete the 135 mile walk. It’s a lot more winding and convoluted than the other national trails. Carving a wobbly ‘v’ shape through the mid-Wales countryside, it starts and finishes at the border with England, with the lovely, fairly affluent feeling, town of Machynlleth at its centre. 

The reason for its odd route is its eponymous hero Owain Glyndŵr, the legendary  Prince of Wales  in the early 1400s, and the last actual Welshman to hold that title (our present day one has rather more Germanic and Mediterranean roots). He was famous for revolting… against the evil English. Despite large sums of money on offer for his capture, his  fellow countrymen  (and women) never snitched on him to the more powerful English, Shakespeare wrote about him some 200 years after his death, and in the 19th century he was re-launched as the historical figurehead for Welsh nationalism. Basically, he was pretty cool, and much like the path named after him, he wandered around all over the place in mid-Wales. You can learn more about him here

This four day walk took me through real farming country. As the area is famed for its precipitation, sheep farming dominates the landscape – making for field after field of green, lush pasture land adorned with thousands of sheep. It’s so green that it almost makes your eyes ache – the wonderful moorland of Beacon Hill Crown Estate was the only variation from the otherwise verdant theme. It was all beautiful, and uplifting. Oh – and devoid of people: in four days of walking, I think I saw a total of perhaps ten people actually on the trail… and most of those were locals who happened to be in their gardens as I passed by. One chap, who was making a BBQ out of an old washing machine drum (he’ll be ok, come the zombie apocalypse) had a very welcome honesty box stall outside his house, along with free water for walkers, which was gratefully received on hot, hilly day three of my walk. Earlier that same day, I heard – but didn’t see – a farmer in the tiny village of Bwich-y-sarnau swearing his head off at his sheep. Silently giggling to myself, I walked on…

The tranquility of the walk was only punctured the once. The town of Llanidloes, which must be in the running for most pubs per head of population in the UK, turned out to be very lively indeed on a hot bank holiday Sunday, with an England V Wales rugby game providing the soundtrack to my arrival in town. I’m very glad indeed that I brought earplugs with me!

I did actually have some company for the last hour or so of my walk to Dylife on the final day. I met Stuart, one of two other people I met a few days before in pretty little Anbeycwmhir (it has abbey ruins. And a nice looking pub that doesn’t seem to open until after 8pm), sheltering in the shade of a stone wall near Nant-y-Gwrdu… I told you it was hot! His company helped the last few miles of my walking adventure flyby, and before I knew it, the Star (previously the Star Inn) at Dylife was in view. As I approached this remote place, standing alone in a surrounding countryside full of rolling hills and nothing else, I realised that I’d actually been to that exact spot about five years before on a cycling trip! Anyway, despite the fact that I wasn’t staying there, the lovely owner Louise let me have a shower (a kindness that my fellow train passengers back to London would have greatly appreciated, had they only known)  and made me a drink while I waited for my taxi. She was so lovely, and The Star (which is primarily a retreat) so cozy and welcoming, that I’ll be heading back there in July to get a day of walking in. If retreats are your thing, check out her website here

Anyway, enough waffle from me. Have some pictures…

Photos – leaving Knighton / the fabulous moorland of the Beacon Hill Crown Estate / Bryn Mawr (shortly after Felindre) / approaching Abbeycwmhir / early start on Upper Esgair Hill / near Llidiart-y-Waun / looking over to the village of Y Fan, near Llanidloes / Llyn Clywedog reservoir / bluebell fringed path at Ystradhynod 

  
    
    
    
   

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Yorkshire Wolds Way

Walked: Yorkshire Wolds Way
Date: 24-29 March 2016

Distance: 79 miles

Walked with: Eleanor, Sally & Mike

Weather: Surprisingly good

Booking a six day walking holiday, in Yorkshire, in March – well, it was always a high risk activity. Dire warnings of high winds and torrential rain abound, and the pessimistic Hull taxi driver who dropped us off at the start informed us that the drizzly day would be the best we would get. 

Which made what actually happened so brilliant: while much of the rest of the country had dreadful weather, we had a lot of sunshine, barely a drop of rain, and on the days when there was wind, it kept changing direction to push us along to our next destination. Also (and here’s a top tip to winter walkers), the Wolds Way is almost entirely chalky underfoot – which seems to lead to such well drained soil that our boots saw very little in the way of mud. In March! In England! Awesome.

The signage on the Yorkshire Wolds Way was also the best I’ve seen on any of the National Trails, so we didn’t get lost once and I rarely had to use my map. Add to that a series of lovely pubs, good ale, well cooked food and excellent company and you’ve got a great Easter walking break. 

It’s a lovely landscape to wander through: lots of narrow dry valleys, steep banks and chalk downs that hint of fairytale kingdoms just around the corner… or, in the case of Deep Dale, the abandoned medieval village of Wharram Percy, with its picturesque church ruins. This is predominately ‘posh’ farming country – most of the farms we passed through felt like they were more of a hobby than a livelihood, with their immaculately kept lands and properties, and you walk through a number of very large estates, including the impressive Londesborough Estate, the site of a well-connected country ‘pile’ since the 16th century, the one time home of George Hudson (19th century ‘Railway King’), and now home to a banking family.

The one issue with this otherwise lovely walk is the scarcity of accommodation. With the exception of the quite brilliant Cross Keys pub in the beautiful (and beautifully situated) village of Thixendale, we had to walk off route (or get picked up) to get to all our B&Bs. I felt every step of the steep walk down to Millington, after a 19 mile day… although the climb back up again, after a good night’s rest, felt much easier! That said, both Millington and Thixendale are lovely villages, and the Gait Inn at Millington and the aforementioned Cross Keys were terrific, thriving village pubs with good, solid food, excellent ales and friendly staff that I can’t recommend enough. The Cross Keys in particular is a surprise; from the outside it looks seriously unpromising, but both the pub and its excellent B&B accommodation deserve all the plaudits they’ve already received elsewhere on line. 

Another village worth a mention is Goodmanham, which we walked through on our second day. It’s got a fantastic pub, the Goodmanham Arms, in which we would have loved to have spent more time. It’s also got tens of bizarre little signs next to all the daffodils outside the church, entreating people not to stand on them. Quite took away from the otherwise beautiful display of these lovely spring flowers and made us mock whoever had put them there for the rest of the walk. 

Anyway, all said, if you haven’t walked a national trail yet, this relatively short one is a great introduction to long distance walking in England. And as far as extended pub crawls go – as I’ve hopefully established – there are some cracking stops along the way! 

Photos: Near South Cave (Day 1); Newbold Wold (Day 2); Frankly bizarre instructions not to stand on the daffodils in Goodmanham (Day 2); One of the fab Wolds Way ‘bendy’ benchs, this one at Huggate Sheepwalk (Day 3); Looking out from the ruins of the church at Wharram Percy (Day 4); View from Bassett Brow (Day 4); Rainbow over Winteringham (Day 4); View from Staxton Wold (Day 6); Filey Beach (Day 6)

  
    
    
    
   

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South West Coast Path 9/9

Walked from: Porlock Weir, Somerset

Walked to: Minehead, Somerset 

Date: 28 February 2016

Distance: 9 miles 

Weather: Brrrr… Cold

Nearly eight years and some 630 miles after I started, I finished walking the South West Coast Path today. My guidebook informs me that anybody who completes the path will have climbed more than four times the height of Everest by the time they finish; and as my book says it, it must be true! I’ve walked parts on my own, others with a variety of friends, and the first few times with my now very much ex-partner… who turned out to be crap at walking up and down steep hills. I should have known then that we wouldn’t work out… 

The final nine mile stage of the walk was mainly a straightforward trot from Portlock Weir (with its fabulous restaurant and pub) to Minehead and its glamorous backdrop of Butlins Holiday Camp. A stumble along the pebbles of Portlock Beach was followed by the marshland near the tiny village of Bossington, and the hilltop walking near Selworthy Beacon and down into Minehead (an attractive town) was easy – if very ‘fresh’ in the freezing wind. But the haul up Bossington Hill ensured that the SWCP’s legendary steepness will continue to live long in my memory. 

Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset – thank you, you’ve been amazing. 

Photos: The beach at Porlock Weir / West Porlock / Mid-way up Bossington Hill / The top of Bossington Hill / finishing at Minehead

   
    
   

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