Will ye ever stop in Wales
GO WALK:Irish people tend to race through the country once they get off the ferry, but if you stop awhile in Fishguard you will find an amazing cliff walk in a national park, writes CATHERINE MACK
REMEMBER spotting a road sign in The Burren once, with the words “Ah, will ye ever” painted above the word “Stop”. I often wondered if it was for the benefit of tourists who dash through en route to Connemara or Kerry, missing the National Park’s limestone wonders which gleam like the biggest emeralds of all.
The Welsh ferry ports should have a similar sign for all those Irish people who dash off the ferry en route to England and beyond. Because, believe me, you really need to stop.
As I walked straight out of Fishguard on to the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, a spectacular 299km walking trail which snakes its way along this three-for-the-price-of-one coastline, with craggy, sandy and rocky all on offer depending on which headland I traversed, it’s hard not to lament the lack of such a facility back home.
This is the UK’s only coastal National Park, incorporating a web of inland pathways, bridleways and estuaries ( pembrokeshirecoast.org.uk).
With just a few days to spare, I took on a few different sections of the path, staying at Preseli Venture Eco Lodge, a vibrant, family-run activity centre. I had stayed here a couple of years ago when I first explored the coast from the water, sea kayaking and coasteering. They welcome everyone here like long-lost friends and celebrate Pembrokeshire’s wealth of natural heritage with such infectious enthusiasm that I thought this would be the perfect base for a bit of solitary walking this time.
They also serve vats of wonderful home cooked food all day, so I hit the roads with a belly full of breakfast and a packed lunch, in the knowledge that a big curry or casserole was waiting for me each night.
Preseli is 11km from Fishguard, where the owners will pick you up if they can, although it is a quick cab or bus ride if you are coming by foot. And I really recommend leaving the car behind. It’s much cheaper, you really slow down and there is a brilliant all-year tourist bus service to get you to and from the favourite spots and which you can hail at any spot along its route. For more details and timetables see walkingpembrokeshire.co.uk.
On the first afternoon, I shook off my journey jaundice by fitting in a three-hour walk along the coast path from nearby Abermawr beach heading south to Trefin, where I caught the bus back to the campsite. The weather was drizzly enough to get my walking boots suitably muddy and my new waterproof trousers tried and tested. However, in spring this whole coastline erupts into colour with pink foxgloves, white ox-eye daisies, blankets of yellow kidney vetch and wild primrose dotted with the purples of wild thyme, uplifting the spirit no matter what the weather is doing.
The sky was cloudless on day two, however, when I started out on my 19km circular, and nearly all coastal, route around St David’s which, although it is the smallest city in the UK, has one of the largest collections of coves and cliffs on its doorstep, most of which are only accessible by foot. I took the bus again to St David’s, where the cathedral clock struck nine as I headed up a long, narrow road where the grass still grows in the middle, to the expanses of Whitesands Bay.
Heading south again, the coast path overlooks Ramsey Island, a bird reserve and favourite hangout for seals, dolphins and porpoises ( ramseyisland.co.uk) although, as I dipped in and out of tiny uninhabited bays, I only spotted a few cliff climbers, kayakers and a couple of fishing boats. It never gets busy here really, except around the historical honeypots of St Justinian’s bay, with its ancient chapel and a stunning red and cream lifeboat station with funicular system designed to transport people and goods up and down the cliff, or the turquoise inlet of Porthclais with its ancient lime kilns built into the harbour walls (and a much-needed coffee and ice cream kiosk).
The only other company en route was the odd smiling hiker pursued by some of the choughs, cormorants and stonechats which favour this stretch of coast.
Not surprising, therefore, that the retreat at St Non’s is still used as such, with yoga, meditation and religious retreats all part of the mix ( stnonsretreat.org.uk). This was the birthplace of St David; Non being his mother, and I must admit that even though I popped into the chapel in search of shade rather than spirituality, I found this a moving place indeed.
My last day of walking took me around Strumble Head, just 5km from Fishguard, where wild ponies are let out to pasture in order to keep these remote rocky slopes and paths clear of bracken and gorse, and where an imposing white lighthouse issues warnings to the incoming ferries.
This is where I realised that I really didn’t want to leave this path at all. I had become a headland addict, wanting “just one more” before giving up. However, there are plenty more fixes to be had now as, following Pembrokeshire’s success, all 1,400km of the country’s coast were officially opened to walkers in May of this year: known as the Wales Coast Path ( walescoastpath.gov.uk).
So now walkers don’t have to stop at all, they can just keep going and going.
How to . . .
Ferry Rosslare to Fishguard with Stena Line, stenaline.ie, tel: 01-204 7777. Foot passenger between Rosslare to Fishguard costs €32, one way. Bring your bike for an additional €10 one way. For more information on the excellent rural bus schemes linking the Pembrokeshire Coast, see walkingpembrokeshire.co.ukor visitpembrokeshire.com.
Catherine Mack stayed at Preseli Venture Eco Lodge and Activity Centre ( preseliventure.co.uk, tel: 0044-1348 837709) open to individuals mid-week for £39 (€48.30) a night bb, or £59 (€73) a night fully catered.
Take a break from hiking and explore the coast from the water on one of their activities, from £55 (€68). Coasteering is a must.
Follow more of Catherine Mack’s eco travels on ethicaltraveller.net, Ethical Traveller on Facebook and @catherinemack on Twitter.