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The WOW Factor

17 Dec Sunlight on Sea

A couple of months ago I made a conscious decision to walk every day, even if it was just for a few miles.  Prior to that, I walked several days a week but on the other days, work and other commitments tended to eat away at the available time and I missed out.  With retirement came more freedom to shape my own day, despite somehow becoming even busier with grandparent ‘duties’ etc :) – in fact sometimes I wonder how I had the time to work :) !

I still do my full day walks several days a week throughout Dorset but on the other days I have been able to focus on local walks which has led me to explore the various pockets of countryside that exist within easy reach of home.  These include small nature reserves, woodland, heath, river banks etc, oases in the urban sprawl that makes up our town.  As part of this, I set myself a challenge to look for the WOW factor on my doorstep, to notice the small details that we so often miss when walking.  These ‘WOW’s’ are there in abundance although when it comes to photographing them, it can be a real challenge!

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WOW – Amazing, tiny fungi on a newly sawn tree

If you walk the Grand Canyon, Niagara, Machu Pichu, the Everest foothills, or even my local Durdle Door (below), there is a strong chance that that ‘WOW’ is going to escape your lips without even thinking about it simply because of the grandeur of the scene before you.  One author put is this way, ‘Beauty is cheap if you point a camera at a grand phenomenon of nature’.  But what about the local, perhaps smaller, phenomenons of nature that are equally ‘wow’ albeit maybe with a small W – these are all around us.  The challenge is to notice them and capture them in the camera.

Awaiting the sunrise
WOW – Durdle Door

Just yesterday I went for a local walk with my son, Paul.  We followed a narrow ribbon of woodland that wound through various housing developments, it was urban and yet at times it felt like we were in the depths of the countryside.  The views were amazing and there was a myriad historic features, the site of an old mill, the remains of an old steam railway, relics of a long gone pottery works, majestic pines, a lovely clear mirror-like stream that I didn’t know existed, views across the harbour, and much more.  It was both fascinating and rewarding, and of course all the more special for sharing it with my son, my favourite walking companion.

The picture below was taken on a gentle stroll along the local promenade – hardly a wild wilderness but when this scene presented itself, I could not help but say ‘WOW’ to myself.  The view across the bay was magnificent but with that awesome stormy sky, the eerie amber light on the horizon and the sudden, and short lived, burst sunlight on the water, it just came alive.

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WOW – Awesome light across the bay

Be it a walk along the coast or a walk across just a small patch of heathland, there are always wonderful sights if we are alert and aware of our surroundings.  Even the tiniest of leaves in the woodland with the last vestiges of the sun streaming through them makes me say “WOW’!

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WOW – Amazing texture and colours of nature

You can tell that I am passionate about the ‘ordinary’ although in fact there is no ordinary because the whole of nature is extraordinary.  My quest in my walks and my photography is to show the seemingly ordinary for the extraordinary that it is, and that is less about photography and more about seeing what is there.

You may have seen in the press that the most expensive photograph ever sold, taken in Antelope Canyon, Arizona, changed hands at $6.5M recently.  I wonder what made it worth that much.  That canyon is undoubtedly beautiful and there are thousands of pictures on the web to show all its beauty – but $6.5M???  The reality in my book is that you don’t need to spend a fortune jetting around the world in search of outstanding beauty, just look on your doorstep, its there if you will see it!

City Silhouettes
WOW – There are magnificent sights even in town!

Photography, and indeed, what we see as beauty, is of course a very personal thing – ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ as the well known saying goes, so what makes me say ‘WOW’ may not be the same thing that stirs others.  But the fact is, there is beauty and interest all around us just where we are so take the time to walk your local walks and search out that ‘WOW’ factor, whatever that means to you.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,

Your friend
The Dorset Rambler.

If you would like to contact me, my details are on my website which ishttp://www.yarrowphotography.com – comments and feedback are welcomed.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.

Of Walking with your Eyes Open

29 Oct

I read an interesting article recently comparing photography with painting/drawing.  The gist of it was that photographers see an eye-catching scene and capture it on camera without noticing the detail whereas an artist sits and takes in all the detail as well as the overall scene.  The conclusion was that photographers miss out.  It was a view held, if not started, by the art critic, John Ruskin and there is certainly truth in that view especially in the 21st century when everyone seems so ‘busy’ and rushes through life without stopping to just sit, look and listen.  As the poet said, ‘What is life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare’!

You can see the point – the artist has to sit for some time, perhaps several hours, to take in all the finer detail of a scene in order to commit it to paper whereas the photographer doesn’t necessarily need to as the camera does the work of recording the detail instantly.  But it needn’t be that way and we can benefit hugely from making a conscious effort to really look as we walk – there is so much that we often just pass by without even realising.

The same is true of life.  I read another article some time ago from a blogger who set out the benefits to her of writing a blog – the gist of it was that blogging made her take notice of things that happened during the day, be it a chance meeting, a conversation, a thought, or just something she saw.  Things that would normally just slip by without taking root, became more vibrant as they provided material for the next blog.

All this is just about maximising life and adding texture and sparkle with a full realisation of this wonderful world we live in – everything we see, everything we hear, everyone we meet, everything that happens to us can enrich our lives if we let it.

I always try, although I often fail, to adopt this view when I am walking, being alert to all that is around me, especially in the countryside.  It means taking time and often standing or sitting still to drink in what is before me, looking up and down as well as all around.  The pictures below were all taken on a local walk that I do often – it is my regular ‘Sunday morning stroll’ and I ‘walked with my eyes open’.

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Through the trees

On the Nature Reserve
Autumn grass in the nature reserve

We especially miss things that are on the ground, like diminutive fungi, and things that are high up like the beautiful light filtering through the canopy above.

Fungi
Get down low

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Look up

The leaves, especially at this time of year, are truly amazing.  The colours range from green through the whole range of autumn tints, to the dead and decayed – there is as much beauty in decay as there is in the fresh foliage of spring!

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Stand Out!
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Notice the leaves

Have you ever noticed what a huge variety of bark there is in an average woods?  Different textures and colours, wrapped in ivy, covered in lichen, lived in by bugs…..

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Different bark

Whatever the weather, bright sunshine as in the second photograph above, or dull and wet as in the picture below.  The splashes of the raindrops on the water are like little pools of diamonds on the black water of the pond, like stars in the night sky.  How often we run when the rain comes……but stop for a while and drink in the beauty.

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Comes the rain

And the log pile – is it just a log pile, or is it a high rise for bugs and fungi?  Take a look, explore, you never know what you might see.

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The log pile

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Fungus

Everyone loves a spiders web with that wonderfully delicate and intricate tracery, an engineering miracle that can hold so much weight.

Caught Up!
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Suspended!

And of course there is always the bigger picture.  The beauty of dappled sunlight slanting across the clearing with a carpet of golden leaves.  Who could resist such a lovely scene?

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In the clearing

And even late in the year, butterflies continue to dazzle with their beauty……even if a little bedraggled.  The Comma below will hibernate soon.

Comma
Comma

So much to see all around us, and yet we miss so much.  So walk with your eyes open, both through the woods and through life itself!

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,

Your friend
The Dorset Rambler.

If you would like to contact me, my details are on my website which ishttp://www.yarrowphotography.com – comments and feedback are welcomed.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.

Two Dorset Ferries

16 Oct

Hi all.  Sorry for the lack of posts recently – unfortunately due to various events and health issues my walking has been somewhat curtailed this year…..although on the positive side I have had my mountain bike out a lot more.  This is because two of my health issues have involved twisted ankles which prevented me from walking but not from cycling.  I am now fully recovered and looking forward to some great autumn walks :)!

THE FLOATING BRIDGE

I thought I would post a blog about two valuable but very different Dorset ferries, the first of these being the Sandbanks Chain Ferry which plies its trade transporting cars across the entrance to Poole Harbour.  It is classified as a ‘floating bridge’.

Bramblebush Bay
The Bramblebush Bay

Poole Harbour is one of the largest natural harbours in the world with around 36 square kilometers of water and 100 miles of coastline but the entrance is just 300 meters wide.  The peninsulas either side of the entrance were originally just sand spits without roads but now the situation is considerably different with the northern peninsula particularly, Sandbanks, now being covered with houses, some of the most expensive real estate in the world – you would need to be a multi-millionaire just to buy a plot of land here!

Across the Heath
Studland Heath with the harbour entrance and the Sandbanks Ferry in the distance

It was in the early 1900’s that the first idea for crossing the harbour entrance was muted.  The suggestion was that this should be a transporter bridge although the proposal failed, as did several other schemes.  From the early 1900’s foot passengers were catered for as a rowing boat ferry operated during the summer, carrying passengers across to the wild and remote Shell Bay – this must have been really hard work especially when the strong tides were running through that narrow harbour entrance.  This first ferry was eventually changed to a motor boat service.

It was just before the First World War that the suggestion was made that a vehicle ferry should be set up and some 9 years later, the Bournemouth-Swanage Motor Road And Ferry Company was formed to progress this.  Roads needed to be built and slipways formed with Purbeck Stone being brought in from the Dorset coastal quarries either overland or by barge.  With some of the land being boggy marshlands, copious amounts were needed.  On 15th July 1926, the first ferry, a coal fired, steam driven craft carrying up to 15 cars, commenced service.  This continued to operate for over 30 years, although the whole area was taken over by the military during the Second World War.

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Traffic boarding the ferry in the evening light

In the mid 1950’s, a new and larger ferry was installed.  This carried up to 28 cars and again operated for some 35 years before being taken out of service.  The current ferry, The Bramblebush Bay, came into service in 1994 and was larger again with a length of 244 feet and a beam of 54 feet.  This carries up to 48 cars but when fully loaded still has a draught of just 3 feet 9 inches.

The ferry operates on two hardened steel chains, each 1,235 feet long, anchored at either side of the harbour entrance.  Wear and tear on the chain causes it to stretch and two links have to be taken out each fortnight in order to maintain the optimum length.  Although there are two chains, the ferry actually drives on one side at a time only (the side farthest from the flowing tide) in order to make it easier to manouvre at the slipway and to reduce cost.  There is a tremendous strain on the chains, especially when a strong tide is flowing and a chain has been known to break – the most recent was in July this year and the suggestion is that the cross channel ferry that passes through the harbour entrance may have clipped the chain on its way through at low tide although this was not proven.  The chains are replaced every 15/18 months and the old ones sold off – I bought a 1.5 meter length as a feature for my garden and it took two of us to lift it into the car boot, such is the weight!

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Sunset from the Sandbanks Ferry

To travel on the Sandbanks Ferry is a delight and there is no better way to start and finish a walk.  It is one of my regular haunts and I thoroughly enjoy both the quirkiness and the amazing views, especially at sunrise and sunset.

THE WEYMOUTH ROWING BOAT FERRY

Don't pay the ferryman!

This is a much different but equally delightful, and quirky, ferry service and it operates to carry passengers across the Weymouth Harbour entrance.  It is a short trip and saves around a mile of walking because without it you have to cross at the nearest bridge.  It costs the princely sum of £1 but I like it so much that I always pay more.  The ferry has operated for over 60 years and is one of the oldest of its type in the UK.

I walk this part of the Dorset coast regularly because it is from here that I start my annual 4 day end to end backpack.  I catch the early train to Weymouth and always start day one with a bacon sandwich on the sea front.  Partly the reason for this ritual is that the rowboat ferry doesn’t start until 10.30 am and although I could easily walk to the bridge, I much prefer to cross by the ferry – this, and the Sandbanks Ferry above, is just one of those things that makes Dorset such a great place to walk :)!

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,

Your friend
The Dorset Rambler.

If you would like to contact me, my details are on my website which is http://www.yarrowphotography.com – comments and feedback are welcomed.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.

The Pembrokeshire Coast Path – On Reflection

19 Jun

South Beach, Tenby
Follow the Acorn

Those of you who follow my blog will know that I have just completed an end to end walk of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path and I thought I would set out some random thoughts on the walk, and on backpacking generally.

The first thing to say is that this is a wonderful walk along what is an amazing coastline – no wonder it features in a list of the top ten walks in the whole world!  It is rugged and generally unspoilt with fantastic scenery and a well marked path.  It is also a very challenging long distance trail with lots of steep climbs which can seem relentless at times – they say walking it is the equivalent of climbing Everest in terms of ascent (and descent).  Because of this, there were times when I just had to grit my teeth and keep walking – these were times when the Welsh weather did its worst to stop me completing the walk!  But hey, even if you are remotely considering trying it, I would resoundingly say, GO FOR IT!!  And here are some more specific thoughts to help.

To backpack or not to backpack?  There are a number of ways to walk this coast and most people probably do it by using B&B’s, with or without baggage transfer, or simply by doing a series of day walks.  For me, I decided early on that I was going to backpack it in one go because I liked both the challenge and the freedom that gave me, plus of course…….it was cheaper – my average overnight stay cost around £5.  The downside of course is that you have to carry more weight, which leads to the next point.

Ready to go
How much should you carry?

How much do you carry?  There are numerous suggestions as to how heavy a pack should be, most suggest a certain proportion of body weight.  My pack weighed 18/20 kg but it needs to be remembered that wet clothes, wet tent etc will weigh more.  I think for enjoyment, lighter is better so take the minimum you can get away with, without leaving out anything essential.

North to south or south to north?  I did the former, partly because it meant I would be walking mainly into the sun – although since the path winds constantly, you actually walk in all directions!  In terms of difficulty, although there are steep climbs all along the whole route, it is true to say that the most rugged sections are in the north so the walk gets marginally easier as you go further south.  On the other hand, it also becomes a little more urbanised in the south so arguably it is better to walk that part earlier by walking northwards.  At the end of the day it is down to personal choice.

Where to get food?  Because this coastline is so unspoilt, there is a need to think ahead to make sure you have enough food.  Some days I passed nowhere to buy food and some overnight stops were too remote to be near a pub.  I found a good plan was to have a small stock of cuppa soup, mini pork pies etc for those times when forward planning failed.  You can of course carry dehydrated meals.  The one area I probably failed in is breakfast – my plan was to eat breakfast bars at the tent and then stop en route for something more substantial……but I rarely passed anywhere to buy breakfast.

Cooking
Cooking

Planning the walk.  I found it helpful to carefully plan the walk in advance so that I had a schedule of probable overnight stops whilst also retaining some flexibility to vary the plan according to how I felt.  This gave me the skeleton of a walk but also allowed the freedom that backpacking gives.  I only pre-booked one overnight stay and that was purely because it was an unmanned site.  I also changed a number of planned overnight stops as it suited me on the day.  I had no problem finding somewhere to pitch my tent.

Electrical equipment.  I thought this was going to be an issue but in the end, it did not prove a problem.  Every time I stopped at a cafe or pub, I asked if I could charge my phone and/or camera and not one said ‘no’.  Everyone was most helpful……and one cafe even offered to dry my wet clothes!  Having said that, there were times when I had to turn equipment off in order to preserve the battery.  I carried an emergency battery pack but this failed so I am now researching portable solar chargers.  Just from a safety point of view, I did carry a spare ‘pay-as-you-go’ phone for emergency use.

Keeping warm.  The main issue with going in April is that the evenings and nights can be chilly in the tent and it is important to keep warm before going to bed.  I quite often went for a walk in the evening which kept me warm but I know there are those who suggest doing star jumps before getting into the sleeping bag.  One possible option if all else fails is to take an aluminium water bottle, fill it with hot water and put it inside a sock (preferably a dry one!) to make a hot water bottle.

On the Pembrokeshire Coast Path
Wet grass means wet feet!

Keeping dry.  I had good waterproofs which kept me dry except for my shoes and socks – unfortunately footwear tends not to be completely waterproof unless you wear walking boots and I prefer to walk in approach shoes.  This can make it difficult as shoes will not dry overnight in a tent especially on damp nights which means wearing wet shoes again the next day.  Ideally you need to carry some light weight shoes for the evenings to avoid having to wear your wet day shoes.  Something to remember is that shoes do not only get wet when it rains – invariably the grass was wet either from overnight rain or dew so my shoes got wet very quickly even on dry days.

Organising the rucksack and tent.  I don’t think there are any particular rights and wrongs to this except to keep everything inside waterproof stuff sacks.  What is important is to be well organised by storing everything in the same place in the rucksack each day and tent overnight so that you know exactly where everything is and can put your hands on it easily.  This is vital when living in such a confined space.  I managed to get everything inside my tent apart from the rucksack, stove and shoes which were stored in the porch.

Organising the day.  This is obviously down to personal preference.  I quickly got into a natural rhythm of getting up with the sun and going to sleep with the sun which meant I was on the trail by between 6.30 and 7.30 am and at my stopping point by mid afternoon.  I found that this gave me an opportunity to put the usually wet tent up early enough for it to dry out, plus giving me a chance to explore the local area.  I was usually in my sleeping bag by 9.30 pm.  For me, lunch stops were flexible.

Drying Time
Drying in the sun

How far to walk each day?  Well this is clearly down to the individual and your fitness level.  If you are not a regular walker, it is better to start slowly and build the miles up as your fitness level grows.  My shortest day was 12 miles and my longest was around 18 miles, although in reality, each was probably longer when the detours round various headlands etc are taken into account.

What would I change?  Probably nothing as it all worked out brilliantly, although possibly I might include an extra day or two just to give an opportunity to explore some of the islands such as Skomer, Ramsey, Caldey etc.

So, as I look back now, what are my main memories from this amazing walk?

Fantastic rugged coastline
Great views
Lovely beaches
The freedom of backpacking
Being free of the car for two weeks
The challenge to succeed
Dealing with things that crop up on the way
Steep climbs
The Welsh weather!
The Milford Haven inlet – probably for me the low point
The fact that everything went so smoothly
The unspoilt nature of this coast
The lovely people I met on the way
The buses that seem to stop anywhere
The feeling as I walked into Amroth at the end of the walk

The Pembrokeshire Coast Path
A fabulous rugged coastline

This blog entry is not intended to be an exhaustive summary of the walk or a full ‘how to’ guide, it is just a series of random thoughts, memories and tips.  I hope this and my previous entries documenting my walk have been interesting and that it will encourage you to go out and do your own ‘end to end’ walk.  Over the years, I have completed numerous similar walks, some using B&B’s and some using the tent, and I have some wonderful memories from every one of them.  I can highly recommend it!

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,

Your friend
The Dorset Rambler.

If you would like to contact me, my details are on my website which is http://www.yarrowphotography.com – comments and feedback are welcomed.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.

 

The Pembrokeshire Coast Path – Part 7

10 Jun

DAY 13 – PENALLY to AMROTH – 9.4 miles

The last day (or rather half day) of my walk dawned bright and beautiful.  It was strange laying in my tent listening to the noise of traffic as all my other camps had been remote and very quiet.  It seemed fitting in some ways as, after two wonderful weeks of wild walking, I would be returning to ‘normal life’ tomorrow……..for a time at least!  Because I was intending to travel home later today, there were time pressures on me so I was up and walking again before 6.30am.

I made my way out of Penally and on reaching the coast path again, I passed what seemed to be a brand new sign – the acorn had been a guiding presence throughout the walk so I took a picture as a reminder.

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The acorn, a guiding presence

The first mile or two of the day took me along a wonderfully wide, flat beach in beautiful hazy early morning sunlight with nothing for company but the gentle lapping of the surf on the shore.  I felt both excited and yet sad to be walking the last leg, but most of all it was the shear atmospheric beauty of early morning on the beach that occupied my thoughts.  Before me I could see Tenby with its old island fortress getting ever closer.

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The beauty of early morning on the beach – Tenby and its island fortress in the distance

Leaving the beach, I climbed up over Castle Hill and into the town which was still not awake, passing the old lifeboat station, now a private residence, on the way.  It was interesting seeing the lifeboat station as I remembered following its conversion to a house on the television programme, ‘Grand Designs’, some years earlier.  What a wonderful place to live!

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The old lifeboat station at Tenby

The Tenby streets were quiet apart from the dustmen emptying bins and it was delightful walking past the quay and along the water front without the noise of traffic.  With its harbour, two lifeboat stations, old fishermen’s chapel and pastel painted houses, it is a picturesque town.  Set within medieval walls, Tenby was once an important fishing and trading centre and there were lots of powerful merchants living there in large houses.  Now it is the tourists who are the main source on income.

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Tenby – pastel painted houses, harbour and two lifeboat stations

I had expected this last day to be very flat and easy walking but I was to be disappointed as the next few miles were up and down over headlands with a particularly steep climb out of the Lodge Valley.  Amazingly, despite the increasing ‘urban sprawl’, the coast seemed as rugged and beautiful as ever.  After walking through many woodlands, and many bluebells, I dropped down into Saundersfoot, a spreading seaside town.

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Saundersfoot

From Saundersfoot the route took an interesting twist.  I could see further headlands in the distance and had expected further climbs to go with them but in fact the coast path went through them :) following the track bed of an old railway!  Saundersfoot had become an important town in the 1800’s when the coal mining industry grew and harbour facilities were needed to aid its export that had previously taken place off the various beaches.  The tunnels were blasted through in order to connect the coal mines with the harbour.  These certainly added another dimension to this varied walk.

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The Tunnel
The trailway tunnels near Saundersfoot

Exiting the tunnels, I arrived at Wiseman’s Bridge.  The day had now clouded over and there was a strong wind whipping off the sea across the rocks.  I made my way through the village and followed the road over the next headland.

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Wiseman’s Bridge

This was to be the last headland on my walk and as I descended through the trees, I caught glimpses of my final destination below me.  Eventually I reached the road at the western end of Amroth, another straggling seaside town that started out as a small miners settlement.  The last mile or so of my walk was along the road through the village as the start/finish of the trail is at the eastern end of Amroth.

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Entering Amroth

I walked beside the sea wall and just before the road turned inland reached the plaque that marks the southern end of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path – and the end of my walk!  I wasn’t sure what I should feel but after nearly two weeks and 200 miles of walking, the end seemed almost an anticlimax as there was no one there but me.  I took some pictures to record the occasion and was about to cross the road to the pub opposite for some food when a car pulled up and two day walkers got out.  “Are you going to walk the whole trail?”, they asked.  “I just have”, I replied with a smile :) !  I asked them if they would mind taking a picture of me which they gladly did.

I celebrated with a coffee and a roast beef sandwich at the pub :) !  Strangely, despite my backpack, they didn’t even ask me if I had walked or was about to walk the trail.  Since the pub was right beside the plaque, I assumed that the staff would be accustomed to walkers and would even offer free drinks or perhaps a certificate ;) but they seemed to have no connection whatever with what is a popular National Trail.  I think they are missing a trick!

For me, the glow I felt inside from completing a challenging walk, overcoming obstacles on the way, was sufficient in any event!

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The finishing point at Amroth

I wanted to allow enough time at the finish to just drink in the good feelings and my early start had allowed for this, but ultimately I had to leave Amroth and begin my long journey home.  This started off interestingly!

I don’t use buses very often but when I do, I am accustomed to standing at a bus stop as that is the only place they pick people up.  This doesn’t seem to be the case on this coastal service and they are quite happy to pick you up and drop you off wherever you want.  A lovely lady bus driver picked me up at Amroth and we chatted constantly all the way from there to Kilgetty station – she was very interested in and impressed by my walk…….and she dropped me right beside the station :) !

The trains on this branch line are a bit different as well as you have to flag them down to get them to stop at the station!  My journey home involved the bus, three trains, foot, and a car so I had plenty of time to think back over the previous two weeks, remembering with gratitude and fondness all the things I had experienced and seen.  I will summarise some of these in my next post, but for now……..WOW, what an amazing and unforgettable two weeks!!!!

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,

Your friend
The Dorset Rambler.

If you would like to contact me, my details are on my website which is http://www.yarrowphotography.com – comments and feedback are welcomed.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.

The Pembrokeshire Coast Path – Part 6

5 Jun

DAY 11 – ANGLE to TREVALLEN – 18 miles

What a difference a day makes!  After two days of walking through the industrial hinterland of the Milford Haven inlet, today I walked out onto the coast path proper again – it felt like walking out of a darkened room into bright sunlight!  And what a beautiful coast too, much more rugged and up and down than I had expected.

I was up and out on the trail again before 7.00am, walking initially around the Angle headland with Thorn Island just off the coast.  Most of this island is taken up by another fort built in the mid 1800’s to protect Milford Haven from the French navy.  After the Second World War it was converted to a rather remote hotel, with plans to link it to the mainland by cable car!  It has since closed and in fact in recent years the island was put on the market for £750,000.  Hmm, now where can I get my hands on three quarters of a million pounds ;) !

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For Sale – Thorn Island

After only a short walk, I dropped down into West Angle Bay on the southern side of the headland where there was one of the few signs of commercialisation in the shape of a caravan park……..but no cafe!

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West Angle Bay

I had expected the coast to level off as I walked further south but in fact it was still very hilly with many steep climbs and descents.  There were also many more remains from military activity with various gun posts etc.  This just demonstrates how important the Milford Haven and Pembroke Docks area was in the 19th/20th century, and indeed still is albeit for different reasons.

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Military remains

After several miles of delightful coast, I rounded a headland to be greeted by the view below.  This was Freshwater West, one of those lovely open, spacious Welsh beaches favoured by surfers, with acres of sand dunes behind.

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Freshwater West and the sand dunes

I walked down off the headland, through the sand dunes and out onto the road that runs around the bay and my thoughts turned to bacon sandwiches again!  There was some kind of surfer gathering and I passed a busy car park but I could see no facilities……..until I finally spied a trailer cafe hiding at the end of the car park.  Needless to say I made use of those facilities, sitting on the edge of the beach with one of the best bacon baps I have tasted and cup of tea :) !  It was still a little overcast and breezy but it was still lovely sat there looking out across the bay.

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A bacon bap and cuppa at Freshwater West :)

Freshwater West sits just north of the Castlemartin Firing Range so permitted footpaths south of here are limited.  I followed the road for a couple of miles to reach Castlemartin village where I passed another cafe, this time in a village hall.  I stopped for tea and cake………well a man has to have dessert :)!  It gave me the opportunity to charge my phone as well.  Passing the old circular village pound which has creatively been turned into a roundabout, I continued to walk along the road for a few more miles, passing a girl sat in her car at a layby.  She wound down the window to say hi and we got talking – she explained why she was there.

Apparently one year previously she had been walking the Welsh Coast Path and slipped on the wet surface, sliding down the steep slope and only coming to a stop with her legs hanging over the cliffs with a sheer drop below.  She managed to scramble out of her precarious situation and was now revisiting the area on the anniversary of what could have been a disastrous event as a kind of thank you for being alive!

We said our goodbyes and I continued on my way through the firing range, heading for the cliff tops again, and I took a short detour to look at the deserted hamlet of Flimston with its preserved church.

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The deserted village of Flimston with its preserved church

Flimston was once a working village with its own community but it became a ghost village when the whole area was taken over by the army to be used as a practice firing range.  Today the houses and cottages are all derelict but fortunately the church has been preserved.  Occasional services are still held there but disappointingly the church was locked so I was unable to look inside.

Finally, after several miles of road walking, I reached the coast path again at Stack Rocks which as the name suggests are rock stacks standing just off the coast.  These were completely covered with nesting guillemots and razor bills making a huge din!  I heard them long before I saw them!

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Stack Rocks, a haven for Razorbills and Guillemots

Nearby was probably the most photographed feature in Pembrokeshire, The Green Bridge of Wales, a natural limestone arch created by the erosion of the sea. Ultimately, the arch itself will collapse and another ‘Stack Rock’ will result.

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The Green Bridge of Wales

The cliffs along this part of the coast are full of crags, narrow cracks, gullies, caves and inlets so this is a fabulous part to walk as there are so many rock features to admire and explore.  In many ways, the army does this coast a favour by helping to preserve the whole area for wildlife, albeit at the expense of human access.  This hasn’t always been the case as the cliffs actually provided a dwelling for one famous ancestor.  St Govan, born around 500AD, was an Irish monk who lived in a small cave in the cliffs for many years.  There are various suggestions as to who he was, and one story suggests that he was being set upon by pirates when a fissure opened up in the cliffs, enabling him to hide and thus escape capture.  He then decided to make that fissure his home.

The little chapel in the picture below was built over the fissure in the 13th century and St Govan is said to be buried beneath it.  There are all kinds of stories told about the area, such as the number of steps down the cliff face to the chapel varies depending on whether you are going up or down, and that if you tap a certain rock you will hear the chapel bell chime!  Just below the chapel is St Govan’s Well, now dried up, and beyond that is the open sea.  The history of this place, whether the stories are true or false, is fascinating and it is a very beautiful place that I could have lingered at for a very long time.

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St Govan’s Chapel

In fact, when I was planning my walk, I had thought that I might stay overnight in the chapel until I realised it was in the middle of a firing range!  Discretion being the better part of valour, I decided instead to stay at a nearby campsite.

What a great day; great walking, fabulous scenery, good weather, some good food……….and dry feet!  I haven’t had the last mentioned for some days!

DAY 12 – TREVALLEN to PENALLY – 16 miles

Once again I was up at 5.30 and out on the trail well before 7.00am.  It was a cloudy but bright start to the day as I dropped down off the headland to the beautiful Broad Haven beach, looking very unspoilt and untrodden in the early morning light.

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Broad Haven with Stackpole Warren beyond

My route took me across the pristine beach and I turned to take a rather cliched picture of my footprints in the sand.  Last night’s camp was on the headland in the picture below.

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My footprints on Broad Haven beach :)

I followed the coast path over Stackpole Warren and round Stackpole Head and very soon dropped down into Barafundle Bay, said to be one of the best beaches in the world, indeed it has been given various accolades over the years.  It is totally unspoilt, having no roads and being accessible only on foot.  Once the private beach of the Cawdor family of Stackpole Court – you can just imagine the wealthy ladies in their flowing gowns and parasols walking down the steps through the arch at the top, with the servants coming behind carrying the picnic.

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The beautiful Barafundle Beach

Continuing round the coast, I reached Stackpole Quay, also built by Lord Cawdor in the 1700’s, and where I knew there was a cafe……..and hopefully breakfast, but I was to be disappointed as it didn’t open till 10.00am!  I made do with a chocolate bar and continued on my way!

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Stackpole Quay

The scenery continued to be awesome as the rock changed from Old Red Sandstone to the Carboniferous Limestone of the south.  With the changing colours of the rock and the bright yellow of the rape fields, the coast was too photogenic to miss and I stopped for some more pictures.

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The photogenic Pembrokeshire Coast

I continued to Freshwater East, another delightful Pembrokeshire beach, backed by more beautiful sand dunes, and more holiday homes!  I walked across the beach and climbed up through the dunes onto the headland beyond.

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Freshwater East

The coast path continued to rise and fall constantly around more headlands, beaches and inlets and ultimately I reached Manorbier Bay with its Norman castle standing proud some way inland.  I sat on the beach and ate my lunch beside the stream that empties into the bay, serenaded by the trickling water.

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Manorbier Bay

Continuing round the next headland, the path once again took a slight detour inland, passing around Manorbier Camp, another firing range.  In some ways, this was a welcome detour as the path across the headland was at least a bit flatter than the coast path had been.  The coast here was amazing, with a lovely path to walk and fantastic vertical rock strata.  It was just beautiful!

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A beautiful path and amazing rock strata

Having circumvented the firing range, I returned to the cliff tops and very soon found myself at Lydstep Haven, one of the few commercialised parts of the coast path with a massive holiday park along the coast above the beach.  I didn’t linger, although I did make use of the camp shop to stock up on food.

From Lydstep, the walk became a little easier, but also posed one of those conundrums as there are two routes into Penally, my stopping point for the night.  The direct path would take me just a short distance into the town, but the ‘true’ coast path would take me an extra two miles round the tip of the Giltar Point headland – being a purist, I chose the latter.

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Giltar Point

After nearly 17 miles, it was a relief to walk the downhill path into Penally where I found my campsite.  It was a relief too to find out that they had showers (well one shower actually) – my last two camps had none!  After ‘freshening up’ I felt more human and I walked to the local pub to recharge my battery, and also my mobile phone battery that had died during the day.

That night I lay in my tent with a feeling of great satisfaction.  I had now walked some 180 miles and tomorrow, a short walk of 10 miles would bring me to the finishing point of the walk at Amroth.  I dropped off to sleep wondering how I would feel as walked that final leg with the finish in sight!

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,

Your friend
The Dorset Rambler.

If you would like to contact me, my details are on my website which is http://www.yarrowphotography.com – comments and feedback are welcomed.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.

The Pembrokeshire Coast Path – Part 5

29 May

DAY 9 – SANDY HAVEN PILL to PEMBROKE – 16.5 miles

Well this was to be a very different day!

I woke at 6.00am to the sound of rain on the tent and had to pack my rucksack inside the tent to prevent everything getting wet.  This was no easy task in such a small space – in fact, nothing is easy inside a small one man tent but you learn to adapt to the available space very quickly.  At 7.15am I set out, following a somewhat rough coast path round the headland and very soon the Milford Haven tankers came into view alongside the distant jetties.  These were once oil jetties but now the tankers carry liquified gas.  Out at sea stood the seemingly diminutive Stack Rock Fort, built in the 1850’s to protect the Milford Haven harbour entrance.

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Milford Haven oil tankers come into view, with Stack Rock Fort out at sea

Passing various war time relics, it didn’t take long to reach and pass under the first of numerous pipelines running out along jetties to the berthing places of the tankers.  By now my feet were soaked again from the steady rain and wet grass.  The change in scenery was dramatic, from beautiful rugged and wild coast to industrial hinterland, and that industrial hinterland was to stay with me for the next two days.

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Tankers line up at the jetty

For a time, the industrial gave way to the residential as I passed through the town of Milford Haven, trudging the streets in the pouring rain.  A local resident walking his dog passed me and called out cheerfully, ‘Hello, the weather’s going to improve later!’  It did, but not for some while!  Route finding through the town was not straight forward and I had to resort to the guidebook and map to avoid going wrong since the way-marking is less clear than it is on the cliff-tops.

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Milford Haven and the ‘Tribute to Our Fishermen’ with more oil tankers beyond

I passed a statue marked as, ‘A Tribute to Our Fishermen’, standing fittingly beside the harbour with oil tankers in the background.  The juxtaposition between fishermen and the modern tankers that frequent this harbour now seemed poignant.  Leaving the town, I rejoined the coast path, but still with a high industrial presence with more pipelines, tankers and refineries, both on this side of the inlet and on the other side that would be my route tomorrow.

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The industrial presence continues on both sides of the Milford Haven inlet

Even amidst the industrial there were little pockets of wildness such as the lovely inlet of Castle Pill.  Standing looking across the water, you could almost forget that this was part of an industrial town.  For a short time, my route took me along the road to cross this river and a passing lady motorist, taking pity on me walking in the rain, offered me a lift.  As tempting as it was, I politely declined!

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Castle Pill

A little further on, it was impossible to forget that this was refinery country as the path crossed under or over a number of pipelines.  Various bridges and cages had been constructed to allow the coast path to cross the numerous ‘obstacles’ as in the picture below.  It certainly made for different and interesting walking!

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The pipelines and bridge across

After some time, the industrial gave way again to the urban as I walked into Neyland, a spreading town with a large marina.  My mind turned to thoughts of tea and bacon sandwiches – well there had to be a cafe at the marina………and there was :)!  I dried off, recharged my phone battery, and recharged my battery too – and a very kind lady behind the counter even offered to put some of my clothes through the dryer for me.  People are so kind – but I figured I shouldn’t inflict my socks on anyone :)!

Whilst I was in the cafe, the rain that had lingered seemingly not wanting to leave me, finally stopped and the sun made an appearance.  The food, a change of socks, and a bit of sunshine made a world of difference as I set out once again along the river bank.  I could see my route out of the town – it was along the Cledau Bridge high above me!

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The Cledau Bridge

I climbed up the steep bank and crossed the river into Pembroke Docks, taking a last look back across the marina below me.

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The marina at Neyland from Cledau Bridge

Pembroke Docks was originally a small fishing village known as Paterchurch but it expanded rapidly in the early 19th century following the building of the Royal Naval Dockyard.  Its position was ideal, being very sheltered and having deep water and over a period of around 100 years, hundreds of naval vessels were constructed at the yard as well as five royal yachts.  Eventually the dockyard was declared redundant and these days, the only large vessels using the docks are the Irish Ferries.  There was one about to leave so I sat on a seat in the warming sun and watched it go on its way.

The name Pembroke Dock seems wrong somehow because it is much more than a dock, it is a town, in fact the third largest in Pembrokeshire.  It took me some time to regain the coast path proper again as I walked through yet more urban sprawl but ultimately I reached more rural surroundings again.

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Pembroke Dock

Leaving the town, I followed a somewhat muddy path along the upper reaches of the River Cledau estuary.  The tide was out leaving acres of mud and I wound my way carefully along the river bank until Pembroke came into view with its castle standing proud above the town.  The castle dating from Norman times was, amongst other things, the birth place of King Henry VII.

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Pembroke Castle stands proud above the town

My stopping point for the night was a mile or so outside the town so I stopped off at a cafe for some food en route.  Having eaten, I made my way along the road to the campsite and put up my still soaking wet tent so that it would have a chance to dry out before nightfall.  It was a beautiful evening and I had the campsite to myself again…..and the luxury of a picnic table too!  Not only that but the site had laundry facilities so I was able to dry my things ready for the next day.

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Day 9 camp all to myself

I lay in my sleeping bag that night thinking back over the day, and what a day it had been!  From pouring rain to bright sunshine, an industrial and urban landscape in stark contrast to the rugged wild of the previous eight days, and some lovely people along the way.  After nearly 17 miles of walking, I went off to sleep contented.

DAY 10 – PEMBROKE to ANGLE – 12 miles

The day began as yesterday ended, with beautiful sunshine.  I breakfasted, packed and was out on the trail again by 7.15am.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from today but I knew there would be more industrial parts to navigate through – I had hoped there would be more wildness than yesterday though.

I retraced my steps back into Pembroke where I stocked up on food and then picked up the coast path which followed a B road initially and then an unclassified road, passing Quoits Water Pill.

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Quoits Water Pill in the beautiful early morning light

The route was somewhat convoluted, crossing farm land and skirting round refineries etc and the walking wasn’t easy.  The grass was long and wet, and the path lumpy underfoot from cattle that had trod there during the wet winter months.  I wondered why this was when the rest of the coast path was so well defined and well trodden, and I decided that it was probably because day walkers perhaps do not walk this section so much, preferring the more picturesque parts.

Nevertheless, there were some beautiful parts such as the lovely bluebell strewn pathway below, lit by the dappled sunlight.

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Dappled sunlight in the bluebell woods

After some miles – I came across the delightful church at Pwllcrochan with a backdrop of flare stacks from the nearby refinery.  It may not be obvious from the photograph below but there are flames coming from the top of the stacks, burning off the excess gas from the refining process.

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St Mary’s Church, Pwllcrochan with flare stacks behind

There was a strange sense of isolation, perhaps because the church seems to stand in the middle of nowhere, or perhaps because of the nearness of the refinery, the largest on the Milford Haven complex.  That refinery would stay in view for the rest of the day as my route took me around the coast below it.

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Beautiful gorse with a backdrop of tankers

The gorse was vibrant even though the sun had now disappeared again and it really brightened up the walk which once again took me past pipelines and under jetties this time serving the large Pembroke Refinery above me on the headland.

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Passing under the Pembroke Refinery jetty

Having spent two days walking through a mainly industrial landscape, I longed to get back out onto the coast path proper.  I finally rounded the headland and the refinery and reached Fort Popton, another of the defensive forts guarding the Milford Haven harbour entrance.  It was at this point that my route turned south and with the last refinery at my back, I started to circle Angle Bay.  The refinery stayed in view but it was getting smaller with each step!

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Looking back across Angle Bay

Angle Bay was desolate, especially on this now very overcast day, but it was a beautiful desolation.  With the tide out, there are extensive mud flats that provide important winter feeding grounds for many waders.  My route round the bay was initially on the refinery road and then on farm land once again turned lumpy by many hooves.  My feet were wet and sore when I finally walked into the village of Angle.

Although there was a campsite in the village itself, I decided to continue to Angle Point where I came across a rather lovely and quirky pub known as The Old Point House.  I called in to ask if there was anywhere I could pitch my tent and was offered the use of a patch of grass at the rear, which I gratefully accepted.

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The Old Point House, Angle

The Old Point House dates from 1500 and was originally a single bar local serving fishermen and farm hands.  Known as ‘The Lifeboatmen’s Local’ because of the proximity of the lifeboat station, it is one of the top ten pubs in Pembrokeshire according to a review by The Guardian.  The smallest bar contains a very old fireplace where it is claimed a fire burned continuously for 300 years!  I could see that that would be a popular bar on cold winter nights!

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The fireplace at the Old Point House, Angle

Having put up my tent, I took the very short walk to the pub for a meal and well earned drink……..and of course to write my blog!  Before making my way back to my tent for the night, I took a last look from the beer garden across Angle Bay with the refinery fading into the gathering gloom.

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Looking across Angle Bay

My route out tomorrow would take me round Angle Point and back to the wild coast again.  I was looking forward to it!

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,

Your friend
The Dorset Rambler.

If you would like to contact me, my details are on my website which is http://www.yarrowphotography.com – comments and feedback are welcomed.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.

 

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