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.
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.
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.
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 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
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
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
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,
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.