Amiel Price walked the entire length of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail in just a couple of weeks. All 186 miles of it, and all 35,000ft ascent and descent. No wonder they say it’s like climbing Everest …
A birthday to remember
My friend Jane wanted to mark her 50th birthday year, and I was the only fool who said she’d walk the length of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path with her, to mark the occasion! We did it over two weeks, averaging about 13 miles a day. We started at Amroth and worked our way up. We dreaded the last section, 15 miles from Newport Sands to St Dogmael’s, because it’s said to be the most strenuous part of the walk. But in fact it was a doddle, because we got fitter as we went round.
All a flutter
We were very lucky, the weather was fantastic. We did it at the end of July, early August, walking in clouds of butterflies, which was superb. On a warm morning they were all on the path in front of us, and we were waving our walking poles to get them rise up off the ground so we didn’t step on them. We saw lots of wildlife – birds, of course, but also seals, somewhere north of St Davids. We heard them calling to begin with, echoing through the rocks, and then we saw them basking and swimming. We were expecting to see more snakes, but we only saw one adder.
There weren’t as many people as we expected. There were day-trippers and local people walking their dogs, but only a handful doing the whole thing, with their big tents and packs. We did meet a German man who was walking on his own with a very odd hat and his tent on his back, taking photographs of the butterflies. He’d just retired and was walking from Swansea to Aberystwyth, so he could take all the time in the world. He was enraptured with the countryside and the variety of the coastline.
So many great parts! The bits I enjoyed most were the more remote areas north of St Davids, because there are a lot of coves and pebble-backed storm beaches, and you’d be there on your own. There’s a women who dispenses drinks and snacks from her van at Abereiddy, where we arrived with our rucksacks for elevenses, and so we had mugs of coffee on the beach, which was really civilised. We saw coasteering at the Blue Lagoon, and at Cwm yr Eglwys we came across a local rowing regatta, so we watched that while we had our picnic lunch.
“If you’re a geologist you’re in raptures…strata in the rocks, the anticlines and synclines, where you see the folding of the rocks on the steep cliff…”
The Witches’ Cauldron (Pwll y Wrach) on the way to Cemmaes Head is stunning. It’s formed by a collapsed cave, and the path crosses an archway. Some canoeists went beneath our feet and into the pool, which was really exciting. If you’re a geologist you’re in raptures in this area apparently, because of the strata in the rocks, the anticlines and synclines, where you see the folding of the rocks on the steep cliff.
Getting from A-Z
Jane’s husband Malcom and their three teenage boys provided back-up for us. We stayed in three different campsites on the coast, and at night Malcolm cooked us a meal or we went to a pub. We had two cars, so we usually dropped my car off at the end of each section, so nobody had to hang around waiting for us at the end of the day.
For the non-walkers
Malcolm had organised fishing trips and horse rides, and they’d brought their own inflatable canoe. The best thing they did was a helicopter ride. They were hoping to buzz us while we were walking, but they also wanted to fly over Pembroke Castle, and by that time we’d already walked up beyond Newgale. That evening they were dead impressed with how far we’d walked, after seeing it from the air.
“By the time you’ve done the whole of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path you’ve climbed the equivalent height of Everest.”
Can you take on the ‘Welsh Everest’?
The Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail is one of the world’s great walks. Problem is, most walkers are so intent on reaching their goal, they can miss the many treasures that lie just inland. Sure, you’ll walk through some lovely harbour towns – Tenby, Saundersfoot, Fishguard, Parrog.
But we’d definitely recommend making a brief detour inland (what’s an extra mile?) to the little cathedral city of St Davids. You’ll know you’re close when the path drops down into Porthclais, a tiny – and breathtakingly pretty - harbour where the River Alun meets the sea. The oldest parts of the harbour wall are Roman, but most of it is a mere 900 years old, when it was reinforced to import timber and coal.
Follow the lane up for a mile or so and the honey-coloured tower of St David’s Cathedral appears in a dip ahead. It was built in the 12th century on the site of an earlier monastery founded by our patron saint 700 years earlier. The adjoining ruins of the magnificent Lamphey Bishop's Palace are a splendid sight, too, especially when they’re used as a backdrop to open-air theatre performances.