Another Pembrokeshire path.

IMG_0135Just look at this lane. See how enticing it is in all its Cow Parsley And Grass Up The Middle glory? Isn’t it just the poster lane for all country lanes?  I fairly trotted along it, heading for the coast path and the sea. There was a slight onshore breeze bringing with it the faintest hint of sea air which made finding my way along a network of bridleways and tracks to this spot, a couple of miles north of Fishguard, very easy.IMG_0136 This is not a particularly eventful section of the coast path – perhaps that’s why I’ve never walked it before – but it was quiet and pleasant enough and wound its way up and down, past isolated coves and disinterested cows. Out in the bay, two canoeists were enjoying the sun. Even though they were way out – mere specks in my photos – I could hear every word of their conversation.

On I wandered, admiring the way every stile is neatly labelled with its location and grid reference, indicating just how popular is the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. And – on a less happy note – the number of people who get into difficulties along the way. This stretch of coast may appear to be dozing now but it appears that it has seen quite some activity in the past. I hit the path at a caravan park built on the remains of a wartime coastal artillery battery at Penrhyn Ychen, accessing it via a path through what I now know may once have been a minefield. Always good to be wise after the event.(http://content.yudu.com/Library/A1qcir/PembrokeshireMilitar/resources/61.htm.)

Further along I found this clifftop post standing in line with a stone hut once used to house underwater cable equipment (now Cable Cottage, a holiday rental).

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Relics of nineteenth century telecoms standing by

Presumably some part of a beacon or sign warning of the wire laid between here and Ireland in 1870,  forerunner of transatlantic telecommunications. (http://atlantic-cable.com/Cables/1883Fishguard-Blackwater/).

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Fishguard Harbour and the ferry to Rosslare is about to leave.

More remnants of transatlantic ambitions across the bay in Goodwick where the breakwaters and the relatively recent Fishguard Harbour (1906) were built to support the Irish ferry service and the aspirations to a place in the transatlantic maritime network. (Alas, other than one visit by the Mauretania in 1909, no other ocean going vessels could be persuaded to call by http://www.fishguardonline.com/harbour_centenary.html). Round the corner I came upon the original Fishguard Harbour (now Lower Fishguard) and just before that the ruins of Fishguard Fort. It’s an odd place and I get the feeling that while no one has the slightest interest in the site, there’ s a weary obligation to preserve it.

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Fishguard extends a hearty welcome.

From what I could glean from a dusty interpretation board up in the car park, absolutely nothing has ever happened here. I’m not sure that these cannons have ever been fired  (At least over at the artillery battery if nothing else they can boast of accidentally hitting and practically scuttling an RAF boat by mistake. Yes, an RAF boat – what’s that about? History does not relate). I could be misleading you here, but I found myself doing that thing when your eyes are going through the motions of reading the signage but your brain is just not listening. Twice I got to the last line and realised I was none the wiser so I gave up. Fishguard Fort: good for alliteration, not so good for anything else.

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Lower Fishguard – you can see why they built the new harbour over the bay

The coast path then heads down into Lower Fishguard, alongside the main road. I’ve driven this route many times but never walked it but I’ve often wondered about the barbed wire on top of the wall. I assumed it marked a steep drop and was to ward off over enthusiastic short cutters or the like.

I was wrong.

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I have no idea how this gardener gets up to his plot, unless ropes and pulleys are involved.

Just over the wall is an immaculate garden and evidently veg rustling is an issue. Don’t know why he doesn’t just drag one of those cannons down the hill. They’d be more use here.

Lower Fishguard is a quaint quayside which served as the location of the 1971 film version of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood. Here’s a handy plaqueIMG_0162.JPG The inclusion of pretty much all of the actors in Hollywood’s Welsh stable promised to put the place on the map (in alphabetical order, deep breath – Ann Beach, Richard Burton, David Jason, Glynis Johns, Ruth Madoc, Vivien Merchant, Peter O’Toole, Sian Phillips, Angharad Rees, Victor Spinetti and – yes – Elizabeth Taylor). But it turned out to be another heroic failure, a turkey which never went on general release and which its three big names intended to be written off as a tax loss before even the first reel was in the can. So Lower Fishguard never became synonymous with Llareggub and the settlement slumbers on.

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Matching sky and paintwork – well played, Fishguard Bay Yacht Club

The cottages are mostly holiday homes now, gussied up with the local council’s offer of free paint, but it’s still a good place to wander, to watch the boats and to have a cup of tea and an even better spot to fling out a line and go at crabbing.

 

Those crabs never learn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pembrokeshire landscapes

The light woke us early on our first Pembrokeshire morning and the urge to get out and get walking was not to be resisted.

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Good morning, Dyffryn Fernant

I had mapped out a route before we left home so I was all set to go. First, I had to get up to near the top of Dinas Mountain (only just over 300m high and so not a mountain at all if we’re being pedantic. But we’re not. Mountain it is).18403726_729779560527512_3683626516007204145_n

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Dinas Mountain, some curious cows and the odd bluebell

My plan was to toil up a series of lanes to reach a point where the fields meet the wilderness (where the green turns to brown in the right of the photo) and then follow a track across the hillside. D, one of the owners of the cottage in which we were staying and a keeper of the most beautiful garden, saw me setting out and very kindly offered me a lift up the mountain. I leapt in with alacrity and, not much later (and still not quite 8am), there I was deposited at the start of the track.

 

Now when we’re at home sometimes we stop and think how peaceful it is in our corner of the deepest suburban jungle. But the city quiet is always relative – we overlook the distant sound of a train or the helicopter flying some poor soul to the hospital and always there is the background hum of many lives being lived around us. Up on the mountain, the silence was in a different league. My footsteps on the rough track were deafening and set off anxious tweeting from birds and bleating from sheep who scarpered in panic at the sight of me. Climbing a bank, I disturbed a young rabbit who darted off into the undergrowth. Seems that nobody much comes up along this rough farm track.  IMG_0084Not now perhaps, but see the standing stones in the field here? Did they have had some long ago ceremonial purpose? (We’re on the Preselis here – source of the Bluestones with which Stonehenge was constructed). IMG_0094 (2)And I wondered why the path the other side of the farmstead has been carefully double walled. There’s no clue as to why from the old maps – the path just links two mountain farms – but clearly someone once hauled the stones from the fields to build these barriers for a purpose now long forgotten. Nobody to ask at the farmstead where, despite the children’s toys scattered about and the car with the open window, there was no sign of life. And no sign of the path. A few false starts, a couple more scrutes of the map and yes, I really did have to overcome my urbanite’s awkwardness, squeeze down the side of their car and stroll through their back garden, casually yet ostentatiously brandishing my OS map as a talisman of good intent.

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Dinas Head from Dinas Mountain.

I walked on and rounded the hillside until I could see the spot where I had arranged to meet T, down in a cove just this side of the headland. Distance was playing tricks on me. It looked a long way from here – far too far to make it in the hour we had agreed and yet oddly I ended up arriving early. After the solitude of the high mountain came the wall to wall geniality of the people of lowland Dinas Cross. A gang of bin men wished me a good morning, ditto a couple of builders and assorted elderly gentlemen heading for the village shop for whatever they were after to start their day.

 

I have been coming to Pembrokeshire for a long time. A very long time.  Since I was 6 in fact. Dinosaurs were packing their cases and heading for the station my first trip. I’m one of the many who are drawn to this place to bed down in tents, caravans, and cottages and who, despite having no real links or attachments, feel a special affinity to this part of the world. So although this was an entirely new walk for me it inevitably intersected with paths from the past. Here was a clifftop field above a bay where, in the late Sixties, my father – a Scout leader – brought a group of boys to camp.

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Dinas Mountain from Dinas Head. That’s the site of the scout camp in that field there.

Although a mere Brownie at the time and only an occasional visitor to the camp, standing back in that spot brought back a long buried memory of… trifle in a washing up bowl. Yes, that stalwart Sunday treat, a confection of cake, fruit, custard and cream, served from a battered plastic vessel large enough to feed the whole assembly. Clean, capacious and an imaginatively efficient use of resources but somehow wrong, so very wrong.

Dinas Head is almost an island. I’m not a physical geographer so I cannot tell you how it happened, but it’s a great lump of land, steeply sloping at every extremity, tangentially attached by a marshy bit. (Not getting too technical, I hope) Distance plays tricks here again. It looks huge but it’s only a couple of miles in circumference. And the views are fantastic. FullSizeRenderYou can see that this is a well trodden route – part of a long distance path – and deservedly so. (Why have I never walked it before?) By the time T and I made it to the top, lots of people were out enjoying what was turning into a glorious day, serious walkers and short strollers alike. Why go to Mallorca when you can come here and have all of this? called one as he passed.18403413_729776493861152_3413369683516869326_n

Who could disagree?

 

London calling

Bit of a hiatus in blogging activity hereabouts recently, not because I haven’t been out and about but rather because my Iphone has taken to going doggo on me. Snaps a few photos and then the thing goes as dead as a doornail. Now you may think that this is a world class workwoman blaming her tools situation and you would probably be right but – if this doesn’t sound too pretentious – I tend to think in images and recall through photographs, so I get quite lost if I don’t have a few to fling around the place.

So what shall I tell you about all the walking we did in our long weekend in London?

First, there is the joy of wandering through a big city and chancing upon unknown, unsuspected parts just off the main track (I’ll say flaneur now so I need never mention it again). I’ve come very late to these discoveries. I was wont to hop off the train and head straight down the rabbit hole to the subterranean systems to get me to where I was going. But one day I looked at a map, saw that Central London is not actually that big in the scheme of things and realised that a brisk walk above ground may well get me there about as quickly as a ride under ground, with a whole lot more to look at along the way. (Like I said, I’m very late to the party on this one). Second, in doing all of this wandering considerable distances get racked up. Ten miles for me on Sunday – no wonder my feet were weary.

Some of these steps were measured around galleries (the British Library and the Royal Academy. The RA café – what a revelation… a few blocks from Piccadilly Circus but a world away), others shuffled about bookshops (Hatchards and the giant Waterstones) and quite a number more were strode around Kew Gardens (what a great sanctuary of green). But many others were wandered and wondered. Why for example does Islington’s main street (Upper Street. Or the A1, if you prefer) offer quite so many bakeries? There are the ordinary, large chain bakeries and there are the artisan bakeries – I’m with them so far – but then there are the gluten free bakeries and – yes – the sugar free bakery. Let them eat cake indeed.

I stumbled across the magnificent Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street (yes, late again) with its superb travel section (www.dauntbooks.co.uk) where, amidst the maps and guides, I found a novel set in the actual Corfu village to which we’re headed this summer. Have no idea what it is about but I could not pass it by.

With an afternoon to myself, I set out for a purposeful walk and, though I am trying to give them a rest, it was a canal which drew me to it. The Regent’s Canal from Little Venice, just above Paddington to – in my case – Regent’s Park, although it does trace an 8 mile route across the city to reach the Thames further east. These few miles showcased a variety of Londons. The carefully fenced off, manicured waterside lawns of the mansions near the park into which I suspect few but the security guards and the gardeners ever step, the ad hoc cultivating of the banks alongside the long moored narrow boats, and the rather jolly barge shaped planters in the open spaces in front of a somewhat challenging block of flats where – despite this being in the heart of a busy city – only birdsong seemed to disturb the peace.

Photo courtesy of http://afamilydayout.co.uk/

The canal was built as an industrial highway so in places the ugly necessities of the metropolis do intrude –  a huge electricity generating station, busy streets and the new developments around Paddington Station, for instance – but overall the canal was being busily enjoyed by a crowd of Sunday afternoon strollers.

No doubt many of them were drawn to the Little Venice basin where the Inland Waterways Association Canalway Cavalcade was taking place.

Photo courtesy of The Daily Telegraphy 1.5.17 (Spot the priest? More on him later)

This involved a joyous conglomeration of narrow boats filling every available spot on the water, with stalls, displays and activities taking over on dry land. I cannot say that either folk singing or morris dancing does it for me but clearly they do for some, and most of them were there enjoying the spectacle. It was as if some amateurish (in the best sense) country fete had somehow been transported into the heart of the sophisticated city. It was great. My abiding memory? This has to be the blessing of the boats. That’s what it said in the programme and here’s a picture of how it went last year with the Anglican Bishop of London decorously doing the honours, with some form of Mayoral personage having his back

The Bishop of London blessing the boats. May 2016 http://www.london.anglican.org/

This year, the task fell to a different cleric, a white cassocked priest with a custodian helmeted police officer as his wingman. If this were an Ealing comedy (which it very nearly was), I would say that the copper was not there to defend the clergyman so much as to protect the public from the priest and his wild, but powerful, sprinkling of the Holy Water. Built like a rugby player, the Father’s energetic dispensing of Blessings was soaking the faithful and the unfaithful alike, a fact that he, the wet and the wary all seemed to find uproariously funny.

Wish I’d had my camera.