Since I was 7, Pembrokeshire has been something of a constant in my life. Many years have passed since that first trip to Abercastell jammed in to the back seat of the family car, wedged in alongside my brother, my grandmother and my great grandmother (cue a throwing up of hands at the old ways). But still I return. Sometimes I’ve visited every year, sometimes a decade has vanished between visits, but still the place keeps calling me back. (I have no idea why this thing with the font keeps happening – apologies).
Strangely, in what appears at first to be a constant landscape, this place – Abereiddi – is much changed. From a cow filled, green space leading down to the sea, where days were passed with picnics and playing in the gritty grey sand it evolved into a more organised, sea defended, car park complete with ice cream van which sagely sold hot tea alongside the choc ices, before it drifted towards its current incarnation, sea defences no longer maintained, foreshore denuded of green but instead furnished with a perky woman demanding a large sum to park for the day and gesturing at a cabin offering all manner of fun by the hour – mountain bikes, canoes, surfboards, paddle boats and the like, available to rent.
This is not how I remember Abereiddi.
Instead I think of the time thirteen thirtysomething friends and friends of friends rented a couple of those cottages to see in the new year, a year which, though we saw it in together, we saw it out in very different places. New jobs, new partners, new continents even. And for us – T and me – the next new year’s eve saw us joyfully preoccupied with our first born (whose wedding has had me joyfully preoccupied again these past months).
But it was our second born, E, who was my walking companion this time. It’s been more than a decade since he was last over here so, as we had taken a cottage for a few days and as he had a few days off work, he decided to join me to walk our regular walk once more (because while Abereiddi doesn’t have a lot to see, over the hill is a much more lovely beach inaccessible by any closer road).
Rather than take the short cut over the headland we decided to go for the full works and diverted off to see the Blue Lagoon. Now this may sound exotic but I must point out that this spot is neither blue, nor a lagoon. It is in fact an old slate quarry, with a sea entrance which was blasted through to flood the pit once extraction ended in the early twentieth century. It is undeniably picturesque and it has always attracted the more daring swimmer (Yes. When I was young and foolish. In April as well as in August). Although now, of course, there are signs to warn dippers that the water is cold (yes) and deep (who knew?) and best approached as part of an organised adventure group. More fun by the hour.
The location caught the eye of cliff divers and for a couple of years it hosted cliff diving championships but the circus seems to have moved on and left the place to slumber on with fearless sheep the only audience.
We ploughed on up to the clifftops and round the headland with E (who, forgetting just how much colder it is by the sea than at home, wearing every item of clothing he had brought) bearing a disconcerting resemblance to the Grim Reaper.
As we turned the corner, the much lovelier beach – Traeth Llyfn – began to come into view. But not before this odd sign stopped us in our tracks – the Pembrokeshire Coast Path is now part of the Appalachian Trail?
Really? I mean, I could just about accept the argument that the St Michael’s Way in Cornwall could be allied to the Camino de Santiago – there are all manner of interconnected pilgrims’ paths and trade routes along the seaboard of Western Europe, after all. But the Appalachians and Pembrokeshire? How?
Here’s Traeth Llfyn – clearly a lovely beach – but how to you get down to it?
Once it was a case of clambering down a path that was not so much cut into the cliff side as lightly etched into the shale.
You can just about make out the old step in the rocks at the bottom and see the line of the path heading off and up diagonally from the top of the flight. I’d always heard that it was built by Italian prisoners of war but why they carved out this access to a remote beach in a remote part of Wales remains a mystery to me.
Happly a while back the original path was found to be just a little bit too adventurous and this fire escape type structure took its place. Good.
Once down on the beach we found what – in more rarified circles – might be termed a series of art installations.
Rather lovely, aren’t they?
Then it was back up the stairs, onto the cliff top, round a few bays, pausing to admire the arch and the sea stack along the way, and we began to approach Porthgain.
More industrial remnants here – of brickmaking and quarrying – now long abandoned.
Around the corner and down another steep flight of steps and there’s Porthgain harbour.
Not much going on today but once it was a busy port exporting bricks and slate to build Edwardian cities.
The fish and chip shop on the quay has won high praise but the Grim Reaper was intent upon beer and crisps so we made for the pub instead (which is good but it’s not Michelin).
Although some commercial fishing does still go on here, Porthgain’s main income nowadays comes from visitors. There’s an ice cream shop and a couple of art galleries too, but I like that there’s still a ramshackle air about the place.
Maybe it was this which caught the attention of the location scouts for Their Finest, (it’s not), a 2016 film featuring Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy.
But although I like Arterton enormously, don’t know Claflin, and can always rely on Nighy to play Nighy, for me it’s Porthgain which is the star of the film.