It was a very short drive to our next location, the tiny village of Porthgain on the west coast. I had read on one of our travel apps, about a motorhome parking spot with power and water available opposite the pub, and as we pulled in, we were relieved to find that nobody had nabbed it before us.
Porthgain hasn’t changed a great deal over the years, having had its heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with a huge slate sawmill and exporting cut slate from the harbour on steam ships. Later the factory changed to creating slate bricks, and then stone for road surfacing. These days people visit predominantly to access the coast path, and they are well serviced (for such a small place) with a fish restaurant (with great reviews), art gallery, ice cream shop (closed. for the winter) and a pub, The Sloop Inn.
Large brick structures dominate the harbour, and are the first thing you see as you enter. These are known as hoppers, and were used to store crushed stone before shipping. They are now protected against change as important historical buildings (Scheduled National Monument).
We had a look around the harbour and art gallery, which sells paintings and prints from local and Welsh artists, and booked into the pub for dinner. It’s been a while between dinners out, and quite exciting to have someone else do the cooking and cleaning up for us!
We had a delicious meal, and throughout the evening managed to chug our way through a whole bottle of wine – unheard of for us these days! As with most establishments, the only place we were allowed to not wear a mask was at the table – any movement around the pub was discouraged, and then only while masked up. We got the feeling that not all of the waiting staff were used to serving customers at the table.
The following morning was clear and bright so we decided to take advantage and head off on a hike along the cliff tops before we moved on to our next location. The sun is rising around 7.30am so by the time we got walking at 8.15am the sun was not too high and the light just delightful.
There is a huge amount of human history along this coast, with incredible views. We passed a standing stone, and concluded our walk at the Llwynog Arian Stone Circle, where we sat on a fallen stone and enjoyed a cup of tea, admiring the views. The stone circle had only 11 stones, rather than the usual 12. I assumed some vandals had rolled one off the cliff, but legend has it that a Welsh giant (Owain of Trefin) had tossed the 12th stone to the nearby headland, and that was the solitary standing stone we had come across.
Reluctantly we turned around and headed back to Truffy. We needed to buy more food supplies and had booked onto a camp site up the coast for the night.
We spotted more seals, including some bright white pups left high and dry by the retreating tide. They looked so helpless lying there amongst the seaweed and rock, watched over by curious seagulls, their mothers calling out from the water below.
It was a short visit, but very special. Porthgain was a friendly little village with an authentic feel, touched with history. We drove off with the cloud steadily increasing during the afternoon. Another wet and wild storm is approaching the British Isles, so we feel pleased we made the most of the good weather while we could.
Location: Caerfai Bay, St Davids, Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK
A short drive along this magnificent Pembrokeshire coast brought us to our new home for the next three nights, high up on the cliffs overlooking the calm waters of St.Brides Bay. By lunch time a bag of washing is done and hung out, an egg and bacon brunch (well it was Sunday) laid down to fortify us for a hike along the coast (walk link).
Do we turn left or right? This was the toughest decision of the day. Left won out and we headed east along our first chunky section of the Pembrokeshire Coast path. At 299km long, this is another tremendous asset that has been hard fought for over the years by community groups negotiating with hundreds of landowners to get a continuous path for all to enjoy. This path also connects with the 1,400 kilometre Welsh Coast Path. Could you ever run out of walking destinations in the UK?
As we headed out along the cliff top, it became immediately evident that nature is clearly still in charge here, with massive land slips, deeply eroded bays, and plants and trees shaped by the wind.
We watched a seal in the clear water far below us hunting for lunch, its shining spotty white belly briefly exposed when coming up for air before resuming the chase. Mrs A then spotted a bird rare to the UK, with only around 300 breeding pairs, a member of the crow family called a chough. So excited, she emitted a (unusual for her) squeal of delight!
At our turn round point we looked out over an unusual topography, and with a bit of help from Dr Google, realised we were looking at the highly eroded remains of an Iron Age fort (so around 2-2,500 years old). You cannot escape from the deep history that is everywhere around you in this country. Even at the westerly edge of the British Isles, the waves of invasions, rebellions, migrations, assimilations, and recurring nationalism, are evident all around us. We can feel this is going to be a rewarding foray into a country we both know so little about.
Well, with the sun going down behind the off shore islands, it was time to retrace our steps along the cliff top and settle in for another night of splendid social isolation in Truffy.
Our second day here was less energetic, with drizzly rain and very poor visibility. It was a short walk up the road from the campsite to the UK’s smallest city, St Davids. A quick look at the cathedral for Catherine, where the bones of the patron saint of Wales (yes…St David) are buried (walk link).
We felt a little cheated at the lack of opportunity to turn right along the cliff after yesterday’s poor weather, so seeing a better forecast, and seeing such a glorious dawn, we headed out early (for us) in the other direction.
It became obvious after an hour‘s walking that this was a stretch of path that was something special, with dizzyingly stunning views. So I called the campsite and booked us in for another night. This is the joy of travelling off peak – the flexibility to be spontaneous when everything doesn’t have to be booked weeks in advance.
We just didn’t want to stop walking. Looking at the map, we saw we would be heading out along a peninsula that would bring us quite close back to St Davids, so we agreed to keep going and take a chance we could get a bus or taxi into the village (oops, city).
It was glorious weather, Pembrokeshire was showing off her early autumn glory. The bracken was turning a more golden brown, the heather flowers were largely gone, the remaining blackberries plump and almost over ripe, but especially with no lunch or breakfast with us, absolutely delicious. A small apple each was all we had with us, but what a spot to sink our teeth into them.
After a few hours we had only seen a couple of other walkers, then a couple told us there were seals around in the next bay. Their plaintive calls echoed around the cliffs, mums calling to their pups and vice versa.
We watched them for ages, spellbound as they occasionally seemed to look up at us on the cliffs above them. “What are they staring at?” framed in a bubble over their flickering whiskers.
What a perfect day. We walked, we talked, we laughed, and we gazed in wonderment. What more can you ask?
Location: St Petrox and Stackpole Estate, Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK
We arrived at our campsite behind an old Norman church in the village of St Petrox just after lunch. We’d chosen the location because of its proximity to Stackpole Estate, a large National Trust owned area of outstanding beauty. Finally the rain had moved on to England, leaving us with patches of blue in the sky and calmer weather.
As we set off to walk down there we realised there was no safe route to it – and walking on narrow, windy roads with traffic seemingly in a big hurry did not appeal. We turned off down a quieter lane and resolved to visit the estate the next day. Our afternoon’s stroll took us around four little villages, each with an old church, with at least part dating back to the 13th century.
We have been predominantly using our own on board facilities for showering, and this Friday night was no different. I decided to wash my hair, and was literally covered from head to toe in bubbles when the water stopped. Not a single drip emerged from the shower. I tried the tap. Nothing. The water pump had broken. Mark dashed over to the campground showers to check they were functioning, and warm (our campsite was quite ‘rustic’ to say the least). I then made a semi streak, dripping wet and shivering to rinse off. One of the least glamorous moments of our travels…and thank goodness we were camping somewhere with showers – that is not always the case!
The following morning, Mr A rang a mobile caravan repairer who said he would come sometime during the day, with half an hour’s notice. He arrived early afternoon, and within 20 minutes we had a new pump and he was off.
The sun was shining, so we quickly packed up Truffy and drove the short way over to Stackpole National Trust Estate and parked up there.
The strangely named Stackpole was named after the earliest confirmed ’owner’ of the estate, Elidyr de Stackpole in 1188, but history of human use goes back much further than this. The estate has literally millenia of history, with the oldest human evidence being a standing stone erected as a meeting place for people more than 5,000 years ago. The whole estate, now run by the National Trust, has a very special feel about it. The multitude of environments, from lakes and woodlands, to sand dunes, cliffs and beaches, are home to all manner of bird and animal life, and even on this fairly busy Saturday afternoon we spotted herons, moorhens, and a bright turquoise kingfisher on one of the lakes.
Residents of Stackpole Court (a house that was dismantled in the 1960s) had worked extensively on landscaping the grounds, with the spring-fed lakes and woodland walks dating back to 1777. They are now heritage listed and have been maintained by the Trust since the 1970s, and incredibly beautiful.
A limestone bridge with eight arches spans a weir between two of the lakes, also heritage listed.
Winding our way around the lakes and over bridges, we eventually emerged on Broadhaven South Beach.
In contrast to the carefully designed and sculptured woodland and lakes, this was beautifully natural and wild, untouched headlands lined with steep rocky cliffs and caves, soft white sand beach bordered by windswept dunes. A short way out in the bay sits the aptly named Church Rock.
We followed the Pembrokeshire Coast Path up along the cliffs, before moving inland to Stackpole Warren, an area of sand dunes, and also the location of the standing stone. There have been found fossilised hoof prints and plough markings dating back to the Bronze age.
It’s definitely an area we could have spent more time exploring, but we had a bit of a weather deadline. We knew we had a four or five day window of fine conditions ahead of us in which to enjoy more of the Pembrokeshire coastline before colder, wetter and windier autumn weather would hit Wales. We packed up and moved on the following morning.