A week on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path (Part 1)

An eight-day walk from Poppit Sands in Ceredigion to Broadhaven near St Davids, on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. After around 15 years of long distance walking, this is the first where I phoned ahead to arrange vegan food and found that the majority of places had dedicated vegan menus or were otherwise apprised and prepared. Thanks to Eat Out Vegan Wales for signposting us to those places.

Day 0 23rd July – Poppit Sands

Sunday travel by public transport took us out of our way. We travelled the entire day and after a brief sojourn in Haverfordwest (huge potential, needs some love – like a better riverbank and picnic tables which can’t melt) arrived at YHA Poppit Sands, a clifftop hostel with superb views over the Teifi estuary.

We then quickly walked the two miles to St Dogmaels down along the coast road for dinner at the Ferry Inn, St Dogmael’s, the first of several dedicated vegan menus. We sat in the corner, with this view, and I watched the tide crawl in over the mud. Then we walked the two miles back and watched it some more.

Salt marsh at St Dogmael's, low tide, dusk

Salt marsh at St Dogmaels, dusk

Day 1 24th July – YHA Poppit Sands to Newport (14.5 miles)

YHA Poppit Sands is self-catering only (the kitchen is gorgeous), so we had brought a breakfast of flapjack (plus some bread I saved from dinner).

Beautiful fitted kitchen at YHA Poppit Sands

Well put-together kitchen at YHA Poppit Sands

On the first day the weather was cool and cloudy. Unaccustomed to the gradient, we huffed and puffed our way up through the bracken to Cemaes Head where we turned out of the estuary onto the rolling high cliff promenades of that corner of the country. At Ceibwr Bay we stopped for a break and I walked into the crystal water and skimmed stones. I forget where we ate our Uncle Ben’s rice but I remember the rice. The Mexican one is very good.

Skimming stones at Ceibwr Bay

Four bounces

Newport is one of those places where the beach is the other side of the estuary from the town. We were booked into a spacious, comfortable room in the roof of the friendly Castle Inn and after a shower and a change we went for a walk round the village. There were curlews on the mudflats and a Kiwi hiker in the youth hostel who had knackered his feet. We hadn’t stayed in the Youth Hostel because there were only single sex dorms, and I’m done with dorms until after Brexit when I expect the dorms will come to me.

You can’t tell from the website at the moment but The Castle Inn has a vegan menu too – there’s plenty to choose from and the onion rings are fantastic.

Day 2 25th July – Newport to Fishguard (12.5 miles)

From the health food shop in Newport we bought big sausage rolls and tomatoes for our lunch boxes. We walked out of Newport through Parrog in bright warm sun under a sky full of plump little clouds. On Dinas Head we met a older woman whose companion was urging her on – she wasn’t really making progress and told us she had never walked anywhere this rough before. Just as you come off Dinas to the west is Pwllgwaelod Beach and the Jolly Sailor, with this view from the beer garden.



It’s a lovely spot – we drank orange and soda and watched the bathers. The pub had run out of ice, which was disappointing since at that time I had solved my sensitive teeth but not my iron deficiency and was counting on it. Then we carried on for a bit and ate our sausage rolls in a far quieter cwm opening a little further along. London was roasted by record-breaking temperatures that week, but on the Pembs coast refreshing sea breezes disguised our developing sunburn.

By the time we reached lower Fishguard we were tired. It’s a place with fast driving holiday makers and no pavements, followed by a final slog to the upper town and our bed for the night which was Manor Townhouse on Main Street. We explored a little before eating at Jeera as recommended for vegans by the B&B. It was a very good meal, except we forgot that coconut rice from Bangladeshi restaurants is full of jaggery. I ate most of it anyway. The outside of the toilet door was very strangely painted, like a sort of 3D pure white Jackson Pollack.

We moved on to the Royal Oak where a folk band was in full swing, but a bad sinus migraine forced Matt home and I went too. It cleared with painkillers, and I got to sit in the window and look at dusk merging where the sea met the sky.

Fishguard Harbour at dusk

From upper Fishguard

Hundreds of jackdaws live in Fishguard, and they had a lot to say to each other all night.

There’s no fishmonger in Fishguard, or anywhere else nearby. The fish are gone – just farmed ones with lice now, fed on soy beans.

Day 3 26th July – Fishguard to Pwll Deri (10 miles)

The vegan cooked breakfast at the Manor Townhouse was a cut above. We left Fishguard with provisions for two days, since we wouldn’t see anywhere selling food until Trefin. From the Coop we had rolls, avocado and tomato for that day’s lunch, then Uncle Ben’s for dinner, and more for the next day’s lunch. And I think we bought more flapjack for breakfast. Then some smokey tofu from the health food shop. I also indulged myself with ground coffee for the youth hostel mornings.

Next morning the weather was still good, and then suddenly it wasn’t. The path up onto the cliffs and around the bay had a distinctly suburban feel. Fishguard Bay is said to have a rainy microclimate, and so it proved. By the time we dropped down to the harbour it was raining fairly hard. In our coats we sweated up an irritating zig zag wooded path up to the road through Goodwick and onto the cliffs again with no visibility. In the fog we met a small party and idiscovered they were the family of that week’s volunteer managers of our destination, YHA Pwll Deri. This cluster of Youth Hostels is staffed by volunteers, working a week each.

By the time the weather cleared, my Teva’d feet had blisters and the New Skin dressing wouldn’t stay on. I changed into my cursed boots, and walked the final miles with maddeningly hot feet, and hot booted feet are painful feet. I couldn’t enjoy the tumble of Strumble Head and was miserable until I got those boots off at YHA Pwll Deri.

It had only been 10 miles, if rough ones, and we had time to sit around in the hostel with its stunning views from the dining area and terrace outside. It’s remote, with only cliff between it and the sea.  Strumble Head is back to the north and to the south is the strikingly straight edge of land you can see in the picture – not a finger but an upturned edge which we would walk along the next morning. After our dinner of Uncle Ben’s rice and tofu, I talked to a nice art teacher from St Albans and we watched the sun set over the sea.

The view south from the dining area of YHA Pwll Deri

From the dining room at YHA Pwll Deri

Day 4 27th July – Pwll Deri to Trefin

Next morning after flapjack and ground coffee we set out along that pictured edge in strong wind and bright sun lighting up the purple bell heather and yellow gorse. I had expected this from the expressionist crayon sketches the art teacher had shown me, but somehow through scribbling she had really captured its essence. A scramble down the rocks took us to another secluded little cwm opening, accessible only from the coast path, which I think was called Pwllstrodur. We ate our rolls, paddled and watched young cows graze improbably far down the edge of a cliff, while a lone seal watched us in turn from the water. When the one other couple there left, they said the seal is on good terms with their B&B owner, and swims with her and her dogs.

At Abercastle the beach was quite busy, with blowy, dusty sand. We sat on a sort of mini sea wall until a man parked on the beach right in front of our view and drove off in a small motorboat with a couple of kids. Then on to Trefin, where the road to the sea ends at a ruined chapel at the head of a narrow, rocky, wave-lashed opening into the sea. We didn’t particularly enjoy a pint at the Ship, which though empty had a bar tender who couldn’t be bothered. Then through to Torbant Farmhouse where the kind host can’t do enough for you and the place is an elegy to the 1980s. But along the road is the good Square and Compass Inn where the chef is vegan and so consequently is half the menu. Welsh is spoken in that pub, which isn’t so usual in Pembs. A wildly good burger. Later three farmers came in and talked about everything under the sun.

Days 5 to 7 – St David’s, Solva and Broadhaven – coming soon.


The Repair Shop and Money for Nothing – BBC public service broadcasting at its best

Two programmes I really admire are Money for Nothing and The Repair Shop, both on BBC One. I’m not sure how to apportion credit, but Field Kean Films produces Money for Nothing and Ricochet produces The Repair Shop.

Steven Fletcher works on a toy battleship in The Repair Shop

Revealing a transformed armchair

Leanne reveals a transformed armchair to EJ in Money for Nothing

Money for Nothing is a about upcycling as social entrepreneurship. It always begins with Sarah Moore (sometimes Jay Blades or EJ Osborne) waylaying people at the boot of their car, intercepting objects they’re about to dispose of at their municipal tip. They can be lengths of fabric, old filing cabinets, chairs, sewage pipe, old wooden bowling balls – you name it. We find out the object’s story before she takes it away to a specialist artisan in her network, including Zoe Murphy who designs patterns in Margate, Jay Blades who makes furniture and may still be based in Wolverhampton, Bex Simon who’s a Guildford blacksmith, Rob Shaer who works with wood in Walthamstow, Chinelo who designs garments in Canning Town, and Anthony Devine who upholsters in Manchester. After negotiating a budget (materials and labour) for transforming the object into something saleable, she goes away again leaving the artisan with creative licence. Sarah works on one of the objects herself. Arthur Smith narrates satirically.

Each programme follows the decisions and subsequent work on three objects, nicely paced so by the time the last is intercepted at the tip we’re half way through the tranformation of the first. When each is completed, Sarah arrives with her van and there’s a dramatic reveal. She pays the artisan, takes the object away and markets it to vendors with premises or web shops. Then she returns to the original owner with an iPad to show them the transformation and, if the object has sold, she gives them all the profit which I’ve see range from a fiver to £200.

Money for nothing - Jay Blades passes profit to original owner

I find this format absolutely ingenious. All of the money seems to come from and go to the right places. Viewers see a demonstration of entrepreneurship (another word for initiative in one’s livelihood) as Sarah coordinates adding value to what was going to be landfilled or dismembered. While she is presumably paid by the BBC licence fee, the artisans’ work is paid for by people with the income to freely buy valuable bespoke pieces. Viewers watch respect and creative vision shown to junk everyone else had given up on. The original owner is delighted to be doorstepped with money conjured from nothing, and and more often than not a charity is the ultimate beneficiary. By intercepting objects from the tip the programme is saving local authorities (that’s tax payers) money on landfill tax and recycling. Viewers learn that almost nothing needs to go to the tip if you have access to skilled labour. And in a society which increasingly valorises science, technology, engineering and maths and diminishes the arts, viewers learn how inspiring and valuable the livelihoods of artisans can be.

On a similar theme but with a different perspective, The Repair Shop begins with people  bringing broken family treasures to a spacious workshop in the Weald and Downland Living Museum where Jay Blades triages them on a table and interviews their owners about the object’s history – this part is a combination of Antique’s Roadshow and Supervet. Each object is then allocated to one or more specialists for conservation and restoration. Steven Fletcher is a clockmaker, Suzie Fletcher works with leather. Lucia Scalisi conserves paintings, Kirstin Ramsay specialises in ceramics, William Kirk restores heirlooms, and Brenton West is a silversmith. They each work in sight of each other at their own station in the workshop. Like Money for Nothing there are three items, ranging from broken plates with grandparents’ portraits, an old aviator jacket from a relative gunned down in World War II, a battered silver purse owned by a beloved grandmother, a pouffe, and all manner of old clockwork including a copper rain gauge and a barometer that inks the air pressure onto a roll of graph paper. We follow the dilemmas and progress of the artisans as they dunk gunky clockwork in vats of cleaner, stabilise and repair fragile materials, steam clean ceramics, conserve flaking leather, create missing wheatsheafs for porcelain clock cases, and painstakingly match paint. As with Money for Nothing, the objects are staggered so each is at a different stage. Finally the owner returns, sometimes with their kids, and the restored object is unveiled for the next generation to inherit.

About to unveil a restored heirloom at The Repair Shop

This programme moves me deeply. Like Money for Nothing it’s a format that rescues objects that appear to be beyond salvage, and lays bare the painstaking work of artisans past and present. The exquisite acts of restoration surface the intense love people have for their deceased family members; their yearning to save these pieces brings a generation-spanning perspective to every episode which is unfailingly moving. Unlike Money for Nothing there is no discussion of the value of these items, because they are destined to be treasured in the family and not be sold. The BBC has funded the restoration so that viewers can learn British history, and how things used to be made, and how they can be made anew. We learn the history of amateur climate science, world wars, and how everyday lives were led. We also learn techniques – that you need to apply shellac with a soft brush, what kind of stitch you need for which fabric, how to mix the right glue for the job, and how to apply it, test it, and what to do when it’s dried. You can see how to clean anything, stabilise anything, and that it’s fine to wear two pairs of spectacles at once.

Badly damaged leather pouffe

Before I finish this, I want to talk about Brexit, a hugely divisive era which threatens to impoverish this society and throw us back on our reserves. Right wing Brexit supporters look forward to this because they believe that younger people today lack grit and initiative. They think they are in need of a salutary dose of adversity to bring out their mettle. Necessity is the mother of invention, they think. I don’t see things that way, but I see these two programmes appeal across the political spectrum for reasons which transcend politics. In Money for Nothing there is no moralising at all, but I see the inheritance of a financial crisis expressed as a sort of providential scavenging (environmentalists bring their own subtexts). In the enormous popular appeal of the The Repair Shop I see another sort of prudence embraced by a society that has become interested, late in the day, in conserving the last relics of the British Empire – its science, the glory it took in its victories, the artefacts it manufactured with its spending power.

I find it poignant that these objects are usually deposited by people whose families had a long enough history in this country to have benefited – if by default – from its extractive capitalism in other lands, and were able to accrue a few treasures to pass on. I can’t help noticing that all the energy in this programme is dedicated to easing their pain. And yet those objects may be restored by an artisan whose forebears could conceivably have experienced the degradations of the Empire.

Money for Nothing deploys vision, skill and graft to convert junk discarded by older people into profit which it then returns to them – which I find symbolic of austerity and perhaps of a gentle education. In the Repair Shop, heirlooms of immense emotional significance become labours of love carried out by sensitive and empathetic strangers. Very deftly and tacitly, these programmes look to me like social cohesion.