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.

pwllgwaelod_beach_dinas

Pwllgwaelod

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.

 

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