As we drove down through Neyland the excitement mounted. I began to yelp and bark in anticipation of one of my favourite walks. I then banged my head as usual on the window of the hatchback’s boot lid. For any vets out there who are looking for a topic to research you might like to consider doing a study on pre-walk concussion in excited dogs travelling in small cars. Anyway, I digress (which proves I haven’t got concussion otherwise I wouldn’t be able to use posh words like ‘digress’). What was I talking about? Ah, yes, the trip to Neyland.
My owner parked at the free car park overlooking the Cleddau. That’s right, we were going on the walk to the Westfield Pill nature reserve! My owner put my lead on and we walked to the railings by the water’s edge. Across the water we could see Pembroke Dock and to our left was the bridge spanning the River Cleddau. But as I rested my front paws on the railings I was transported back in time to the 1850’s. He HAS got concussion I hear you say, but no, these are special railings. They are made out of original train rails designed by the civil engineer commemorated in a statue nearby – none other than Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Neyland was once a bustling harbour with a railway line connecting it with Haverfordwest. When the line reached Neyland it divided into multiple tracks for sidings. We walked along these tracks, which are still there today, embedded in the tarmac. As we followed the tracks I did what any self-respecting railway enthusiast would do in this situation – I pretended I was a train. I made a chugging noise, howled like a whistle and pulled hard on the lead. My owner was not amused. She did not appreciate being treated like heavily laden rolling stock. Anyway, my train noises were drowned out by the bustling activity of Dale Sailing’s shipyard to our left. Then we reached the end of the tarmac and left the tracks behind. The marina now came into full view.
The marina, known officially as Neyland Yacht Haven, is a stunning sight with all sorts of colourful yachts and boats. There are lots of facilities including Manillas Café and the Bar Restaurant. It was a nice sunny day so my owner decided to stop for a coffee. We sat at a table outside and I helped myself to some water from one of the bowls provided by the nice people from the café.
After coffee we set off again along the path until we had passed the end of the marina. We were now walking where the single railway track used to go as it followed the water inlet upstream. This was originally tidal but a lagoon was formed by bunds which were built in the 1980s to retain sludge drained from the marina. This is where the Westfield Pill nature reserve begins. Staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Trust maintain the reserve.
The reserve has lots of wildlife. There are around thirty species of butterfly and 150 different types of birds including ospreys, little egrets and little grebes. Many birds breed here including kingfishers, shelducks, mute swans, mallards and herons. You can also spot lizards, adders and grass snakes which like to find shade amongst the limestone ballast on which the railway was built. There are also some interesting flowers and plants. For example the reserve has the largest colony of bastard balm in Wales. Its flowers are white with a splash of purple on their lower lip. On this particular day I did spot some swans in the water with their signets. By the way, did you know that when a male and female swan pair off they often remain together for life? Swans have always made good matches.
The route through the reserve is very picturesque – at one point there is even a lagoon on the left as well as the right. The route is also a cycle path and is part of the Celtic Trail. This particular stretch, from here to the village of Johnston, is known as the Brunel Cycle Trail. Some cyclists take this very seriously. As they go by they have a look on their face which clearly betrays the fact that they are pretending to be in the Tour de France and being chased by the peloton. I usually annoy them by barking in French.
It took us about twenty minutes to walk to the other end of the reserve. The path continues for many miles, but we turned round and headed back. By the time we reached the car I was ready for a good rest and snuggled down in the boot. There was no danger of banging my head as I was too tired to even sit up. By the time we left Neyland I was sound asleep and dreaming I was on a steam train being driven by Isambard Kingdom Brunel himself.
Note: This blog is part of a series written for the Visit Dog Friendly Pembrokeshire Project. The project has received funding via the Tourism Product Innovation Fund (TPIF) supported through the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the Welsh Government, the Fund aims to encourage new innovative product ideas working in partnership which will have a greater impact and attract more visitors.