Guest blog written by RoseMary Griffith. – MusingsFromaRedhead.com
Adventures in Wales began in September of 2014 when my older sister Jackie and I decided to bring forward our plan to visit there in our twilight years.
Being (Americans) avid fans of British mysteries, we figured in our eighties we’d learn what brogues, Wellies, and Anoraks (the attire, not the person) were in real life and put them to use. We would wear tweed jackets and carry stylish walking sticks carved with elaborate designs.
Blame it on growing up reading Agatha Christie, later falling in love with the Foyle’s War television series, and expanding from there.
Not to put a sad shine on this story, but when we lost Mom in August 2008 from lung cancer and Dad a mere eight months later to ALS, we decided to move our time table forward. Since we never know how long we’ve got on this old earth, it’s smart to create special memories now as opposed to living the response Dad was famous for giving when his little kids requested the impossible—like a pony, “Someday.”
Planning the Adventure
It took us five years to put together that first adventure. What finally pushed us into taking that first step—literally—was learning about the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. This trail of incredibly stunning views takes you north/south from St. Dogmael’s to Amroth and fifty towns in between. In three journeys, we’ve only hit fifteen stop-points. See why we need to keep going back?
I’ve been lucky enough to amble around the Italian coast from La Spezia to San Fruttuoso and on four of the Hawaiian Islands—Oahu, Hawaii, Maui, and Kauai. These are exquisite places, allowed to be self-righteous about their magnificence. The colors of the water from blue to green to clear enough to see through, the rhythm of the waves from crashing and surf-able to smooth and soothing, and the terrain from lazy walks to hiking-poles-required-steepness combine to produce tremendous beauty. My overwhelming love of Wales takes nothing away from what a trip to either of these places can do for a wander-lusting spirit.
Yet Wales and Pembrokeshire are where I want to go. Now.
One captivating aspect of hiking in Wales is the variety of people enjoying these trails. There’s something extraordinary about the wit and friendliness of the Welsh where even a casual conversation reveals the generosity that hums underneath the surface of everyone we meet.
On our way to the Stepaside Ironworks ruins, fully closed by 1930, we met Janette and her husband Granville going the opposite direction. Retired and from near Merthyr Tydfil, they were on their way to the beach to search for cockles, educating us that they are an unusual find here, mostly available only on the west coast. With us being landlocked in Pennsylvania and Montana, they had fun explaining what a cockle is and how to cook them. We scrunched up our noses, none of us being fans of mollusk of any kind.
After exploring the moody dilapidated structure—the misty, brooding day providing a perfect setting—we resumed the path. We burst into laughter when Janette and Granville came toward us with two bags of cockles—one for them and one for us! We politely declined, which caused more laughter.
A distinctive UK treasure
The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is Britain’s only coastal path, which puts a great deal of pressure on it to be awesome. No worries there, though, because truly every step we’ve set upon it has provided its own bit of remarkable.
Just when you think to yourself at the end of the day, well I hiked from the Fishguard Fort to south of Goodwick and the coast was lovely and I’m sure that’s good enough…. The next day, you hike from Bosherston Lily Ponds to Stackpole Head and you’re excited to continue as you feel that bit of trail under the sturdy sole of your Oboz or Merrells or Keens. Your next ramble is around Dinas Head and as you see those stretches of coastline roll out in front of you then lose them when the next turn shows craggy bluffs instead, you know there is much more to see along every bit of the 186-miles of this walk.
So, you keep coming back.
Sometimes you bring your niece/daughter with you and get another person addicted to the country. Jenny, Jackie’s 30-something adventurous kid, finally understood what we’d been going on about when discussing Wales.
Our first trip we stayed in Goodwick, the second was Saundersfoot, and the third was Saundersfoot and Newport. Each trip expanded in time from ten to fourteen to sixteen days. I’m ready for a month, but don’t tell my husband.
Part of the reason for repeating Saundersfoot was the owner of Edith Cottage, a homey place to rent. Sara is a delight—as a temporary landlord and as a friend. We connected so well in 2016 that Jackie and I adopted her as another sister. We were excited to see her again and spend time over lunch and later in the week, enjoy ice cream and a walk along Saundersfoot’s promenade. For us, connecting with place goes hand in hand with connecting to people.
The path varies
There are easy stretches of the path, like Saundersfoot to Wiseman’s Bridge—it’s that same soothing bit of level land that takes you from Manarola to Riomaggiore in Italy’s Cinque Terre National Park. Then there is a four-mile bit between Tenby to Saundersfoot. It isn’t difficult, but there is a great deal of assent and descent, so prepare your muscles or your legs may protest movement the next day. As Jenny, the CrossFit participant who aced the twenty rugged miles of the Bridger [mountain race] Ridge Run of 2017, kept telling her mom and aunt, “You know, it’s okay to do twenty-five stairs and stop for a moment.” Useful advice as we climbed some of those vertical areas.
Hiking Stackpole Quay and Stackpole Head are both leisurely walks, which belies the dramatic views you uncover as you amble along. You turn an ever so slight bend and see what’s ahead and realize that it’s a brand-new view—one that you could not have glimpsed had you not taken those last several steps forward. Although we researched several circular walks where you dip on and off the Coast Path at various spots, the only circle we ended up completing was on Dinas Head.
Loving an island that isn’t…
At only three miles, you might think the Dinas Island—so called although it is connected to the mainland—hike is a piece of cake. But your start from Cwm-yr-Eglwys begins with a steep clamber up, only tapering off for short stretches. If you’re wise enough to stop for chats with other hikers, it will take you at least two hours. The pathway itself is narrow, but not harrowing even on the Needle Point trail that runs along the cliff edge.
At the top, we visited with a couple at the Ordnance Survey Trigonometry Station (OS trig point if you’re using the OS maps I mentioned in the 10 Tips for Americans Driving in Wales post). It’s a testimony to both the importance of the path to Welsh culture and to the aesthetic appeal of it when time and again you meet folks from other parts of Wales who tell you this is their favorite place to hike.
Here we go again
It seems that we don’t leave Wales without adding to our family. This time it was the owner of the cozy, three-hundred-year-old (plus) cottage we rented in Newport. Leslie, a delightful elderly gentleman who lives next door, was easily taken into our hearts as he embraced our friendship. Getting around town on an electric scooter, we joined him for an excursion to the estuary to see how a family of ducks was faring. Learning it was my birthday, Leslie wrapped a box of Lindt (a favorite!) chocolates and gave me a card signed by him, adding the names of his sons and their wives. That was in 2018 and we still email and exchange letters!
As the twilight years get closer for two sixty-something-year-olds…
My writer’s brain spends time pondering, assessing what it is that draws me and Jackie and most likely Jenny to this tiny country again and again. What does God want us to take away from any place, any journey he sets us on? To learn that the world is small, that people are the same and different all across it? I suppose the lessons can be that simple.
Yet, there feels a mysterious undercurrent of more when I think about Wales, about Pembrokeshire. Is it being in the land where your ancestors lived? Perhaps if you have a keen sense of history and connection to family, this longing to know the past draws you to a location, pulling your heart in, providing a feeling of being home.
Roaming, strolling, hiking this coast slows me down and puts me in the moment. I spend so much time speeding along that anything that helps keep me in the present is a blessing. Walking in the land of castles and Griffith heritage brings peace and calmness to an ever-restless soul.
One morning as the other two slept, I crept out of the snug Newport Cottage and took the slightly downhill half-mile or so walk to the Parrog. The old port is an ideal place to people watch in the evenings and to contemplate life in the early dewy hours. A gentleman with an easy smile and a day or two of white whiskers carrying a full backpack asked me where the bus stop was. As I automatically began to respond, oh I don’t live here, I brightened and answered—I knew this, having just passed that spot!
I glimpsed him on my return to the cottage when I paused to take a photo of a huge truck parked on a narrow street near the Spar Market. Catching him in my shot he smiled and said it was okay for me to take his picture.
And that is what you figure out
Little exchanges with people tether you to a place beyond what a photograph does—and we all know the power of a picture to recall an experience is intense. When you stop and have those conversations with people like we did with Stuart at the end of the Goodwick hike, you tie that piece of turf to the interesting chat discussing hiking the path, growing up in the area, and traveling around America. You realize after the hour has passed that not once did you discuss topics so typical—and irritating—of Americans: What do you do for work and how many kids do you have? A friend who waitressed once told me, “This is what I do to earn a living, but it’s not who I am.” She was stating, I am more than what you see me do.
That’s what travel gifts you … the more you embrace the new and different and have those diverse conversations with people, the more you learn, the more you remember. This is why the Pembrokeshire Coast Path beckons me to return—I still have a hundred miles to check off my chart of completion and room in my heart to add new friends.