After a coffee in the Yacht Club we catch the rackety mid-morning minibus from Dale to Hebranston, two villages and two long creeks away. The few other passengers seem to be fellow-walkers. Our driver’s an abstracted, taciturn man with a flat silver earring and an ability to negotiate the one-track lanes at speed with one nonchalant hand on the wheel.
Herbranston is an overgrown village with a well-preserved historic heart. Its old church has a big, truncated tower, and, like many of the churches here, an encouraging open door. A straight path past modern houses leads to a straight road down to Sandy Haven, the first of the creeks that complicate our way west. We’ve already checked the tide tables, and within a few moments we’re on a low wooden causeway to the opposite bank, so avoiding the high-tide alternative route that adds three miles to the route. Here the sheltered shore’s lined with woodland, and bluebells again carpet the ground. Where the trees end we can see across the Haven, to the tankers tied to jetties on the opposing banks, the nineteenth century forts that guard its approaches, and the Irish ferry steaming past.
Beyond Little Castle Point and a concrete communication beacon of spectacular ugliness, a series of bays bite the coastline. Banks of billowing thrift, gorse, sea campion, scabious and the occasional purple wild orchid line the clifftop path. Three jolly red tractors work the red fields on our landward side. A single field of oilseed rape stands, ragged and pale close up – strange, because at a distance rape looks so brilliant and bold. Dr John, evidently no republican, feels obliged to tell us that Lindsway Bay was where Prince Charles first landed on Welsh soil, as a child, in 1955. Perhaps he was intended to follow (roughly) in the footsteps of Henry Tudor, but if so it was a strange choice. The cliffs are friable and formidably steep, with a single path down. A wooden sign at its start warns, ‘Steep steps with sheer unprotected drops. Take special care with children.’ No doubt the experience was a suitably toughening rehearsal for the horrors of Gordonstoun School.
A little further on, past several First World War observation posts, we stop for lunch at Watch House Point, beside a folly, ‘Malacov’, overlooking the sea – a prematurely ruined turret apparently named after a fort in Sebastopol taken by the British during the Crimean War in 1855. Next comes a sheltered cove, Monk Haven. Dr John is on safe ground in calling it ‘a surprise and a joy’. A tall eighteenth century wall belonging to the Trewarren estate cuts across its mouth. Behind the wall a child’s plastic digger, coloured orange and green, lies abandoned on the grass. (Two days later I walked up the wooded valley to find the hidden church of St Ishmaels.)
The coast curves towards the north and by now we can see across the Gann estuary to our cottage outside Dale. The tide’s turned and we’re unsure whether we’ll be in time to avoid a high water detour round the lanes. But we’re in luck, the walkway is dry and we’re safe – except from the attention of two massive barking dogs, whose owners make only desultory attempts to protect us from frights and bites. A causeway leads between the estuary and the drowned gravel pits to dry land on the road to Dale. We disturb a group of culews at the water’s edge and some of them fly off, with their trilling, lilting cry. On the roadside, next to an old unusual double lime kiln, a large family sits eating a picnic; as C. observes, it’s a rather old-fashioned, French scene, calling for the camera of a Cartier-Bresson. We’ve already used up all our amateur shots on coastal views (as usual C and I have identical shots, taken in identical places).