Today we’re joined by M. and his binoculars. Again we start from the Bosherston car park, though this time, thanks to M., we escape having to pay the National Trust’s hefty parking fee. Down through the lily ponds again, but by the northern route and across two low bridges. From Broad Haven we turn east this time. The walking’s easy, even and along well cropped grass: this is still limestone country. M. spots a kestrel, first hovering over the cliff, then stuttering away in front of us.
Ahead of us is Stackpole Head, a long promontory that’s recognisable for many miles down the coast for its almost geometrically straight profile. Still more inlets, caves, stacks and arches sculpted by the waves out of the horizontal bands of limestone. Next we drop down through trees towards Barafundle Bay, sheltered from the westerlies, fairly remote, and frequently voted the most beautiful bay in Britain. We try to recollect, with some difficulty, the Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci album Barafundle (1997). Just a few people are on the beach, and none are dressed in crinolines (Dr John, uncharacteristically lyrical, imagines Victorian ladies ‘flouncing their way down to picnics on the beach’). They would flounce down using the Cawdors’ fine stone steps, topped by a ceremonial gateway.
Now comes Stackpole Quay, another creation of the Cawdors – the tiny harbour was used to export lime and import coal. Today it’s used by its new owners, the National Trust to offer accommodation – where I stayed over thirty years ago, in part-charge of a very small and unfamiliar baby – and a teashop, where excellent flapjacks can be had.
After Stackpole the limestone gives way to old red sandstone. The going is less even, but the soil feels springy and helps locomotion. We can see some violent red anticlines in the headlands ahead, and we can hear the occasional crump of big guns on the distant firing ranges. We’re still high above the sea. In one cave we see a blue kayak on the beach, its owner standing stock still and staring intently at something just below the water line. Big cornfields lie on the landward side. A green and white combine harvester with a bright red reel comes to within a few yards of us before veering off to start a new line. Sheep and cows make a welcome reappearance. At Greenala Point the path passes along the ditch of a prehistoric promontory fort. Around Trewent Point we arrive at Freshwater East, a broad sandy bay with steep slopes dotted with large houses, and a well-hidden chalet village. At the water’s edge is a thin line of seaweed, a gory red colour, as if an army invading from the sea have been slaughtered. We mistake the path out of the bay, and I lead everyone up a steep and energy-sapping track on sand, before realising that we’re too high and turn back.
Looking back, Stackpole Head appears as a long dark ruler, all its lines straight, with an arch clearly visible towards its end. The next bay is called Swanlake – we imagine it as the place where Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky retreated each summer to recover from his emotional turmoils – and it’s even finer and more remote than Barafundle. Inexplicably, Dr John tells us that we’ll find a ‘seasonal tea room/café’ there. It’s hard to see how a tea room could be transported down to the bay at any time of year. C., who has an ingenious mind, wonders whether Dr John has inserted a deliberate fib into his text in order to prove plagiarism by pirate guidebook writers. We have a rest on the sand, and H. refreshes her feet by dipping them into the water and then swapping her socks from one foot to another, a trick that Captain James Bigglesworth (‘Biggles’) used to use to avoid blisters after he’d pranged his machine in a remote desert.
It’s now just a short way to our destination, Manorbier Bay, past another bay and sandstone rocks that lie exactly 90 degrees to the horizontal. We say goodbye to M. and await the arrival of J., tomorrow’s guestwalker. We have a pint in the garden of the Castle Inn, then eat with J. in the Castlemead Hotel at Manorbier, where we’re transported back to your youth by the artex ceilings, faded rugs, croony music and assorted small pets brushing past our legs. We try to recreate Sunday evenings at home, with Sing something simple on the radio and our parents reading newspapers, cover to cover.