Pembrokeshire Coast Path, day 16

September 15, 2015 0 Comments

P1070389After breakfast I visit Manorbier Church, high on a hill opposite the castle. It doesn’t open officially until 9:30, but a woman comes to the door as I try its door handle and invites me in. She’ll leave me alone now, she says, and departs. Perhaps I’m looking spiritually needy. Like all churches in this part of Pembrokeshire this one has a tall, thin tower, the better to spot marauders from the sea (this one has a view eastwards, which the castle towers lack). Inside is plain, like so many Welsh churches, but there’s a stone effigy of one of the de Barry family, no doubt a relative of Gerald of Wales. His head armour makes him look vaguely like Scott of the Antarctic. Gerald himself features in a stained glass window, looking statesmanlike and carrying a book labelled ‘Itin. Camb.

P1070631We start from the beach. It’s cloudy, but not for too long. The path leads up the cliff south-eastwards, past the King’s Quoit, a neolithic burial chamber with a giant capstone pointing out to sea. There’s also an MOD notice warning that we ‘may experience sudden noise’ from firing ranges. At this point we realise quite how militarised south Pembrokeshire is. Not only does the army occupy a large part of the Castlemartin area, it holds other areas ahead of us here at Manorbier, and further on at Penally. ‘Sudden noises’ are part of daily life for anyone living here.

P1070650As we move east along the clifftop what Dr John, in a nice eighteenth century phrase, calls ‘fearful chasms, up to 70 feet deep’ suddenly open up, just yards from the path. The rock strata are still at 90 degrees, and small bays and stacks litter the coast, till we’re forced to leave it by a military installation. We walk the perimeter of Manorbier Camp, as glum and empty as the one we saw two days ago. A couple of horses, asleep or dead, lie on the other side of the wire fence. Then we rejoin the coast in time for the dramatic Church Doors, a tall arch in the limestone cliff face, accessible by the very steepest of steps. A stern warning forbids trying to get round the long rock curtain to Skrinkle Bay next door, and Dr John adds another: ‘if you descend by the steps remember you have to return’.

P1070674More grand limestone rocks, including several arches and caves. The cliffs are tall and sheer, and we watch with fright as an elderly couple behind us stand perilously near the edge, apparently without fear or even awareness that they’re steps away from certain oblivion. We meet a Man from Manchester, who asks where he can find a good view, and finds it inexcusable that he can’t find a motorway in the neighbourhood. After a diversion along a promontory to Lydstep Point we approach Lydstep Haven. This beach is as fine as any we’ve seen. As Dr John says, ‘it has formed on the axis of a great east-west syncline or downfold in the Carboniferous Limestone’. Alas, development has not been kind. A large holiday village sprawls all the way along the slopes above the dunes. In search of refreshment we stumble into what’s called the ‘entertainment complex’. Though we’re told that as non-residents we’re not eligible to be served, we emerge with cups of coffee. It doesn’t look a busy place. Once this was the centre not of pinball machines but of the elegant gardens of a large country estate. For once it’s almost possible to mourn the passing of the age of gentry. Dr John, generous as ever, judges that ‘the holiday company has made worthy efforts’, and Lydstep Haven ‘could look a great deal worse’.

P1070703We climb back up to the cliffs, to Proud Giltar and Valleyfield Top before red flags again direct us off the coast and down to the village of Penally. Irregular gunfire follows us from the firing range. From here paths lead along the railway line and behind the South Beach into the centre of Tenby.

Tenby in the sun is alive with people. We can’t believe how many thousands have decided to come here for the day. The shops and pubs are thriving. It’s a handsome, cheerful place, and we wander around inside the walls and above the beaches enjoying other people’s enjoyment. We pass William Paxton’s old saltwater baths. Its entrance bears the reassuring Greek inscription, ‘thalassa kludzei panta tanthropon kaka’: ‘the sea washes away all men’s ills’. A Greek salad, taken overlooking the North Beach, and then we catch the bus back to Manorbier.

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