Today C., H. and I open up a new walking front. We take the service bus to Pembroke and then the Coastal Cruiser to Angle. It’s a cloudier day, with a strong south-east wind to walk into. At the bus stop in Pembroke we meet a young student from Finland. She’s about to start a Masters at LSE and has come to do some walking in west Wales first. She seems to have an unusually sensitive view of the different parts of Britain, but a depressive view of the prospects for her own country. When I ask whether she’ll go back to Finland at the end of her studies, she says no. We promise to make sure she gets off safely at Stackpole Quay.
The Coastal Cruiser is a walkers’ minibus, driven by ‘Gandalf’ (C.’s coinage), who negotiates the difficult single-track lanes with one hand on the wheel and an assertiveness that puts all oncoming traffic immediately on the defensive.
Angle is a handsome, lively village, with a particularly living community, perhaps because of its isolation. Almost everything lies on a single street. There’s a shop, a church (with a seamen’s chapel beyond), two pubs and a very small primary school. There are several distinctive painted houses, including the Globe, a former inn, with flat roofs and spare decorative brickwork, apparently part of a plan by the local squire, Col. Mirehouse, to improve his estate housing stock around 1905. The ‘old rectory’ has a medieval pele tower and there’s a dovecote and a medieval ‘nunnery’. It even has two bays, East and West.
We round the creek and start on a circuit of the East Bay, a semi-circular walk round low rocks and mud that attract many birds. At first we follow the road through the grounds of The Hall. A notice says, ‘Beware of the bees’. We can see none. Big views open up across Milford Haven. Eventually we find ourselves walking past the remains of the old BP Rhoscrowther oil refinery. All that remains is a row of derelict concrete street lamps, a few truncated pipes poking through the ground, and a small group of low entrance buildings. Opposite is the only oil refinery left in operation today, the Valero plant. It looks like a celestial city, with its chimneys, pipes and domed storage tanks, and can be seen from many miles away (including our previous base in Dale). A low hum comes from deep within the plant. At its foot is St Decumanus’ church, now in the care of the Friends of Friendless Churches, and a few scattered houses. We take photos of the refinery from all angles, aware that for all its splendour it may follow the BP one into oblivion before many years, leaving only the ancient church to be seen.
The path takes us in a large circuit around the plant. We rest below Fort Popton, one of the mid-Victorian forts built at a time of Gallophobic panic. Above the fort is a strange concrete platform, with two huge concrete ‘thrones’, as if waiting for Henry Moore king and queen. We eat have our sandwiches in Bullwell Bay, with a view of the five-berth oil tanker jetty that runs parallel to the coast. This stretch of the Coast Path is almost empty; the only people we meet at this point are two official-looking men beside the refinery fence. One of them asks us, ‘Have you seen any bees?’ We wonder whether this might be a secret code; bees seem to be a theme of the day.
Out on the Haven the white Irish ferry passes. A yacht or two glide by. Seven fast Royal Marine boats flash upstream, as if on their way to storm Pembroke. A vague petrochemical smell hangs in the air. By now we’ve reached Pwllcrochan, a rare Welsh place name in these parts (by what process did the original Welsh place-names become replaced by English ones?). Here there’s a lonely church, deconsecrated and owned by Valero, eager to assert their conservationist credentials. A notice on the door reads, ‘Meeting in progress’.
Soon our second industrial treat looms, Pembroke Power Station. This unassuming building, with its five serial squat chimneys, is the source of the twin lines of pylons that have been our constant companions since the Gwent Levels. We criss-cross the pylons now as we move east, over fields, through a semi-derelict farm, past a lime kiln and a sewage works (the sign ‘ensure all de-sludge valves are closed & locked before leaving site’ hints at a previous unfortunate incident). At Bentlass we meet a young woman and her sheepdog. Her family own the fields we’re in, she says, and she’s a photographer. Then we’re in Monkton, with its large church, and then Pembroke.