6 02 2015

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A Weekend In The Mountians Instagram Competition

6 02 2015

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Stackpole to St Govan’s Head, a land of Hermits, Lilyponds & Otters

20 05 2013

………………….and lots of absolutely stunning coastline!

Having been here before and given that it’s a glorious day, I think that I’ve saved the best until last and I’m sure that my American ladies will love it. It’s scheduled to be a short day, as we have to get back to Heathrow airport – unfortunately it’s their last day😦

We head for the Stackpole Estate, now part of the National Trust and also to the headlands incorporated into the Castlemartin artillery range, which is often closed to public access. Watch out for the red flags, which indicate whether it’s in use today or not!

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We park up at Broad Haven, a wonderful wide beach bisected by a river and marked by the Star Rock, a little way out to sea. First of all we head north through the artillery range of Castlemartin, staying close to the cliffs to take advantage of the spectacular views. The sea is absolutely glistening in the sunshine this morning, sparkling with diamonds and almost as flat as a mill-pond. The headland of St Govan has sheer cliffs and as we walk, we come across 6 backpacks and pairs of sneakers and a solitary rope anchored to a fixed point and running into the void over the cliff. All of a sudden a head, clad in a metallic orange helmet pops up. Not a mass Reggie Perrin but, a climbing party – a common sight along this coastline.

IMG_1841          Rock Climbers, St Govan’s Head

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After a couple of miles of following the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path / Wales Coast Path we reach the car park at St Govan’s Head. At this point, we are warned of a fairly rare orchid that is in danger of being eradicated, the Green Winged Orchid and areas are taped off to protect it.

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Here there is a fairly steep ravine with steps leading down to a surprise, a chapel attached to the steep rocks half way down the cliffs to the sea. This is the site that the mysterious, legendary hermit and monk, St Govan, hid himself away from marauding pirates from Ireland or nearby Lundy Island, in a fissure in the rock during the 6th Century. The chapel itself dates from the 13th Century and is built over the cave where the hermit lived. There is a lot of mystery, myth and legend involved with the stories of St Govan and makes for interesting reading. Count the steps as you go down and again as you come back. I bet the number isn’t the same. I counted 75 down and 76 up, Jean counted 75 up, another  man counted 73 down and his partner 72 down. Spooky!

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We all sat on the seaward side of St Govan’s Chapel and it was so peaceful and the weather so glorious, we agreed that we could sit there all day. It is a very special place.

IMG_2929          St Govan’s Head          IMG_2930

We headed back to the car park at Broad Haven, taking the direct route across the firing range. We then drove the short distance to Bosherston and parked with the Sunday tourists, all eager to see the famous Lily Ponds, which are inhabited by a group of Otters, as well as other wildlife. We are convinced that we saw one in the distance amongst the Lily pads or was it the glistening underside of a Lily pad as it catches a breeze? The ladies are taken with feeding a pair of nesting Robins from their bags of trail mix. These amazing little birds certainly made for some great photos, whilst pecking at seeds and nuts while still holding a number of flies and bugs in their beaks. Not sure how they managed that.

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IMG_2946          Robins

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It’s time to leave Pembrokeshire, which is a real shame. First of all we decide to have lunch and the National Trust warden recommends a friends pub as a good source of local fish and the usual range of Sunday Roasts – The Stackpole Inn. I highly recommended this establishment for the food, the picture postcard location and the pub itself. A former Post Office.

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Next stop, London Heathrow’s Terminal 4!

 

 





A Monastic Lifestyle……..

19 05 2013

………on the ‘cold island’ or Caldey Island to give it it’s true name.

Its Saturday and we take a short drive from Manorbier to Tenby for a trip to Caldey Island. This small island is located just off the coast and today is owned by The Reformed Order of Cistercian Monks. Originally devoted to peaceful farming alongside a small village community, their existence is now more reliant on tourism.

IMG_2875          Tenby Harbour

The monks produce a number of homegrown items: chocolate, fudge, ice cream, clotted cream, shortbread and yoghurt, plus perfumes and hand lotions derived from wild flowers that grow on the island.

To get to the island we head down to the harbour and purchase tickets from the boatman by the tractor (at low tide the jetty is located on the beach across the small headland, with a portable pontoon).

The boat journey is a slow, peaceful affair, perhaps in keeping with the quiet lifestyle of the island dwellers. A wide boat with a low draft that tootled along for 20 minutes. We are greeted at the jetty by one of the cleanest beaches I’ve seen in a long time, which is probably due to the fact that it’s a private island and landings are not allowed.

We head for the Abbey and its enclave of buildings which include a number of small churches, a Post Office, a Museum and a Perfume shop. Apparently they have one of the best lavender products in the world!

Just after midday we head to the Abbey church, as the ladies are keen to hear the monks recite their Sext prayers. It’s an ethereal experience from the choir loft above the chapel.

IMG_1787          St David’s Church         IMG_1791

We then make our way to the island’s parish church, St David’s, which also holds the cemetery for the monks and villagers. The church is of Norman construction but the original chapel would have dated back to the 6th Century. The church has some wonderful stain glass windows: St David, Our Lady & the Infant Jesus, the Tree of Life and the contemporary designed Fish Window. All of these windows were designed by one of the Benedictine monks living on the island in the 1920’s (the Cistercians arrived in 1929 from Scourmont Abbey in Belgium).

Fish Window          The Fish Window, St David’s Church

Next stop, the Chocolate & Fudge shop with an exploration of the Old Priory on the way, which incorporates the Catholic Church of St Illtyd, which is still in use and again originates from medieval times.

Last stop is the lighthouse on the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean for views of the more pastoral side of the island, before we head back towards the boat and our return to Tenby.

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A really lovely day out, blessed with more sunshine.





A Day Awash With Flowers!

18 05 2013

Today will be the last full hiking day here in Pembrokeshire, before my ladies return back to Minneapolis.

So hopefully they will enjoy the fact that we have great weather to start the day off, which will certainly show today’s walk in all it’s Welsh glory. We take a transfer to Stackpole Quay, where we will walk in a southerly direction to Manorbier.

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However, to begin with we take a slight detour north along the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, across the Stackpole Estate to Barafundle Bay. This is consistently voted amongst one of the top beaches in the British Isles and in Europe. On one occasion it has also been voted as one of the Top 10 beaches in the World. Once, you see it you can understand why: beautiful clean sand, backed by pristine sand dunes, bordered by dramatic cliffs and gently sloping westwards into the sea. In addition, there is no access by road, so it keeps the crowds down to an extent.

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We head back to Stackpole Quay and from there gently climb up on to the cliffs where the views are, as usual, fantastic. The sea is like crystal today shining and shimmering below us, with a solitary fishing boat pulling in its crab & lobster pots. After walking for almost 2 hours, we settle upon the beach and its dunes at Freshwater East as our lunch stop. Now I know I’ve mentioned the flowers a few times but, as they are entering full bloom they just get better and better every day and more and more varied: Bluebells, Red Campion, Sea Campion, Wood Anenomes, Stitchwort, Speedwell, Violets, Celandines, Campanula, Wild Garlic (Ramsoms), Thrift, Cowslips, Primroses, Purple Orchids, Gorse, Ferns and many more I can’t name (yet).

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After lunching amongst Freshwater East’s sand dunes, we continue on our way over West Moor Cliff to Swanlake Bay (I still don’t know why it’s called this). As we are walking, we fear that we are going to be rained upon, so we don our waterproofs. With a rain storm ahead of us, I can see the rain dancing across the surface of the sea and the wind has doubled in intensity. To our left inland, there is a ferocious black cloud passing behind us and we encounter the first drops of rain, nothing heavy but all of a sudden there is the clatter of thunder all around us. It’s hailing a little now and cracks of lightning are visible but, somehow we manage to walk between the rainstorm at sea and the thunder-storm inland. Somebody somewhere is getting a thorough drenching! We continue across the cliffs of East Moor and eventually thread our way down to Manorbier Bay, one of my favourite childhood beaches because of the fabulous rock pools exposed at low-tide.

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Time for a cup of tea for the ladies and a bottle of Crabbies Ginger Beer over ice for me, before making the short walk to Tudor Lodge Inn in Jameston.

It was quite a long day for the ladies but, it was enjoyed by all.





Bitches & Whelps and Other Wildlife!

17 05 2013

It’s Thursday and so we will try to get to Ramsey Island again and experience a circumnavigation of the island as well, with Thousand Island Expeditions. 

We did not need to ring the office to check on viability as it was a glorious day, the sea by St Justinian’s lifeboat station was calm and clear and not a breath of wind in the air.

IMG_2738          Ramsey Sound

With tickets pre-booked we arrived with plenty of time to spare and have a look around the lifeboat station and see the boats in operation, albeit just practice thankfully.

St Justinian’s has an all-weather, 14.3m Tyne Class lifeboat in the boathouse, which is elevated and launched from high above the sea, to allow for difficult sea conditions. The lifeboat is named “RNLB Garside” and weighs in at 26 tonnes, with 2 General Motors six cylinder diesel engines generating around 750HP and a working speed of 17.5 knots. This boat can self-right itself if capsized with 10 seconds and cost in the region of £530,000 to build. She has been on the station since 1988.

IMG_1638          RNLB Garside

St Jusinian’s is in the enviable position of also having a brand new all-weather, state-of-the-art, 16.3m Tamar Class lifeboat, which will be based in a brand new boathouse in the neighbouring cove. The lifeboat is named “RNLB Norah Wortley” and weighs in at 32 tonnes, with 2 x 1001HP Caterpillar C18 diesel engines, generating a combined 1800HP, which is restricted to 1700HP and a given speed of 25 knots, although I’m told be one of the crew members that they’ve had it up to 29 knots in calm conditions. The noise of this incredible boat is exhilarating, which is evident as the crew are bringing her around to refuel whilst sea conditions are favourable.

IMG_2752            RNLB Norah Wortley

That’s the boys stuff done. Time to get these lovely ladies on to the Gower Ranger for a tour of Ramsey Island and then a hike around the RSPB (The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) nature reserve itself.  As we leave shore aboard the Gower Ranger, the Norah Wortley, is waiting for us, as we have a lifeboat crew member to drop off. Our captain challenges the Norah Wortley to a standing start. We do ok to begin with but soon are outstripped by the lifeboat, even with it weighing 10-15 tonnes more.

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As we approach Ramsey Island and the landing stage, we start our clockwise circumnavigation of the island. The first task is to navigate the Bitches & Whelps – a natural reef, weir and damn all in one, protecting Ramsey Sound from the open sea. The current here is incredible as the sea pours over the reef, delivering millions of litres of sea water per second at up to 18 knots. The difference in sea level across the reef can be up to 1.5m and runs for 6 hours in each direction. Understandably, there have been many shipwrecks over the years, including one involving the RNLB Gem lifeboat in 1910, where 3 crew members lost their lives.

IMG_1674          Bitches & Whelps

After we leave the Bitches & Whelps behind us we have to navigate the Devil’s Hole, a bubbling cauldron of cross currents and heavy swell. It’s like a roller-coaster ride! We begin to weave our way through the coves, inlets and passageways between overhanging rocks with plenty to see at every turn. Seals aplenty basking on a beach and bobbing their heads up around the boat, tempting us for the perfect photo shot, only to duck under the surface just as you’re about to shoot. The cliffs are covered with line after line of Guillemots, Razorbills and Kittiwakes in particular and rafts of birds here and there busy with their fishing trips. The scenery all around us is stunning. I highly recommend this tour as it’s a highly entertaining hour and a half and very good value for money.

IMG_2760  IMG_2811          Razorbills & Guillemots

IMG_2762  IMG_2851 (2)          Grey Seals & Oystercatcher

IMG_2805  IMG_2779          Grey Seal & Kittiwakes

At midday we land on Ramsey and are left to our own devices for 4 hours, to explore and investigate. We head north in search of Raven, Chough, Buzzards, Oystercatchers, Owls, Wheatears, Red Deer and any other migrant birds that may be passing through. Did I mention what a glorious day it is? We have been truly blessed when we compare to the weather of the previous few days.

IMG_1692          South View of Ramsey Island

So what did we see? All of the above and more: a Ringed Plover (not on the RSPB list of sighted birds – my scalp!) and a baby shrew playing around in the sunshine, seemingly oblivious of our presence. It was quite unusual to see Red Deer on such a small island and looking quite shaggy with their moult.

I’m very happy that the ladies had such a wonderful trip around the island in such favourable weather.

IMG_2845          The Tribe

A great day out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





A Land of Castles

16 05 2013

It’s true Pembrokeshire has it’s fair share of castles, whether you like something completely run down, a restored monument or something in between, there’s plenty on offer.

The original plan was go to Ramsey Island but, after checking the sea conditions, it was reported that there would be no sailing today, due to a very large swell. Apparently, the winds will have dropped substantially by Thursday and there are rumours of no rain. Now that would be a blessing. It’s pretty cold today, well below the average for May.

So, what better than a tour of some castles.

First stop Pembroke Castle, with it’s roots set in the 11th Century, it was originally built as a eath and wood fort and turned into a stone castle in the 12th Century. The Great Keep is one of it’s most notable features,a round keep with a domed roof, the only one in existence in the British Isles. The top supported a wooden, covered fighting platform. This would have been the last point of resistance. The castle was extended extensively in the 13th Century. The castle experienced a fairly peaceful period through the 15th & 16th Century and was also the birthplace of Henry  Tudor in 1457, who would go on to become Henry VII. At the outbreak of the English Civil war, unlike the other castles of South Wales, Pembroke declared for the Parliament. After several wars and changes of allegiance, Oliver Cromwell arrived at Pembroke and after seven weeks of siege, took the castle. Cromwell ordered the castle destroyed and it remained abandoned and decaying for 250 years. In 1880 some restoration work was carried out over 3 years but, then left in disrepair until 1928 when an extensive programme of work was undertaken to the gatehouses, towers and walls.

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Next stop Carew Castle, an altogether different place. A magnificent castle with a history spanning 2,000 years. Set in a stunning location, overlooking a 23-acre millpond, the castle displays the development from a Norman fortification to an Elizabethan country house. At first glance the castle doesn’t seem anything special but, for me this place feels more like a home due to it’s style and many intricate rooms. There have been many additions over time with many different styles. Carew Castle is also home to at least 50% of all the species of bats in the UK, including the Greater Horseshoe Bat. For this reason one section of the castle is out of bounds for the tourist, to protect the bats home.

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A fairly quiet day overall, finished off with dinner at the lovely Griffin Inn in Dale village, overlooking the estuary. This place is worthy of a visit if you’re a fan of very fresh, locally caught fish, served in a very simple pub.

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Once again, fingers crossed for Ramsey Island on Thursday.








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