Just Challenging Enough
The Pembrokeshire Coast Path in Wales can be a challenging experience or a lovely, gentle one. It's up to you.
Just before I left for my trip to the Pembrokeshire coast, an newspaper article appeared about the Pembrokeshire Coast Path that had me wondering what I was letting myself in for.
A Long Wet Walk in Wales, By Dominique Browning described a five day, 64 mile long trek along the path as a cold, constantly wet, occasionally dangerous ordeal, punctuated by bad food and overnight stays in mediocre accommodations. The author loved it.
If that's the kind of challenge you are after, then read no further.Personally, I'm not a fan of discomfort and fear as vacation activities and I am here to tell you that there are far softer options offering just as much enjoyment of this beautiful, relatively unspoilt coast. My idea of an endurance challenge is walking five or six miles, at my own relaxed pace, along decent paths through beautiful scenery with the prospect of a great meal and a luxury bath at the end of it.
A Matter of Engagement
If you book your break through a specialist in walking holidays, that is just what you will get - a vacation where the walk - with everything that it might throw at you- is the whole point of the trip.
If, on the other hand, you make exploring the destination and engaging with local people the point of your trip, you are much more likely to find the pleasant paths along which they walk their dogs, make their way to the beach, go out blackberry picking or walk off a their own Sunday lunches; the hills they climb to think and enjoy the view, the shortcuts they take through the woods and over a headland to a favorite pub.
On the next few pages, read about two walks I discovered on my own visit to Pembrokeshire. These are not walks meant to prove your stamina and athletic prowess, they are simply ways to enjoy a day out in the fresh air, being part of the landscape and enjoying the views..
Next: Newport and the Nevern Estuary
Walk 1: The Newport and the Nevern Estuary
This circular walk to the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path from the village of Newport on the North Pembrokeshire coast, is about 2.75 miles. It is over a mostly level path, some of which is wheelchair-friendly. The walk begins and ends at Llys Meddyg, a very good restaurant with luxury B&B accommodation Read a review).
The walk follows the sinuous path of the Nevern Estuary, on its south side, emerging on the beach at The Parrog, once Newport's harbor. After a short stretch across the southern side of the beach, the path runs along the top of stony bluffs, rising towards headlands to the west. There are dramatic views of Newport Bay and the headlands and cliffs to the North as well as the cliffs of Dinas Head to the South.
Local artist Alice Tennant called my attention to this walk in her many paintings of the Nevern Estuary.
Directions For Walk 1 - A Newport Walk in North Pembrokeshire
1, Leaving Llys Meddyg, turn left onto East Street (the A487). At the first corner, turn left onto Feidr Pen-Y-Bont (signposted Pen-Y-Bont) and continue downhill on this road.
2. After about a quarter of a mile, reach the Iron Bridge, a series of low level white arches across the River Nevern. Do not cross the bridge. Instead, go through the gate to your left on to the path. There is a small grassy area here with a few benches. After going through the gate, continue along this path. It is wide and dry, paved with pebbles in places, accessible and suitable for wheelchair users. In the spring, it blooms with wild garlic and along its length you can spot wild birds and a great variety of estuarine plant life.
Next: Beach Views and Sailboats
Beach Views and Moored Sailboats
Continuing along the Nevern Estuary walk, you'll see that as the river widens out, the views are lovely. Take your time.
3. After about 0.6 miles, there are long views of the beach and moored sailboats. At low tide, they rest on the sand.
4. At about two thirds of a mile, arrive at the intersection of Parrog Road. There is a Wales Coastal Path signpost. Turn right and continue toward the Parrog, a few hundred yards along.
Next: The Parrog
A few colorful village houses lead to the beach and continue up a seawall behind the beach.
5. Follow the path toward the beach, passing a red British phone box and a sign for The Parrog. There is public parking, with restrooms near this sign and a private boat club beyond.
Next: Alternate Wheelchair Route
Alternate Wheelchair Route
This alternate route, for wheelchair users and push chairs (baby strollers) takes you back to the village and the starting point on paved lanes.
6.The walk becomes unsuitable for wheelchairs beyond this point. You can either return the same way you came, or take Parrog Road about a quarter of a mile into the village of Newport at Bridge Street and turn left. The walk's starting point is about a quarter of a mile further as Bridge Street turns into East Street.
See Map of Alternate Route
Climbing the Coast Path
The path becomes a bit uneven underfoot but there is a handrail at this point and it remains easy for fit adults and children.
7.Continue along the left - or south side of the bay. The walk runs along an old sea wall then briefly descends to the beach for about 50 yards before climbing up a ramp to a narrow paved path. Parts of the path are protected with a railing.
8.The path climbs toward the south, with some beach houses on the left and low cliffs and the beach to the right.
Next: Enjoy the View and Return to Start
Enjoy the View and Return - End of Walk 1
9. Half a mile along from the Parrog sign,there is a small, landscaped area to sit and enjoy the view on your right.
(After this point, the path descends rather steeply before climbing up the next headland. If you continue in this direction, you will come to Dinas Head after approximately two further miles of clifftop walking.)
To continue on this mapped walk, you will need to backtrack briefly.
10. Continue back the way you came. In a little over a quarter of a mile, just after the path breaks at the beach, turn right on Feidr Brenin (see map).
11. Turn left on Feidr Ganol after just under a quarter of a mile.
12. Continue on Feidr Ganol for three quarters of a mile, bearing left at every intersection until the road joins Parrog Road. Feidr Ganol is an extremely narrow lane with high embankments so watch for cars and cyclists.
13. Bear right onto Parrog Road and then left onto Bridge Street.
14. Continue on Bridge Street for a quarter of a mile to the starting point of the walk at Llys Meddig
Next: Walk 2 - Wiseman's Bridge to Stepaside
Walk 2: A Woodland Walk to Stepaside
The star in Pembrokeshire's crown as far as serious walkers are concerned is the 260-mile long Coastal Path. But I found a wonderful, short woodland walk that starts on the beach and heads inland and upward to a historic surprise.
Start Walk 2
The hardest element of this walk is describing where to find the start.
At the opposite (or southwestern) end of the beach from the inn, is a small parking lot. Across the road, a public footpath sign indicates that Stepaside is 1.5 miles and Kilgetty 3.5 miles. The path passes a timber building with public toilets, then plunges into a dark wood beside a stream. Follow it.
Next: Classic Woodland With Garlic...Garlic?
Classic Woodland with Garlic...Garlic?
For about a mile, this is a classic woodland walk. Tall deciduous trees arch over a wide, well maintained footpath. A clear, fresh-smelling stream bubbles beside it.
In May, when I visited, wild garlic lined both sides of the path with nodding white flowers, filling the air with their delicious and distinctly non-floral scent. Eau de Joe's Pizzeria, I think.
Nevermind. Bluebells carpeted a hillside next to the path and I saw buttercups, lady's slipper, elderflower and Queen Anne's lace.Here and there the forest opened into a wildflower covered clearing or a paddock where a horse grazed.
There is little to challenge you on this walk. It is simply a lovely place to spend an hour in a quiet valley (Pleasant Valley is its name, in fact) full of birdsong and rustling leaves.
Then, at Stepaside, a surprise.
Next: A Mysterious Surprise
The Mysterious "Castle" at Stepaside
At Stepaside, surrounded by a camping/ caravan park and a cluster of cabins, a surprising granite ruin rises up.
It's the Stepaside Ironworks, built in 1848 and abandoned a generation later. The lovely woodland path, paved with pebbles and cinder was once the route of a narrow gauge tramway that carried iron, and coal from several nearby collieries, to the harbor at Saundersfoot.
When the works became uneconomical, they were simply abandoned and the forest has reclaimed the landscape. The information, by the way, is on a sign at the start of the path, near the public restrooms. It's the only clue to what the monumental ruins are all about and I had passed without even reading it. Actually, being surprised by the "Castle" was more fun.
Challenges for the Energetic
At this point, if you are feeling energetic, continue along the path which runs to the left of a paved road for a while. The small village of Kilgetty is about two miles further on.
But be warned, the last mile of the path climbs steadily at a very steep 30 to 40 degree grade. Take a taxi number with you in case you don't fancy returning down such a steep path. Gaz Cabs, metered taxis from Tenby, will come out to collect you from Kilgetty. Call them on 01834 844 0204 or 07837 974724.