As I drove past Newgale this morning I noticed the campsite was almost full; across the road, many of the campers had already staked a claim to their patch of sand. Two miles further, at Nolton, the car park was overflowing, a queue of people on the slipway. Over the hill the boogie boarders were braving the early morning waves at Broad Haven. At the prospect of sunshine, the crowds were gathering at the honey pots of Pembrokeshire.
On their day I like all of these places, though I'm not a great one for crowds - not a great one for sitting on the beach if I'm honest - so I was off to complete another section of the coast path. This time I was walking from St Martins Haven to Dale, a fiddly place to get to, which explains why it was one of the last sections I needed to complete. My plan was to drive to Dale, leave bike there, drive to St Martins, park at National Trust, walk twelve miles, cycle back to car... you get the idea.
But sometimes the effort is worth it. A mile into my walk and I was above Marloes Sands, a kestrel hovering above me and butterflies rising from the grass with every stride. But it was the beach that held my gaze. I kept thinking, how it could be, that in all the time I've been coming to Pembrokeshire I've never been here before? The truth is, it's a faff to get here and there are easier options; much the same reason as why the crowds gather at Newgale I suppose.
Near where I took the photo below I met a lady who was admiring the view. She told me she lived in Marloes (the nearest village), then added 'Is there a better beach anywhere than this?' I had to agree. 'Not many trippers come here, because you have to walk four hundred yards from the car park - it's fantastic for the rest of us though.' Again, I agreed. But when I asked if she'd been to Ynys Barry near Porthagin she said ' Where's that?' And when I explained it was only a few miles to the north, she replied, 'You know, we never go to the north coast, it's terrible really.' I left her sitting on the headland and reflected on how we each have our own hefts.
But talking to anyone was an exception today. I must have passed no more than a dozen people in as many miles. Every so often I'd come across a cove with sunbathers and perhaps a yacht off shore. There were some farmers turning the fields, flocks of gulls crowding behind the tractors. The lighthouse at St Anne's was deserted - probably automatic these days. There were butterflies to watch too - one of my geekier hobbies - today was outstanding: Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Peacock, Comma, Blues (various), Fritillaries (at least two species) Meadow Brown, Wall Butterfly, Small and Large Heath, Speckled Wood, Small White, Green Veined White, Grayling ( I think) and best of all what must have been a hundred Large Whites feeding on a bramble patch. Sadly , not one Small Tortoiseshell, which used to be so common only a few years ago.
The coast path turns east after the lighthouse, following the Duagleddau towards Milford Haven and Pembroke Dock. It is reputedly the second deepest natural harbour in the world - on a day like to day it is hard to imagine that such a wide passage could be dangerous - yet fifteen years ago the Sea Empress foundered off this headland, resulting in Britain's worst oil spillage. I remember the dead gulls washed up on Whitesands and the diggers cleaning the oil off the sand.
Today, it would be a mean person not to say the estuary was beautiful. Even the refineries and the various industrial detritus seemed almost in keeping. It made me wonder if I'd ever come to accept wind farms quite so readily; I doubt it. My thoughts were confirmed as I passed under the signal towers - there is something about getting close to these structures that brings home how out of place they are in the landscape. Not that I have any alternatives to offer if they save lives and stop ships running aground.
My walk finished at Dale. It's not a place I've liked before; a pub, a cafe, a car park. The last time I was here was in winter - to look for birds on the River Gann - and I wondered then, why it is so popular with summer visitors. As I walked down the hill, a hundred or so boats came into view - all on moorings, with easy access in the sheltered bay. There were dozens of boaty types in the pub, sunbathing on the sea walls - they seemed to be having a good time, no rush to go out on the water. And why not, I thought - we each of us have our honey pots, and it would be a shame if they were all the same.