I had resolved some time ago to spend New Year’s Day walking somewhere on the coast of South Wales. The Blues were away to the Ospreys in the evening and it was thus an excuse to go west of Cardiff. Eleanor and Huw had both determined that New Year would for them involve a return to University so I paid the train fare for Eleanor, and drive Huw back to Warwick and then headed for a hotel on the M4 so I could make an early start. By now I had formed a plan to make it a sentimental trip and go out to St Davids to revisit the farm at Upper Treleddyn where we had spent several happy summers.
Having dropped Huw off in Leamington Spa I set the sat nav options to avoid motorways and decided to follow it faithfully. This proved an interesting history lesson with a few connections. It took me past the still impressive Warwick Castle. Back in August 1265 a large part of Simon de Montfort’s forces has slept outside the castle given the heat and were consequently massacred by the Prince Edward (later to be Edward I) in what was the penultimate act of the second Baron’s War. From there I skirted Evensham and passed the site of of the Battle of Evesham where de Montfort was himself killed and his body multilated thus ending the leadership of the man who brought the first English Parliament into being.
Now for any student of Welsh History to Battle of Evesham is critical. Llywelyn, the last true Prince of Wales was at various stages allied with de Montfort and was betrothed to his daughter Eleanor (after who, along the the grande dame of the Plantagenets, Eleanor of Aquitaine, my daughter was named). The capture of Henry III by de Montfort and the resulting Treaty of Montgomery in 1267 was the first formal acknowledgement of Wales as a distinct political entity and the alliance with Llywelyn was a key part of that. Unfortunately Llywelyn did not fully commit his troops to support de Montfort at Evesham, indeed the infantry he sent were withdrawn during the battle. Less that 20 years later Wales was fully under the control of Edward I.
Aside: I know that technically Llywelyn’s brother Dafydd was the last Prince of Wales, but he fought for the English in an earlier invasion and his impetuous nature in the attack of Hawarden Castle in 1282 created the excuse that Edward needed to initiate the final invasion of Wales. Edward was not best pleased by this betrayal and the punishment of hanging, drawing and quartering was created for Dafydd and executed (sic) for the first time in Shrewsbury with this wife and children forced to watch.
Musing on that the route took me over the Malverns (marked for a future walk) and then down into Wales and via the Heads of the Valleys Road to Swansea for an early night. It was much disturbed as I had the room opposite the lift so was woken up frequently as revellers returned, were locked out of rooms by angry spouses and generally created problems.
An 0630 start saw me heading down the M4 towards St Davids and I arrived as the sky was lightening. I had originally planned to park near Treleddyn farm and then head for Whitesands and take an southerly route back. However the forecast was for rain after midday so I decided best to leave all of the country lane walking for the end of the day, with the wind behind me; this proved a wise decision. So I parked at the National Trust Car Park at Porth Clais (bottom right on the map) and headed up towards the cliff.
The light was poor throughout the day and I had the anti-vibrate set on the lens for most of the day. Rain squalls and high winds were to be a feature of the day. Net result a great experience but poor photographs. The harbour at Porth Clais is one of those delightful hidden sanctuaries that are common on the Welsh and Cornish Coasts. I had an early warning that I needed to exercise care where an over confident backwards step while hold the camera to my eye send me sliding down a rock face for about 20 feet. No hard done other than injured pride and a realisation that no one knew where I was, so I did a quick email (the wonders of an iPhone) to assorted family members describing the route with a If I don’t report in by 1800 tell someone message.
The walk round to Porthlysgi Bay was still partly sheltered so it was easy going and I got my first glimpses of Ramsey Island over the headlands ahead. On the next headland the cottage or Porth-henllys attracted my attention – a wonderfully isolated location possibly to write. I disturbed a flock of gulls on the lake before approach the highpoint of the walk namely the heights of Pen Pedol and Pen Dal-aderyn with its views of the tide race of Ramsey Sound. This was the first time I had been there in Winter, and the turn of the tide produced a spectacular effect that I could not capture on camera. The tide race here is incredible and has resulted in many a ship wreck over the years. As I came to the head of the cliff I could see the effect of the Irish sea emptying and filling through a narrow channel It was so strong that the sea was smooth for 500 yards parallel to the shore with a five meter standing wave marking the boundary to broken water. At one end there was what looked like a whirl pool from which nothing would have escaped.
The straight the line of rocks known as the Bitches were more or less hidden in broken waters and at this point some of the memories started to flood back. In summer one of the highlights of the holiday was to take the Bouncy Boat across to Ramsey Island. In those days it left from Whitesands Bay and mixed the excitement of surfing the bitches with seeing the first seal pups in hidden caves on the far side of the Island. I had a hard job to persuade family members it was save for very young children, but Huw and Eleanor remember those trips to this day. If you get a chance take the dusk sailing at a spring tide. That means you will get to sit silently, engines off to the north of Ramsey Island as the Manx Sheerwaters fly past in huge numbers. They are too ungainly on land to survive predators and so return only as the light fades. They fly so close to the surface of the sea that they can’t fall into it – a technique which was imitated by Spitfire pilots in the last war. You also get to ride the waterfall that the tide forms as it passes over the Bitches and you get very very wet.
The Bitches stayed in sight as the lifeboat station at St Justian’s appeared as a landmark on the horizon. I hadn’t realised that it was due to launch that day otherwise I would have waited as this is one of the most spectacular slip launches around. However the weather was turning worse so I headed on around the head, with reducing cliffs to the small beach of Porthselau. Now this was the beach to which we descending on a track from the farm most days. One memorable days, Eleanor (then very young) found several baby adders, just out of the eggs crossing the path and you also saw multiple hedgerow and sea birds. At the end of the path the concrete steps to the side of a minor waterfall took you to the sandy beach, surrounded by cliffs which provided marvellous swimming and multiple rock pools. Eleanor I am afraid to say inherited by childhood approach to rock pools which involved charging into them and then getting frustrated that no fish or crabs were to be seen. Huw was more like my sister, prepared to wait patiently for better results.
I shed a tear or two on that beach but they were lost on the rain which was now coming in horizontally so I stepped on round the coast to Whitesands bay with its normal compliment of surfers. You can see why if you look at the picture which heads this post. The lifeboat was also now out and practicing close in shore manoeuvres, and probably cleared up a few heads in the volunteer crew. From there I followed farm tracks back to Treleddyn into the face of a hail storm until I turned the corner. At the farm my first sigh was the milking shed (pictured) where we went every morning to fill a small churn after morning milking. There is nothing like fresh milk and the taste came back to me as I took the long walk, through interesting lanes to Porth Clais and the end of the walk. It was a good day, and I think the whole of the coastal path is now a target for summer, or possible a pre Easter break, combining walking with writing if I can find the right holiday cottage.
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