Walking with Mike Pearson and Heike Roms on 29 May 2010

Pembrokeshire Coastal Path

I am walking with Mike and Heike, friends made in the field of ‘performance’. Our paths have crossed for quite a few years now, though usually in the midst of conferences about history and live art, or performance and landscape.  I have also peviously walked as if I was Mike, retracing a performance of a guided tour he did around the village of his childhood (“Bubbling Tom”, Hibaldstow). I relish the prospect of walking with Mike this time.

Mike and Heike have booked us in to The Clock House, a lovely Guest House in Marloes (complete with a three course dinner that includes an offer of locally caught lobster). The aim is to reach their favourite place for walking: Skomer Island, which lies just off the Pembrokeshire Coast. It’s something of a bird watcher’s paradise (and Mike is something of a bird watcher. Though I own some binoculars, I’m not so great on identification.) The weather forecast predicted heavy rain and indeed, though I went to sleep in balmy, summery conditions, I am woken by the sound of a torrent. Rain is ok though – the wee boat to Skomer can cope with rain. It’s wind that’s the problem.

During breakfast the news is delivered that Kenny, the boat man, is unable to take day visitors over to Skomer today as the wind is picking up and we might get stranded there. Not getting to Skomer is something of a regular occurrence, and probably a large part of the island’s appeal. So I won’t get to experience Mike and Heike’s favourite walk after all; but curiously that seems appropriate. I appreciate the gesture of them wanting to share it with me. However, it remains their favourite walk, a walk they do together, and its being ‘off-limits’ to me seems almost poetic. The previous night, studying an aerial photograph, Mike gave me a virtual tour so I can, at least, imagine where the puffins nest.

By the time we’ve finished breakfast, the rain has stopped and we head out to walk their second favourite walk, for the most part following the glorious Pembrokeshire Coastal Path. A handy walking map, produced by The Clock House proprietors, Phil & Sue, guides us easily to the start of the walk, just behind the Guest House. Almost immediately, we are plunged into a verdant green canopy, and then onto a narrow, quiet county road, flanked on both sides by wild hedges, home to Whitethroats. Passing by a Youth Hostel, its roof made of lime (to prevent it from being blown off in the regularly high winds) we make our way to Marloes Mere, a marshland complete with handy bird hide. A brief stop here, spotting Little Grebe with even littler Grebe chicks, and the much maligned (common) Mallard.

Then back on to the road and heading West towards the coast. The sound of the sea, even from this distance, provides a constant background rumble. As we get nearer, we can see the waves breaking ferociously on the land’s edges. The steep path leads us down to Marloes Sands, a spectacular landscape whose geology feels almost prehistoric. Huge sheets of layered rock arranged at sharp angles provide a scale which makes me feel small. Heike takes a picture of us all, setting her new ‘retro’ camera on self-timer. (It’s the sort of camera that prompts her to come over all ‘Audrey Hepburn’.) Returning to the path, I manage to spot a bird; it’s hovering, so it doesn’t look like a gull. In fact, it turns out to be a Peregrine Falcon (having a bird watcher as a fellow walker is very useful). I feel proud of myself for spotting something (even if I could not have named it). It’s fitting that a Peregrine hovers above our peregrinations. A ‘resident’ breed to these parts, though, is the Chough. I’ve never seen Chough before, but put on the alert, I spot one, and then we see a fraternity ducking and diving beside the cliff, red legs and beaks separating them from crows. I can’t resist saying that I’m chuffed (corny though I know that is).

Continuing along the coastal path, and through a kissing gate (where a sign tells us that the sheep have learned how to open it), we see a Kestral, hovering, then swooping. It’s sunny, warm, but very windy. Reaching Deer Park, we head down to the inlet, Martin’s Haven, to use the public loos. Remarkably, these are the havens for nesting swallows too and they fly about our heads, quite untroubled by our presence. A welcome packed lunch is eaten, sitting in the bay (where the boat to Skomer is moored), and then back up to Deer Park (a deer wall was built in the eighteenth century, though deer were never actually introduced. Now, it’s home to wild ponies). Tramping through the vibrantly yellow gorse, we spot another breed of the area, the Stonechat. And on our way to the exposed headland, Wooltack Point, we see a single seal, and a single Gannet. At Wooltack Point, braving the strong headwinds,  we look across to Skomer Island, our shadow walk.

From here, we’re on the last leg of the walk, the start of which is a steep climb up a bank (like climbing a ladder, says Mike). The carpet of wildflowers on this walk has been memorable: bright yellow gorse, pink campion, fox gloves, pink clovers, large daisies, seas of bluebells: purples, whites, blues, pinks, yellows… The flora provides the foundations for fragile gossamer shelters too, spun by caterpillars biding their time till they transform into butterflies.

Walking high above Musselwick Sands, where the tide is out and we can see body boarders paddling in the sea, a bit of sand graffiti proclaims proudly ‘I love Dad’. A wooden sign informs us that we’re nearing the end (1 mile to Marloe), and it’s probably just as well, as our feet and legs are beginning to feel the 9 miles we’ve walked.

Back at The Clock House, I feel windswept and sun kissed and bank holiday blessed. All of me is utterly refreshed. The sensations of this land have impressed themselves upon me.

Pembrokeshire Coastal Path (and a bit extra)

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