Grass Routes

We like to think that Pembrokeshire is a very green place in more ways than one.

We asked Catherine Mack of Ethical Traveller to check out our eco credentials.  This is what she had to say....

It strikes me as somewhat ironic that the hedgerows which envelop me along this shady lane are called Pembrokeshire ‘banks’. Because while the rest of the world’s banks fall into crisis and collapse, these ones are proffering a wealth of natural wonders. Known locally as cloddiau or clawdd, these traditional stone field boundaries, unlike drystone walls, are bedecked with grass and wildflowers thanks to the turf and soil stuffed in between the stones, providing not only a territorial marker-cum-windbreak but also a bountiful haven of natural habitats.

At the moment the bees are in full buzz, drunk on the banks’ abundant foxgloves, poppies and ox-eye daisies that lead me down to my nearest beach of Abermawr. I’m on a three-day escape from London living with the aim of avoiding congestion, carbon and cooking, the first two through a growing commitment to being a greener traveller, the third through sheer laziness and a desire to fill every spare minute walking, leaving my work-obsessed mind free to wander too.

By using Pembrokeshire’s Coastal Bus service to get me to and from different spots along its coast path I’m able to leave the car at home as I walk bite-sized stretches of its 187 miles. Even better, this bus scheme runs all year round allowing you to wallow in Welsh wanderlust whenever you fancy.

I’m basing myself at Preseli Venture Eco Lodge, a vibrant, family-run activity centre where I first stayed a couple of years ago. I was on a family kayaking and coasteering holiday then, and as they welcome everyone here like long-lost friends, I thought this would be the perfect springboard for a bit of solitary walking this time around. They also serve vats of wonderful home-cooked food, so I hit the paths with a belly full of breakfast and a packed lunch in the knowledge that a big casserole or curry was waiting for me each night.

The morning train from Paddington arrives at lunchtime in Fishguard and Goodwick, where Preseli meet me at the station. Good timing, for I’m able to fit in a three-hour walk from Abermawr beach, just ten minutes from the lodge, heading south on the coast path to Trefin. It lures me from one bay to another, urging me on to ‘just one more headland’ to see what riches lie beyond. The terrain varies from craggy, sandy or grassy, and most of the path is separated from the sea by well-managed bracken, gorse or hedging, with stomach-churning ‘don’t look down’ moments few and far between for those with a dodgy head for heights. 

At Trefin, a small village with the perfect hikers’ hangouts (the Ship Inn and charming café called the Mill, where I indulged in a well-earned cream tea), I catch the 6.27pm Strumble Shuttle bus back to Mathry, about 20 minutes’ walk from the lodge.

I leave my big walk for day two, a 12-mile circular trip around the coves and cliffs that wrap themselves around St. Davids Peninsula. I fill a flask of tea and a large water bottle, stow away my packed lunch and hit the road, with nothing but the cacophony of spring birdsong to accompany me as I hike up the hill to catch the 8am Strumble Shuttle.

I don’t dally in St Davids where, as the cathedral clock strikes nine, the temperatures are already rising into their mid-20s. I head straight out along a narrow back road, tucked behind the ruins of the medieval Bishop’s Palace and purple-stoned cathedral, which turns out to be an appropriately heavenly route to the impressive expanses of Whitesands Bay. Heading south, the coast path around the headland reveals stunning views across to the bird reserve of Ramsey Island, a short boat trip across the treacherous Ramsey Sound.

I’m told that this part of the path is one of the finest in Pembrokeshire, and, for that matter, one of the best stretches of the 870-mile Wales Coast Path, opened last year. Having walked it, I’m not about to argue. As a bonus it’s never remotely busy (except around Porthstinian, where the ancient ruins of St Justinian’s Chapel share the coast with a charming, toy town-like red-and-cream lifeboat station) and the turquoise inlet of Porth Clais with its ancient lime kilns built into the harbour walls (and a most welcome coffee and ice-cream kiosk).

My only other company en route are a few smiling hikers and choughs, cormorants and stonechats, all in nesting frenzies at this time of year. I spot a couple of kayakers and fishing boats as I keep an eye out for dolphins, porpoises and seals, but they aren’t playing today, despite this being one of their favourite hangouts. Dolphins or no dolphins, the solitude and solace to be found following in the footsteps of pilgrims and Celtic saints soothes my soul.

I time my exit from the path at Caerfai Bay perfectly, fitting in a quick snack at the delightful Caerfai Organic Farm Shop owned by Christine and Wyn Evans just before it closes. Wyn tells me about his renewable energy schemes created long before green became the new black. He is totally fired up about how we all have a responsibility to do our bit if we are going to reverse the impacts of climate change. I listen and learn from this knowledgeable man, and when I look back along the coast path which swivels in and out of his land I realise that farmers like him who work so generously with the National Trust and National Parks to preserve this natural legacy for us and future generations are all doing more ‘bits’ than most of us put together. I’m inspired to make a little vow: I shall return with my family for a longer stay at his Caerfai campsite or holiday cottages.

I make my 5.45pm bus from St Davids back to Mathry, with half an hour to spare which gives me just about enough time for a look around the cathedral where, to my delight, the choir is rehearsing for Sunday service, the sopranos’ Amen bringing this already uplifting day to the perfect close.

My last day of walking takes me around Strumble Head to the east, a windy, lofty spot of the coast path where wild ponies are let out to pasture to keep these remote rocky slopes and paths clear of bracken. An imposing white lighthouse issues warnings through the mist which, in turn, emits nourishing droplets on the yellow blankets of kidney vetch and wild primrose, peppered with purple wild thyme, all around me. Suddenly, I spot a seal staring up at me, basking on the steps of the lighthouse. It feels as if we are both staring in unison at the marine magnificence all around us. As the hairs rise on the back of my neck in this quiet moment with nature, I realise that not only are Pembrokeshire’s banks rolling in it, but that this highly protected coastline is one big repository of natural assets that everyone can profit from.

Read more about sustainable and green holidays in Pembrokeshire.

About the author:
Catherine Mack

Catherine Mack is a travel writer specialising in responsible tourism. With a Masters degree in Responsible Tourism Management, she was the Ethical Traveller columnist for The Irish Times for four years.

Irish, but based in London, she has also written for leading UK national newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Observer, The Financial Times, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, Coast Magazine and National Geographic Traveller Magazine.

Read more of Catherine's work on Ethical Traveller.

 If you are thinking of visiting Pembrokeshire I have only one piece advice...JUST DO IT! You won't regret it. 
Maurice, Netherlands

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Grass Routes - St Justinians
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