As far as trails go, I have made no secret that the South West Coast Path was my first big love. We had an incredible time together, even if it wasn’t all sunshine and roses (actually, there was pretty much no sunshine at all and just a few premature daffodils) and I haven’t really stopped talking about it since. I became increasingly aware that this love affair might have all been a little one sided though and in the month or so since we parted, the SWCP has let a few too many other feet pound its trails. It was time for me to let go and start moving on too.
I had a nice time working my way up through Somerset and into Wales. The rain finally started to clear up a little and the trails began to harden once more. There was some good running, some great people and some lovely days but I didn’t feel enraptured in the same way that I had with the South West. I enjoyed it all, with the exception of a few A roads and wobbles and the daily crying about cows, but I wasn’t ecstatic about it. It made moving on difficult.
Throughout this time, I kept hearing rumours of a handsome fella called Pembrokeshire lurking just around the corner from West Wales. I heard about hills and beaches and cliffs and ice creams but part of me, I have to admit, was cynical. Hills? Pssht, not as rugged as Dorset. Ice cream? Never going to be as creamy as Devon. Beaches? No chance they’ll compare to Cornish sands.
Then I got there.
I can’t quite pinpoint the moment at which I crossed the border into Pembrokeshire because I was slightly distracted by a friend in a sombrero with whom I was running that weekend, and the lengthy stories we kept telling, but the next thing I knew I was wandering into Tenby thinking, “oh, we’re here!”. That night, we stayed with Deborah, a professional cake baker (She has a whole kitchen solely for baking cakes in! Imagine!), and Nigel, a Kona qualifying Ironman who previously windsurf commuted to work, and I ate lots of delicious things and did lots of chatting and remembered how many really fantastic people there are in the world.
The next morning, I dragged Adam (owner of the sombrero) out of bed early and after eggs and bacon and mugs of tea, we hit the trail, motivated by getting to Stackpole before they stopped serving roast dinners. Pembrokeshire National Park ranger Tom joined us for a stint and, despite stopping regularly to learn about rock formations and taking a little detour involving a beach and a dairy farm, we made it to the pub in time for lunch. The sun was out and the skies were blue and I declared summer by ordering a pint of cider to go with my roast lamb.
Things continued on an upward trajectory from there. Perhaps just because I was staying with a largely interconnected group of people but it felt like everybody in Pembrokeshire knew each other and I loved that. I slept in spare rooms and attics and holiday homes. I learnt about cycle touring and geology and Tibet in the nineties. I quizzed Abbie the trainee vet for hours about what to do when cattle approaches and befriended pet dogs and developed a worrying addiction to chocolate buttons. (Note to self: waking up and eating a family bag of buttons at 4am is not a sustainable habit.)
Things felt easy in Pembrokeshire. It felt safe. I didn’t have to think too hard. The most challenging thing about this whole trip seems to be the logistics of it, especially whilst I’m avoiding spending soggy nights under canvas, but in Pembrokeshire things just fell into place as I worked my way around the coast, collecting stripy tan lines and great conversations as I went.
If the SWCP was my first love, then Pembrokeshire was my holiday romance, and it was just what I needed. I loved the South West but I struggled with it too. For all its beauty and charm and power and allure, the storms were hard and the wind scary and the mud dangerous and the ascents draining. It all made me stronger, yes, but Pembrokeshire was restorative. It was lighter, simpler and heavier on the Type 1 fun and as the path has headed into Ceredigion and beyond, that feeling of bliss and peace has largely continued. I have had some truly wonderful days and I can’t wait for more of those, as the days get longer and my legs get stronger and my nose gets frecklier.
Thank you for a smashing couple of weeks Pembrokeshire. I hope our paths will cross again one day. Hugs and kisses xxo.
If you enjoyed reading this, it would make my day if you would consider donating to my charities Young Minds and Beyond Food. You can do so here – http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/runthecoast