Thursday, 30 July 2015

Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside!

But I could wish for warmer weather. It's been a rather cool and wet July. When I mentioned to a friend that I thought I might have moved somewhere breezy, she referred me to this report about the notably windy weather.

I had a sudden desire for a fish and chip supper beside the sea the other evening, so explored my way, via the newly opened Tiers Cross link road, to Broadhaven. There was a stiff onshore breeze which was sending flurries of sand before it up the slipway and across the road, the Blue Flag standing out from the flagpole like a board while the cables twanged. A good evening for blowing some cobwebs away.

The cafe was doing a good trade, and I took my fish and chips back to the comfort of my car, where I could eat without the wind snatching the paper out of my hands and watch the clouds catching and hiding the sun. I went back to the cafe for an ice cream, meaning to eat it while walking, but I couldn't concentrate on both at once. I was rather fascinated by the way the sun gleamed off it, but it was melting too fast to take a photo of the gorgeous stuff. I had to eat it quickly, trying to catch the drips and keep my hair out of it while I stood on the slipway watching a windsurfer and kite surfer zipping back and forth across the waves.
Such indulgence called for a walk, so I set off along the beach. I'd only brought a fleece jacket to put on over my T shirt and wished I'd left a hat and scarf in the pockets. There were a few other people walking on the beach, wearing coats, scarves and hats. At the end of July, for goodness' sake, it should be warm and sunny! A group of young people in wetsuits ran down to the sea to play on body boards, their calling and shrieks at the cold water lost in the general buffeting of wind and waves.
The tide was a way out, but there wasn't much on the strand line. Some bladder wrack, a few broken shells here and there, an unidentifiable jellyfish (there had been quite a few smallish Common/Moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) stranded at Newgale when I walked there a few weeks ago, so probably one of those) and a few small By-the-Wind Sailors (Velella velella). Before I knew it, I was almost at the other end of the beach, my path blocked by the water flowing from the stream which emerges onto the beach under Haroldston Bridge. Not wanting to get my feet wet, I walked up the shingle bank to the road and back along the prom, sitting for a few minutes to watch the sunset. It wasn't as colourful as I'd hoped. Judging by the disappointment and resignation on the faces of some more serious photographers there, they were probably hoping for something glorious too.

Still, it was rather wonderful nonetheless, to watch the sun glinting off waves before it hid behind the clouds, tasting salt from the sea spray on my lips, feeling my hair dance in the buffeting breeze. Hopefully, there will be a warmer and more mellow evening so that I can swim and laze on the beach without having to unpack my gloves and scarves just yet!

Tuesday, 14 July 2015


For over a month now, I have awoken every day determined to finish getting the kitchen in order; all the cupboards cleaned, all the various kitchen paraphernalia unpacked, washed, dried and put away. And every day I get a little more done, a little nearer my goal, but I haven't finished yet.  I do a bit in each of the rooms too, and delight in my daily gardening fix, even if it's only to pull up a few weeds to add to the compost bin with the previous day's kitchen waste. Daily chores in the form of general cleaning (even the most cursory swipe around with the vacuum every couple of days leaves it half full of cat hair, which is being shed by the handful), laundry and shopping all take time, as well as dealing with paperwork, organising quotes for maintenance work and various other issues, such as new items delivered damaged and needing replacement (grrr!). I'm busy, and there is a steady outflow of boxes (which are removed with the weekly recycling, hurrah!) and am still not really making a difference. As far as the kitchen goes, I'm in the last 20% - which, according to the 80-20 rule, takes 80% of the time.

So it was with some sense of despair at myself and profuse apologies for the mess that I welcomed Ursula to the chaos that is cat-hair central, aka my new home, last week. It seemed incredible that it's been eleven months since she stayed with me on her way down to Tenby and then north again as she walked the Cistercian Way. For various good reasons, she didn't complete her 3000 miles last year, and it is going to be 3500 or perhaps more by the time she finishes this year. She's currently on her second loop around the Pembrokeshire Coast Path and recently passed the 3000 mile mark, so she is also in the last 20%.

She had been staying with one of my friends for some of the northern section of the coast path and had been able to leave her rucksack and manage with a borrowed day sack for a few days, to lighten the load. My friend then dropped the rucksack off with me. I'd previously commented to her that I felt for Ursula, coming from the relative peace of my friend's place to my chaos, and was assured that I had entirely the wrong idea of how orderly her place was, which was reassuring. Shortly before 7.00 pm, I wound my way to Dale to pick up Ursula, who was feeling quite justifiably tired after a 21-mile day. Dale is only 12.5 miles/20 km by road from here but takes at least half an hour, more if you meet a lot of traffic. The road is frequently not wide enough for two cars to pass easily, and well-used, as there is no grass growing in the middle anywhere on it!

I was planning to give Ursula my bed for the couple of nights she'd be with me, so that she could stretch and luxuriate, but she wouldn't hear of it, choosing a hastily-cleared single bed in the stack that is bedroom 2, just grateful for somewhere inside in relative comfort with a bathroom.

We had an early night ready for an early-ish start the next day, hoping that it would still be early enough for Ursula to be able to cross tidal inlets without a long walk round. The worst on the stretch west to east between Dale and Milford Haven is at Sandy Haven, which is only really accessible for 2.5 hours either side of low tide and outside of that, results in a four mile detour. The suggestion is to set off from Dale at a time which gets you to the first crossing (Pickleridge/The Gann) as it becomes clear, a couple of hours before low tide, in the hope that you get to Sandy Haven before the tide rises over the crossing there. Unfortunately, if low tide's very early in the morning, and the following low is late afternoon, as was the case, it's really not possible unless you do some of the walking at night. So Ursula had to detour and got to Milford late in the afternoon. It set me wondering: if the Pembrokeshire Coast Path is 186 miles, does that exclude detours? So could it be 190, or 200, or something, depending how often you have to go around rather than across a beach? (If you're planning to walk the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, you can plan your route here and check 2015 tide times here.)

In her blog, she describes herself as 'a fat woman'. Last year she commented (as I plied her with Danish pastries for breakfast) that she'd changed shape rather than lost weight. It's true that you might expect someone who has been walking long distances on a daily basis not to have a spare inch of flesh, but I think under the feminine curves, she's pure muscle with a core of steely willpower, full of stamina and resilience, with the physical and mental strength to push through the pain and keep walking, day after day, in all sorts of weather.

So if she can complete this incredible feat of endurance (and she will!) then I can reach my goals too. Ursula's brief visit left me encouraged and motivated to get the kitchen and the rest of the house in order. And go and enjoy the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast, now that I live nearer.  And, while my knees aren't too bad at the moment, perhaps even do a little walking. (Steady on, now!) The question is, can I do it before she finishes her walk?

I dropped her at Milford Haven the next morning and she had disappeared before I'd even driven out of the car park. The plan was to meet her at the Cleddau Bridge and hand over her rucksack (which she was leaving with someone in Pembroke Dock to follow her to her next overnight stop in Angle). It seemed to take longer to get around through Neyland, but when I saw her, sunburnt under her tan, she was powering along. Hoping I wasn't being a complete pain, I wanted to walk to the centre of the bridge with her and take a picture of us, before we said goodbye. So I scampered along behind her, two of my steps to every one of hers and even then, scarcely keeping up, until we reached what we thought was the middle. I took a photo, but I look really terrible, so asked Ursula if I could take one of her retreating back.

There she goes, striding off into the distant heat haze, leaving miles of landscape and inspired people behind her. Despite the slow start, she made it all the way to Angle - a 23-mile day! As I write this a few days later, I see she has finished the Pembrokeshire Coast Path and is now en route to Cardiff!

You can read about her journey and more, including how to make donations, on her website.