Walking: Taking a journey back in time: Laurence Main spends a day following part of the Landsker Trail in Pembrokeshire

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The Independent Culture
PEMBROKESHIRE is rightly famous for its coastal path. However, doing it doesn't mean you've walked Pembrokeshire. To me, the prospect of an inland walk seemed so inviting that I promised to return. In particular, there was the mystery of Daugleddau and the Landsker to explore.

The Landsker is an imaginary line separating Welsh-speaking north Pembrokeshire from 'Little England beyond Wales' to the south. It is a word of Norse origin meaning frontier. Whatever the situation in the Middle Ages, this is now as tranquil a retreat as you could find.

The Daugleddau estuary isn't done justice by the official Coast Path, which crosses the toll bridge between Neyland and Pembroke Dock. Follow the two branches of the Cleddau, and the slopes above the river are as romantically wooded as Daphne du Maurier's Frenchman's Creek; indeed, this area resembles southern Cornwall, with its secret creeks and shallows.

One reason for not walking along Pembrokeshire's inland paths in the past was that they were so often obstructed. Happily, great efforts have been made over the last few years to open up these rights of way by erecting stiles and gates where needed, clearing undergrowth, and signposting and waymarking.

Paths across private land have been opened to complete a circular long-distance route of around 60 miles, known as the Landsker Borderlands Trail. Naturalists will love this route, which passes through a variety of countryside. The hedgerows and woodlands are a riot of colour in the spring and summer, while autumn promises fungi and ferns.

South Pembrokeshire Partnership for Action with Rural Communities (SPARC) promotes self-guided walking holidays along the trail, with accommodation at convenient intervals for a day's march, and your hosts transporting your luggage from place to place. A set of glossy cards divide the route into six sections, ranging from seven to 11 miles. We found the relevant OS Pathfinder maps also useful.

There is something special about setting out in the morning and reaching a new destination at the end of the day. This is more like a pilgrimage than a ramble. I can heartily recommend the 11 miles of the section between Llawhaden Bridge (grid reference SN073174 on OS Pathfinder 1080) and Lawrenny (grid reference SN016068 on 0S Pathfinder 1104).

We set out from Holgan Farm and climbed to inspect the ruins of Llawhaden's impressive castle. The original building was constructed from earth and timber by Bernard, the Norman bishop of the nearby St David's, in the early 12th century.

What you can now see are the remains of the substantial stone structure erected on the orders of David Martyn, the bishop who held the See from 1293 to 1328. In 1326, Llawhaden - which was the normal residence of the bishop - was larger than St David's itself.

Descending towards the eastern Cleddau, we turned right to walk with the river on our left. The pleasantly shaded farm track led to St Kenox. This is probably a corruption of St Cynog, the eldest son of Brychan, the Irishman who ruled Brycheiniog (Brecon) in the time of King Arthur.

Continuing south across the A40 at Canaston Bridge, we came to Blackpool Mill. This used to be the territory of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, whose command post was just across the river at Slebech. While grain is no longer ground into flour here, delicious tea and cakes are available, while the caves beneath the mill are home to an exhibition of the animals that roared here long ago.

Next came my favourite part of the walk, following the boardwalk through an area of wet meadow, then the fire bath through Minwear Wood and Long Wood, with the eastern Cleddau below on our right.

Reluctantly, we turned inland past the remains of the medieval Sisters' House to follow paths and roads to Landshipping, where the Stanley Arms provided a welcome break for lunch.

Surprisingly, Landshipping is more agricultural than maritime. There is an old quay still in place and a ferry used to cross the rivers, but the name comes from 'long shippen', meaning long cowshed. Anthracite from nearby Martletwy was taken by barge from Landshipping to Lawrenny Quay and loaded on to sea-going vessels in the early 19th century.

Back beside the river (now the Daugleddau, after the confluence of the western and eastern Cleddau), a path along the foreshore turns into Sam's Wood (watch out for the waymark post - a more prominent signpost would be helpful here). Once more we were walking through an old oak coppice wood, with glimpses of the river below.

Field paths led to the remains of St Mary's church, where the first drops of rain began to fall. Our B & B for the night was nearby, so we left the trail here to take the road to Knowles Farm, Lawrenny. If you do make the final couple of miles into Lawrenny, the beautiful Reredos Tapestry which adorns the altar of St Caradoc's church was worked by Mrs Patrick Lort-Phillips.

This local family used to train racehorses, and the villagers celebrated for days after Kirkland won the Grand National in 1905. I suggest you do likewise after completing your own personal course in one of the most hospitable parts of the country.

SPARC can be contacted at: The Old School, Station Road, Narberth, Dyfed, SA67 8DU. Telephone: 0834 8609650.

(Photograph omitted)

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