Step back in time - a few billion years - UK - Travel - The Independent

Step back in time - a few billion years

The cliffs of west Wales contain some of the oldest rock on the planet. The views are pretty awesome too. Mark Rowe sets off on the Pembrokeshire coast path

On a warm spring day, Pembrokeshire, with its beaches of glistening sand, can look deceptively cosy and welcoming. Yet this is a remote place of rugged, fractured beauty, reached only by a journey that always seems to take longer than you expect. The elemental rock, weathered by the relentless Atlantic swells, dates back at least 3 billion years, and is among the oldest on our planet. All these factors combine to make the county one of the UK's walking gems.

On a warm spring day, Pembrokeshire, with its beaches of glistening sand, can look deceptively cosy and welcoming. Yet this is a remote place of rugged, fractured beauty, reached only by a journey that always seems to take longer than you expect. The elemental rock, weathered by the relentless Atlantic swells, dates back at least 3 billion years, and is among the oldest on our planet. All these factors combine to make the county one of the UK's walking gems.

Our walk, along part of the 186-mile Pembrokeshire coast path, starts in Dale, a tiny fishing port. From the car park overlooking Dale Roads, a strait of water that faces east to Milford Haven, turn right on to the road for St Ann's Head with Blue Anchor Wood rising high to your left. When you reach a T-junction by the cemetery, bear right along the road for 100 yards until you reach a small track where you turn left. Before taking this path, the adjacent church of St James the Great is worth a fleeting visit. Grey, small and austere, with a tiny graveyard, it seems entirely in keeping with this tiny, isolated community.

Return to the track. Up to your right is ivy-clad Dale Castle. Head straight across farmland, through a couple of gates, and then skip over some stone steps to join the coast path. You are immediately greeted with outstanding views across Westdale Bay, with jagged needles of rock, known as the Hookses, peeking out of the water under the cliffs in the middle distance.

Turn left to climb up the steep steps to reach Great Castle Head and the remains of an Iron Age fort. Ravens often gather in large numbers here, and, before coming upon them, you may well mistake their confabulation of strangled cackles for the sound of children crying.

The cliffs here have suffered from erosion and the path occasionally diverts away from the edge. The prevailing wind and seas meet no resistance from land on their journey across the Atlantic, and the peninsula often takes the full brunt of the extraordinary power of the elements as they arrive in the UK.

The views are outstanding, with red cliffs falling away in perpendicular abruptness to the sea. The path is often buffered by cosy hedge banks, and nudges towards the sea at Long Point, where it bears left to head south. As it does so, a small grassy plateau on the right makes for a good stop, with views across the bay to the islands of Skokholm (closer) and Skomer (larger, but farther away).

The path now makes for St Ann's Head. Before you get there, nature caps another dramatic example of her handiwork, the beautiful semi-circle of Frenchman's Bay, with a thrilling serrated edge that tumbles into the water. The old and new lighthouses of St Ann's come into view. The foghorn is deafening and sounds with good reason, for the list of shipwrecks in these parts is long and sobering. Not all occurred in the distant past: in 1996 this beautiful spot was the scene of one of the world's worst oil disasters when the Sea Empress spilled 72,000 tons of crude oil into the water.

Pass through a gate to reach a paved road. Bear right along this and keep right, following the coastal path's signature acorn sign past a holiday home built around the redundant lighthouse. It's worth the short detour to Cobbler's Hole on the right, where the marine erosion of the soft shales has crafted an extraordinary exposed layer of rock, with swirling patterns that resemble the geological equivalent of a crop circle.

In front of the round engine house you must take the way-marked path along the right-hand edge of the field. At the end of the row of deserted green and white houses, bear left along the clear grassy path. This leads to the right of another row of coastguard houses, with a walled garden on your right. West Blockhouse Point, with its three huge navigational waterway beacons, is what you're aiming for.

You pass Mill Bay and a small plaque on a boulder that records how, in August 1485, Henry Tudor landed here with 55 ships and 2,000 men. He then marched through Wales and two weeks later won the Battle of Bosworth and the English crown. The path descends to a small creek and rises again, keeping close to the cliff edge. Soon you reach West Blockhouse Point, where a stone seat offers the chance to gaze across Milford Haven and at the ferries and tankers that chug back and forth.

There's a marked changed in the landscape from here on; more sheltered from the prevailing winds. There are small woods, the cliffs are softer and the braying of the seabirds is replaced by the chirruping of small farmland birds, such as skylarks, stonechat and meadow pipit. The path weaves through an enchanting sylvan landscape before emerging from woods to strike out for the remains of the Victorian Dale Fort. Where you reach a small path that leads off to the fort, bear left to drop down to a paved road that leads through woodland back to Dale.

GIVE ME THE FACTS

Distance: six miles.

Time: Three hours.

OS Map: Explorer Outdoor Leisure 36.

Mark Rowe stayed at The Old Point House, Angle (01646 641205) which offers b&b for £25 per person.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum
theatre

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Top conservatoire offers ‘groundbreaking’ arts degree

Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week