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.

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