The bumblebee is back. Thank the Army

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Walk Of The Month: Pembrokeshire - An MoD firing range on the Welsh coast proves a perfect host to wildlife. Mark Rowe finds an ally in the battle for conservation

The tale of the bumblebee and the soldier sounds like something from Aesop's Fables. Yet, collaboration between the Army and environmentalists is the theme of this month's walk, which explores the glorious scenery of southern Pembrokeshire.

The entire walk goes through the Castlemartin training area, land owned by the Ministry of Defence and used intensively by troops for live firing and tank manoeuvres. Intuitively, you might think that a military training area – and one that is used day and night for much of the year – would have little to offer wildlife. The reverse is true: the fact that the public is kept at bay, coupled with military land not being intensively farmed, makes places such as Castlemartin hugely important for our embattled wildlife.

Castlemartin also hogs an outstanding stretch of coastline that includes dramatic limestone features, such as arches, sea stacks and blowholes. For many years, you would have to take the Army's word for this, as the MoD has traditionally been less than welcoming to walkers – The IoS ran a successful campaign 11 years ago to prod the Army into improving access.

A further sign of this openness – warily granted in some quarters – comes in the form of a newly opened bumblebee walk that cuts across Castlemartin and enables walkers to steer clear of roads that they have traditionally been required to follow when live firing is taking place. The route, beginning in the village of Bosherston and heading to Merrion camp and beyond, is being planted with bumblebee-friendly plants, such as red clover, knapweed, bird's foot trefoil and common vetch, all of which flower from the end of this month through to August.

The shrill carder bee, one of the rarest in the UK, is expected to be one of the chief beneficiaries. "It's not necessarily what people would expect," said Dr Pippa Rayner, conservation officer for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. "The MoD has proved very co-operative. Without the MoD you wouldn't have this fantastic landscape."

The bumblebee friendly leg of the walk is where we kick off, heading from the church in Bosherston towards St Twynells, picking up the waymarkers for the bumblebee walk (a tank on a green background) that threads its way between Army training camps (red flags will fly when training is going on) and around military roads and field edges to reach Merrion Camp. Along the way the scenery is attractive heathland interspersed with hedgerows, and perhaps the odd bee, as well as the many butterflies, will make an appearance.

It is at this point that you realise there are limits to the Army's willingness for public access. The route drills due south along a road that divides the east and west ranges, but the western side of the range, west of the Stack Rocks road, is permanently off-limits to the public. A few times a year, rangers are allowed to take guided parties into the zone, though you must first sign a blood chit, absolving the Army of responsibility should you tread on unexploded ordnance. It's no surprise that Castlemartin is described as the "missing tooth" in the Pembrokeshire coast path by access campaigners.

The scenery is pleasant enough either side of the path at this stage, with the curious spectacle of tanks conducting exercises against a backdrop of tractors dropping off feed for sheep and wind-pummelled trees. Lonely St Martin's Church is worth a brief diversion along the way, its wrought-iron gates were paid for by the West German army, which trained here during the Cold War.

The scenery really takes off once you reach Stack Rocks car park. From here you have a glorious three-mile walk due east of staggering geological beauty. Start by gazing from the wooden viewing point down at the spectacular arch known as the Green Bridge of Wales, then wander east to Stack Rocks and the thrilling standalone precipices chock-full of razorbills and guillemots. Look west and you'll see the island of Skomer and St Ann's Head, along with the towering chimneys of the Milford Haven oil refinery. The headline furrows in and out of the Bristol Channel; this is easy, exhilarating walking. Below, lonely bays and huge landslides are exposed at low tide. The military training area is adjacent, on the north side of the track, and posted warnings remind you every few hundred yards not to wander inland.

Eventually, you'll come to a second car park, below which, huddled, seemingly chiselled into the cliff face as it tumbles to the sea, is the tiny St Govan's Chapel, reached by a flight of steps. It's thought to date back to the sixth century; be sure to look out for the tiny cell up to your left as you enter. Legend has it that a sip of the rainwater that accumulates in the hollows in the chapel cures rheumatism and eye problems. It's a serene spot, and given its location amid a sea of Army paraphernalia, a slightly surreal one.

Compact Facts

How to get there

Mark Rowe stayed at 3 The Glen, Saundersfoot, as a guest of Coastal Cottages of Pembrokeshire (01437 765765; coastalcottages.co.uk). The property, which sleeps up to eight, is available for holiday rental from £708 per week.

Further information

Visit Pembrokeshire (0844 888 5115; visitpembrokeshire).

Bumblebee Conservation Trust (bumblebee conservation.org.uk).

Directions

OS Map: OL 36 South Pembrokeshire

Distance: 10 miles

Time: four hours

The bumblebee-friendly leg of this walk is not yet on the OS map, but is clearly waymarked from the iron gate at the first fork on the road from Bosherston and St Twynnells (962949). On passing Merrion Camp, turn left, due south, for 1.6 miles to Stack Rocks. Head east for 3.5 miles to Newton Down car park. Walk north through the car park, following the lane for 1.5 miles back to Bosherton. The bumblebee stretch can be walked at any time, even during military firing; but the rest of the route can be undertaken only when there is no training, usually at weekends.

Check with the local range office on 01646 662495/662225.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
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

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    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...

    Day In a Page

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world