Thursday 10 March 2016

A walk on the wild side? The Pembrokeshire section of the Wales Coast Path

For 186 breathtakingly rugged miles, the Pembrokeshire section of the Wales Coast Path promises days full of seabirds, seals, puffins and even the occasional dolphin. Tony Bowerman says it’s unmissable.

Green Bridge

It’s official: Pembrokeshire offers world-class walking. Recently voted the “world’s second-best coastal destination” by National Geographic magazine and, in 2011, named the second in a list of the “world’s top ten long distance paths”, the Pembrokeshire coast path is definitely a dream destination for walkers.  The lovely Pembrokeshire section of the Wales Coast Path undulates along the top of rugged cliffs, in and out of secluded coves and tiny harbours, and along numerous sandy beaches.
Strumble Head

From the remotest reaches of the north coast near Strumble Head on day one to the popular beaches around Tenby on the final day, it provides a wonderfully varied experience. Whether you come for the scenery or the solitude, the wildlife, Welsh history, language and culture, or simply to immerse yourself in an exceptional corner of Britain, Pembrokeshire certainly won’t disappoint.

Pembrokeshire’s unique qualities were recognised as far back as 1952 when it became one of Britain’s first National Parks. The path traverses several National Nature Reserves, lots of Sites of Special Scientific Interest and one of the UK’s four Marine Nature Reserves, all helping protect the area’s geology, habitats and wildlife.  Along the way, you’ll encounter countless seabirds — including puffins, peregrines, choughs, gannets and fulmars.  You’re also likely to see plenty of inquisitive seals, and if you’re lucky, porpoises and dolphins.  But most memorable, perhaps, are the spectacular carpets of maritime wildflowers that colour the cliffs and offshore islands in spring and early summer.

Pembroke Castle
As well as ever-changing scenery, the coast path is a walk through history too.  Cover the whole route over fourteen or so days and you’ll discover prehistoric burial chambers near Fishguard, Aberdraw and Manorbier, standing stones and hillforts, dramatic medieval castles at Pembroke and Manorbier again, tiny Celtic chapels and atmospheric St David’s Cathedral.  Several sections of the coast are also managed and protected by the National Trust.

Wonderful walks 

For the first few days, the Pembrokeshire section of the Wales Coast Path runs along the rugged north coast with its high, often remote and windswept cliffs. Along the way, it drops in to Newport, Fishguard and the tiny cathedral city of St David’s.

Once round the St David’s peninsula, the path enters St Bride’s Bay, with its hidden coves and historic headlands. Beyond the Marloes peninsula and St Ann’s Head, the coast becomes more developed around the Milford Haven, before rounding the Angle peninsula, and passing through spectacular limestone and sandstone scenery on its way to lovely Tenby and its end at Amroth, on the Pembrokeshire/Carmarthenshire border.

Carreg Samson cromlech
Favourite day walks include the section between Stack Rocks and Bosherton Lily Ponds, passing the amazing sea arch at the ‘Green Bridge of Wales’ and tiny St Govan’s Chapel hidden in a cleft in the cliffs. For a longer, two day walk,  I recommend the stretch from Strumble Head to Whitesands Bay. It’s got some of the best dramatic scenery on the whole Pembrokeshire coast and a host of prehistoric remains including the fascinating Carreg Samson cromlech.

More information:

For a detailed guide to the 186-mile linear route, get hold of a copy of the Official Guide: Wales Coast Path: Pembrokeshire by Vivienne Crow.

(ISBN  978-1-908632-23-4 | £13.99).

For details, see: Official Guide: Wales Coast Path: Pembrokeshire

Or if you prefer short, circular walks along the coast, try the two attractive pocket-size ‘Top 10 Walks’ books for the Wales Coast Path: Pembrokeshire — North and South, both by Dennis Kelsall.

(ISBNs  978-1-908632-29-6 and 978-1-908632-30-2 | £5.99 each).

For details, see: Pocket-size ‘Top 10 Walks’: Pembrokeshire

Tuesday 11 November 2014

Edition 024 - Walking the Pennine Way and repairing the moorlands of the Peak District and the South Pennines

Sunday 17 August 2014

Snowdon isn't working... but why?

This week the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) said that Snowdon isn't working.

Britain's Busiest Mountain - Snowdon - Alex_Messenger

It said a properly funded, long ranged strategy is needed to address the problems and risks caused by a massive increase in the numbers of visitors on Snowdon is needed.

And they are certainly right.

This all follows the Snowdonia National Park Authority agreeing to remove ‘false paths’ from the summit of Snowdon - and after they made comments which have been interpreted in some quarters as warning families with children to stay away from summits.

Let's look at the increasing numbers of people walking to the top of Snowdon.

Busy path up Snowdon - Ray Wood
Snowdon is Britain’s busiest mountain - and one of the reasons why is it is actually quite accessible to walk up - so The BMC believes Central Government funding to the Snowdonia National Park Authority (SNPA) should be increased to reflect the challenges this popularity brings.

Elfyn Jones, BMC access & conservation officer for Wales, said: "In the last few years there has been a huge increase in the numbers of people on Snowdon – in 2013 there were 477,000 walkers, an increase of 23% on the previous year."

"Many of these visitors are unprepared casual walkers, and there has been a significant increase in the number of avoidable callouts to rescue teams, parking problems, traffic congestion and litter."

A quick search online reminds us of the many incidents which have happened in recent years on Snowdon - the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team have a constantly updated page here.  In the past the SNPA have been implementing a range of schemes designed to reduce the number of incidents and call-outs to the Llanberis MRT.  In May 2013, new stone pillars were placed at points along the mountain where it was found walkers were getting into difficulties.  Stone pillars were placed to mark Bwlch y Moch and Crib Goch to encourage people not to go along these routes by mistake, another stone pillar identified the intersection of Llanberis Path and Snowdon Ranger Path as walkers often mix up the two paths.  Also, a stone pillar was placed on the summit to identify accurately where the Watkin Path begins and another stone pillar to identify Bwlch y Saethau as walkers often make the mistake of descending the mountain this dangerous way.

But The BMC say this hasn't helped.

"The current practice of managing the paths by reacting to individual problems such as ‘landscaping’ and smoothing out natural obstacles has done nothing to alleviate the issues. If anything it has created a bigger problem as many walkers and visitors are under the impression that Snowdon is a “tourist attraction”, similar to a fully waymarked country park trail.  User groups such as the BMC have had little opportunity to input into the strategic management of the mountain." said Elfyn Jones.

Let's be honest here... walking up a mountain is not safe as walking in a country park.  And no matter what measures are brought in, it never can be.  But surely the mountains aren't to blame here?  Nor are the 'fake paths' which are a feature of many a mountain?

Jon Garside, BMC training officer, explains: "To some people it might seem easy to blame ‘misleading’ paths for accidents. But simply removing paths is not the answer.  It is wrong to say that paths, summits or any other physical aspect of the mountain environment are inherently dangerous. The key factor is people themselves and their ability to deal with the hazards they encounter.  To stay safe people must be taught to rely on their heads, not cues provided by artificial pointers."

Map reading in Snowdonia - Alex Messenger
Jon's right.  Walking up a mountain requires more skills than walking a waymarked long-distance trail.  Map-reading skills, for example, are needed to ensure you are going on the right route - and these skills are not something you learn over night.

Waymarking routes to the summit can only ever be a part solution - what happens in poor visibility when signs can't be seen?  And the increasing numbers of walkers using apps on smartphones for navigation is a worry too.  What happens here when the phone can't get a GPS lock?  Or the battery runs out?  Maps are required in these situations as a fail safe backup.  And that means people need the skills to be able to read and map and interpret it.

Elfyn Jones, BMC access & conservation officer for Wales, again: "The park authority should prioritise education and awareness-raising, putting effort into ensuring the visitor is better prepared, instead of treating Snowdon as if it was an urban environment and attempting to physically engineer it into being ‘safe’. This is simply impossible."

It's not saying "Stay away for mountains" - just "Be prepared".

Wednesday 16 July 2014

Podcast Edition 023 - Show Notes

Edition 23 of the Walks Around Britain podcast is a special dedicated to the popular long-running series Coast. Emma Johnston joins Andrew from Sydney to talk about Coast Australia and Steve Evanson, the series editor of Coast, talks about the new ninth series of the original UK version.

Coast Australia

(c) Foxtel / BBC
Professor Emma Johnston (left) joins Andrew from Sydney to talk about how she loved watching the original UK series of Coast - before getting a surprise phone call asking whether she'd like to co-present the forthcoming Australian version.

Emma is the director of the Sydney Harbour Research Program at the Sydney Institute of Marine Sciences - where she investigates the effects of contaminants and introduced species on the structure and diversity of indigenous marine species in places as diverse as the Great Barrier Reef and Antarctica.  You can find out more about her work on their website here - and follow her on Twitter.

(c) BBC

Joining Andrew from not quite as far away as Emma - Coast HQ in Bristol in fact - is Steve Evanson, the series producer of the original UK version of Coast.

Coast returns for an amazing ninth series on BBC Two this summer, and Steve has been the series producer from the very first series way back in 2004/5.  Here he chats to Andrew about the way the series is made, and the various elements which all go together to make Coast the successful and popular programme it is.

You can follow Steve on Twitter at CoastTV.

That's another podcast finished.  We hope you enjoy listening to them as much as we do putting them together.  Any comments and suggestions are gratefully received - pop them in the comment section below.