Day Eight - Marloes (from Musslewick Sands) to Broad Haven, West Pembrokeshire Coast Path.
Distance - 9.5 miles
Moderate Grade Walking, with a short strenuous section in the Brandy Bay area - What these grades mean.
From Musslewick Bay, the Pembrokeshire Coast Path traverses the cliff tops to Nab Head, passing the immense pinnacle at Tower Point, that sits like a giant chess piece drenched with nesting and fishing sea birds. This is an ancient headland, occupied by hunter gatherers 9000 years ago and over 40,000 flint and bead items were unearthed here during excavations.
The Pembrokeshire Coast Path tracks the sturdy buttressed walls of the nearby St Brides Castle estate, built by the Barons of Kensington no less, and there are good views inland of the castle. An unusually gentle descent passes along lowering cliffs sliced at regular intervals by deep “zawns” or chasms that force the walker into a toothlike profile to reach the sands at St Brides Haven.
An atmospheric and isolated hamlet, it’s little more than a couple of fisherman's cottages set in a picture postcard inlet at the foot of the Castles fields. Named after the 5th century Irish Saint Brigid of Kildare, her tiny Church looks out wistfully to sea past a row of huge Celtic Crosses.
The older chapel, taken over as a Salting House by the fisherman, has long since been washed into the sea, but the eerie remains of the coffin stones where its graveyard once stood still remain, poking out from colourful red cliffs by the bays limekiln. The fisherman having been buried here, returned to the ocean one final time.
After the calm of St Brides, the wild coast returns as The Pembrokeshire Coast Path climbs once again onto a high cliff run attacked by seemingly endless savage cuts from the sea. Deep zawns (deep and narrow sea-inlet), sea chasms and the occasional waterfall tumbles onto the rocks below you.
Watch out here for two ad hoc rock sculptures from artist Alain Ayers, including the large holed stone, one of his “Eyes of the Sea,” that you can use to glare through over the ocean to the craggy off shore island of Stack Rock. Mill Haven interrupts the high stuff with a sharp descent into a deep hidden valley, before more strenuous climbing above a run of huge coves at Dutch Gin and Brandy Bay. No need to explain what activity was going on in these hidden coves, though it’s hard to fathom how anyone could get their bounty back up these sheer cliffsides.
The Pembrokeshire Coast Path draws a switchback route around these jagged intrusions, the final two inlets so deep and narrow that you can hardly see the bottom, and the local tale is that anyone who does descend them goes straight to hell itself.
Brandy Bay is the highlight, a huge volcanic amphitheatre of dizzy heights that has you gazing down on boiling white waters far below the path, whilst you teeter around the chasms narrow upper lip.
Safely past the smugglers traps, things get easier and at the summit crag at Ticklas Point enjoy the natural rock "bed", perfectly positioned on the edge of the cliff where you can lie down undisturbed by the modern world and drink in superb views East to Broad Haven and north to wild St David's Head.
The final barrier to the back of St Brides Bay is the huge Brough Head Cliffs and it is as if the Coast Line finally gives up on torturing the walker.
On the other sheltered side, you descend to a completely different world, with a tranquil azure bay cloaked in rich ancient woodland, often harbouring a couple of sheltering yachts far below.
Not having seen a tree of any significance since before St Anne's Head, it’s a bit of a revelation and a carefree descent from here, rediscovering bluebells and songbirds amongst the ancient beech, oak and pine trees almost Mediterranean after the harshness of the outer West Coast.
Breaking out of the thick woodland, Little Haven lies just below, and you arrive on the little stone pier that guards this tiny cove. A pretty village, more like Cornwall than Pembrokeshire, with its stacked coloured cottages and welcoming brace of pubs.
Then, one last climb and descent to Broad Haven Beach and an abrupt return to the 21st century amongst the surfers and sand kite flyers on its wide golden sands, the roar of the waves, a constant backdrop during your stay as they crash up the beach to meet you.