Day Five - Pembroke to Milford Haven - Pembrokeshire Coastal Path South
Distance -12.5 miles
Easy Walking Grade - What these grades mean
Summary - Quiet woodland and meadow to Pembroke Dock, followed by an urban section, before scrub and low cliff trails on the north side of the Milford Haven estuary.
To walk or not to walk? - Generally billed as the least inspiring section of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path you can choose to miss today's walk out - there are good arguments for and against walking today CLICK HERE to read them and decide what you will do.
It’s certainly a pleasant enough departure point today as The Pembrokeshire Coast Path crosses the Pembroke River at Mill Bridge giving extensive views of the castle over the water in your wake.
You then have a section of rich riverside woodland where you can spot the old limestone quarries which provided the stone for those huge castle walls whilst pleasant meadow sections allow good views back over the marshes of the Pembroke Estuary. A brief crossing of the steep ridge into the town of Pembroke Dock heralds the largest urban area on the whole Pembrokeshire Coast Path.
There is some interest for the walker as you head through the town which grew as a result of the movement of the Royal Naval Dockyard here in 1841. The town was built up around this centrepiece with very un-Welsh like wide and grand rolling streets which were set out in a grid design around the “new” Royal Docks.
At its height, over 4000 men were employed, and in the 80 years the Royal Docks were operating over 260 of the finest ships were produced here including the launch of three Royal Yachts. In 1926, however, operations ceased, and the whole area lost its sole purpose of existence and was thrown into virtual redundancy.
During the Second World War the RAF gave some brief respite when it ran its famous flying boats from here, but these days the only modern employment comes from this being the terminal for the Irish Ferry Service to Rosslare.
The Pembrokeshire Coast Path takes you past the Dockyard Barracks and defensive walls where you will spot the gun batteries and fortifications built to defend the dock. Watch out for the restored Garrison Chapel and 19th century Palmerston Gun Towers.
The beautifully restored Gun Tower Museum, with its displays tracing the military history of the Milford Haven waterway and the docks themselves, are well worth pausing at. Leaving the former Royal Docks, head through the houses to climb up to the famous Cleddau Bridge crossing, an immense structure and one of the longest unsupported bridge spans in Europe.
It dominates the scenery at this end of the waterway, giving superb views back up the widening haven in one direction contrasted with the narrowing dense woods and tidal creeks of the Daugleddau area in the other. The toll bridge (free for walkers) replaced the old ferry crossing in 1975, and overnight cut out a 28 mile diversion into the upper estuary by road. The views on your 800 metre crossing over the tiny yachts and boats bobbing far below are always different, depending on the rise and fall of the tide, but when walking over the rushing waters 150ft up above the estuary even the distant smoking towers of the refineries are a pleasant sight from this height!
Leaving the Cleddau crossing, the Wales Coast Path passes over Westfield Pill with good views of the modern-day marina at Neyland before descending through thick woodland to Neyland above the banks of a narrow tidal creek, an important spot for bird life. The village of Neyland is a pleasant interlude sat in the shadows of the dominating Cleddau Bridge and historically the triumphant site for the Western End of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s great South Wales Railway before it extended to Fishguard.
Neyland today is a laid back creek side village, all the quieter for the closure of its railway by Beecham in the 1960’s and then the loss of the ferry crossing in the 70’s as the Cleddau bridge was opened. You pass its bustling yacht marina to walk through the pleasant restored quay area, a good spot for lunch in a nice open space overlooked by a grand statue of Brunel himself gazing out over the waterfront angrily at the new bridge! A small back lane hugging the estuary brings you into the hidden village of Llanstadwell, with its beautifully located squat and square towered church perched on the edge of the Waterway.
Then head into the fields at Hazelbeach from beside the well placed and very pleasant waterfront Ferry House Inn - a walkers favourite. From here the path heads through pastoral farmland and patches of estuary woodland with good views of the waterway back towards Pembroke and the Cleddau Bridge.
You reach the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) refinery near Waterston, and whilst much is hidden from the walkers view, you will meet the perimeter fence on occasions and cross several bizarre metal bridges and tunnels which take you over and under the immense pipelines at the LNG plant. As Europe’s biggest LNG plant, this currently provides around 30% of the UK’s gas needs, expected to rise to 80% in the next 10 years. Look out over the water to spot the huge supertankers that bring the liquefied gas in from the Middle East. It is here that the liquid is converted back to gas and sent into the national supply grid. Its pleasant enough walking however and devoid of habitation once again, which is a relief after Pembroke Dock.
Beyond the plant, the Pembrokeshire Coast Path continues tracking the waterside, then turns inland to cross a shady area of stream and marsh on boardwalks before a steep descent to cross the Black Bridge at Castle Pill inlet, a pleasant tidal creek with a few lonely yachts on the edge of Milford Haven. You arrive by the town’s grand and pleasing promenade known as ‘The Rath’ - a wide high green space with extensive views and a water garden overlooking the waterway. Look for the bronze stature of a fisherman and his net standing defiant in homage to those who founded the town.
Milford Haven marks the end of the southern section of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path and the last sections of heavy industry before the walker returns to the open coastal scenery of the West and Northern routes.