Day Two - Dale to Marloes Village (via Musslewick Sands), West Pembrokeshire Coast Path.
Distance - 13 miles, but with an option to cut into Marloes Village after 9.5 miles for a shorter day.
Moderate Grade walking - What these grades mean.
A run of climbs and descents, particularly in the sections to St Ann's Head. Then isolated coves, long beaches and windswept headlands framed by dramatic offshore islands to Marloes.
Beyond imposing Dale Fort, the Welsh Coastal Path heads into some strenuous climbs and descents through sheltered and lush ancient woodland, where little valleys hide old limekilns and tumbling streams. As you approach St Ann's Head, take in views across “The Heads”, the narrow neck of the Milford Haven Estuary. As the crow flies, only one mile over the water to the opposing headland of Angle, yet for the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path Walker, it is 18 miles and two days walk back down the Milford Haven estuary.
A steep scrubland path at Watwick Bay tempts those wanting a remote swim off the path to some beautifully secluded sands, whilst at the 19th century West Blockhouse Fort, you can rest on a stone seat below three modern radio beacons that look like huge Totem Poles solemnly guarding the entrance to the Haven.
At Mill Bay, you reach the commemorative stone marking the landing here of Henry Tudor on his return from exile in France in 1485, welcomed by the Welsh as the new King Arthur, with his army of 4000 in 55 ships. A hugely significant historical spot, from here he swept through Wales in just two weeks defeating Richard III to become King of England, starting the Tudor reign that dominated England for the next 130 years.
Climbing to the tip of the headland, you reach the little lighthouse at St Ann's Head, a stark and windswept spot so remote you find the remains of the huge walled gardens where the lighthouse keepers grew their own food to support themselves. The first lighthouse here, founded in the 17th century, had two towers run by coal funded by passing ships who had to pay a toll of one penny per tonne of cargo.
Beyond the lighthouse is a new landscape, battered by the oceans prevailing winds and the next 6 miles is one long and fascinating collision of land and sea. A world of tumbling cliffs, jagged pillars, fractured outcrops and sheer drops that are devoured by the churning ocean below. Off shore sits the mysterious Islands of Gateholm, Grassholm and Skomer - the whole area is a designated marine nature reserve below colourful clifftop meadows of sea sprayed wildflowers, yellow gorse and pink and red thrift.
From the Iron Age promontory fort at Great Castle Head, a sharp descent down a good hundred steps brings the magnificent beach at West Dale. Then Marloes Sands, arguably the most magical and surreal beach of the whole Pembrokeshire Coast Path and one of the finest in the UK. Its broad golden sands stretch before you for well over a mile, punctured throughout by a mysterious lunar landscape of huge, towering rock pinnacles, dark sea caves and fractured stacks. The most impressive are known as The Three Chimneys, soaring 140ft pillars of mudstone and sandstone strata. To the north is the hog backed expanse of Gateholm Island, severed from the mainland at Raggle Rocks by the descriptive “Horses Neck”, a narrow ridge allowing access for only a few hours every day at the right point of tide.
Back in the dark ages, Gateholm Island was an important settlement and over 100 hut circles are still visible on its inaccessible flanks. All told, Marloes Sands is a contoured maze of coastal drama and ocean beauty, well protected from the hordes and the modern world by its lack of road access. Beyond Marloes Sands, you climb again to enter the highest cliffs to date, mighty, sliced bedding planes marked by huge folds and mountainous chunks where the walker feels quite dwarfed as you peer gingerly over them.
Adding to the visual assault, as you approach St Martins Head you will not only see but hear the narrow wild tidal race squeezed between Skomer Island and the mainland known as Jack Sound – this is Deadmans Bay a churning fiery boiling pot of power that has taken many a ship to its doom.
Dwarfed now by the Wildlife Reserve of Skomer Island offshore, you can divert to the very edge of St Martins headland at The Deer Park, a spot so close to Skomer, you feel you could almost jump the channel. A designated SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), there are no deer here in this windswept spot, but you can look for rare Choughs alongside a plethora of seabirds wheeling and swooping on the thermals as they rise from their roosts on Skomer Island.
At St Martins Haven, you find a beautiful, sheltered cove where the high crags tower in a circle over a deep blue bowl of water. Stop at the tiny Wildlife Trust Information Centre here in an old barn, whose wall reveals an inscribed Celtic Cross Stone over 1000 years old that somehow found its way out to this remote spot. Inside, watch some of Skomer's most bizarre inhabitants live on the “burrow cams”, that monitor a handful of the 80,000 Manx Shearwaters, the largest population in the world, who dig their tunnel homes here.
Now in the huge arc of St Brides Bay, distant views across to the rocky mountainous peaks above St David's appear, looking like another world over 3 days walk ahead of you. An air of calm inside the bay is reminiscent of South Cornwall’s coastline with gentle climbs and falls leading to the untouched Robinson Crusoe sands at Musslewick Bay. Less well known than Marloes Beach but once again its purity protected by a lack of road access and huge sheer cliffs. You leave the coast path here for the short 15 minute walk inland to Marloes Village.