Beside the sea
THE WEATHER IN autumn is a wilful creature. Days of gentle golden warmth are followed by storms that tear the weakening bonds between leaf and branch. And nowhere do those shifting lights and winds have more space to play and reflect than beside the sea. On wild days it can literally take your breath away: words grabbed from your lips and blasted into the sky, the roar of the waves battering the land as you lean into the irresistible, exhilarating force of it all.
On other autumn days, like this one, it can be utterly still, as if the world is holding its breath before the onslaught of winter. From the triangulation point on Pen y Fan at the tip of Dinas Island the sea views seem infinite, rippling out to a faint horizon. I’m halfway between Newport and Fishguard, walking a 12-mile stretch of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path as it clings to cliffsides and climbs to their top, dips into wooded coves and paddles across sandy beaches.
The sky has been grey all day, but with a delicate patina like weathered steel. The shore has been bright with colour: patches of green grass and rusting bracken in the angles of the cliffs, and leafy splashes in the woods of Cwm Rhigian and Cwm Fforest as they drop to the coast. I’ve spotted leaves and seaweed drying together in the tide line, while the hedgerows hang onto the last wisps of summer, flowered with red campion, herb robert, violets and one of the vast family of almost-identical white umbelliferous plants I can never identify. The gorse still glows sunshine yellow, still smells like coconut shampoo, and the barely-moving sea is luminous, sometimes silver, sometimes green, and somehow reflecting more light than the sky seems to hold.
Despite its name, Dinas isn’t an island but an omega-shaped headland almost severed from the mainland by the same rush of glacial meltwater that cut the Gwaun Valley. The ruins of St Brynach’s church at the eastern end of its neck tell the tale of some very different autumn weather. Its roof was torn off by storms in October 1859, when the winds hit the top of the Beaufort Scale at force 12. 133 boats sank off Britain’s coast, 80 more were damaged, and the gales became known as the Royal Charter Storm for the steam clipper smashed against the rocks of Anglesey with the tragic loss of 450 lives. Weather-obsessed walkers should know this was a key event in the creation of the Met Office, with the first gale warnings going out the following year. It’s hard to imagine such devastating force on a soft, muted day like this, where the sea lies like a mirror, barely making a sound.
By the time I drop down to the quay in Fishguard, picturesquely dotted with colourful houses, I am absolutely cream-crackered. Not just from the dozen miles of distance but from the up and down and up again that has accumulated through the day to over 4500 feet of ascent – that’s more than Ben Nevis from sea-level. (The A487 and its buses run a mile inland so you can always dip out early for a shorter walk.) But I’m happy too, for those tired legs are a sure sign that this year I have really grabbed autumn and celebrated the season from shore to summits. Carpe diem. FALL COLOUR The coast path is a riot of tints and textures: felty moss, copper-wool bracken, grey rock. uWOODY BAYS Valleys full of trees lead down to the sea in a couple of places, like here at the aptly-named Cwm Fforest. WALK HERE: Turn to Walk 19 in this issue
CALM AFTER THE STORM St Brynach’s church was wrecked by storms in the 1850s; its ruin is now a contemplative spot. Long views across the sands of Newport Beach. OCEAN WATCH