Monday, 20 July 2009

Day 8 - Wales - Gems of the coast...

From Rhossili, I drove up the west coast of Wales, through Llanelli, to the Pembrokeshire National Park. This is the only truly coastal National Park, and it protects a countryside that the locals are very proud of. Surging blue sea, coves with sandy beaches every few hundred metres, and undulating green coastal hills that at their edge fall twenty or thirty metres into the sea.

On my way I stopped at Barafundle Bay, another photogenic spot, with a rock arch just offshore. Then I headed to St Govan’s chapel, which might just beat St Catherine’s Chapel in Abbotsbury for being every girl’s favourite church for getting married. And it’s legendary origin is indicative of the Pembrokeshire coastline.

St Gobham was an Irish missionary who found his way across the Atlantic in the mid 500s. (Yes, 500...phew, that's 1500 years ago, or 1000 years before any white man got near my home country of South Africa!). His existence was for certain, but how there came to be a chapel at the bottom of a cliff, in front of pounding waves, is up for debate. Apparently, he was pursued by pirates to the edge of the cliff, where he looked down onto the rocks below, knowing that he’d die if he jumped off. Miraculously, the cliff face opened for him to walk down, and it closed around him, hiding him from the pirates up above. It was in this spot that St Gobham built his chapel. He died in 586, and his remains are thought to lie in the altar on the east side of the chapel.

Another fable which reflects the influence that this coast has on local folklore, is that of the Huntsman’s Leap, a huge vertical fissure in the cliffs, about 600 metres to the left of St Govan’s. In the 19th century, a horseman saw the crevice and had no choice but to urge his horse to jump over it. He and his horse did so successfully, but when he looked back and saw just how far they had jumped, the huntsman died of shock.

From St Govan’s I headed to Marloes Sands, another beautiful National Trust site. When I got there, it was high tide, and the “Sands” were covered in surging surf. Nevertheless, it was a powerful scene, something that makes one sit down and stare at for hours and hours, not knowing why - it’s maddeningly addictive. While looking for a good spot to take photos, I met Liz and Duncan, the summertime caretakers of the local youth hostel, and they invited me over for a cup of tea. The hostel is about five minutes from the beach and cliffs, and is well isolated. It is somewhere I’d like to go back to, and simply listen to the wind and sea, and watch the clouds and the surf. And at £13 a night for a dorm bed, I reckon I could do that for quite a while.

Unfortunately though, I’m having to move quickly from place to place. I only have 33 days to go all the way around the coast of Britain – it’s a strange experience moving quickly through these stunning landscapes. I wish I could have spent more time with Liz and Duncan. They really made me feel like I was on holiday.

St Govan's chapel on the way between Rhossili and Broad words needed. Click on the image for a full screen version.

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