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Pembrokeshire Cycle and PUFFINS!

5 November, 2009

In October 2008, I booked one night’s accommodation on Skomer Island, where Atlantic puffins return each year to their cliffside burrows to breed, before returning back to the deep sea in late July.  I spent 3 hours the first morning that bookings to the general public opened, phoning and phoning until I got through. When I did get through, we only had two choices: one early in the season and one late. I chose late – mid July 2009.

I have never, ever been so committed to booking anything. Even tickets to the Tom Waits concert we saw in Dublin last year only took me one hour of hitting the ‘refresh’ button on TicketMaster’s website.

The set off point for the island, Martin’s Haven, is about 3 miles from the nearest village, which itself is miles from a town of any consequence.  We dithered about how we would get there and didn’t find much in the way of public transport options.  After considering renting a car and hiking, we eventually decided to cycle around Pembrokeshire – the south-western-most county in Wales.

Nic found a few cycle routes that would cover the area: specifically, Sustran’s National Cycle Network routes  47 and 4.  I booked us train tickets to Carmarthen, using National Express East Coast’s website, which handily allows us to book a place for our bikes as well.  Wales has been Nic and Oanh’s 2009 Most Visited Country.  Have we mentioned that we love Wales?

We’re writing up the blow-by-blow account elsewhere, at the Crazy Guy on a Bike website.  We’ve been using the CGoaB website for lots of information about cycle-touring, so we’re giving back a bit by telling our own cycling stories there.

We cycled about 320kms over the 8 days, with many ups and many downs (approximately 3,244m of them, to be specific) and almost always into a headwind.  The weather, too, was not very pleasant.  I think of our total 9 day trip (including the one day on Skomer Island), we had 2 days of nice and dry weather; one of which, annoyingly, was our last day (involving mostly of train travel back to Southampton).  Even so, we had an excellent time.

Our route was planned around a few key stops: Pwyll Deri YHA Hostel, the town of St David’s and, of course, Skomer Island.  The rest we let happen as we cycled, which gave us great flexibility for rest days, lazy mornings hiding from the rain or longer stops to explore excellent Welsh castles.

Highlights of the trip were:

1. Pwyll Deri YHA – the hostel with the best view, ever.  Here we escaped from the rain after a drenched, cold miserable and grumpy (but short) cycle ride (see Lowlight #1 below).  We cooked up a delicious feast of rice and curry, and were even fed cake by one of our fellow hostellers.

Oanh photographs Nic photographing the view (after the rain has passed!).

2. Without a shadow of a doubt, the puffins on Skomer Island.

PUFFIN!!!

3. Serendipitously turning into the Druidston Hotel for a delicious lunch (when we discovered our bodies must have really needed fat as we have never eaten so much buttered bread in one sitting), and then spending the next 2 hours waiting out a downpour.

Coastline near the hotel at Druidston Haven, shortly before the rain hit.

4. The coastal scenery and gorgeous sunsets almost every night.

Sunset near Martin's Haven.

5.  The Welsh have really good castles.  Most have roughly the same history – built as strongholds for Norman and/or English overlords, generally named William, who wanted to subdue the Welsh ; were usually Royalist strongholds during the Civil Wars of the 17th Century and eventually slighted by Parliamentarians to become the picturesque ruins that Nic and I love.

Laugharne Castle

6. First Great Western’s carriage just for bikes.  Brilliant!  If only all the train providers would have such a thing.

(Ummm… nice as it was, we didn’t take a photo of this.)

7. The Welsh accent.

Lowlights of the trip included:

1. Me meandering slowly around a warm grocery store while Nic grew colder and colder as he had waited outside with the bikes, in the wind and rain.  Our cycle after was tense and grumpy for a bit, until Nic warmed up and I stopped feeling guilty for being so thoughtless.

2.The stupidest “cycle” path ever:

From Johnston to near Pembroke, there is an approximately 8 miles long traffic free bike path, which is great.  However, it ended, without warning, by turning sharply up a narrow gravel track, which shortly became stairs.  Even mountain bikes can’t tackle stairs.  We both grunted and grumbled as we struggled up with our bikes.  To add insult to injury, at the top of the path, toxic smelling black plumes of smoke (a factory burning off car tyres?) welcomed us to a dual-carriage motorway (with the bike lane on the opposite side of the road) which took us into the drab, charmless town centre of Pembroke Harbour.  I was so glad when Nic told me that Pembroke, our destination for the evening, was another five kilometres past Pembroke Harbour.

3. The hideous campsites at Tenby, which was expensive and had rubbish facilities, and Laugharne, which charged us the same amount as a car and four people, and directed us to a tent pitch  in between enormous caravans that seemed larger than our house.  All our other campsites were lovely.

But enough moaning!  Go read the whole story at Huffin’ & Puffins!

*****

All of our Skomer Island photos are here.

All of our Pembrokeshire Cycling photos are here.

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