I’m in Wales. One of the reasons I’ve not blogged for the last few days is that I’ve been blissed out, living life on a moment-by-moment basis, whilst salty sea breezes buffer my skin and etch lines into my forehead! I look like Captain Birdseye!
I’m staying in a cottage in Pembrokeshire, with a group of university friends. We come away most years and have stayed in the same beautiful seaside cottage near Dinas Head on three occasions now. I think we first went away together as a group twelve years ago. On that occasion, we went to the New Forest. My abiding memory of that particular holiday was our camp site being invaded by a set of tiny New Forest ponies, who rampaged through our little patch like a bunch of football hooligans. One of them ended up in young Isabel’s tent, steadfastly refusing to move. I have seldom laughed as much as I did that afternoon.
Anyway, yesterday, after embarking on some sort of Krypton Factor-style challenge involving the transportation of fourteen people and four cars to various key points along the length of a long, non-circular public footpath, we set off for The Golden Road, which stretches across the Preseli Hills, about six miles inland from where we’re staying.
The plan was to take our packed lunches and go for a very long, gloriously rugged walk. There seems to be some sort of heatwave going on this week in London which has not reached Pembrokeshire, but, the pay-off has been the most astounding, elemental weather. And nowhere was this more the case than up in the Preseli Hills. On several occasions, we actually found ourselves within the clouds. Great mists would roll in and then, almost immediately, glorious windows opened up in the clouds, allowing us to peer down at a patchwork of fields and ancient woodland and then out to the elephant grey sea. The sun shining through the clouds had turned little sections of the yellow cornfields below us into shimmering pools of gold. It was magical.
|Those patches of gold|
The Preseli Hills are, of course, the very hills from where the giant rocks of Stone Henge were quarried. It’s impossible to comprehend how they managed to transport such enormous blocks of stone over such large distances and, indeed, why it was that they chose to use rocks from this part of the world.
The area does feel mystical, somehow. Most of the hills’ peaks are crowned with Iron Age burial mounds. Huge piles of stones mark the spots where important, yet long-forgotten people have been laid to rest. The views from these tors are exquisite. You can see for miles and miles. At one point we realised that the misty mountains poking up in the distance, far across the sea, were almost certainly in Snowdonia - probably 100 miles away! The winds, as you might expect, were somewhat bracing up there.
|All fourteen of us at The Place of the Eagles (Foel Eryr)|
We came across very few people on our walk. It ought to have been a fairly easy walk, but the paths in some places were almost unnavigable, vanishing regularly into marshland. Even the hardiest walkers were turning around and returning to their cars! The soil on the hills is really peaty and in some places curiously bouncy. I wondered if I was experiencing an earthquake when one patch of turf suddenly started to bounce like a trampoline!
The drawback was that the trainers I was wearing, veterans of my 120-mile walk along the River Nene four years ago, were entirely un-waterproof. Within minutes of starting our trek, my socks were a soggy, sodden mess.
About half way through the walk, whilst sitting on a tor, I took my shoes and socks off to get some air on my feet. It was whilst ringing out my socks that I noticed my feet had gone weirdly pale and wrinkly. Jeannie described them as looking “parched” which was curiously appropriate whilst being simultaneously the complete opposite to what they actually were!
To avoid trench foot, I made the decision to do the rest of the walk barefoot. It turned out to be a rather wonderful experience. I’m entirely flat-footed, so actually a long walk can leave me in quite a lot of pain after shoving my trotters into shoes which are nothing like as wide as Hobbit feet like mine need shoes to be!
The sensation of walking across the moors barefoot was fabulous. The grass was soft, springy and fabulously damp. Periodically, I’d feel a foot squelching into a pool of water or peaty mud. The only time I needed to put my trainers back on was to negotiate a section of the path where thorny gorse had grown across the ground. But for the rest of the time I was as happy as Larry. No accidents. No cuts or grazes. Just happy feet!
|Nathan and Jago in the mist|
At one point, we came upon a large family of Ultra Orthodox Jewish people making their way up the mountain side, which is a somewhat curious sight outside London or Manchester. They were playing rather loud music as they walked - half-klezmer, half-pop music. I walked a little further, but when I looked around to see where they’d got to, they’d disappeared to the extent that I wondered if I’d actually imagined them.
|Iain, Wils, Lola and Tomas|
Oh yes... and when we got back home to the cottage, we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset!
|The view from our sitting room window (not even joking!)|