A Windy ‘Welliewalk’

Sunday, saw Storm Freya blow through. And I must admit I was kind of looking forward to the ‘Event’. I love a good storm, and a good storm had been promised by the Met Office and other various forecasters.

It’s said that J. M. W. Turner once lashed himself to the mast of a sailing ship in a gale so he could experience the torrent at first hand, and having done so, later painted “Snow Storm: Steam boat off a harbours mouth” 1842

So it was with particular glee that I readied myself for an afternoon of storm chasing. In the end it wasn’t quite the storm I expected, well not here in Trefin in Pembrokeshire, anyway. The wind did get up, moaning and whining through the telegraph wires, but nothing worth ‘lashing’ myself to a ship’s mast for! And nothing really out of the ordinary for these parts, at this time of year. All the same, my wife Helen and I took to our ‘Wellies’ and, despite the rain, headed out on, what Hel’ loves to call a Welliewalk’, to the coast, and to Aberfelin, a small cove, just along from Trefin.

    ‘The Pembroke County Guardian‘, when reporting on the ‘Great gale of 1900’ and the shipwreck of the ‘Ragna’, (a Barque carrying coal from Cardiff to Brazil, who went ashore at Aberfelin, on the 28th December 1900), described the cove as like a “seething cauldron”, during what was possibly one of the worst storms for twenty years. That storm took the lives of three seamen and would have taken more had it not been for the “gallantry” of the women and men of Trefin who fought to save the lives of the captain and eight of the crew from the sinking ship.

 I have painted here many times now and never tire of its many different moods. Freya’s blustery South Westerlies meant that, on this occasion, the sea on this North West facing part of the Pembrokeshire Coast, despite the strong wind, was quite flat, sheltered by the fine purple cliffs, renowned in this part of West Wales for their slate.

The tide was high and rising as we descended the steps to the beach, passing the old ruin of Trefin Mill. We followed the Aberfelin stream to the offering of only a few meters of shore on which to walk. Great mounds of Kelp seaweed had been ripped from their rocks and were being washed up, filling every brown wave with rubbery stalks and slippery leather fronds, their roots resembling weird alien claws. The rain had stopped, so we sat watching the sea bounce and wash its way about the cove, slapping against the rocks and rushing and dragging the pebbles at our feet, making that satisfying bobbling, bubbling sound as the sea ebbed and returned over the shingle. Not quite the “grating roar” as described by Matthew Arnold in ‘Dover Beach’, nor with “The eternal note of sadness” with which he goes on to describe the sound. I find watching the sea like this puts me in a more pensive mood rather than sad.

Bill Waterson, the cartoonist and author of “Calvin and Hobbes” said, “I love these cold grey, winter days, days like these let you savour a bad mood”! And although neither Helen nor I were savouring a bad mood, as we sat there before the ebb and flow of the sea, we naturally fell silent, our thoughts, washed by the movement of the waves and the wind howling over the cliffs above.

Always inspired by this little cove and with the idea for a painting forming, I made some sketches, focusing on the grey sea with its brown seaweed filled waves.

We huddled quietly together for a while longer sheltered from the gale, until an inquisitive little dog came running over and broke the mesmerising spell from which we were under, the owners calling to the curious terrier, our prompt to return home via a pint (or two) at The Ship Inn and a chat with the locals by the warm pub fire. An old farmer informed me that, the giant rusted anchor leaning up against the entrance to the pub, was indeed, believed to be from the very wreck of the ‘Ragna’ herself.

We left the warmth of the pub and back out into the wind, to discover it had now picked up few knots, so we headed home to settle in for the evening and plan our next ‘Welliewalk’, whatever the weather.

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