‘Meditations of a coast path wanderer’

As we are locked down in our homes, with parks and open spaces out of bounds; even the ‘Pembrokeshire coast path’ is closed, something I find very frustrating. Before Coronavirus or BC as we have come to refer to the ‘Days of old’ in our house, I would often set out without any particular plan, with my sketch book and paints and see where I’d end up.

So sitting here I thought I would try and let my mind do the wandering and allow my imagination to do the walking. A kind of ‘Meditations of a coast path wanderer’. I thought that I could take you with me and have a go at describing a short walk up to the end of the ‘Gribin’ in Solva. A walk I have done a hundred times, as no doubt some of you will have done too. So fill your glass or pour a cup, put your feet up and lets go for a walk!

It is early morning, in early spring. The delicate perfume of Blackthorn blossom, floats on a gentle breeze. The sun is up but the Solva valley is stubbornly cool in the shadow of the steeply wooded, bank of the ‘Gribin’. The ‘Gribin’ is the name given to the ridge that separates two streams, the Solva river and the Ffynnon Dogvael, in the adjacent Gwadn valley.

The lower village of Solva is still sleeping. I walk past the Harbour Inn, to a little foot bridge over the river. A startled, Dipper darts upstream, his white breast bright against the dark bubbling waters of the river. The tide is out this morning. I look out across the wide valley floor, here and there are assorted fishing boats and little tenders. In the distance is the harbour, where the sun is now creeping along the top of the far headland. This steep sided valley is a glacial melt water channel, so was not formed by the ‘misfit river’ that now runs its length. Like many of us the River Solva has merely sought advantage of an already existing valley as a means of accessing the sea.

I cross the bridge and turn right towards a little sandy beach, pockmarked with flotsam and sea weeded boulders. Three Oystercatchers dribble their blurred orange legs as they scuttle along the sand, all the while piping to each other. Here the river has now spread out, estuary like, bobbling its way amongst Bladderwrack and other rock weeds, ideal for crabs. A Little Egret, brilliant white, too white to be mistaken for a gull, wades deftly at the edges of the water, looking for small fry for its breakfast. A large flock of Lesser Black backs, Black headed and herring gulls wash and preen the sea salt from their wings on a shingle islet, midstream. I continue walking, my boots sinking into the soft sand. Purple rocks, covered in rust and ochre coloured lichens rise to my left. A Wren’s scissor like trill, cuts the air, and with the finishing flourish of his needle and thread song, he sets to sew it back again. I soon reach four old Lime Kilns, remnants of an older chapter in Solva’s history, nestled now, like little grass roofed, Hobbit cottages. It is here I leave the shore, to join the path that leads up to the ‘Gribin’ headland.

The edges of the wooded path are dotted and splashed with Cow Parsley, Celandines, Primroses and nodding Daffodils. Honeyed aroma of Alexanders fills the air as I brush past. A Blackbird’s soulful flute and the Robins warbling song accompany each other perfectly in a dawn duo. Pink Herb Robert tangle with the odd early Campion amongst the new nettles, and Ferns yet to fully unfurl adorn the green bank rising to my left. Looking through the mostly naked trees, salmon coloured clouds drift over the opposite sunlit hill, from where Pen y Aber’s Cwtched cottages look out over the bay. Below in a sheltered curve of the hill are various sheds, boat houses and a café. Trinity Quay, usually bustling with holiday makers, crabliners and pleasure seekers in high summer is now quiet, crowded only with yachts, still stacked in their winter quarters. Their rigging and mainmasts involuntarily clanging in the sea breeze. A solitary Lobsterman readies his pots for the next tide and a dog barks on his first sandy walk of the day.

 The gradient now steepens as the path opens out into the sun. I walk across a grassy plateaux, filled with ground hugging, Burnet rose, yet to flower. An Iron age promontory fort once stood here. I follow the path South West across the open ground to where I am presented with a vista that halts me every time I see it. The splendid St Brides Bay sweeps out into the morning haze of a raspberry vanilla sky, blending the distant Skomer island with the horizon. A raking sun clips the tops of Hawthorn and Gorse bushes. Twin headlands form the harbour entrance, reaching out like two great protecting arms. Penrhyn to the left, still dark in its own shadow, Sterling Hock  on the right, as if on fire, in burning umber, under the warmth of the climbing sun.

Between, lie the familiar rocks of St Elvis, Black Rock and further out to sea the great sleeping dragon of Green Scar accompanied by his attending rocks, The Gasseg and Black Scar. Gulls glide past, heading to their feeding grounds, while Jackdaws ‘whiffle’ and play on the breeze. “Keeeaaw keeeaaw”, a family of Choughs scoop and climb on unseen eddies, their scarlet bills ablaze. A lazy swell is rolling around the bay, sending white foam over St Elvis rock. Waves peter out as they enter the shelter of Gwadn pool; before rising again in foaming finales, to break on Gwadn’s cobbled beach with a rush of spitting shingle.

I sit here for a while thoughtless and engrossed as the sun slowly climbs. A Chiffchaff sounds “chif chaf, chif chaf’, as its name suggests, from a nearby thicket, followed by the plaintive song of a Dunnock, robin like in phrasing but with shorter, sweeter, more diminutive notes. Another wave breaks over Black Rock, its white surf lit now by the rays of a corn gold Sun. A gust of wind picks up wafts of scented coconut from the Gorse bushes below. I inhale deeply and close my eyes to the sound of the coast.

Suddenly I hear ‘cronking’ above me and looking up I am treated to a ‘Tumbling’ Raven. He falls out of the sun folding his wings, and turning upside down. All the while making popping and knock knocking sounds. Ravens are known to have a very wide and varied vocabulary. He quickly reopens his wings again to continue his display flight. Whether it is play flying or a mating ritual or territorial flight is unclear. In ancient lore Ravens were known as Wolfbirds. It was believed their tumbling flight gained the attention of wolves, and leading them to their prey the Ravens could then feast on the remaining carrion. Who knows, it’s certainly steeped in mystery and the highlight of my walk. I watch his aerobatic tumblings for a number of minutes. He swoops and falls and dives and circles once more, treating me to a final fly by before my tumbling Raven heads out of sight. I get up to head home and find I never left my living room.

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