With an uncharacteristic spell of good weather, some midweek time off booked, and a willing companion, a quick trip to Pembrokeshire was called for.
My partner in crime, Adam Harmer, and I were keen to claim three of Pembrokeshire’s classic trips back to back before the weather broke. We loaded up my Cetus X and Adam’s Volan MV and drove the majority of the way after work. The ‘Park for the night’ app found us a quiet location. Adam bagged the back of the van whilst I slept under the stars in my seldom-used Hooped bivi-bag. So seldom used in fact that I had forgotten it had a broken ‘hoop’ which meant a somewhat ‘dew soaked’ night, which is the price to pay for such a clear, starry night in October when sleeping high in the Preseli Hills.
The first trip on our hit list was the Castlemartin coast from Freshwater West to Stackpole Quay. Probably one of the most scenic sections of coastline in Britain. A quick check that the firing range wasn’t firing, and with the tides to check which direction we’d need to take, and all was on. Our continued spell of good fortune continued when a phone call to a friend sorted the shuttle for us. Ben would pick up the van and deposit it at the end for us all whilst we were enjoying the coastline. The low swell and light winds meant that we could explore all the hidden ‘nooks and crannies’ this section of the coast provides. The firing range does somewhat restrict landing options but we managed a rocky shore landing in front of St Govan’s Chapel and I managed to get a few snaps off from the hastily flown drone before ‘restricted airspace’, again, due to the firing range, forced it back to land. After a short leg-stretch, we continued our journey to the beautiful Stackpole Quay and waiting coffee shop. Ben had indeed delivered the van and journey one of three had been bagged in perfect conditions.
Day 2 saw us relocate to the car park just above Martin’s Haven – the next objective was Skomer and Skokholm. The tides dictated a very early start and hence a ‘stealth’ camp in the car park to be on the water at first light. Tidal planning dictated a 7 am launch, declining winter light meant that it was in fact 7:20 am before we could see sufficiently to cross ‘Jack’s Sound’ and start our anti-clockwise circumnavigation of the two islands. My calculations had indicated that we need to be on the south side of Skokholm before 9 am to avoid fighting the tide and to enjoy a tide assisted return. Despite the delayed launch, we were perfectly located on the south side at 9:10 am. So we managed to return to Martin’s Haven with the tide behind us and in time for a well-earned ‘brunch’ followed by a flying visit to a friend’s campsite for a refreshing shower to remove two days of salt encrustment. Trip two of three completed.
The third trip on the flying visit was out to South Bishop lighthouse and a circumnavigation of Ramsey. Again, the tides dictated an early start and another ‘stealth’ camp in the van in the car park above Whitesands beach.
We couldn’t afford any light delays this time as calculations indicated that we needed to be at the lighthouse for 9 am after which the tide would be against us. So we launched at 7 am in the gloomy twilight, through a few small breaking waves and on to a stunning flat sea, the twinkling lighthouse our distance target on the horizon. As we reached St David’s head we had increasing daylight which allowed us to settle into the ferry glide down and across to our first target, Careg Rhoson. A quick upping of the pace as we neared this target got us nicely into the eddy behind the collection of islands. The majority of the hard work done, we now dropped down with the tide passing Daufraich and its infamous ‘sump’, (not the place you want to take a sea kayak!) to the north coast of South Bishop where the tricky steep steps and only landing spot are located. But would the swell allow us to land? Many have paddled out here and then not been able to land due to the swell and strong tidal flow. But our luck once again held out and a tricky but straightforward landing saw us on the dry land of the island at 08:45hrs. I’m not sure who was most shocked, us when we bumped into the lighthouse keepers who had arrived the day before, or them when two heads appear up the ‘condemned steps’ just in time for a breakfast cuppa.
After a hastily drunk brew and tour of the lighthouse, we refloated. I had a minor hiccup resulting in a slow-motion capsize whilst relaunching from the rocky steps, which was the only break in our luck for the whole trip, but nothing other than pride was damaged. We ferry glided the early flooding tide to round the south end of Ramsey and float through the Bitches, where we enjoyed a quick play, before landing once again at Whitesands for a well-earned bacon butty. The early finish also meant we could be home in time for some bonus ‘brownie’ points with our respective loved ones. Three classic trips in three days in Perfect conditions. October in Pembrokeshire delivered. The weather did indeed break the next day with force 6+ winds racking the whole west coast of Wales.
Photos and text – Sid Sinfield