I love Pembroke.
I’ve been going for years on elaborate camping trips to West Hook Farm with friends and family. What a campsite – right on the coast path, with fabulous beaches on two different coasts. From the tent you can look out north over St Brides Bay – often filled with tankers waiting to enter Pembroke Dock or Milford Haven – to St Davids and the islands reaching out west from the end of the peninsula.
But I’d not spent much time on that side of the bay; one boat trip many years ago, and a few climbing trips. Those trips had always made me want to go back, particularly to visit Ramsey Island; we’d been round it on a RIB trip, spotting porpoises and heading into watery caves full of giant spider crabs.
So a few days ago, My wife and I spent two nights there in a campervan, and, on the second day went to Ramsey Island. Getting there involved an appealingly ramshackle, and very enjoyable boat ride; standing in line on the old lifeboat station slipway (no handrail of course) and being passed, one by one, across an ever-changing gap onto the side of the boat, and then to the seats.
As we set out across Ramsey Sound, we were politely instructed to visibly check our bags for any stray mice or rats which may have got into them – as an RSPB bird sanctuary, the island has been free of predatory rats for a while. Quite what would have happened had any been found we were not told.
We landed at a tiny harbour, just north of The Bitches reef, and, after a quick briefing from an RSPB member, were free to explore. I was hoping to see porpoises or dolphins again – we often saw them in St Brides Bay – and also perhaps the choughs and peregrine falcons that nest there.
What a beautiful place it turned out to be – only two miles long and less than that wide, but with three distinct, miniature summits – and all set on top of the highest sea cliffs in Wales. We walked south, rapidly getting clear of the few other people on the island, on soft turf paths through moorland, spotting rabbits and endless seabirds. After a while, we came to the base of Foel Fawr – a perfectly conical tiny peak which marked the southern tip of the island. Only 72 metres high, but steep, and dropping straight down to cliffs and the sea on all sides bar one. The summit was tiny, and the wind strong, so it felt very exposed, but the views south across many islands, to Skomer, the mainland and beyond were fabulous. Looking east across the sound to the mainland where Carn Llidi was looking striking – I’d love to come back and climb it – and then finally north along the length of the island.
Down, out of the wind and in the sun, was a different world, and many layers came off before lying in the warmth and eating lunch.
On north, past endless cliffs, bays, arches and cairns to mark the track, to a junction. Here, far below, in a cave at the edge of the water, seals were basking. It would have been possible to scramble down here to get a closer look, but time on the island was limited so we chose to push on; My wife back across to the landing point, and me on north to complete the circuit of the island.
Steeply up, the sun now gone and the wind increasing, to reach the high point of the island, Carnllundain, and more of those incredible views. The ground was different here, with bare rocks sticking through heather in a way that felt almost mountainous, despite only being 136 metres high. It felt higher and more remote than it should have done. There were deer roaming on the hillside below me – I didn’t see them, but others, including my wife, did.
Finally, on across rough ground, then fields, and onto the final, lower hill at the northern end of the island – Carnsygubor. Here the wind was very strong and I sheltered behind a low wall of stones – others had obviously been here in similar weather – before returning through fields and walls, to the landing point.
I hadn’t seen all the wildlife I’d hoped for, but as the sun came back strongly, we sat and watched the incoming tide forming a furious race through The Bitches, and the sea arch which formed one side of the quay.
Probably only 4 miles and a couple of hours all told, but a great walk, in a beautiful place, with a boat trip back across the choppy sound to look forward to.
There’s something about an island that’s special.