GOING FOR PEMBROKE
The Year of Legends, and the Legends Cycle Route tempted Charlie Faringdon to return to Pembrokeshire.
There are lots of things to do in West Wales. Pembrokeshire's long, twisting coast and rolling interior give cyclists many miles of fabulous variety to wile away the miles. I head back often. NCR4 has been around for a long time, but its Pembrokeshire stretch - and the more northerly NCR47, have been rebranded as part of the Legends Cycle Route, starting near Aberavon and including Swansea Bay and Carmarthenshire as well. Yet, there’s great cycling away from the official route, too.
Though cloud covered the sun, the beautiful Newgale beach was filling up. Keeping an eye on wandering folk only occasionally took attention from the sea view as I kept to the minor road that avoids the initial climb on the A487. Level sea-side cycling rarely lasts long. The headland brings the climb and a then a descent, new panoramas or glimpses into deep, cliff-girt coves. This section – like much of Pembrokeshire’s coast – exercises the lungs vigorously on three occasions, either gasping over the next headland or at the views. Coves bring beaches and offers of refreshment or ice-cream. Too early for me. But it was time to eave NCR4.
Broad Haven, is a busy little place, catering, in the main, for tourists. Famously, the place-names in this part of West Wales are entirely Anglo-Saxon, with a clear break from the Welsh names on the other side of the Landsker – a dividing line tangible only in place-name origin. There’s even a Landsker Borderlands walking route.
Away from the coast
Walwyn’s Castle was the next destination, once the centre of a major barony, a few earthworks of the castle remain, hiding peacefully behind the Church. Strangely, I had hoped for a quick downpour so that shelter could be found in the Church porch. Why? Well, the local history society websites says that Thomas Wogan, one of the signatories of the death warrant of King Charles I, not only hid in the porch, but “lived” there for a while.
Skirting the northern edge of Milford Haven (interesting, no doubt, but I prefer country scenes to oil refineries – were I seeking employment I might have a very different view) I crossed the Daugleddau Bridge near Neyland. A spectacular structure sweeping over the river formed of its “two swords” in the heart of the Pembrokeshire and bridged nowhere else, it is not only useful but beautiful. The view takes in Pembroke Dock and the great stretch of the deep water harbour of Milford Haven keeping the oil refineries at a suitable distance. Exploring the Daugleddau shore would make a fine day out.
Here I was back on NCR4.
Pembroke and Pembroke Dock are separated by a low ridge but could barely be more different. dominated by the castle set on a headland above the Pembroke River, Pembroke is genuinely lovely. This is medieval architecture on the grand scale, with a history of siege and treachery to match, though it was never taken by the Welsh from its Norman founders and their successors, although it was the birthplace of Henry Tudor, who became King Henry VII. A base for conquest in Wales and Ireland, improved and developed over the years, it is full of stair cases to climb and even has a cave to explore.
Straying from NCR4 again, there’s a long drag up a country lane to Maiden Wells, Yerbeston and, eventually St. Petrox, emerging by the church. Had I been visiting anew, I’d probably have headed for the tourist delights of Bosherton Lily Ponds and Stackpole Quay. Eschewing the tourist traps, beautiful though they are, I kept inland via Stackpole Elidor. Sounding like a place out of the Hobbit the deeply-wooded valley has a touch of mystery about it. The tiny village is also known as Cheriton, but Elidor befits it.
The pleasantest place
Returning to the ups and downs of coastal cycling, neither was too taxing, though the climb up to Freshwater East gave the lungs a decent workout. Proximity to the beach is the great attraction of Freshwater East.
It is possible to approach Manorbier by an inland route, but a coastal road that crests above Manorbier Bay and then plunges to the sea below the village is much to be preferred, in my opinion. Whist the cloud was grey as the sea the white tower of Manorbier Church stood out clearly. Ascending to the village, the castle stands high on the right. In private hands, the gardens are lovely and the castle remains are extensive. I enjoyed both, as well as refreshments.
Manorbier has been described as “The pleasantest place in Wales.” Renowned twelfth century scholar, traveller, Churchman and a bit of a gossip, Gerald of Wales came up with the description; unsurprisingly, Manorbier was his birthplace.
Along the Ridgeway
Idling about in Manorbier is easy, so the short climb up to The Ridgeway (at 108 metres above sea level) felt rather more strenuous than it was. Yet this is a ridgeway with fine views in both directions, lasting nearly all the way to Lamphey where the Bishop’s Palace is the main attraction, though there are places to eat and drink, too.
NCR 4 runs along a country lane parallel to the main road and railway, emerging close to the centre of Pembroke and running along quiet roads to the base of the castle. Shortly after re-crossing the Daugleddau Bridge, NCR4 drops to the excellent traffic free cycle route that uses the old rail line from Neyland to Johnston.
Between Johnston and Havefordwest, the railway is still in use, so NCR 4 runs over bridleways and tracks, of which I am always a little wary. The design and surface were actually very good. On the edge of Haverfordwest, ignoring the cycle routes, I turned up into the town centre to take a quick peek at the castle. Finding a place to buy a re-energising bar of chocolate required searching out a supermarket. These seem to be situated down by the ring-road and are connected by useful shared cycle paths – if there is such a thing.
Straying from NCR4 again, the quiet B4330 uses the valley of the Western Cleddau for the first few miles. Shortly after Cuttybridge, a left turn took me along the valley of the Camrose Brook, to the pretty village of Camrose. Church and castle earthworks sit on opposite sides of the valley and my road climbed past the latter through the village.
Then it was back to Pembrokeshire lumpiness, past Roch Castle rather than the extensive earthworks of Keeston castle.
How many castle sites had I passed? I didn’t bother to count, though it did occur to me that if one were seeking to break the world record for the most castle sites passed in an afternoons ride, this would definitely be worth considering as the location for the attempt. Welsh, Normans, English and Flemish had fought over an area that now offers excellent water-sports and excellent cycling or, even, both.
The northern fork of the Legend’s Cycle Route is NCR47. It leaves NCR4 at Carmarthen. the two meet again at Fishguard. 47 rolls across Carmarthenshire and the lower slopes of the Preseli Mountains; 4 runs closer to the coast, but rarely along it. It takes in Tenby, St. David’s and many of the places already mentioned. Both will offer the occasional lung-buster, but your reward will be almost immediate.
A Fishguard loop is entirely possible and would make a good Tour of Pembrokeshire - were that not already the name of a tremendous sportive based at St. David’s.
The Preseli Mountain route is glorious. Open hillsides dotted with ancient sites, viewed from a narrow asphalt lane, with birds of prey circling. This is truly legendary cycling - no matter how slowly you go. The Preseli section is not long; draw it out. The area around Rosebush, just north of the route, is well-worth some time. However, the whole of NCR47 is grand and you do want leave some time to take in Fishguard/Abergwaun. Let the Legends website guide you.
The rolling upland NCR47 is a contrast to NCR4. Cycling north from St. David’s, the route does not give more than long views of the sea. Try taking some of the side roads to descend to the coast. The return will be stiff, but Abereiddi, Porthgain and Abercastle all have attractions; spectacular sea-side quarries in the cliffs, industrial buildings that serviced the industry, the roofless former homes of workers - and beaches. Why not arrange a coasteering session with one of the local outdoor adventure companies? Too close a look at the coast for me, but might be just up your street.
The point is that you have to head off the route to really see this spectacular coastline. Gorse banks sometime line the roads, but there are neat villages - such as Trevine/Trefin - and lush valleys with a touch of the rain forest about them. You’ll not be short of descents either, as NCR4 rolls into Fishguard. Signposting is excellent throughout - at least, on my last trip.
Legendary! don’t think that is overdoing it either.
For general info http://www.visitpembrokeshire.com
For Manorbier Castle visit www.manorbiercastle.co.uk
For Lamphey Palace visit www.cadw.wales.gov.uk/daysout/lampheybishopspalace
For Pembroke Castle visit http://pembroke-castle.co.uk/
There are railway stations at Manorbier, Lamphey, Pembroke and Pembroke Dock. On another line there are stations at Milford Haven, Johnston and Haverfordwest. On neither line are trains frequent and connection times can be lengthy. The junction for the two lines is at Whitland, though some trains may require additional changes. On the whole, cycling is shorter and may be quicker! There is a station at Fishguard, too.
In season, refreshment stops are unlikely to be hard to find, though the situation can be very different out of season.
For the Celtic Trail West see https://www.sustrans.org.uk/ncn/map/route/celtic-trail
For the Legends route see http://southwest.wales/cycling/index.html
PUBLISHED AUGUST 2017