Saturday, 2 August 2008

A Chapel, A Castle and a Holey Rock! 02/08/2008

Paddling out from Stackpole Quay, a small picturesque harbour built by Lord Cawdor in the late 1700s inside an old limestone quarry. The limestone was exported by sailing vessels and coal was imported for the heating of Stackpole Court. The quay is an ideal launching site with car park and tea room close by.

The wind was a bit stronger than I had been hoping for, which raised a few doubts whether my planned trip would be practical. Rounding Stackpole Head I decided to paddle straight across to St Govan's Head.

Approaching Stackpole Head

Paddling on there was a large swell and my doubts were increasing. I decided to at least paddle to St Govan's Chapel before conditions got any worse, as the tide was increasing and with it being against the wind, could create difficult paddling conditions.

The cliffs around St Govan's Chapel

St Govan's Chapel is a tiny cell measuring 18 by 12 feet. Most of it dates from the thirteenth century, but parts of it - the altar and a seat cut in the rock may be much earlier, possibly even as early as the sixth century, when the saint reputedly established a hermitage here after miraculously escaping pursuit by pirates. The rock itself, so the story goes, opened and closed around him, keeping him hidden until his pursuers had gone.

Another story connects Sir Gawain - King Arthur's nephew, with the site. According to local legend, he is buried here, having retired to live out his days as a hermit after Arthur's death. This conflicts with other stories which place Gawain's death before the final battle in which Arthur met his end.

Large swell before St Govan's Head

On reaching St Govan's Chapel it was quite difficult taking photos and it was then I decided to abort my planned trip as further along the coast there are numerous caves and inlets which today would be inaccessible due to the wind and swell, still it will keep for another day.

Rounding St Govan's Head the sea was a lot calmer so I decided to stay close into the cliffs and explore the impressive coastline.

Calmer water past St Govan's Head

Passing the large expanse of sand at Broad Haven South and out to the aptly named Church Rock I then paddled back in passing numerous small bays nearly all being only accessible from the sea.

Broad Haven South

Church Rock

By now I was starting to feel a little peckish so finding a large beach just before Stackpole Head which appears to be unnamed, I landed on an almost lunar landscape with a large cave with 2 entrances and a collapsed section of the roof.

Again the beach seemed only accessible from the sea. What a rareity having such a large beach all to myself on a sunny August Saturday.

Leaving my private beach it was on to Stackpole Head with its 2 massive arches going through the headland. Today the tide was too low to pass through them.

With the tide being so low I decided it would not be worth going to Barafundle Bay as it is better to explore the caves when the tide is further in so I opted to paddle straight across to Manorbier. This was an easy paddle with the wind behind me.

Manorbier Castle was originally built as a wooden hall with earthwork defences at the end of the 11th centruy by the Normans. Work began on the stone castle in the first half of the 12th century by William de Barri, father of Gerald of Wales, who was born here in 1146. Parts of the original castle are still standing today.

It was now a long hard drag back to Barafundle with the wind against me all the way passing Swanlake Bay, the large sandy beach at Freshwater East and even at Trewent Point there was no shelter from the wind. It was not until Greenala Point where I finally managed to get some respite from the relentless wind.

At Greenala Point there are the remains of an iron age fort which made use of the natural contours of the land to make it an impregnable fortress. Here the cliffs are the same old red sandstone as Skokholm Island, it is not until I reach Stackpole that the limestone cliffs return.

Passing Stackpole Quay it is just a short paddle to Barafundle bay which in 2006 was named the Uk's top picnic spot and in 2004 was named as the best beach in Britain.

It's rock formations are really amazing with plenty of caves to explore.

It is then back to Stackpole Quay dodging the numerous fishermen who, if I didn't know better, were deliberately trying to hit me when they cast out!

This was not my intended paddle but still plenty of fantastic coastine to explore covering a distance of nearly 15 nautical miles (17m or nearly 28km).

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