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5114 miles already walked

A Severely Disjointed Fortnight!

From my last entry readers will know I’d rounded St David’s Head and was making good progress along Pembrokeshire’s coast path.  And then it went quiet . . .

Probably, you incorrectly assumed, I was celebrating Wales’ victory over England in the Six Nations rugby, or that I was preparing for St David’s Day by picking daffodils and eating Welsh Cakes.  The latter could be true, but the truth is the Victory Walk came to a stumbling halt.  I hope this extended Log entry will update you all.

The week began well, seeing me walk into the much photographed, picturesque and narrow harbour of Solva.  Now on the south Pembrokeshire coastline, I knew I was in for a treat walking undulating cliffs, passing sandy coves and huge beaches popular with surfers.  I was making my way round the vast St Bride’s Bay, a popular tourist area passing familiar place names such as Newgale, Nolton Haven, Druidston, Broad Haven, and Little Haven. 

Until I passed an old chimney which was part of a former colliery engine house, I had not realised that this area of Pembrokeshire once had coal mines.  I also came across an eco-building, known locally as the ‘Tellytubby House’!  Built at great expense by a former labour MP and barrister, Bob Marshall-Andrews, I thought it more resembled a tank on manoeuvres on Salisbury Plain.

Later I reached the village of St Bride’s Haven, overlooked by a mansion that used to be known as Kensington House. Today it’s probably best known as St Bride’s Castle and features in a Holiday Property Bond advertisement, fronted by former tennis player and BBC Wimbledon presenter Sue Barker.  The building has had a chequered history and at one stage was used as a hospital specialising in treating young children with tuberculosis.  In the nearby churchyard of St Bridget’s, I came across some simple headstones of children who had died in the hospital from this illness.

The night before I headed off towards St Ann’s Head lighthouse, we parked above the beautiful Marloes Sands which I walked by early next morning.  Later, I smiled at sheep grazing on what was once a naval airfield known as HMS Goldcrest, and saw ponies grazing near the remains of HMS Harrier at Kete.  Having recently met two ‘wrens’ who had served out on the Dale peninsula, I chuckled to think how things had changed since their day.  That evening I visited sea cadets at Milford Haven where it was good to see that their unit, TS Harrier, is proud to retain a name associated with that wartime station.

After St Ann’s Head I found a stone with a plaque which stated Henry VII had landed nearby, gathered his army and headed for Bosworth Field where he defeated Richard III in 1485.  Richard is probably now better remembered for his body being rediscovered under a city council car park in Leicester. His remains were subsequently reburied in Leicester Cathedral in 2015.  Meanwhile, Henry VII is best remembered for being the last King of England to win his throne on a battlefield.  He was also canny enough to marry Richard III’s niece, Elizabeth of York!

After circling St Ann’s peninsula I walked into Dale village where I saw some restored lime kilns: these stone structures have been a feature all along the Pembrokeshire coast.  The intense heat in kilns converted limestone rock into powdery quicklime used to improve the acidic soils of Pembrokeshire.  Kilns were traditionally built adjacent to harbours, enabling ships to bring in assorted cargoes and take out quicklime for use elsewhere. Lime was also used in building and construction.

I’d pushed hard towards Dale because I wanted to beat the incoming tide and walk across Pickleridge causeway before the low footbridge became submerged.  I made it with time to spare but knew I couldn’t beat the tide at my next crossing point, Sandy Haven.  That afternoon in woodland, I came across my first spring flowers – primroses, snowdrops and catkins hanging from branches.  Later, as expected, the stepping stones at Sandy Haven were nowhere to be seen: there was no option other than a road walk round to Herbrandston.

Approaching Herbrandston I noticed the words ‘a doubly thankful village’ under the village road sign.  I’d heard of ‘Thankful Villages but had never come across the term ‘doubly thankful’.  Thankful Villages, sometimes referred to as Blessed Villages, are  those that do not have a WWI war memorial because all the local men who left to serve in the Great War arrived home safely.  A Doubly Thankful Village is one where all residents who joined-up survived both World Wars; researchers believe there are fewer than twenty Doubly Thankful Villages in the UK.

Back on the cliffs, views and surroundings were soon to alter.  I was now heading towards Milford Haven waterway, kept busy with ferries, oil tankers and LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) carriers.  This area of Wales plays an important role in the UK’s energy sector, and South Hook LNG terminal is one of the biggest in the world; the site had previously been an Esso oil refinery.  A little further upstream towards Neyland I passed the Dragon LNG terminal built on a former Gulf Oil refinery site.  Between them, these terminals provide approximately 20% of the UK’s current natural gas needs.

The South Hook terminal is part of a fascinating logistics chain whose story begins in Qatar’s gas fields in the Arabian Gulf.  From here gas is piped to a Qatar processing plant where impurities are removed and it is cooled to an incredibly low temperature (-160C), which turns it into liquefied gas. Once in this form it’s stored in specially insulated tanks. Those low temperatures must be retained throughout its 18-day sea journey of 6,140 nautical miles from Qatar to Milford Haven.

On arrival in the UK the process is reversed (known as regasification) before the natural gas is piped out of Milford into the gas national grid network.  Although I wasn’t lucky enough to see the latest Q-Flex LNG ships on the waterway, I did see the Arctic Princess LNG carrier, with its distinctive gas holders resembling gigantic scoops of red ice cream!

My interesting afternoon continued. Ahead of me I could see the Cleddau Bridge  spanning the estuary between Neyland and Pembroke Dock – another place full of Naval history. For over a century ships were built at the Royal Dockyard, ranging from Royal Yachts to RN ships, with the final ship, RFA tanker Oleander, being launched in 1922.

The Dockyard closed four years later, though the area took on a new lease of life when the RAF made Pembroke Dock its flying boat base. During WWII it was home to Sunderland flying boats and was reported to be the largest operational flying boat base in the world.  Two flying boat hangars have survived and can still be seen in the town. I finished the day’s walking at Pembroke where I found the Victory Van waiting in the shadow of Pembroke Castle, birthplace of Henry VII.

Next morning, I returned to Pembroke to resume my ‘energy sector’ walk past Pembroke’s ultra-modern natural gas-fired power station: opened in 2012 it was built on the site of a redundant oil-fired power station. My route then took me through fields adjacent to Pembroke’s vast oil refinery, where young bullocks grazed. This refinery, now owned by Valero, was previously owned by Regent, Texaco and Chevron respectively.

Walking my waterside route, it struck me as odd that this prominent refinery is such a feature in Pembrokeshire’s National Park.  The next thing to strike was a small rock hidden in the grass; in a split second I tripped and was thrown downhill where I lay screaming with pain.   I knew my right arm and shoulder was in serious trouble.  My first concern was to see if the curious bullocks were going to venture closer, but my yells killed their curiosity!  My second thought was to get to my feet, but sensing how sick I felt, I realised I’d have to take my time.  Thirdly, with no phone signal I knew it was up to me to get back through the fields and summon help from oil refinery staff somewhere inside the perimeter fence.  It was pure mental grit and adrenaline that saw me drag myself back up the hill - it seemed to take forever.

A combination of oil refinery staff – the first response team and the refinery’s ambulance - managed to help me in that first excruciatingly painful hour.  Later, having been transferred into a county ambulance I was stabilised before being taken to the A & E department of Haverfordwest hospital.  In all, seven hazy and very painful hours passed by with the A & E team trying to solve the problem. Unable to take any more pain, I was eventually admitted to theatre under general anaesthetic.  Once there, my severely dislocated and chipped right shoulder was manipulated back into position.  Exhausted I was kept in overnight while Frank slept in the hospital car park in the Victory Van.

We both knew it could have been worse, but I also knew the Victory Walk was now ‘on hold’.  My right shoulder joint and its chipped bone need time to mesh together, after which the damaged soft tissues need to heal before physio can start.  My entire right arm is as yellow as saffron rice and as purple as damson plums. Incredibly, there’s not a scratch, cut or bruise anywhere else on my body.

Having been told my arm must stay immobile for 3 weeks it was clear that living in the Van would not be practical.  For the next four days I remained in shock and continuing pain.  During this time all our efforts were concentrated on finding a suitable holiday let which could also provide parking for the Victory Van.  Ironically the waterside apartment we finally found looks directly across Milford Haven waterway towards the Valero refinery and surrounding fields - the very scene of my accident.  There’s nothing quite like rubbing salt into a wound! 

I’ve since had another X-ray which confirms shoulder and chipped bone were successfully married-up.  Healing time has begun: my main challenge now is remaining patient and not becoming an impatient patient!

See Photo Album No 66 - A Severely Disjointed Fortnight