Tag Archives: Pembrokeshire

Life’s a beach

This week Trip Advisor released a list of the best twenty five beaches in the UK. We are spoilt for choice on these beautiful islands with some of the best beaches anywhere in the world.

Rhossili on Gower is a must for anyone that loves a beach

Rhossili on Gower is a must for anyone that loves a beach

Four of the beaches on the list are places I know well – three of them owned by the National Trust (Godrevy, Rhossili and Barafundle). They’re all pretty different but resonate in terms of what makes a good beach.

Top of my pops would be Barafundle in Pembrokeshire (number 14 on the list). We spent a day on this beautiful beach last summer. My memory from that day is swimming in the cold August water and feeling so alive and refreshed; an experience you can’t put into words. And the kids loved the sand dunes slipping and sliding over them. This beach could be in the south of France and I remember taking a relative from Australia there and she was blown away by it.

Then there is Porthminster in St Ives (number 5 on the list). One of four beaches in this wonderful Cornish town. What a beach. Not that big but a great spot. We spent many an hour body boarding and jumping into waves last summer. On the penultimate day before we left for week two in Wales, we were on the beach alone before 9am as the cold morning air swept in. Hot chocolates were the order of the day.

Across the bay from Porthminster is Godrevy (number 22 on the list). A classic Cornish beach, ideal for surfing and where the tide races in. The rock pools are great and the low beach is a great atmospheric place what ever the weather. Its a beach to blow away the cobwebs and feel the full force of the Atlantic: magical.

And last but not least is the majestic Rhossili on Gower (number 3 on the list). What a beach. Every time I visit it I’m blown away. Three miles of pure golden sand, steep downland and a sense of total connection with seas. Standing on the footpath to Worms Head and looking along the beach has to be one of the best views in Western Europe!

All of these beaches reflect something really deep for us Brits: that strong and lifelong connection with the sea. We need the sea and the feeling of the sand between our toes. Its what defines us and has shaped our identify.

They are places to dream, they are places to switch off and they are places to play and have fun.

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A random review of the year

As the reviews of the year fill out the column inches in the print media, countless blogs and hours of air time on TV and radio here is my own slightly random contribution to the genre. We all like a good list and I’m no exception; this list is all about a collection of things, experiences and places that have been highlights of the year. Its not an exhaustive list and I will think of things once I hit publish but here goes.

Moment of the year – swimming in the cold Atlantic sea off of Barafundle beach in Pembrokeshire. This beach is one special place. And swimming in the still bone tinglingly cold water only added to its allure. I can still feel it as I type.

Debut of the year – this has to be my first proper visits to Stonehenge. Wandering through the meadows to Fargo Wood in June and seeing a cloud of adonis blue butterflies take off was a wonderful moment. And standing in the freezing cold as night became day within touching distance of the stones was a moment to cherish. If you immerse yourself in the wider landscape and block out the sounds of the A303 you can then really connect to how the hundreds of generations before you that have walked in the Wiltshire countryside.

Film or series of the year – it has to be House of Cards. The US version had something that the UK version didn’t: real class. As a lover of politics this has a real Machiavellian streak to it with so many twists and turns. I’ve still only watched series 1 but can’t wait to catch up with series 2 and series 3.

Books of the year – two books stand out for me. Meadowlands by John Lewis-Stempel caught me by surprise and had me spellbound. I couldn’t put it down when I read it on holiday and it has helped me to see the world anew – looking for details and looking for nature around you. This Boy by former Home Secretary Alan Johnson was a revelation. Written in an accessible way it richly described the first 16 years of a difficult life. You can see the roots of his political life and passions, built on the desire for social justice and equality.

Album of the year – I loved Damon Albarn’s Everyday Robots. The lyrics touch the soul and the musicality is wonderful. I can’t stop listening to this album.

Wildlife experience of the year – sitting in a haymeadow in the overflow car park of Dyrham Park doesn’t sound glamourous but it took me to a place of tranquility, watching the grasses gently waving in the breeze and the butterflies fluttering across this field of gold. Meadows are rare and precious; they have declined dramatically in the last 50 years, making this moment more special.

Sound of the year – it has to be hearing the total joy of the kids as they run free on a beach. Always brings a smile to my face.

Views of the year – two stand out for me: one I see everyday and the other I’d never seen. The view across Charlcombe Valley and Bathampton Meadows towards Little Solsbury Hill is something I see every day but it never fails to amaze me with the changing of the light and the changing of the seasons. The other view that got me was from a small viewing point near Little Haven in Pembrokeshire; watching the sun slowly set and the wild seas lapping the steep sided cliffs. It summed up everything that is wonderful about the British coastline.

Otter time

I thought that I’d missed my opportunity to see that most elusive of mammals, the otter. Colleagues at a work meeting on the beautiful National Trust Stackpole Estate in west Wales had seen one. Someone spotted some movement by the edge of Bosherton lake and the whole group of twenty people fell silent in an instant, gripped by excitement and anticipation.

Even among this group of seasoned naturalists few of them had seen an otter in the wild more than a few times. Slowly some of the group peeled off and crept along the waterside path until there it was bobbing above the still water; the majestic and captivating sight of an otter.

I’d made the wrong call and perhaps missed the opportunity to see one of these much love creatured in their natural environment and at one of the best sites. I had seen an otter before but in the slightly artificial environment of captivity.

Having read the moving and powerful ‘In Search of the Wild Otter’ by Miriam Darlington I’d totally got the joy and sense of wonder at seeing one of these special creatures.

As the mists rolled across the woodland and the Lakes I thought that I’d head for the eight arched bridge that spanned this man made lake at the heart of the estate, more in hope than anything. A brilliant white pair of swans lit up the damp dull greyness of the April morning as birdsong filled the air with its sweet hypnotic melodies. I stared intently along the surface of the lake hoping that my eye would catch some movement.

I slowly headed along a gravel track towards the coast and then decided it was time to head back for breakfast. I bumped into a colleague who had just seen an otter and was excitedly talking about its behaviour while someone else emerged from the hillside in a scene straight out of Wuthering Heights and joined by another early riser we finally became a quartet.

We looked longingly towards the west of the lake when someone said “there is the otter” and we all did a double take. Then it emerged again with a smooth economy of movement. Out came the binoculars and there was a real buzz among the group. One of my colleagues had had one of those epiphany moments saying that this was the first time he’d seen an otter in the wild and I joined that exclusive club who had seen this gracious and special mammal.

This moment in the gloom reminded me of the power of nature to inspire, create that sense of wonder and make the heart sing. Seeing an otter for the first time is one of those moments that stays with you for life and you feel like you want to tell everyone that you see.