Never before in the history of mankind have so many able-bodied walkers gathered in the same place at the same time.
As the early morning sun shone through the clear blue sky, the band of intrepid AHWC walkers, numbering 13 in all, gathered to take part in the morning photo shoot as a precursor to what promised to be a historic day in South Wales. But then all days are historic if you read the modern press.
At 9.05 John Anderson called together this fine body of men outside the luxurious stone-built bunkhouse in readiness for the assault on Abercastle. One last photograph of the team before the departure and to paraphrase the Duke of Wellington I couldn't be sure what effect they would have on the Welsh locals but, by God, they certainly frightened me.
Everybody cheerful and it's time to go.
At 9.15 as we started out from our base, the Celtic Camping Bunkhouse several miles north east of St.Davids in Pembrokeshire. A few minutes to meander over the fields and we were on the coastal path heading northeastwards. The weather forecast was good, so good that most of the group was encouraged to wear shorts and display legs which hadn't seen the light of day for many a moon. There were some beautiful views as we circled Abereiddi Bay and cameras were snapping immediately, partly in excitement, partly because this might be our only dry, sunny day and we needed to take home some good photographs.
At 10.10 after a couple of miles walk, we stopped briefly at a trig point on the headland then onwards to the "Blue Lagoon" bounded by sheer cliffs where slate mining had once taken place and the sea was a rich green. "No coasteering" a sign announced. This apparently was a mixture of swimming, climbing and jumping to explore the coastline and not, as Tony tried to convince us, the Welsh expression for back seat driving. Actually, it didn't matter what it was, as you weren't allowed to do it anyway.
At 12.55 after a further enjoyable five or six miles coastal walking through Porthgain harbour and touching on the Longhouse district, we arrived at Abercastle for lunch. Here Tim and John Jeffery joined the group and we all sat on the benches or harbour wall and ate our sandwiches.
At 1.25 we were off again, a further 8 miles to reach our target point of the youth hostel near to the Strumble Head lighthouse. Mike and the drivers returned to base and the rest split into 2 groups so that we could walk quickly enough to ensure we reached our destination by 5.00. The afternoon walk continued to follow the coastal path but was considerably more arduous, or so it seemed. The steep climbs were immediately followed by sharp descents, scrambles across large pebbled beaches and then a further climb. It was hot and most began to tire. Mark continued to feed his wine gum addiction. Some philosophised about whether the journey was more important than the destination. Others couldn't have cared less.
It was still a stunning walk peppered with glimpses of beautiful beaches and, after latterly and bizarrely encountering some white horses roaming on the side of the cliff, we arrived at 4.25 at the youth hostel where we were joined by the second group within minutes. We had walked just over 16 miles on the first day, which seemed a reasonable achievement.
At 5.15 we were picked up by car and driven back to the bunkhouse where we exchanged stories of the day and a couple of fine examples of the Anglo-Welsh entente cordiale. Whilst walking the final stretch to the youth hostel, John Williams had almost become impaled in a hedgerow, as a tractor driver had decided that he definitely wasn't going to move for any English walker. Peter Jeffery also recalled how he had the temerity to toot gently on his horn because a local lady had parked her car and switched off the engine in the middle of the road so that she could feed her horse. The ensuing look he was given when she returned made one of Alex Ferguson's hair-dryer stares seem rather timid. She then drove backwards at high speed so that we could pass and didn't appear to be appeased any further when all four people in Peter's car waved cheerily as we passed by. Wales is such a lovely place.
After we had showered, Dave Fillery had prepared us spicy Italian pork followed by bread and butter pudding. A glass of red wine to help it down and we were all happy. The cooking was outstanding.
The day concluded with either a game of cribbage, "Survival" or a chat, dependent on your state of mind. The worrying thing I found about playing cribbage was that one of the best players was the Reverend Watkins-you can draw your own conclusions as to how that had come about.
Lights out at 10.45-bunk beds and into the snoring chamber. Thing is I wasn't the worst offender.
Yes, it was a miracle.
We ventured out on the second day and it was dry and sunny again. I had only brought one pair of shorts, as I wasn't expecting tropical weather like this, so what now? OK, I'll wear them again.
8.00 and everybody is up despite stiffness and seemingly all fit and healthy. We successfully negotiated "Bread-gate," ate a hearty cooked breakfast and assembled outside.
At 9.15 we had the statutory morning photo-shoot and were ready to face the world.
Today we would be travelling on the same coastal path but towards St. Davids which would take us in a south westerly direction. Same stunning views and even before 10.00 it was getting hot. The early morning intellectual conversation, initiated by Mike, was about moto grand prix and whether all footballers were jessies.
At 10.10 came a natural break, as we rounded a headland and stared out into the sea trying to identify what was before our eyes. Some, including myself, thought it might be Ramsey Island, others thought it was a smaller unnamed island, Adrian thought it was a boat.
One thing was certain as we progressed towards Whitesands Bay, some 6 and a half miles away, was that the scenery was beautiful again and our walk was being punctuated by a number of seal sightings and several buzzards flying past and arrowing into the rocks at the cliff face. An occasional whitethroat could also be seen flying by.
At 12.30 lunch was taken as we arrived on the beach at Whitesands Bay, where it was more windy than we had experienced during the morning walk. Sandwiches eaten, we split into three groups again. A few returned back to the bunkhouse, the hardier walkers planned a stretching 6 mile walk to the south and east of St Davids and a further group decided to undertake a shorter walk into St.Davids, 3 miles away, to explore the cathedral and the city, then find a local hostelry to watch the FA Cup final.
Just before 2.45 nine of us arrived as part of the latter group in St.Davids, where drink became the theme of the afternoon. After looking round the cathedral, all of us retired to the refectory to sample what was probably the worst pot of tea ever made. Not such a problem, however, when we arrived in the Farmers Arms a short time later, as the beer appeared to slip down all too easily whilst watching the Cup Final. Tony certainly enjoyed his beer as much as anyone, something that contributed to his undoing when eating his evening meal later. Colin Morton had now joined us, as he had travelled over from Billericay earlier in the day.
At 7.45 we returned to the bunkhouse where another generous meal awaited us, a lovely beef stew followed by Eton Mess topped, in most cases, with sunflower seeds. Whilst sunflower seeds have never been known to be the scourge of Man, Tony decided to voice his opinion that they were not welcome on his plate. Our genial and patient chef, Dave, did not appear to be too pleased by this turn of events and so decided to serve him with two sunflower seeds alone and no Eton Mess. Tony was startled but saw the funny side.
Meanwhile, as others settled down to an evening game, a chat or a call home, Rod was doing his best to ruin his marriage of over 30 years. First, he had he promised to contact Diane daily. Then, he let his phone run dead and had forgotten to bring his phone charger. Finally-and crucially-he then allowed other members of the group to contact his wife directly to advise her of his wellbeing and whereabouts. Most of them did have his best interests at heart, I am sure, but denying that he had ever arrived and then hatching a plan to cut him out of all the team photographs to prove it, was a little excessive. No matter, a friend in need is a friend indeed so when Rod confided in Dave Fillery that he would definitely bring a fully charged phone next year, Dave advised, "You may bring it with you but you may not be able to use it as, from what I have heard, your wife may put it where the sun don't shine."
We all retired to bed around 11.00pm.
Sunday arrived and brought with it a change of weather. Still dry but much cooler and windier.
At 9.30 we drove to Porth Clais, due south of St.Davids for our starting point.
At 9.50, we started the day's walk by taking the St.Justinian Coastal path towards Solva. The group was a bit quieter today, as we followed a different coastal path to the previous two days. It still had its challenges, as the paths were wider but occasionally steep. Although the morning's walk was largely uneventful we did see a dead adder, an art gallery in the distance and a number of choughs, prompting a number of jokes about "chuf chuffs" and being chuffed to be there.
We broke at 11.10 and when asked how much further to lunch, Mike had developed a catch-all stock reply of "2 and a bit miles'. As it turned out, he was right.
Just as we were approaching Solva, we met a group of lady walkers coming in the opposite direction and we stood courteously to one side as they passed. Seeing us all strung out over a distance of about 100 yards, the final lady in the group commented to one of her colleagues, "Look, there are yards of men here, where are all the ladies?"
At 12.15 we had managed to cover the 5 and a half miles to Solva Quay and took lunch at the quayside. The Queen had apparently been there in 1995 and an imprint of her footstep could be seen on one of the quay steps. The quay was moderately busy as we finished our packed lunches and then bade farewell to Tim who was returning home. Mike and a couple of the drivers returned back to the bunkhouse and we prepared for the afternoon walk to Newgale. This looked to be a pleasant walk, hugging the coast but perhaps with a degree of difficulty as the wind was more evident than previous days.
We started again at 1.00 and passed through St.Elvis Farm, past some sand mines and oil refineries could be seen in the distance as the coast curved round. Mark decided to lead a splinter group to a vantage point on the headland bordering the sea where the views were perfect but the footholds less so.
It provided a short diversion as we progressed swiftly to Newgale, arriving on Newgale's heavily pebbled beach at 3.15.
We retired to the Duke of Edinburgh on the sea front to enjoy a couple of drinks, as we drank outside facing into the teeth of the wind and discussing Rod's impending divorce.
The evening meal of lamb followed by jam sponge with custard was once again well cooked and very welcome. Proceedings were interrupted only when Mike appeared to upset the chef and the sight of Heston Fillery with one foot on the bench and one on the table with a meet cleaver poised over Mike's head will live long in the memory.
Some board games were played but the evening's main discussion was centred around where the group would go next year for the walk and a provisional destination has been set as Dorset.
The final day's walking arrived and having forgotten to take his money to the pub the previous day, Ian was reminded by pretty much everyone that he needed to take it today.
At 9.15, we set off by car for Fishguard where our walk through part of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park would begin. It was cloudy and colder than the previous days as we arrived at Fishguard Fort. A panoramic photo was taken by John Jeffery on the walls of the fort, built in 1779, after invasion by a privateer vessel, Black Prince.
The pleasant morning walk was again coastal, although footholds on some of the paths were narrow and difficult. The main points of interest along the route were a curlew flying overhead, a naked man swimming in the sea and Dave Rogers appearing to take a photograph of a sign in a camp site saying "No photographs."
At 12.20 having completed a distance of 5 miles, we broke for lunch at Pwllgwaelod. Some decided to return to the bunkhouse after lunch but the remainder decided to walk a loop of about 5 miles past Dinas Head and back to our lunch spot.
The afternoon proved altogether more eventful than the morning.
At 1.15 it rained for the first time since we had arrived, slowly to begin with but gathering pace such that when we were on top of Dinas Head at 2.00, it was at its worst. Mark decided that it would still be a useful group photo opportunity and so was hoisted aloft the statue erected there and was photographed looking rather wet.
At 2.15 Tony and John Williams decided to have a private diving competition. First of all, Tony slipped on the wet grass and nosedived down the top of the hill. Then John went one better and took a tumble with a greater degree of difficulty and involving far more rolls and turns. Strangely, he didn't seem too keen to get up and as he lay on the wet ground for a couple of minutes recalling stories of friends who had fallen over whilst on holiday, Ian decided that this wasn't the best way to spend a Monday afternoon.
"John, are you alright?" he asked with a hint of impatience.
"Right, let's go then." And off we jolly well went.
The rain then began to ease and we arrived back at Pwllgwaelod at 3.10, having concluded 52 miles walking in four days.
But the day's entertainment was only just beginning. Mark took 4 people in his car back to the bunkhouse but Peter and his passengers (John Williams, Adrian and Rod) took a detour via the local village pub, the Freemason's Arms. What awaited us was certainly a Fawlty Towers experience.
As we entered, there were only two people in the bar. No barman, just two people. They appeared to be Eastern European and were drinking quietly in the corner but, unabashed, we made our way boldly to the bar. After a couple of minutes wait a portly gentleman in his fifties wearing a red T-shirt emerged from the back of the pub and said he would be with us in a minute. On his return, John asked where the toilets were, Peter then asked for four drinks and followed up with an innocent question as to whether we could use the Pool table. Three questions in one day were obviously too much pressure for this overworked landlord and regrettably he snapped.
"Give me a broom and I'll stick it up my arse and sweep the floor as well," he joshed.
Peter remained cool and said that he had only asked about the Pool table because there were no lights on in the room.
"No, we never leave the lights on because they mess about with them," replied the landlord. We remained unsure as to who "they" were but didn't ask.
We played Pool for nearly an hour, only being interrupted when the music for Countdown came on the television in the lounge and several locals appeared from nowhere to watch it. Adrian had a plausible explanation-"Must be the only TV in the village," he said putting on his best Welsh accent.
We returned to the bunkhouse and tucked into a home-made lasagne followed by fresh fruit and yoghurt.
The food had been exceptional and we sat around afterwards playing a few card or board games or reading a newspaper.
One lasting memory was of Dave Fillery and Ian joining in a game of Kwerkle, arguing forcibly about interpretation of the rules and then both of them separately making an incorrect move because neither of them turned out to be right. Cue several minutes uncontrollable laughter on the part of both of them.
Moments like these are what you come on these trips for, aren't they?
Everybody turned in shortly after 11.00 to bring down the curtain on an eventful but thoroughly enjoyable walking holiday.