Running the Pembrokeshire coastal Path Episode 2 -How do you run on this?

I set off shuffling along the path at the start of day two, aware that this would be the toughest, loneliest part of the whole trail. You can tell how remote it is by looking at the map – there are just no roads going anywhere near the coastline on this part, no kind of settlement, not even a farmhouse and the hills and cliffs are big. The trail itself was often no more than a whole load of loose scree and very uneven. No chance of running here, even if I had the strength, after the previous night. At times it was more like rock climbing, just a succession of brutal climbs, one after another. The rain had more or less stopped now, although the fierce headwind remained a massive hindrance. I soon realised that my planned pace of around 7 kms an hour was totally unrealistic here – with the constant climbing and impossibility of running anywhere due to the uneven ground, loose rocks and narrowness of the path it became more like 4 kms an hour. I saw no-one at all during that long morning between Ceibwr and Newport Sands – bleak, desolate, hostile terrain – not a sign of human life anywhere – mixing with the birds of prey on the high cliffs. But, at the same time, awe inspiring to witness the ocean crashing away against the rocks down below and an almost lunar landscape to my left, marked by a high range of hills – but nothing other than wild nature everywhere and feeling like an anonymous part of the setting, just moving inexorably on, step after step.

It must have taken a good three hours to cover just 14 kilometres before I finally rounded a hill and saw the welcome sight of Newport Sands down below. As if to signify that the mood of the gods had changed, the sun suddenly came through as I took the long path down towards the bay where I knew Elvira would be waiting for me with hot drinks and food. I was already exhausted, even after covering just 25 kilometres of the 300! I just slumped into a chair and ate some cake which had been kindly baked by my granddaughter Destiny the week before. That chocolate cake was all that kept me going through those first very tough days.

The sun was shining gloriously as I set off along the long river estuary inland and back out again across the other side. It felt strange to have returned from the lonely wilderness and now to be surrounded by tourists and locals, walking around the bay. I started to run the flat section around the estuary and continued to do quite a lot of running for the rest of that day. However, no sooner was Newport out of sight, than the weather resumed its normal pattern. First it clouded over, then the drizzle started. Drizzle turned to steady rain. By the time I got to Fishguard at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the rain was coming down in sheets and the high winds had returned with it. This was a hard, hard slog on still very hilly terrain, drenched to the skin. My muddled mind had mixed up miles and kilometres on the distance calculator. What I had believed to be around 12 miles to Fishguard was actually 12 miles instead, as I discovered when I asked a rare couple out walking in the rain if it was much further to Fishguard, thinking I must be nearly there, only to be told that it was about another 5 miles! But by now I was beginning to rise to the challenge and managed to put in quite a lot of running, even on the narrow path, despite the slippery conditions and the blisters beginning to develop from running in soaking shoes.

By the time I got to Fishguard though, I was on my knees. I had intended to go beyond there that day and try to make up some lost time from day one. The problem was that I had no means of getting dry, we had no way of cooking a meal outside in the wind and rain and I knew I was going to suffer from claustrophobia again sleeping in the car. We decided that we needed to find a room for the night, rest up, get dry, get a good night’s sleep for once, otherwise this mission was going to fall apart. We wandered around Fishguard, asking random people if they knew of anywhere to stay. Finally a helpful landlord pointed us to a hotel round the corner. We rang the bell – no answer. We rang again – again no answer. However, it said ‘vacancies’ in the window, so we tried the phone number on the door. Eventually, after about 10 minutes of trying, a little old lady answered the door. We entered, dripping water, totally drenched to the skin. Upon discovering that we were desperate for a room for the night, her face lit up with pound signs. £90 payable in advance – the credit card machine was already out! Shabby little ‘hotel’, no breakfast or meal, tiny room, but at least it had a hot shower, a tv and, most importantly of all, a real bed! We made a quick meal from the provisions we had brought with us – cold food this time, then literally collapsed onto the bed at about 6 o’clock, not waking until early the next morning. Never had a good night’s sleep felt so good! But we were two days in and had covered only 43 kilometres of the 100 minimum I had expected to cover by now. The pressure was on – I was going to have to average over 50 kilometres a day from now on, otherwise we’d be looking at 7-8 days to complete, then race home for work. The problem was, the terrain had been so much harder than I expected and it would take at least 10 hours a day moving time to cover this distance at this rate, meaning pretty much dawn to dusk every day from now on.

To be continued…

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