Day three began exactly as day two had finished – the usual torrential rain. We got up early and I was determined to make the most of the first good night’s rest so far to make substantial progress today. Admittedly I had woken up in the middle of the night with another attack of claustrophobia – desperate to get outside and breathe. However, this time I managed to calm myself down and drift off to sleep before long. It’s amazing what this kind of challenge does to your mental state, as exhaustion sets in with lack of sleep and recovery.
Elvira dropped me off down at the normally picturesque harbour, which was now shrouded in thick cloud and mist, and I started to look for the acorn signs that marked the coastal trail. I didn’t find any, so just hugged the coastal road as it took me up into and through the town of Fishguard and on towards the next stop at Goodwin Sands, where the ferries depart, presumably to Ireland. I never once found a sign until I got the other side of Goodwin, ending up being taken inland by the main road and finally running down the side of the dual carriageway into Goodwin. The rain was becoming heavier all the time, although at least the wind had dropped and I felt well able to run most of this first section.
After Goodwin, the road rose sharply and eventually a turning to the right led me into the trail once again. There are quite a few sections like this where the trail disappears completely through urban sections, but you basically just keep hugging the sea as close as possible until you pick it up once again. The landscape became barren and windswept once again as it followed the cliffs up and down towards the lighthouse at Strumble Head. At times I was sheltered from the wind as the path darted in with the zig zagging of the coastline, then you’d turn a corner and face a massive headwind again. Around Stumble Head itself it was too windy to eat outside so I sat in the car and enjoyed some more of that amazing chocolate cake.
This was a long hard day, but I had determined to reach Abereiddy by the end of it, as a bare minimum. After that, the trail would be less wild and rugged and increasingly more touristic – the hardest part would be done, even if the constant climbing and descending would continue all the way, as the trail descended into the innumerable bays and then back up the other side. The vast majority of these beautiful inlets are only accessible to walkers – there are few roads or tracks even to the sea for most of this first half of the trail.
It was a grey, miserable day, all day long, but the rain eventually petered out into an unremitting drizzle towards the end of it. Historical remains from many centuries were everywhere along this part – stone circles and look out points, ruined buildings etc. I also encountered herds of wild ponies on several occasions and the usual birds of prey perched on the cliff tops, ready to swoop down towards the sea.
Eventually, I neared Abereiddy, only to be sent inland. There appeared to be no path I could follow round the coast so I had no choice but to follow the road inland. After maybe 3 or 4 kilometres of coming inland I could no longer even see the sea. I reached a crossroads – no signs for the trail. I made an educated guess and turned right back towards the coastline and, after following what seemed like an endless road I finally descended down to the picturesque little bay of Abereiddy, cursing at the top of my breath at all the extra miles I had done, just to get around one headland. By now, my patience with this bloody trail was wearing thin! Elvira had been waiting for me for some time. At last I thought I’d be able to sit down and eat – I was starving! But no, my wife, who can never say no to anyone in distress, had been talking to some Australian girls in the car parked next to ours and apparently they had left their lights on and their battery was flat. Could I get their car started before I sat down?! Muttering and cursing under my breath, I attached the jump leads and got them going. Elvira had already gone ahead earlier in the day and arranged a room in St David’s, which was about half an hour’s drive away. We got some food in a pub and again went to bed as early as possible.
This had been a gruelling, desolate, grey kind of a day but I was pleased that I’d got the toughest part of the trail done now and could look forward to better terrain now. Even the weather forecast had perked up for the next few days – the worst was behind us and, although I had still only covered some 83 kilometres in total, according to the distance calculator, I was feeling stronger and starting to believe that I could do this, especially now we were getting proper rest each night.
83 kilometres in 2 and a bit days doesn’t sound like much to a seasoned ultra runner. After all I had the previous month completed a 100 kilometre race in just 15 hours and that was quite hilly. This, however, was totally different. The combination of the roughness and narrowness of the trail in many places, together with the fact that there was little flat ( it was steep uphill or steep downhill, with serious undulations in between), meant that the opportunities to run for any more than a few minutes at a time were very scarce. Plus the uphill sections were often so steep that I could not walk up them without stopping to rest one or more times on the way up. Several times I slipped and fell on the steep declines too, especially with the loose, wet rocks underfoot. Maybe the old fisherman had a point about the running shoes. The kilometres done reading on my Garmin hardly seemed to move for hours on end as I laboured up and down. I reckon each kilometre here was worth at least 2 kilometres on the flat in dry conditions, probably more. This was definitely infinitely harder than I had ever imagined it could be, but I was determined to do this.