Last year one of the bastards hiked the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in southwestern Wales (Cymru), a 290 kilometres long trail. As every walker knows, hiking, pilgrimage and spiritual peace are one and the same thing. The coast path takes you after nine days of walking to the homeland of Saint David, Wales’ patron saint. Saint David is buried in the cathedral of the town of Saint Davids, or in Welsh Tyddewi meaning David’s house, the religious capital of Wales. A town located on a peninsula which the coast path encircles along its cliffs. Not without reason, it was here that the bastard had an encounter with one of those few thru-hikers who is ‘freed from the flesh’.
This hike fits a series of semi long-distance walks in the territories of Europe’s autochthonous minorities in an effort to experience, understand their landscape and culture. Exactly where the Frisia Coast Trail is all about. For this reason the bastard hiked the Cape Wrath Trail in northern Scotland (check out our post “My God, the Germans bought all the bread!” cried Moira) and the GR20, dissecting on altitude the island of Corsica (read our post Support for the Corsican Cause in jeopardy).
Cymru, an ancient Celtic culture, whose people speak the Brittonic language y Cymraeg (i.e. Welsh). According to UNESCO it is a vulnerable language, although slowly but steadily on the rise over the last ten years. At the end of 2018 almost 900,000 people were able to speak Welsh, according to the Welsh Government. This is without the few thousand Welsh emigrant speakers in Patagonia, Argentina. These are better results than the Frisian languages, which are steadily heading for extinction.
Now, let’s immerse you in one of the fourteen days of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. To give you a sense of how religion, myths, weather, history and landscape are intertwined and part of the Welsh culture. And, at the end of the day the encounter with the ‘fleshless hiker’ took place.
It was June 7, 2019 when the bastard started his stretch for the day. From the little harbor village of Solva (Solfach) to Whitesands Bay. A hike of about twenty kilometers. It was typical Welsh weather that day. Rain and strong winds from the west. Straight from the ocean. And more rain. No sun. Solva is a small fishing port. Its name derives from the Scandinavian word for samphire, giving away Norsemen frequented these coasts too. No relation therefore with the song Solva Mae of Faithless. From Solva you, as always during the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, skirt the beautiful and endless cliffs in western direction. ‘Keep the sea to your left, and you cannot get lost,’ as the joke goes among walkers along the path.
Firstly, you pass the beautiful bay of Caerfai and Saint Non’s Bay. At Saint Non’s you can see the remains of a chapel dedicated to the mother of Saint David, next to stones that are part of a Bronze Age circle. An antique religious spot all in all. Tradition holds Saint Non as the birthplace of Saint David in the year 462. When David was born, a well sprang up. It is still there and it is holy.
The next point is Porth Clais. It is the spot where Saint David was baptized by the Irish Bishop Elvis. Amazingly, someone sold excellent coffee and cake in a very little, windy shack. Sitting under a tent that was lifted all the time by strong winds. The friendly guy looked like a young George Clooney. Your typical modern male Siren. He was not luring seafarers with singing, though, but pouring out espressos instead. His long, blond-haired and bearded comrade, however, looked like chief Vitalstatistix from the comic Asterix, with big belly and all. No exaggeration. It was impossible to understand the English accent of boss Vitalstatistix. “Smile and wave,” Kowalski’s strategy in such awkward situations. Both men dressed in sturdy, woolen sweaters and raincoats. Probably having a Penderyn single malt for breakfast.
After Porth Clais, you walk along the Ramsey Sound. A narrow strait between the peninsula and island Ramsey. A desolate spot on the very western edge of Wales. Especially during rainy and windy weather conditions. You know you are at the edge of the world when you see it. Loved it! Ramsey is derived from the Norse Rams-Oy ‘island of Ram’ and again giving away Norsemen history. The barren island once was the retreat of hermit Saint Justinian, a friend of Saint David. The Ramsey Sound is feared by sailors for centuries. Not only because of the very strong currents which can reach eight knots due to the strong tides, but also because of The Bitches. Wut? Yes, the Bitches. A group of rocks orientated in a right angle with the island, just below or just above the water line, and that look like sharp shark teeth. At the other end of the sound, again a killing group of rocks and islets feared by sailors, named the Bishops and Clerks. Bitches, Bishops, Clerks. Interesting names they come up with in Wales.
Around halfway the afternoon, the bastard arrived at Whitesands Bay. In Welsh this broad sandy beach is named Porth Mawr ‘great gateway’. In the dunes adjacent to the beach on top of an old cemetery, are the sixth-century remains of the chapel built to commemorate the spot where Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, left for Ireland to undertake ministry among the Irish. The chapel and cemetery were being excavated by the Dyfed Archaeological Trust when the bastard frequented Whitesands.
Besides Porth Clais, during the whole walk nowhere a spot to have a drink or bite, nor a spot to shelter from the continuous rain and strong winds. But in Whitesands Bay there finally was: the Whitesands Beach House. At the door a sign saying Croeso Gerddwyr ‘welcoming walkers’. That felt good. Soaked and chilled to the bone, the bastard sat down at a table near the door and big windows. Ordered a pint of beer, a coffee, a hot soup, and ‘dirty fries’. These were french fries covered with loads of melted cheese, meat, some salad mixed through it, and buried in uncountable different sauces. A similar dish known as kapsalon exists in the Netherlands, and translates as ‘hairdressers’. Yummy! After finishing the food, the bastard had another beer. Amazing how happy one can be with basic services.
While enjoying the food and warmth, a skinny hiker entered the premises too. At face the bastard guessed his age was around mid ‘60. Just like the bastard, he wore a cowboy hat. The man, however, had a long, wild beard and ditto hair, and he carried a wooden stick. On his back a small backpack. Furthermore, he was dressed in a raincoat, of course, and as pants he wore a black legging. Over the legging he wore shorts. On his feet woolen, sloppy socks and worn-out sneakers. He kept standing and sighing “aaah” all the time, at first. With somewhat stiff movements, he placed himself at the table next to the bastard and ordered a soup as well.
After he had ordered his second soup, because “it was excellent,” as he complimented the waitress, the bastard and the bony hiker entered into a conversation. He came from the United States, California, and was well over eighty years old! Both exchanged they had to keep walking today with all the wind and rain, because with pausing they would have risked hypothermia. The bastard asked why the heck he was walking here in Europe and not in the States with such stunning nature and wilderness over there? “Well, I hiked about everything there,” he said without a trace of bragging. He was simply telling the truth. In everything he was friendly, respectful and thankful. The thing the bastard could not help thinking, was: “The day this man stops walking, is the day he died”. A thru-hiker, freed from the flesh.
After the food was finished the bastard grabbed his stuff and said goodbye. The bony hiker continued south. The bastard continued north. A short walk to the beautiful located youth hostel at the lower slope of the Carn LLidi, where the bastard had made reservations. Happy not having to pitch his tent in this wet weather.
While sitting at the reception of the youth hostel, one of the other guests entered the room. He sat down. “You’re quiet, Peter?” said the manager to him. Peter was a big and obese man. Dressed like a Russian orthodox priest in long ropes, but completely in purple and with a big copper sickle on his chest. Or, maybe it was a moon. On his head a kippah. Again, just like the bony hiker, long hair and a huge beard. But clearly not freed from the flesh. “I’m always quiet when I’ve been talking to the higher spirits,” he answered in a low serious voice, and in a distinctive Austrian accent. The bastard prayed to Saint David the purple priest would not be his roomy tonight. His prayers were being answered.
Only a few kilometres from Whitesands Bay lies the little town of Saint Davids, as said. About 2,000 inhabitants. It used to be together with Jerusalem and Rome an important place of pilgrimage in the High Middle Ages. Pope Calixtus II declared in the twelfth century that Roma semel quantum dat bis Menevia tantum, meaning two pilgrimages to Saint Davids had the same value as one pilgrimage to Rome. A reasonable exchange rates. And the cathedral is worth a visit, and more than twice as quiet than the Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Again, excellent exchange rates. Inside the cathedral, all the traditional symbols of spirit above matter.
Surrounded by all this heavenly and divinity, the bastard wondered how many more miles he must walk to achieve what the Californian drifter had achieved, and be freed from the flesh. The bastard knew immediately the answer.
An entire continent.
Note 1 - Read also our post One of history’s enlightening hikes, that of Bernlef if interested in spiritual hikes and pilgrimages.
Note 2 – The phrase ‘Croeso Gerddwyr‘ is actually written a bit different but February 2020 the organization walkersarewelcome.org.uk demanded to remove the phrase since there was a copyright on it. Copyright on a standard greeting. Imagine that! Suggestions from our side to make a reference to their organization were not considered, alas. Check their website to see what the original Welsh forbidden written words are for yourself. Be careful how you greet someone, from now on!
Note 3 - For pictures of the bastard’s hike of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, check out this Google link.
Gros, F., Marcher, une philosophie (2013)
Kagge, E., Walking. One step at the time (2018)
Kelsall, D. & Kelsall, J., Walking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path (2016)
Manthorpe J. & McCrohan, D., Pembrokeshire Coast Path. Amroth to Cardigan (2017)
Strayed, C., Wild. From lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail (2012)