Last weekend I spent four days on the lovely Pembrokeshire coastline with my camera. I was extremely lucky, as it was the best weekend weather-wise for a while to come (and I have the peeling forehead to prove it!).
It was a part of the UK that I’d never been to, and my main reason for exploring it was because of a nights stay on Skomer for the puffins. I also wanted to get some coastal shots and did some research of the best places to go for photography. Here’s my interpretation of where is good to go.
Transportation-wise, it’s easy to get to (sort of). The southern part has quite a few train stations, but beyond that it’s nothing really between Pembroke Dock, or Milford Haven and Fishgaurd. There are buses, but rather infrequent.
However, from the May bank holiday till the end of September there are extra shuttle services (the coastal cruiser, the puffin shuttle, and the strumble shuttle for south, west and north respectively). For information on times check out this website. Get around on a bicycle, like what I did, is perfectly feasible, and lots of people do it. However, as you’ll be on roads also built for cars, not always on the coastline, it’s quite hilly so be prepared for a bit of a challenge if carrying luggage. I had no problem using my bicycle on the shuttle buses (though it helped that I was going long distances). The buses are very reasonably priced, and you can buy an all-day ticket for £5.50.
The hike around the coastal path takes about 9 days apparently, and I get the impression that it’s less hilly than the cycle route, minus a few sections. Because a lot of people do the hike, there are plenty of budget places to stay around the coast, and the YHA hostels are very nice and modern. It’s well worth looking into becoming a member (at the time of writing they were offering membership at ½ price) as you get 3 off per nights stay, and they are also doing ‘stay 3 nights get a 4th free’ deal.
So what did I get up to?
I decided that going by bicycle was an acceptable alternative to an expensive car rental as a result of the bank holiday. I first tried to go by megabus (they do a really cheap £3.50 ride to Pembroke Dock from Bristol, thought the timing is really unfortunate and you arrive in the middle of the night) but they wouldn’t allow my bike to go on the bus uncovered.
I was headed straight to Skomer for a nights stay. There are about 16 beds to rent out in the farmhouse on the island, but booking far in advance is recommended. People who stay overnight are expected to be at Martins Haven to catch the ferry at 9am, whereas the day trippers can catch a ferry at 10, 11 or 12. Don’t be fooled though, Martins Haven is quite far from Pembroke Dock.
To get a ferry on time I had to take a 1.30am train to Cardiff, where I waited for 3 hours, and then get another train through to Milford Haven (arriving at 8.45). From there I cycled for about an hour and a half to get to Martins Haven (yes, it’s that far and hilly!) with my camera bag and extra small bag on my back, and tripod and sleeping back attached to the bike frame. I got there in time to make the 11am ferry, and settled in quickly so I could take a hike around the island. To do the whole island hike will take around 3 hours, but if you’re there mainly for the puffins, the boat landing and the wick are the best places to be. Skomer head has great landscapes and might give a view of a porpoise or two, and seals are always around the boat landing.
Other wildlife on the island besides puffins and other seabirds (like razorbills, guillemots or black-backed gulls) include owls (a short-eared owl and a little owl behind the farm, quite elusive when I was there), the Skomer vole (a type of bank vole) oystercatchers, curlews etc and lots of rabbits! (it used to be a rabbit farm – but apparently when they clash with puffins the puffins win!).
On the Friday lots of puffins were out, especially in the late afternoon. At night most visitors will go out to see the manx shearwater that come out when the moonlight has died down, though I was too tired. Surprisingly enough, on the Saturday all day the puffins were either in their burrows or out at sea, so I was very glad I got there on the Friday! I don’t quite know what happened.
Overnight visitors can either take a 9am ferry the next morning or they can stay until 12pm. I did the latter to give myself more time with the puffins that didn’t show, and then on land made my way to nearby Marloes to check in for the night at the YHA there (note: the hostels only open at 5pm as they’re run by volunteers who are out during the day). After fortunately getting a bed for the night (someone had checked out early) I set up for some sunset shots, and then also sunrise. I didn’t find Marloes Sands as great as some others clearly had on the photography forums!
The puffin shuttle luckily started the next day, and I wanted to get all the way up to Stumble Head Lighthouse for the night (staying at the Pwll Deri hostel, fabulous place) so I took two shuttle buses with my bike on the bus. I finished off my trip by taking two trains down to Pembroke and cycled from there for about 45 mins to Stack Rocks (my phone GPS wanted to send me THROUGH the MOD base!?!).
I would love to do it all again, and then go with a car, because distances are further away than I expected. But I would recommend it hands down to anyone!