Our walk up until now had been a thing of great natural beauty interspersed with remnants from our warring past. It had seen us climb atop tall cliffs of sandstone from which we’d had commanding views across the sea, waves whipped up thanks to a strong breeze which was keeping the worst of the day’s heat at bay. Gannets dived, raptors soared and yet, after less than a mile taking us from south to north, we found ourselves in what felt like an entirely different world.
Surrounded by lush woodland we were led directly to the water’s edge, a cool and shaded enclave which opened onto Milford Haven itself. Any signs of the choppy seas were gone to be replaced instead with something resembling a giant millpond. Gulls called as music and laughter drifted towards us from a busy pub across the water whilst beyond, dominating the scene, sat the jarring sight of Pembroke Refinery.
Along with another oil refinery and Britain’s largest LNG terminal (the pipe from which runs directly past me as I’m typing this despite being at least thirty miles distant) these huge developments define the Haven and explain the areas continued strategic importance. Stretching out from shore like slender arms are the jetties along which oil and gas is piped from vast ships which thread their way into this narrow channel on each rising tide. Disasters are not unheard of as anyone old enough to remember the Sea Empress can attest to, though thankfully rare. In fact seeing photos from that terrible time render the pristine nature of Angle Bay all the more remarkable.
As we continued we eventually came to the pub which we’d heard long before we’d seen. It was absolutely bursting with at least a hundred people spilling outside and down onto the shore, drinks flowing freely and the delightful smell of home-made pizza putting our own packed lunches to shame. It turned out that we’d stumbled across the Angle lifeboat day, a celebration and fund raising event in aid of the RNLI whose station sits just around the corner. I had less interest in the booze however and more in the trio of classic lifeboats which had arrived for the occasion. These included the former Watson class Angle lifeboat Richard Vernon and Mary Garforth of Leeds, Liverpool class The Chieftain and Watson class Pentland. Combined with Angle’s current Tamar class lifeboat Mark Mason the four made for an impressive sight as they grouped together, though unfortunately by this time we were a little too distant for a photo. I did however manage to get a few individual shots on our way past.
By now it was early evening and with eight miles already behind us it was time for the final push. Having gained height a little we passed through a mixture of lush pasture and woodland amidst which there were yet more military reminders including Chapel Bay Fort and museum which looks well worth a visit. Then before we knew it Thorn Island was once more in view heralding the end of our journey.
And what a journey it had been through two completely contrasting faces of the Angle peninsula. Whilst the south had felt truly wild and exposed, a place of shipwrecks, history and big seas, the north couldn’t have been more different. Sheltered and relaxed I can only imagine the sinking feeling sailors must have had upon leaving the Haven in calm waters only to emerge into a raging gale. And despite walking all day I felt that really we’d only scratched the surface of what Angle has to offer. I lost count of the times we’d passed odd looking structures and piles of rubble for instance that were just crying out for further attention, so I’m sure it won’t be long before we return.