There’s something that draws me to the south Pembrokeshire coast, in particular the few metres of tarmac that run parallel to the shore south of Newgale. Protected from the onslaught of the sea by a simple mound of pebbles (I’m guessing there may be more to it than this), it has such a tangible connection with nature, the planet, lying within touching distance of the waves. On each of the three occasions I’ve been fortunate enough to pedal this path the weather has been harsh though, the wind has been howling and the sky filled with varying amounts of precipitation. Battling along this short, pan flat road you can taste the sea as the wind blows the salty water inland. Filling the air with a fine mist the envelopes you as heading south you begin to rise from the shore on the climb up Black Cliff. With every meter gained the view out across the water improves and it’s all but impossible not to stop, to halt your climb, tired or not, and simply soak up the beauty of your surroundings.
Of course Pembrokeshire isn’t always treated to inclement weather and the experience must be a whole lot different on a calm and warm summer’s day, but on a gusty wet Friday morning in January the rugged weather combined with the rugged coast line are perfect match and I was here to relish them both. In fact the weather in this extremity of Wales, although harsh, was actually an improvement on what the majority of the country was facing as it awoke to a layer of snow and/or ice. Pembrokeshire’s famed micro-climate had worked in our favour today meaning the roads would be clear and safe, we’d just have to make sure we wore our waterproofs.
Invited down for a second time by Peter Walker, organiser of the Tour of Pembrokeshire, I was this time here to take part in the ‘Prologue’ ride. A shortened version of the full tour the Prologue is a taster of the main event that showcases just a portion of the route but the whole package of the famous Pembrokeshire hospitality. Two routes were available, a 40km and 66km and I’d been roped in to lead the fast group on the longer, although still modest, jaunt through the lanes. Now you can take fast with a pinch of salt, this was not going to be no smash fest, just a brisk pace to give winter legs an early shake down. Oh and to put in a few efforts on the hills to see who still had work to do to shed their Xmas bulge. With conditions far from ideal it was great to see the car park full of activity when I arrived and following our briefing from Peter a good 50 pairs of wheels, with their riders dressed to battle the elements, set off into the lanes.
There were roughly 20 of us doing the longer of the two routes and among these were three ‘ride captains’ who would take a portion each of our group as it naturally split on the run into St Davids. Before long there were just six of us at the head of affairs and we formed a tight unit, swapping stories, indulging in a little half-wheeling, but sharing the pace well into the teeth of wind. Heading first south it wasn’t long before we then turned east and began the glorious coastal road. Peppered with undulations, pummeled by the elements and immersed in the beauty of the shore line this is a truly wonderful, yet constantly demanding stretch of tarmac. It rises and falls like a roller coaster, pounding the legs on the ascents and testing the nerves on the descents. The first climb rises up out of Solva, and it is beastly then the next arrives after Newgale in the shape of the giant tarmac staircase up Black Cliff. The vista is fabulous out over Newgale Sands and is further enhanced by your added elevation before you kink slightly left and it temporarily disappears. Heading due south through the tiny villages of Nolton Haven and Druidston Haven you catch glimpses of the coast line again which stopping you in your tracks, allow you a breather before you hit the next testing little climb.
Up and down, on and on, with the rain falling harder we found solace in our efforts together and simply shock off the water like a dog returning from a plunge into a river. Rain? What rain? We were on quiet roads in a beautiful part of the world and nothing was going to dampen our spirits. We would however like a bit of tailwind, just for a short while so were pleased to turn north-eastwards after Hasguard Cross and felt the wind on our backs. I don’t think we had touched the big ring until that point so it was nice to pick up some speed, to have some help from the elements as we glided over the gentle undulations heading inland. Zig-Zagging through the deathly silent lanes our time away from the coast, away from the full force of the wind was only temporary and although we were looking forward to looking back out to sea, we were not that excited about taking on Newgale Hill.
Even with wind assistance this is a nasty ramp to tackle. The sharp hairpin at the base robs you of any momentum then proceeds to thrust you onto its demanding 16% slopes. Bending slightly left as it climbs the summit is continually out of view, preventing you from seeing the final brow until you are a matter of metres from it. Re-grouping at the top out thoughts were now turning to lunch but we weren’t home yet and the route had one more little gem for us. Dropping down into Middle Mill, we had one final climb, (there is always another climb round here) to rise back out of the small gorge and roll along an exquisite little road perched above the river below. This was just another example of the treasures hidden in this lazy part of our island, and the cap is doffed to the route plotters with their forensic local knowledge who link them all together to form the perfect ride.
Counting our sodden yet throughly satisfied bodies back in Peter directed us to the most welcome of warm showers then once dressed we filled our bellies with the wonderful lunch. Entertainment was laid on in the shape of the ex-rugby player and now BBC commentator Eddie Jones. (I’m not a big rugby fan so didn’t know much about Eddie, but I have to say he made a brilliant after dinner speaker and was very entertaining).
As an advert for the main event in May, which is essentially what it is, it could not have been better and although the weather was testing it added to the atmosphere, although 20 degrees and sunny would not be turned down come May where I’ll be back lining up for the Full Monty.
If you fancy riding the Tour of Pembrokeshire, it is on Saturday May 18th this year.
Click below for more details.