Man & Matt Memoirs
With 28 years as a serving policeman and only 2 years remaining, all I could think about was my retirement. I even had a “countdown to retirement” on my phone. Similar to those countdowns to Christmas we see. I knew that I wanted to do a long walk every year with my cocker spaniel Dylan to raise money for a local charity. But which charity would it be?
In December 2017, the big day finally came, and I was free to start planning the rest of my life. However, poor old Dylan was too old to complete any of the walks I had penciled in my mind. I always wanted my dog by my side during these long days and thought that I would struggle with the loneliness. Unfortunately, Dylan was far too old to manage these long walks and passed away later in 2019.
Also, my retirement hadn’t gone at all as expected; life never does. On Christmas Day in 2017 my adored brother-in-law Phil suddenly died of a heart attack. This shook us all terribly as a family. This was soon followed by my eldest of 3 daughters Bronwen mental health deteriorating and her involvement with the mental health services. I think it’s fair to say that these were dark days for us all and not at all what I had planned for in my retirement.
But as a family we continued to push forward as best as we could and I started to make tentative plans for my first walk, minus a dog. The Pembrokeshire coastal path seemed the obvious choice as Jayne and I had walked many sections of this beautiful path over the years and it sort of felt familiar. In January 2020 Bron’s mental health was worsening so we decided that now was the best time to add a new dog to our family. So Bron did the research and in early February we drove down to Haverfordwest and collected our Sprocker Spaniel puppy Celog. We had a choice of 4 dogs but Bron was instantly drawn to Celog as he had a black love heart on his side. As a family, we were also hoping that Celog would be good for Bron’s mental health but little did we all know that in March 2020, COVID 19 hit us all and the country literally shut down. Celog’s arrival couldn’t have happened at a better time in a sense?
I knew that Celog needed to be fully grown before we attempted the Pembs coastal path so we made the date of June 2022 for our big adventure. As I had little kit to attempt this walk, I knew that I needed to start buying bits and bobs along the way to break up the expense so every month I treated myself to some new hiking equipment. One month a pair of boots; the next a tent, then a sleeping bag and so on until I felt I had enough gear to get me through the weeks. As I had never attempted anything like this before I really did feel like the bloke with “all the gear and no idea”. But at least my 12 happy years within the Scouting movement as a young boy had mentally prepared me.
So, I started to do some research on how best to approach this long-distance walk. I have read that some people can walk the full distance in 2 weeks with a light pack and completing about 15 miles a day! With 2 arthritic knees I knew this would be impossible for me to do so I decided to give myself about 3 weeks to complete. This would also give me/us a chance to have a rest day or two should we need it. The next decision to make was what direction to travel? North to South or vice versa. Lots of people gave an opinion on this conundrum. Some said to walk from north to south as the north Pembs coast was harder and more remote, I could get the worse bit over with while my legs were fresh and head south where the climbs were not so challenging. Then others said to walk from south to north as the wind would generally be behind me; I can start to build up my “walking legs” plus the scenery becomes more dramatic and picturesque as I head north. Decisions decisions! Thinking of Celog also, I opted to go from north to south as I also knew there were some gorgeous beaches in the south for him to have a good run around rather than being stuck to a path for most of the day. I also elected to go in the month of June as the weather is at its best plus the days are long which gave us more scope. Celog and I would also be camping/wild camping for the vast majority of the walk with the hope of the occasional bed or sofa along the way.
However, as we all know, the year 2020 didn’t get any better for anyone, especially us as a family as Bronwen’s mental health took a dramatic turn for the worse as the year went on. This massive change in her presentation coupled with a poor and inadequate care plan from her Mental Health Care Team resulted in our beautiful Bron taking her life on Thursday 27th August 2020. A day that our family and friends will never ever forget.
Our lives would never be the same again, we all knew that. But what we also knew was that we had to keep going on as best as possible, as incredibly difficult as it is. This is what Bron would have wanted and this has been made possible by the most amazing love and support from all our dear family and friends. Thank you all so so much from the bottom of my heart.
I must admit that around this time I had lost all inspiration and drive, but my family encouraged me to continue to plan for the Pembs walk with Celog. We all felt that the hike would also be good for my mental health and wellbeing. Plus, the decision on which charity to raise funds for was now an easy choice? Our newly set up registered charity named “Bronwen’s W;sh”. That gave me all the inspiration and motivation I needed.
Anyway, I felt it was a good idea just to give some background into how and why this charity coastal walk came about.
June 2nd 2022 finally arrived, the first day of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend. When better to start? My rucksack was fully packed with a weeks’ worth of food and Celog had his special “Doggy rucksack/pannier” on his back where he would be carrying some of his own food. (This was such a bonus for me knowing that he could carry most of his food for a week. We both had a practice up the Brecon Beacons for a couple of days and he loved wearing it and it seemed to cause no problems at all!) So, a quick photo in St. Dogmael’s at the official stone showing the start & finish of the Pembrokeshire Coastal path. (Amroth - 186m - 300k), then off I went heading south with the Irish sea to my right. All I needed to do was follow the white acorn sign on the posts and stiles, make sure I keep the sea to my right and I couldn’t go wrong! Jayne had also decided to join me as far as Newport to keep me company which was a lovely surprise. This was also a particularly difficult section due the high cliffs and long distance we needed to travel. But what a fantastic way to start the adventure, the scenery was just breathtaking and the wildlife so diverse. I remember passing a couple from Holland who were travelling in the opposite direction and were grinning from cheek to cheek as a result of their experience. They were on the home straight heading from Amroth and had enjoyed every minute of their coastal walk. That gave me so much eagerness to push on and to see what lay ahead of me.
Being a keen football fan, I must admit that I really wanted to be in a pub with a TV on Sunday evening to watch Wales take on Ukraine in the World Cup Final play-off. Having seen Wales fail at the last hurdle so many times in my life, I honestly felt this could be our time. The last thing I wanted was to be stuck wild camping on the side of a cliff in a tent with my phone pinging every 5 minutes with an update from my mates. Fortunately, Jayne managed to find me a hostel in Fishguard for the evening, so all efforts were made to arrive in the town in plenty of time and find me a suitable pub to watch the big match. But as everything was going so well, Celog started limping with his rucksack harness on. What I hadn’t planned for was for him to be going in and out of the sea and rivers and getting his harness wet. This caused it to rub on his front left leg causing chafing. Oh No! We were only in the early stages of our walk and already our first disaster. But once I removed his doggy rucksack, he was fine. This meant that I now had to carry all his food and water in my pack which was already full to capacity. I also found a local vet to take him the following morning just to check that he was okay. But to brighten up the day, Wales won the footy and we had qualified for a World Cup, unbelievable!!
After our visit to the vets and some special cream given, we continued to head south towards St.David’s, with some camping and wild camping around Pwll Deri, Abercastle and Abereiddy before reaching Whitesands. During this part of the journey, I stopped and spoke to many people who were also walking the coast path in the opposite direction. It was easy to tell them apart due to the size of the packs they were carrying. I couldn’t believe just how many tourists had come to these parts just to walk the coastline, especially from the Netherlands. But on speaking to them it was obvious as they explained that there are no hills in their country and this was so different. I also met lots of German tourists walking the route. One German lady was so excited about visiting Skomer Island and seeing Puffins for the first time. I also recommended Caldey Island near Tenby where monks make their own chocolate. She replied that in Germany, their monks make beer!! That made me think,” if I were a monk, where would I rather live?”
I will never forget the day Celog and I headed to Whitesands. The weather was the worst ever and it continued to rain most of the day with very strong winds. I must admit this was a very low point in my walk. There is nothing worse than waking up listening to the rain pounding on the tent knowing that you have to get up, pack everything away wet and start walking, especially with a very heavy pack on your back. When we arrived at Whitesands, we headed straight to the café and I had 3 mugs of tea in quick succession. We were both shivering and had lost the will to continue. I had decided that we were not going on any further that day and had resigned myself to staying at the small basic campsite in the area. However, I started to chat to some local surf instructors who recommended a lovey site about half hour walk away further up the coast called Pencarnan Farm where they made their own pizza and had a small bar that sold local beer and cider. At that point, the rain stopped, the clouds cleared, and the sun came out. Decision made; we were heading to Pencarnan. By the time we arrived it was so hot, I quickly put up the tent to dry and hung out my wet clothes and headed towards the social area to try and charge my phone. With a belly full of pizza and local brews as well as a fully charged phone, this day turned out to be the best ending I could possibly have imagined. I truly believed that Bronwen was looking after us that day more than ever! In fact, I believed she was looking down on us throughout the whole walk as our Angel Guardian. I spoke to her every day when walking and would also speak to animals and especially butterflies believing that they were her in an “angel form”. One butterfly stayed with us for over an hour just flying in front of us along the path. I just chatted to it as if it were Bron. I felt I needed to take strength from so many anonymities, and it certainly worked.
I was looking forward to arriving in St. David’s as I knew that I had a bed for the night and my close friend Russ was going to arrive with another weeks’ worth of food & snacks for both Celog and I. Our friend Les from St. David’s also said that we could stay at his place and I could wash my smelly clothes. This offer was too good to turn down and it also gave us a chance to re-charge our batteries before heading on.
My main aim for this week was to get to Angle where I could collect our final weeks food. This was kindly taken down prior my walk starting so I didn’t have to carry so much. With my rucksack weighing the most it ever has, Celog and I headed of south again towards Solva; Newgale; Little Haven; Martin’s Haven and then Dale. This time we stayed in campsites with one night on the sofa in Little Haven courtesy of my friend Colin. Again, this section of the coastline was just amazing and the ups and downs were unremitting. I was hoping to cut off some ascents by walking across some beaches, but we always managed to miss the tides! In fact, not once did we ever get a chance to walk from one bay to another across the beach, always across the cliff tops! During this section of the walk, I started to gain more confidence when talking to people and mentioning our charity and its causes. So many people gave me the inspiration I needed and were handing me cash along the coast path. One person even asked where my collection bucket was?? I thought he was joking as I was carrying this large pack, holding onto 2 walking poles and had a dog’s lead tied around my waist with a dog on the end! But he wasn’t joking at all and suggested I find a bucket to also carry as I might get more donations!
I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the next couple of days after leaving Dale as I knew that the dramatic and quiet solitude of the coastline was to be replaced with more modern technology of the oil refineries; more developed areas of Milford Haven, Neyland and of course Pembroke Docks. This section was flatter than what I’ve been used to which meant I could cover more miles. As it turned out, this part of the walk wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined it would be as there were lots going on around me and different things to see, especially if you like big ships!! Plus, it gave me the chance to have a couple of coffees and stock up on more chocolate.
However, I was still keen to leave this behind me and head towards Angle in the far west. I remember that on that Friday, the whole of the UK was having a massive heatwave. London had 38 degrees and Cardiff was scorching. My phone didn’t stop pinging with lots of massages saying, “take lots of water; don’t forget to put you hat on; keep applying the sunscreen and of course, look after Celog” This was going to be a very challenging day for both man and his mutt. But Pembrokeshire being Pembrokeshire, it has its own microclimate and we didn’t see the sun all day or any blue sky. It even started raining at one point for 10 minutes. We were both so tired when we eventually arrived in Angle and were particularly excited about staying under a proper roof and having a proper bed to sleep in thanks to a lovely lady named Nina. She had so kindly offered her beautify cottage to me for the weekend to re-charge our batteries and get some well-earned rest. She also previously took down another weeks’ worth of food for Celog and I which was amazing. This couldn’t have come at a better time for both Celog and I as I think we were both starting to feel super fatigued after covering so many miles around the Milford Haven estuary. To make matters worse, the weather forecast for the following day was heavy rain and thunderstorms! Nina had also said that we could stay another night if we wanted to but I was keen to push on. But I could hear Bronwen telling me “Dad, don’t be stupid, take up this kind offer and have a rest day”. My Angel had spoken to me again as if she knew something I didn’t. She was right of course as the weather next day turned out to be quite awful and boy, did we need that rest day!
So, the last week was upon us and both Celog and I had a spring in our step after the short break and the finish line was now in sight. Our plan was to head to Freshwater West; Bosherston; Freshwater East; Tenby then finishing in Amroth on Thursday. I was particularly looking forward to this section of coastline as although there were still many ascents and descents, the beaches around these parts are some of the best in the world. Barafundle Bay was just spectacular and so clean, for those Harry Potter fans . . . I visited Dobby’s grave in Fresh West. (The locals hate this specific area as the grave is surrounded by socks which deteriorate over time and get blown all over the beach); Fresh East is also a wonderful beach with clear water and lots of surfing. It was over these last few days that I noticed that Celog was starting to look really thin around his back area. Although he was having a good portion of food every day, plus treats and some of my food, he was still losing weight. This was due to all the running he was doing. He must have been doing at least 3 times the distance I was walking and just didn’t show any signs of slowing down. In order to save him from himself, I made the decision to keep him on a lead for the majority of the day and let him run off occasionally. He didn’t seem very impressed with this new format, but it needed to be done for his own health, otherwise we may not have made it those last few days. I always had this vision of Celog running around the lovely south beach at Tenby as we were approaching at the end of the day. Alas, this wasn’t to be as he was tied up to me walking at a snail’s pace. As we were one day ahead of schedule I thought it would be a good idea to have another rest day in Tenby as there was so much to do and see. Lots of places to eat, drink coffee and charge up my phone ready for the last days hike.
I must admit, it was very sad taking down my tent and packing my rucksack for the last time. I had become quite accustomed to this ritual and was by now very speedy with this procedure. I was looking forward to seeing Jayne in Amroth and felt that I had an easy day walking ahead. This was quickly quashed as the walk between Tenby and Saundersfoot was much tougher than I imagined with some horrible climbs! I promised myself an ice-cream when I arrived in “The Foot” and dutifully obliged myself. Then onwards towards Amroth where my darling wife Jayne was waiting with a nice cold beer.
As I touched the official Pembrokeshire Coastal Walk marker stone that read “Amroth to St. Dogmael’s 186m – 300k. I said the word “TAG, YOU’RE IT”. Don’t ask me why but I just did.
This was perhaps one of the best adventures I have every had and I would certainly recommend it to anyone. It does wonders for the soul and your mental wellbeing. There is so much kindness out there and people willing to help. I would have found it so difficult without Celog but I can certainly understand why some people decide to go solo. But if you do decide to walk this amazing long-distance path, as an extra motivation, strongly consider doing it for a charity. Preferably Bronwen’s Wish (ha ha).
I’m sorry to bore you all but before I do sign off, I’d like to thank all the below people who have helped and supported me through this charity walk. In no particular order:
Steve Roberts at the James John Hamilton Hostel in Fishguard for looking after me and giving me a free copy of his father’s book “Guide to the Pembrokeshire Coast Path” which he actually wrote himself; (Tony Roberts)
Les James and Cath from St. David’s who kindly put me up and allowed me to wash my clothes. You both are stars.
Clare Harris at Newgale campsite for supporting our cause and allowing Celog and I to stay at their lovely campsite free of charge.
My lovely friends Amanda & Jim Hearne for allowing me access to their wonderful new cottage in Broad Haven and using their shower. . .and for leaving some beer in the fridge and treats for Celog.
My old work colleague Colin Brame from Little Haven who made me supper and allowed me to stay with him for the night.
Helen and her business partner Shelly from Dale Yacht Club (Coco’s) who treated me to the most amazing Pizza and fully supported our charity.
Phil and Sue (our RWC Japan friends) for meeting up with me for a short walk and treating me to breakfast in Stackpole Quay.
Sian and her lovely family from Pencarnan Farm in St. David’s for allowing me to camp for free and even giving me a free local cider as a show of support to our charity.
My good mate Russ Vanstone for bringing down a week’s supply of food and dog food to get me through the next 7 days. Also, for joining me on the walk from St. David’s to Solva.
The lovely Nina Coggers (and her family) who reached out to our charity and kindly offered a roof for the night at her beautiful house in Angle. And also, for agreeing to take down a weeks’ worth of food and dog food in advance to make our journey easier.
Kim from Freshwater East Caravan & Camping Club for supporting our charity and allowing us to camp free of charge.
To the 5 warm hearted ladies from Stroud for plying me with homemade gin and cooking the most amazing meal when I camped in Tenby. I just wish I could remember all of your names, but you know who you are. Thank You.
AND FINALLY, I’D LIKE TO THANK EVERY SINGLE PERSON WHO HAS MADE A DONATION TO BRONWEN’S WISH CHARITY. THE SUPPORT YOU HAVE GIVEN AND THE KIND WORDS LEFT ON “JUSTGIVING” GAVE ME THE INSPIRATION AND PASSION TO KEEP GOING WHEN AT TIMES I JUST WANTED TO STOP AND COME HOME.
THANK YOU ALL SO, SO MUCH.
Haydn & Celog XX
p.s. We plan on doing “Man & Mutt” do Coast 2 Coast next year as part of our continuation to raise awareness and money for such a worthwhile cause. Thank you for your time in reading this. X