I have been re-reading Pablo Neruda, in a collection that Jan bought for me in the USA in July 1982. We were married later in October of that year. The trip to Philadelphia, Washington and New York followed a successful trip to the West of Ireland. At the time I was still obsessed with South American literature in all its variety- Neruda, Marquez, Borges, Octavio Paz and others. I was impressed at Neruda’s inventiveness, his ability to match two dissimilar images to manufacture an extraordinary effect, methods that were not part of the poetic devices in English. In English many of these contrivances would have been regarded as overstretched.
In ‘Walking Around’ he wrote
It so happened I’m tired of just being a man.
I go to a movie, drop in at the tailor’s – it so happens –
feeling wizened and numbed, like a big, wooly swan,
awash on an ocean of clinkers and causes.
In ‘Ode with a Lament’ he wrote
I come with no presents, unluckily – only
fingernails, eyelashes, melted pianos,
with dreams bubbling out of my breast,
powdery dreams like a flight of black horsemen,
dreams full of haste and calamity.
This is the Neruda of my youth. Always juxtaposing the unlikely with the ordinary. It’s as if the Welsh countryside, where I am staying on holiday, holds in the blackberries, the pink unrelenting campion, pipit, and the villages with their humble dwellings huddled together and the absence of people at midday, holds the promise of much more- heroes in armour, damsels and dragons, ash and sand in the air, and triumph locked in the spirit. All of these images and objects unseen but deeply felt.
We are on holiday at St Brides. It’s nearly 30 years since we were first here. This time we are here with Lola, Ian and their daughter (our granddaughter). Time is a strange thing indeed. The last time we were here, we were with our own children, Lola and Toks, and Jan’s parents, Ken and Joan. This time, we’ve driven over two hundred miles to get here. And as we arrived, driving through the long drive into this mock castle, with the sea in view, and the evening light starting to fade, it did feel like a home coming of sorts.
St Brides castle was refashioned from an older manor house in the early 18th century as the baronial residence of Lord Kensington. It is magnificent and imposing whether seen from down by St Brides chapel or from its own long drive. Alas, it is really only a mock castle! We are staying in what must have once been a farm worker’s cottage. It’s called Howard, No 36.
On our first full day, we walked the circular walk from the castle along the coastal path to Nab Head, a rock outcrop jutting into the sea. From there we carried on along cliffs that fell, sharply, to the sea. We had lunch at Musselwick Sands, a deserted sandy beach. We stayed on the rocks above, looking down to the beach and the sea. There the sea has the colour of jade, glaucous green. From there we walked to Marloes and had coffee at The Lobster Pot, an inn that served drinks and also had a restaurant.
At the Lobster Pot, at the bar an obvious Welsh man, small and thickset, shall I say stocky and squat, mimicked upper class English accent and asked the barman in our earshot ‘How long will it take to walk to St Davids?’ The barman replied ‘You? Walking at your speed, 3 days’. He then turned to ask where we were headed. The irony was not lost on us tourists & obvious outsiders.
The walk back from Marloes to St Brides took us through fields and sheep and more sheep. At one point a muck spreader passed us with its pong hanging in the air for quite some time. We stopped at St Brides church. Out through the main gate was St Brides Haven, a bay of running stream water on red sandstone and the sea of pure blue fish scales glistening in the surprising strong evening sunlight.
It was exactly 6 miles from Marloes back to our cottage.
At St Brides, the sea is everywhere, as Neruda said in “Open Sea” “smashing on seacoast, conducing the peace of the sand that encircles a world”. Today we went first to St Martins Haven. It was a bright sunny day. The coastal walk took us on the high cliffs overlooking seal colonies: cows camouflaged to fit in with the rocks and the pups, white against the ground. A few cows were in the sea, bobbing up and down like dark buoys, their nostrils in the air. At the very start of the walk, there was an adder coiled up tight and frozen still, basking in the sunlight. And just there, the faintest hint of danger, of the poison that inhabits the world recumbent and ready, of the symbolism of the serpent. Again, Neruda in “The Woes and The Furies” spoke of love and sex-
A day never meant for me,
maybe, stays with my memory: one
whose beginning was nowhere
and endless. A Thursday.
I was that man whom hazard had joined
with a woman in uncertain encounter.
We stripped to the skin, as if
to prepare for a death or a swim, or grow old,
and forced ourselves into ourselves, one through the other.
Lunch, that afternoon, was sitting on rocks on a promontory looking out to sea. Afterwards we drove to Marloes Sands. We beat a path upwards and there below was this glorious beach, in full sunlight, practically deserted, and the grandeur of the sea, the wide indescribable horizon, posed ready for photos.
The next day was the long walk home from Broad Haven.
We caught the Puffin Coach from St Brides to Broad Haven. Broad Haven is a small coastal town with a good beach. At one end Black Point and at the other end the beginning of St Bride’s Bay. The beach is sandy enough but with shingle on the town side. Two streams rush down to sea dividing the beach into three parts. When we were there a few young families and a number of dog walkers were also present. A small congregation of schoolgirls on a day out stood on the bank at one end taking photos with iPads, a strange phenomenon to behold- an absence of cameras!
We bought a loaf of bread, a bottle of Blossom Hill Sauvignon Cabernet and a packet of cashew nuts. Then we set off for Little Haven half a mile up the road. Looking back from the cliff path, Broad Haven was at its best. The sun shone on it, the sea glistened a blue that sat like watercolour in a painting and the sky had several white vapour trails, like disappearing streaks of cloud. Below in an unreachable bay, sea gulls swooped, dived and hung as if to dry in the sky.
Little Haven is indeed little. It had a small harbour in which a thin improbable spittle ran to sea between scarcely a yawning mouth. We retired to the Swan Inn for lunch. Ian and I had Kedgeree and smoked haddock. Jan had mackerel salad and Peter and Lola had breaded cod and chips. This was the interlude before our expedition back to St Brides.
The first half of our trek was mostly uphill on dramatic cliffs overlooking coves or bays opening out to sea. Two oil tankers set off for Milford Haven from St Brides bay. Solitary fishing boats bobbed stationary and then there were kayaks down below. The path wound and unwound. Pink and the occasional white campion bounded the narrowness of the worn out path. There was also the rare sighting of cornflower. We met very few people, perhaps two couples walking in the opposite direction and another who passed us. We stopped for a break at a stream washing over red sandstone into the sea.
From there the uphill was less exacting, and the downhill more prolonged and bearable. Soon we could see St Brides Castle in the distance. I pushed on even faster and left the others behind. I arrived at St Brides chapel and sat reading Neruda for a good fifteen minutes before the others arrived and in a time when the news is all about the exodus out of Syria to Europe, Neruda’s “The Beggar” resonated with my thoughts:
By the cathedrals, clotting
the walls, they deploy
with their bundles, their black looks, their limbs,
ripped tins of provender,
the livid increase of the gargoyles;
beyond, on the obdurate
unction of stone
they nurture a gutter-flower, the flower
of legitimized plague, in migrations.
I exile your dust from the earth
and those who contrived you to soil
a contemptible image-
till metals remake you
and you issue and blaze like a blade.
On our last but one day, we set off to St Davids by car. The most spectacular view was coming downhill from Roch into Newgale. The sea was in a splash of light directly ahead of us. Unlike all the other sea views, the beach was straight, not curved into a bay. Then we were back up, climbing the cliff side to Solva.
St Davids was an unusually small city. The cathedral was magnificent. We had lunch sitting in the sun at Pole square. Then we spent sometime at White Sands. I slept in the driver’s seat, with Emiola sitting behind me in her carrycot. The others went down to the beach. When Emiola woke up, she was surprised that her mum wasn’t there. She cried like I’d not yet heard. She took in great gulps of air and bellowed for all her worth. She coughed and spluttered. She brought up thick phlegm, a whole slob of it. She was inconsolable. I had to go in search of her mother.
On our last day we drove to Dale, a small village with a surfing beach. We had lunch at the Griffin, a friendly family owned pub. The family had moved from Henley-in-Arden and was just settling into rural Wales. I had fish soup, made of white fish in a tomato base. Splendid. Lola had lobster salad, Jan and Ian had I can’t recall what. We then set off for a walk round St Ann’s Head, a 4-mile walk along spectacular coastal views, past picturesque spots such as The Vomit, Herring Stone, Cobbler’s Hole, Pig’s Stone, Swallows Hole and Thorny Pit. The week had been completely unexpected in terms of the weather- bright sunlight, dry and warm days. Whatever rain there had been had been at night. We had a final goodbye from a rainbow arched over Dale! It grew more and more clear and defined as dusk approached.
Photos by Jan Oyebode & Femi Oyebode