A good night’s sleep raised my spirits a little, but sharing the crossing from Tenby Harbour across to Caldey Island with twenty or more happy and carefree couples and families didn’t help. The lighthouse on Caldey Island was one I had long wanted to see, but I didn’t feel the sense of anticipation or excitement I had expected.
On the boat, I sat next to Ian and Janet, a middle-aged couple from Birmingham, who were halfway through a week-long tour of the Pembrokeshire coast. I couldn’t help noticing that Ian and I were wearing identical shoes. I chose my pair purely on the basis that they were reduced from £130 to £30, and I started to ask Ian whether he had done the same. I had barely started when I was kicked in the ankle by Janet, who seemed keen to cut me short. It turned out that they had been a present from Janet for Ian’s birthday, and she clearly didn’t want him to know how little she’d spent.
Caldey Island is fascinating, however, and I made a mental note to return in the future. It is one of Britain’s holy islands, and home to Cistercian monks who continue a tradition which began there in Celtic times. Just two miles from Tenby, the island is just a mile and a half long, and barely a mile wide. It is home to the current abbey, built in 1910, and considered to be the most complete example of the Arts and Crafts style in the country. These days, the monks rely increasingly on tourism for their livelihood, and fancy soaps, perfumes and handmade chocolate are marketed heavily. The chocolate is delicious, no doubt, but eye-wateringly expensive.
While most of the boat’s passengers headed straight for the abbey, I marched on southwards, straight up the island’s main track to the highest point, where the lighthouse is situated. Just a few minutes’ walk after disembarking, I realised that I was entirely alone.
Trinity House built the lighthouse here in 1829, to guide coastal shipping past the St Gowan Shoals and the Helwick Sands. It was designed by Joseph Nelson, who was also responsible for the lighthouses at Nash Point, Lundy North, Longstone and St Bees. It has a circular, white-painted tower, fifty-two feet tall, with lantern and gallery. A pair of single-storey dwellings, which were occupied by the keepers and their families, as well as a service building, surround the tower.
Originally oil powered, it was converted to acetylene gas in 1927, when the keepers were withdrawn. It remained acetylene powered until modernisation in November 1997, when it was converted to mains electricity.
It gives a flashing, white light, visible for thirteen miles, as well as two flashing red sectors, visible for nine miles.
Caldey Island lighthouse. The island is best known for its monastery, although the light holds a commanding position. pic.twitter.com/AtdvYHxrip
— Edward Peppitt (@thebeaconbike) June 24, 2015
I took photographs from every conceivable angle, plus some of the spectacular views out towards Lundy and what must be the barest outline of the north Devon coast. But I wasn’t feeling the thrill that seeing a lighthouse high up on my bucket list should have delivered, and all I really wanted to do was to find shelter, and crouch down in a ball, with my head between my knees.
Back in Tenby, a stall selling handmade lamb pasties did more to improve my mood than the lighthouse had done. I managed three. If you ever find yourself in Tenby, I recommend them heartily.
I collected my bike, riding away from Tenby with little enthusiasm. I vowed to keep going for three more days, until the weekend, before reviewing my mental state, at which point I would either find a local doctor, head home for a break, or abandon the rest of the journey altogether.
There are a handful of modern lights in the waters around Milford Haven, but this afternoon I wasn’t ready for them. I pushed on to the small Pembrokeshire village of Dale, beyond Milford Haven, ideally located for the two lighthouses at St Ann’s Head, and close to where I could take a boat trip out to the island of Skokholm. The modern lights around Milford Haven could wait.
I found a guest house barely a hundred yards from the Griffin Inn, a fabulous pub on the waterfront where, after a quick shower, I managed several pints of a summer bitter called Cwrw Haf, which I had no idea how to begin to pronounce. I’d pay for it with a headache in the morning, but for that moment, The Griffin Inn was the finest place on earth.