IF great trips are great stories to take home, then I certainly got one when I slipped into a bowl of steaming seashells I had helped collect on two pristine Pembrokeshire beaches.
There were exquisite cockles, mussels, knives, shrimp and even spider crabs which had all been expertly cooked by a local foraging legend.
Self-taught, Craig Evans has been “searching” coastal beaches and forests since the age of eight in short pants.
“It’s like nature’s scratch card,” he explains as he slides deep in his long waders into another boulder and, seconds later, pulls out a sizable spider.
How right he was. After six hours on one of his regular coastal foraging classes, I will never again stare with the same blank eyes at an adjacent beach or forest.
In fact, I can’t wait to return to all those endless beaches in County Mayo where I wandered for years without knowing the potential harvest under my bare feet.
Of course, such a brief training will have taught me only a fraction of what Craig, born in neighboring Carmarthenshire, discovered for several decades, but it certainly opened my eyes and those of the small group that came together. was registered for his ideas.
We followed him as he showed the telltale sand ripples and most successful rocky holes in Wiseman’s Beach and along the coast to one of his “secret” spots, where he fears advertising does not flood the shore and even attract commercial browsers with vehicles and tools.
The course is included in the Celtic Routes partnership between West Wales and Wicklow, Wexford and Waterford to encourage tourists passing through these parts of both countries to stop and try something historic and authentic.
It is a plan to build a history of two nations – Wales and Ireland – separated by sea but sharing the indestructible bond of Celtic history and culture.
And that promise was certainly kept when my partner and photographer, Sue Mountjoy, and I picked up our brand new Bunk Campers Nomad campervan rented in Coventry and headed west to uncover some of the breathtaking secrets of the wow Pembrokeshire Coastal National Park.
Regularly hailed as the UK’s best holiday magnet, this geological wonder has something for everyone, with countless coves and bays, over 50 clean beaches, pretty fishing villages, unspoiled seaside resorts and the most beautiful coastal trail in the country stretching for 186 miles.
The first stop, after a smooth four-hour drive, was the tiny hamlet of Wiseman’s Bridge, where the campsite is a short stroll from the sandy beach and the popular old inn, with its alluring tables for a cold beer and a good drink. kitchen just above the Irish Sea bearing.
The next morning our journey of discovery continued with the irrepressible Craig, who provided remarkable insight into the history of foraging, the legalities and what and where to find the best of the woods and coastline.
A self-confessed “tide worrier” he whisked us away at breakneck speed, warning that timing is crucial to getting the best beach food before the sea pours out again.
In the woods near the Saundersfoot Bridge tunnel, he plucked wild garlic that we would use in our outdoor seafood for garnish and he showed us countless wild delicacies such as Himalayan Balsam. with its edible seeds, the meadowsweet flowers which make a decent tea and is used to make Aspirin and Germolene.
The complete ‘no no’s’ were Deadly Nightshade and Waterdrop Hemlock, which is just as deadly and leaves you fatally poisoned with a ‘sardonic smile on your face’.
There were lots of smiles on the beach later as we slid into her outdoor jar of seashells, expertly boiled in clean stream water using Carmarthenshire butter with sea fennel on a stump of soft wood burning, similar to a Swedish candle.
The next day we were heading to beautiful and bustling Tenby for another secret – well, at least, the one that just reopened after the pandemic lockdown, Caldey Island, a short boat ride into a world of Cistercian monks. and an abbey which is where Christians have prayed since the 6th century.
There were no monks in sight, but there was a certain sense of tranquility and history as we visited the empty beach and walked up to the Little Calvary, with its spectacular view of the bay.
Later in bustling Tenby, we had an early evening dinner at another lesser-known restaurant, Nora’s Kitchen, a Malaysian curry stand, where authentic Nasi Goreng Kampung and Nyonya Lime Chicken Curry are cooked under the roof of the more old County Market (chartered in 1290) and in a fabulous Grade Two listed building.
Our journey north took us to Prendergast Woods, for the carpet of bluebells, near the pretty fishing village of Solva, followed by Britain’s smallest town, 5e century St David’s, (1700 inhabitants) to admire the magnificent cathedral and stroll through the independent shops.
That night we opted for a bit of luxury at Wales’ first contemporary art hotel, the Twr Y Felin Hotel, set in a former windmill, with 100 specially commissioned works of art dotted around of its walls. A haven of peace, a short walk from St David’s itself and some of Pembrokeshire’s finest coastal walks. Dreamer!
A bright morning ushered in our next little secret, Dr Sarah Beynon’s Insect Farm and Kitchen, run by her chef husband, Andy Holcroft, the UK’s first edible insect restaurant.
After a lively conversation with Sarah about the sustainability of insects as the major source of protein foods in the world, Sue and I sat in front of a mixed platter of foods to try.
Of course, Andy pointed out that his menu isn’t all about bugs. Indeed, the main philosophy of Grub Kitchen is to serve freshly prepared, tasty, local and sustainable food. Herbal and children’s dishes are always available.
But we had to try. After tasting Malaysian-fried bats that were crunchy and cooked in sesame oil, we had to try the VEXo Balls, resembling meatballs but using the farm’s award-winning insect and plant protein. , which tasted like. . .good . . . Decent meatballs. The same could be said of the VEXo Bolognese, although the spicy cumin and mealworm hummus had dried bugs on top and was very palatable, although quite crunchy.
That night in the Fishguard Bay Resort campground van, we half envisioned an insect feast, but instead opted for a nice Welsh supper made with local lamb chops, leeks, local potatoes and other vegetables, as well as Welsh cakes and that Celtic favorite bara. Brith (speckled bread) flavored with tea, dried fruits and spices and loved by Prince Charles, who even tried the ice cream version.
Our final ‘secret’ came the next day and involved several miles of slow driving along single track country roads deep into the Cwm Gwaun Valley, a sculpted ice age remnant hidden away and totally unspoiled, surrounded by steep hills. and woodlands, including the Preseli Mountains.
We were there to meet Robert Vaughan, a Welsh Longhorn sheep and cattle farmer who was visited by TV chef Jamie Oliver three years ago to cook his famous sheep in his Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast TV series. .
Our goal was to witness the reopening of her family’s neighboring rural paradise, Penlan Uchaf Gardens and Tea Rooms, run by her elderly father and mother, Dilwyn and Suzanne Vaughan.
Also closed by the pandemic, the three-acre site sits atop a steep hill, where the couple have lived and cared for for three decades, drawing as many as 20,000 annual visitors from around the world at its peak.
The essence of the place, according to Dilwyn and Suzanne, is to allow visitors to enjoy the tranquility and the views, amidst ponds, wildlife and natural beauty.
Later, Robert told us about another local ‘secret’, the Twin Waterfalls Walk which lies, largely hidden in front of his farm about a mile down the valley, where the water roared amid the mountains. fallen trees, covered with lichen fronds and surrounded by carpets of ferns. Magic.
Before leaving we were directed to one of the most quirky pubs in the country, the Dyffryn Arms, known locally as Bessie’s and run by the Bessie Davies family since 1845. Draft beer is bass, served through a trapdoor via a jug. The pub celebrated its 40th anniversary in the Good Beer Guide in 2015.
And so we ended our ‘Secret Pembrokeshire’ tour on a fascinating and idyllic note, knowing that even the most popular and visited tourist spots still have their hidden gems if you seek them out.
Bunk Campers is one of the leading rental companies in the UK and Ireland with a range of nine vehicles to choose from, including economy motorhomes and luxury motorhomes. Booking is easy and piles of information are available to help you choose and use the vehicle.
We picked one of the Nomads Bunk Campers – a new 4-berth VW T6.1 vehicle that had plenty of room and extras including motion sensors – a godsend on the narrow Pembrokeshire tracks.
Bunk’s bases are in Coventry, London Heathrow, Edinburgh, Belfast and Dublin. Nomadic prices start from £ 45 a night (September prices start at £ 90 a night and from £ 130 in summer). All details on www.bunkcampers.com Tel. : 02890 513057 (Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). E-mail: [email protected]
Where to stay
We used two sites which were completely different in style and location. Go to www.wisemansbridgeinn.co.uk and www.fishguardbay.com.
The Twr Y Felin hotel has left lasting memories of its elevated location and its 100 works of art, which evoke the spectacular landscape of the region. Rooms cost £ 250 a night. Go to https://twryfelinhotel.com/.
For more information on the region, visit www.visitpembrokeshire.com
Information on the activities presented is available at: Bug Farm Foods – www.bugfarmfoods.com/
Caldey Island https://caldeyislandwales.com/ Coastal Foraging with Craig Evans – https://www.coastalforaging.co.uk/ Carn Edward garden https://www.carnedward.co.uk/