Land of my fathers

My Dad’s parents were from south-west Wales and my childhood family holidays took us to Pembrokeshire every year. Dad wanted his ashes to be scattered there and so after he passed away, Jo and I planned a holiday for summer 2019 which included this sad task.

The drive to Pembrokeshire was memorably interminable in the 1980s, when the M4 motorway terminated at Briton Ferry (Neath) and the road from there was a single-lane A road. Six- to seven-hour journeys were not uncommon and so stopping off on the way to see other sights would’ve added too much time to the journey. Thanks to the extension of the M4 and the building of dual carriageways right through to St. Clears and on to Kilgetty in the 1990s, the journey from Hampshire now takes a little over three-and a-half hours, so I wanted to stop off at a few places en route.

Aerial photograph of Port Talbot and the neighbouring steel works
Port Talbot

First stop was the steel works town at Port Talbot; a town and massive industrial complex built on former sand dunes next to the sea between Cardiff and Swansea. The views there as we swept past on the motorway as a child were so unlike views I’d seen before, and I wanted to put my drone up and get a shot of the area. Although the photo I took worked out well, it doesn’t really show the view I wanted and so I’ll have to return another time and visit a different hillside – above Margam, in the left of this photo – earlier in the day.

Mumbles lighthouse
Mumbles lighthouse, photographed from Bracelet Bay

At Swansea, the motorway turns north and the landscape to its west forms the Gower peninsula – a region well-known for beautiful beaches and views. One of the better-known destinations is Mumbles, a small peninsula across the bay from Swansea, which features a pier, lighthouse and lifeboat station.

I sent my drone out to capture the lighthouse on its rocky island, and took a little time to get the shot I wanted because of the comparatively strong breeze coming in off the sea. After getting the panoramic view I wanted, I turned my attention to the rocky beach; finding a pleasing composition of seaweed-filled rock pools in the foreground and white lighthouse in the distance. Using a tripod allowed me to capture some of the movement of the waves and ensure a wide depth-of-field to get everything in focus. This was the first “proper” photo of the trip and I took my time to find just the right angle and get just the right shot by mounting my camera on a new tripod I’d bought earlier in the year.

Our first full day in Pembrokeshire was dedicated to the main task for which we’d come and so I don’t want to write much about it. But the sadness was alleviated a little by walking along a short section of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, finding and photographing some foxgloves which hold vivid childhood memories for me, and walking the lanes to return to the car by an alternative route.

Once we’d settled into our holiday, the weather turned – as is so often the case on the Atlantic coast – and didn’t seem particularly photogenic. I’d planned to visit places in Pembrokeshire which I hadn’t seen before, so we headed for the northern part of the county and looked for photographable views. Thanks mainly to the relentless rain, we were unsuccessful until we reached Whitesands Bay, where some hardy Brits were camped out in the beach-side car park and even taking to the waves with full drysuits and surfboards.

After a day wrapped up against from the wind and rain, we were pleased to see the sun again the next day and headed for one of the places we’d planned to visit: Barafundle beach, which is only accessible on foot or by sea. The walk we chose took in the lily ponds at Bosherston and covered around three miles each way from the National Trust car park, by way of the sand dunes at Broadhaven and the empty expanses of the cliff tops at Stackpole Head.

My goal had been to photograph the bluebells in the woods next to the beach – a childhood memory of the twisted trees leading me there – and although the shots of the flowers and the trees didn’t quite match up to my hopes, we particularly enjoyed the peace and sunshine whilst watching sea birds doing their thing on (and above) the waves far below. The last shot of our time in Wales, of the walkway amongst the wonderfully lush green lake shore near the visitor centre, was a fitting close to the day, as it harkens back to a family photo my Dad took of my sister, my mum and me on the walkway in the late 1980s.

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