Trails and trials of the writer who walks
For reasons I forget, I travelled down to Pembrokeshire on Saturday 18th April to be a National Trust volunteer for the week. By coincidence, it was my birthday (63, if you must know), and I expected it to be a dry one, but as I approached the pretty village of Mathry where the bunkhouse was located, I discovered that it not only had a fully functioning pub, but that the pub was holding a beer festival. Now that’s something well within my comfort zone.
The National Trust run working holidays throughout the year, and despite the fact that you are contributing free labour to their various projects, you do actually have to pay for them, although it’s not much (typically £150) and in return you receive full board, including packed lunches, accommodation and activities.
I’d never been to Pembrokeshire before and was bowled over by its similarity to the coasts of Devon and Cornwall (without the crowds). Every inch of headland delivered pebbly coves, abundant wild flowers, sandy beaches, intriguing islands, diving gannets. The obvious beauty was further enhanced by the amount of time the two NT rangers devoted to our little group, by accompanying us on the best coastal walks to fill in fascinating details on the history of the headlands as well as the flora and fauna. (Without the ranger, I would not have realised that the pair of crows busying themselves nearby were actually choughs – only 500 breeding pairs in UK). We were also taken sea kayaking with full kit and instruction.
In return, our little gang of eight (six foot soldiers, with two trained volunteer leaders), spent three and a half days rebuilding two traditional Pembrokeshire gate pillars. This involved clearing gorse and brambles, removing all the loose stones (which left two stumps) and rebuilding. In addition to kayaking, I can now confidently mix mortar and do pointing!
When the job was over, we were all ridiculously pleased with ourselves. I know I will have to return to the area just to take another look at those beautiful gate pillars.