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Stack Rocks Castlemartin Range West to Linney Head & Frains Lake [7½ miles]

The Maps

The Route

The Walk

Centurion & Goliath tanks gurading
the entrance to Merrion Camp

Castlemartin consists of approximately 6,500 acres of land on the west coast of Pembrokeshire. It was acquired for military training in 1938 for use as a Tank Range. Over the years it has been developed so that it can support all firing, including Mounted Close Combat and Dismounted Close Combat, firing anything from Cadet air rifles to Fighter Ground Attack aircraft. Within the Castlemartin Training Area are a number of ranges which can be allocated separately to different units.

1952 saw Castlemartin incorporated into Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and part of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path runs through the Range to the east of Stack Rocks. The path is closed when live firing is taken place and a diversion path runs to the North of the Range Danger Area. Today we are walking the Range to the west of Stack Rocks - a section rarely open to the public and it is necessary to arrange to join a group via the Coast Path website.

Before we started the walk we visited Stack Rocks and the Green Bridge of Wales.

Stack Rocks

The Green Bridge of Wales

Our walk started at the gated entrance to Range West of the Castlemartin Range where our guide Peter Royle, gave us all a safety briefing. The range had been swept by the army to remove any live rounds that may be in the area we were to walk, but we were cautioned not to pick up anything looking remotely like ammunition, or to kick it or prod it - just leave it alone.

Of course, we had permits

So 18 of us set off heading west with Peter leading and his fellow volunteer Roger bringing up the rear. En route, one of the party spied a huge caterpillar - an emperor moth Peter advised us.

On our way

An emperor moth caterpillar

Our first diversion off the path was after a little under half a mile when we discarded our rucksacks and dropped down to an area called The Wash to inspect fossils in the limestone. Peter first gave us a bit of a talk about what to see and then we all went looking for ourselves. A most rewarding experience.

Peter briefs us on what to see

Fossils aplenty

The Wash

We regained the path and continued our walk west, every once in a while noting the odd piece of ordnance in the grass nearby; a constant reminder of where we were, with the occasional target visible inland.

Targets on the horizon

We came to an area called Mount Sion Down and again diverted seawards. Peter explained about a blowhole we were to examine which was some 130 feet deep. We cautiously edged our way around the blowhole, which, at a high tide and with the wind in the right direction, can spout water and spray - again, we saw several items of ordnance including a mortar shell.

The blowhole at Mount Sion Down

Near the blowhole - a variety of ordnace

Looking back at the blowhole from the path

Heather and gorse on Mount Sion Down

Our walk continued west and we coud see the stack of Pen-y-holt close to shore, and Crow Rock, looking for all the world like a submarine conning tower, a little way offshore. Standing on Pen-y-holt Down, the bay ahead of us gave a dramatic view of the geology, with a collapsed arch called the Cabin Door.

Pen-y-holt bay
use + or - key to zoom

As we headed away from Pen-y-holt Bay we looked back at the stack and played the 'who does that look like' game. The most popular guesses being Margaret Thatcher and General Charles de Gaulle.

Pen-y-holt stack
Margaret Thatcher or General de Gaulle?

Just beyond Pen-y-holt stack
A big smile for all of us!

It was getting close to lunchtime and so we headed away from the cliffs and sheltered on the flanks of Linney Head promontory iron age fort where defences are a double line of banks and ditches. After our break we went to inspect the huge unamed natural arch which (almost) rivals the Green Bridge of Wales 3 miles to the east. This led us into Hobbyhorse Bay - a bay dominated by a huge stack.

Linney Head promontory fort

Hobbyhorse Bay
use + or - key to zoom

The huge anonymous natural arch

We had now reached the most westerly part of our walk and turned north to round Linney Head. After a while Freshwater West came into view in the distance, with Franinslake Sands in the foreground.

Freshwater West in the background
with Frainnslake Sands in the foreground
use + or - key to zoom

We now headed inland, taking a small diversion from the track to drop down to Frains Lake and the deserted but picturesque Frainslake Mill. Amazingly, one of the members of the group announced that his grandmother was born and lived there until about 1938 when the area was acquired for military training. The lake came into being when the mill stream was dammed and as a consequence the old mill building became flooded.

Frainslake Mill

Coming to the end of our walk we had another surprise in the form of a great green bush cricket, sitting quietly beside the path - a handsome female who posed quietly on Peter‘s hand as we took photos.

A great green bush cricket
photo courtesy Peter Royle

Our final stop was Brownslade Farm which had been the home farm of the Mirehouse tenancy on the Campbell (Cawdor) estate. It has been unoccupied since at least 1938, apart from temporary use as part of the Army Range HQ. Sadly the grand mansion Brownslade House was demolished in the 1980s. The remaining farm buildings are on a huge scale and were laid out for efficient farming. A great pity that they cannot be restored to their former glory.

The ruins of Brownslade Farm

We came to the road where some of our cars were parked and then we returned to Stack Rocks at the end of our day. Our thanks go to Peter and Roger who kept us fully informed with facts and history as well as amusing anecdotes. We're going to do this walk again in the spring!

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