Thursday, 29 August 2013

Young Families at Wiseman's Bridge

Should you need one, an ideal vacation would be a visit to one of Pembrokeshire’s many hidden treasures. Fortunately for me the spot that I’m thinking of is not too far from where I live, about five miles south is the small coastal hamlet of Wiseman’s Bridge. To get there I would have to travel along some very narrow lanes and as I reach the village I find myself going through wooded country down a steep hill and being greeted with an unexciting mixture of small houses and bungalows that are tucked back from the road. As you continue just a little further, you would reach the beautiful and historic beach front at Wiseman’s Bridge.

There’s not much of a beach at Wiseman’s Bridge when the tide is full, only a narrow raised causeway running for about half-a-mile along the ragged line of the steep, tree-covered coast. Out of sight, behind the trees, is a small field with caravans and a tiny shop selling biscuits and fishing nets for the children. The most noticeable feature is the raised promenade that ends at a rambling, ramshackle Inn with a terrace where customers sit at picnic tables overlooking the sea. 

Wiseman's Bridge Beach

If you had arrived here in another age, perhaps 150 years ago, you would have found yourself in an industrial landscape where steam engines were loaded with fine quality anthracite from the nearby inland coal mines at Stepaside (which are now a World Heritage Site). The steam engines waggoned the coal over the promenade, which was built by the Victorians in the 1830s, and they carried the coal along the coast and through tunnels to the neighboring harbor-town of Saundersfoot where the coal was loaded onto boats and sent off to fuel the Industrial Revolution.

If you had arrived here during the war, you might have met Churchill and the Allied high command when they were using the beach for mock battles and rehearsals for the D-Day landings in Normandy.

When you arrive here today, you will only meet a handful of tourists from the campsite and a few locals enjoying a drink in a quiet spot. When I went there a few days ago, it was a sunny August bank-holiday Monday. There was plenty of parking space and an uncrowded beach.

a few locals enjoying a drink in a quiet spot

I want to tell you about an idyllic day, the people and the secret life of Wiseman's Bridge.  I arrived at 9.30 am, the sun was already hot, and because the moon had been large and round the night before the tide had been high.  The water, which had been lapping the sea walls, was beginning to recede leaving a band of rounded stones and shingle along the edge of the high tide mark , and far out on the calm sun-drenched sea I could see the silhouette of an inflatable Kayak with a small boy sitting with his legs dangling over the bow, his sister was sitting mid ship and their dad paddling at the back. 

a small boy sitting with his legs dangling

I watched the delicate craft making its gentle passage round the headland towards Saundersfoot.

I had found a flat rock to settle myself on with enough space to sit with my chalk and pencils beside me, and it gave me a good view of the gathering crowds who were filling the benches and tables for morning drinks.

Amongst the early customers were large and friendly group of campers from Birmingham with broad Brummie accents, this is one of them, a young mother called Heather holding a toddler with a white ribbon and bow tied round her head. 

 Heather came with little Amelia

And this is little Meg sitting on a boulder nearby, she was part of the same group and would be disappointed if I left her picture out.

and on other tables there were other parents talking with their children, like this father with his daughter

 A little girl in conversation with her father

This is another family group with a newly born baby and their dog

 A young family with a baby and a dog

 I think you get the picture; there were lots of young families gathering for a day on the beach

 A family Group

Directly below the pub is a collection of large boulders that form part the sea wall protecting the pub building from the sea.  Under the watchful eyes of their parents children clambered down these rocks on their way to play on the shingle and large round pebbles that lined the reach of the high tide.

These two girls were inseparable friends, they clambered and ran together this way and that...

Inseparable Friends

And this little girl, who was not going to let go of her rabbit for anyone, is looking back to check her parents were still watching!

Girl clutching a rabbit

The boys pranced and danced across the boulders, throwing small stones into the sea.  A little Valleys boy lay lazily on the smooth warm surface of stone drinking from a bottle. (For those that do not know the "Valleys" people are from the Welsh mining communities about 60 -80 miles away, they have their own culture)

 A Small boy from the Valleys with a bottle of water

It did not take the children long to spot the "real" artist and very soon I had become part of the entertainment and was embraced as a friend by many of them. 

Amongst these new friends of mine was Theo (pronounced Tao), an small athletic boy from Cambridge with an exuberant chatterbox character.  Theo went back to the campsite to fetch his sketch book so that he could sit and draw beside me.  He borrowed my pencils and imitated my style all the time telling me about his life.  His skin was soft and brown because his grandfather is a Cuban. He had come to stay with his grandmother who had retired and now lived in Pembrokeshire.  Another little girl joined us to eat a sandwich, chatting with Theo as if she had known him all her life.  She gave me a coloured pebble she had collected from the beach.

Later I made this image of Theo returning from the sea with his surfboard and fishing nets.

Theo, pronounced Tao

I met so many interesting families, too many to mention them all.  Sitting amongst the benches was  Dan and Sue with their son Jamie and daughter Tia. 

Tia with her father Dan who has Graphics design firm in Farmborough

Tia was mesmerised by my drawings, she hovered and fluttered round where I was sitting, her personality light like a feather.  Her watching parents were embarrassed that her attentions were too intrusive, but soon they understood that I enjoyed her presence.  Later they brought a bunch of sweet peas to my house in exchange for drawings of their family.

 Tia - her personality was light like a feather

This is Alice and Jonny.  Alice, patient and kind with her younger brother, was out on the beach making castles on the wet sand.  Later they came with their father Jim to ask to see my drawings. 

 Alice and Jonny from Stourbridge

As the morning passed the water receded exposing a great patch of yellow sand that now extended  across the bay as far as Saundersfoot.  Outcrops of Rocks emerged from the sand and became magnets for parties of crab collecting children with their nets and buckets.

And out amongst the surf children were bathing and floating in their inflatable dinghies

and playing in the water with their dogs, and one child had an inflatable fish

two girls shared a surfboard

two girls shared a surfboard

and the dogs were running this way and that, excited as the children.

excited as the children

all sorts of dogs! Alsatians fetching stones

 and spaniels

a golden puppy
a golden puppy

and a mongrel longing for the sea whilst his mistress read a book in the shade of the sea wall

longing for the sea

Up on the sea wall fathers played boisterous games with their laughing children

 boisterous games with their laughing children

and grandmothers sat were looking with tenderness over their very young grandchildren.

Karen Williams from Narberth

On the benches opposite me was an elegant women with sunglasses and a boyfriend with tattoos

an elegant women with sunglasses

and across the way two middle aged lovers looked out to sea

middle aged lovers

and children were sitting sunning themselves on rocks

and on the tables too

or protecting themselves from the sun with umbrellas

The sea was by now full out, the bathers had become dots too distant draw, so I started to wander along the promenade towards Saundersfoot.  Along the way I enjoyed looking at the abundant Small Whites that fluttered and danced between Catsear

and the pale yellow White Mustard flowers

pale yellow White Mustard flowers

Along the way I turned off the path to visit the public convenience which is in a pretty Victorian building made with dressed stone.  It stands next to a woodland path that runs along the side of a brook with a little bridge.

"I thought to myself is this Wiseman's Bridge"

I thought to myself "is this Wiseman's Bridge" but later discovered I was wrong.  The name ‘Wisemans Bridge’ is believed to date back to 1329 when a feudal lord called Andrew Wiseman owned the majority of land in the area.  The bridge I have drawn was made by the Victorians to carry their railway line to Saundersfoot

Returning to the promenade I walked on with the scattering of tourists travelling between Saundersfoot and Wisemans' Bridge.  It is a lovely walk with glorious views over the beaches and rock pools far below.  At one point I was tempted to exchange my sea view for a walk through woodland glades.

A tempting path

But on such a lovely day the sea was more tempting and I wanted to see Saundersfoot.

Looking back at the Victorian sea wall made of dressed stone
(Wiseman's bridge is hidden, Amroth can be seen in the far distance)

Looking out at the beach at Wiseman's Bridge

After about ten minutes walk you reach the first of the three tunnels that once were used by the railway line that carried coal to Saundersfoot harbour, today they make ideal pedestrian thoroughfares.  The walkway is at its highest  here, and the sea walls, like the tunnel entrance, are all made of dressed stone.  How those miners and labourers must have worked to hack this tunnel through the headland, and how beautiful is their legacy.  It seems sad that in our age of modern machinery we no longer make such long lasting beauty.

The Entrance to the Tunnel

The tunnel is only eight foot high and has a slight bend, there is no lighting.  Inside it is pitch black with a small window of light from the entrance at the far end.  It becomes a sort of guessing game not to bump into the silhouettes of oncoming people.  As we walk through the children hoot and laugh and tell us it is all very scary

a sort of guessing game

Counting my steps I calculated the tunnel to be 130 yards long.  At the far end is Coppet Hall beach, here the crowds of tourists are larger....

Looking back over Copett Hall Beach towards the first tunnel

There was a lot to look at from our high vantage point.  There was a cricket match between extreme youth and a father who was wasted by a lifetime of beer and chips.

 The Cricket Match

When I last looked the little boy seemed to be slogging the ball too far for the poor father to deal with.

There were swimmers in bathing costumes.


 and a very pretty 14 year old girl in a blue and white dress throwing a frisbee, her movements seemed almost balletic

Girl in a Blue and White Dress

I continued my way through two more tunnels before reaching Saundersfoot.   I would have liked to show you drawings of a lovely hilly meadow with trees, and some of the street scenes of Saundersfoot, they would both have made interesting subjects for drawings.  The most I can show you is the pretty street furniture.

pretty street furniture

and a view of the harbour which is at the far side of the town.  Another wonder of Victorian it is used by leisure craft and sailing boats.

a view of the harbour

Along the top of sea wall, where the railway line from Wiseman's Bridge once reached its destination, crowds promenade back a fore.  Families sit on cast iron benches and eat fish and chips 

Families sit on cast iron benches

and old people sit and watch the goings on below. 

I felt I should not intrude on the quiet solitude of this couple who were were looking out to sea.  They were elegantly dressed for a day out.  I thought their quiet solitude seemed to contain memories of the distant culture that was eloquently captured by Dylan Thomas in his radio poem Under Milk Wood.

quiet solitude

Having made my drawing I slipped away to leave them with their beauty and their memories.  

Nearby was another imposing Welsh character. Jenette, who was from the valleys, was with a noisy party from the Welsh Valleys who were giving water to five enormous dogs.  They were laughing loudly and enjoying themselves wonderfully.  Jenette was the loudest, bossiest and friendliest of them all.  I showed her my picture of her, and we laughed loudly.


Then an impetuous little girl ran to the edge of the harbour wall where she started to clamber on a railing, the sea breeze caught her cotton dress and made it billow like a sail behind her.  Her parents, worried by the danger, stepped forward and pulled her back from the edge of the sea walls.  It all happened in the space of  a few seconds, but it was beautiful to watch and draw.

an impetuous little girl

And an instant later a little boy did something similar, twisting his tiny body against a post

a little boy

By now I was sitting on one of the benches.  The old couple I had drawn so secretly earlier were passing, the lady pushing her husband who was in a wheel chair.  She stopped opposite me and said "I hear you have made a beautiful drawing of us", and so I had the opportunity to meet her and show her my drawing.  When I came to show to her husband Ieuieun she said "no, no, he can't see a thing".  For a second time this couple reminded me of Under Milk Wood  (Those who know the play will remember that a central character of the play is an old blind sea captain called Captain Cat who spends his days looking out to sea with unseeing, seeing eyes and distant memories)

After they had left, to go back to Carmarthen, I remained on the bench with gulls around me asking for food.


There were signs saying "PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE GULLS", but you will understand I had not choice, gulls are not very law abiding and I was doing it for my art.  The gull showed her appreciation of my indiscretion by widely opening her beak and cackling loudly. 

cackling loudly

It was now becoming late in the day, the sea was coming back in.  I had to think of returning to my car at Wiseman's Bridge. Along the way I watched a group of toddlers playing in a pool of trapped water that had been warmed by the all day sun.

a pool of trapped water

I made my way back through the car park where day-trippers were already loading their cars with bicycles and kayaks.

cars with bicycles and kayaks

and back past Coppet Hill beach where a few boys were playing football in the dying light

boys were playing football

and a mother was carrying her tired child home

  a mother was carrying her tired child

with another child helping carry kit from the beach

child helping carry kit from the beach

I passed a Sikh family dressed elegantly in bright Indian colours, the gentleman hailed me loudly with a friendly hello.  I wished I was a colourist, they were so beautiful....

A Sikh family

and I returned back through the tunnels towards Wiseman's Bridge where new surprises were in store for me.  With the high tide in, and the water was again lapping against the sea wall, and in the water was a great shoal of Mackerel had come  to feed on the shoals of whitebait.  Looking down from the sea wall it was possible to see the thousands of mackerel swimming in the water directly below.

And the promenade was alive with fishing families.  Oscar, another valleys boy who I had met earlier in the day, had caught his first fish.  

 Oscar Catches his First Fish

and two friends

Two Friends
had a bucket full of fish

A Bucket Full of Fish

I drew this picture of a father teaching his daughter how to fish

A Father teaching his Daughter to Fish

And also of these black headed gulls bobbing in the water, who were also fishing.

black headed gulls bobbing in the water

I lingered a while, refusing to accept gifts of mackerel, before strolling back to where I had started my journey.  

Out at sea I could see men fishing from Kayaks

men fishing from Kayaks

and there were families barbecuing, and young people chatting the evening away.

young people chatting the evening away

People were still sitting at tables outside the Wiseman's Inn, but with the darkness a chill had also descended.  I had reached my car and it was time for me to go home too.

Wiseman's Bridge will never have the chic elegance of the French Riviera, but it does an earthy welcoming beauty of its own.  The people who come again and again are satisfied with pub grub and the uncertain weather, they understand and love the soul of this place.  If ever you come to Pembrokeshire remember to take a walk along the Wiseman's Bridge promenade, you will be rewarded richly.


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