Legends, Caves and Courage in West Wales

A while back, in October last year, I wrote a post about “Coping With Overwhelm“. It was off the back of an episode of depression that lead to me bundling my things into our campervan and driving off in a blur of sadness. Feeling overwhelmed and desperate to escape, I drove for hours on end, with no idea where I was going. I just knew that I had to “get away”. I eventually ended up in West Wales, on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. I still struggle to remember how I got there.

Afterwards, when I wrote a blog post about the experience, I was riddled with a new kind of anxiety. All kinds of ugly truths were revealed, warts and all, and I suppose I was testing the water with how honest I could be with myself, and with others about my mental health.

But there was something I didn’t share. Not because I wasn’t being honest, but because I knew it was worthy of being told as a story in it’s own right. It strays from the path, into coves and caves. It is an adventure all of it’s own. Something incredible happened there on that Welsh coastline. A single experience that changed me. Not just my mental landscape at the time, but a more permanent, deeper and spiritual change. It took me from a place of despair, to a place where I regained my spirit and strength. It’s also left me wondering whether there is truth to some legends after all!

I didn’t take many photos or film much footage during that time. The imagery I did capture was always intended to keep for personal use. I was such a mess, and it seemed a little grotesque to film a breakdown! But I did that morning. I think I knew something unusual was taking place. Until now I’ve not dared to look back at the footage I filmed that morning. In case it didn’t reconcile with the memory I have.

But finding the courage to revisit this footage, I am confident that not only did it happen, but that it was indeed magical. It prompts so many questions. What took me to Pembrokeshire? Why did I end up in that particular place, on that part of a remote wild coastline? I’d never been to that part of the world before. I knew nothing about it. I knew nothing of the legends and myths in that area. Research and preparation was the last thing on my mind. I didn’t even know exactly I’d got there, or where I was in the world in relation to home! What made me decide to walk that morning? in that direction? Was it co-incidence? Or was there something else at play?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. But I know what happened. And it’s there, in the footage, I can see it. I can still remember how it felt. The brilliant bursts of blue in the warm water, the delicate surprising light, the rhythmic sound of the waves echoing in the cave, the joy in my fragile broken heart, and the sense that there was something legendary, magical about that place.

It’s strange really, because despite my firm belief that the power of nature can help heal, when I arrived on that wild remote coastline, nature was all around me, it was so blatantly beautiful, but it couldn’t help me. At first I wasn’t able to engage or connect with my surroundings. All I could do was just land, and be there with it. I felt so weak and pathetic. But after a few days of wild camping in a field next to the cliff, I awoke early one morning and, still feeling broken and raw, I began to follow the coast path. Just one foot in front of the other.

As I approached what I now know to be St Govan’s Head, I was struck by the sight of a cove below me. Beautiful clear turquoise water and golden sand, tucked deep into the crevice of the cliff. The gulls screamed and the waves crashed. Despite being down in a geo, and there being no easy path to get to it, something tugged inside me. At first it looked inaccessible, but the spirit of adventure ignited a tiny spark inside me just enough to propel me onward and downward. I began to pick my way down the cliff, stumbling, scraping through spiky gorse and sharp rocky terrain. Down, down, down until I landed on the soft silent sand. And as I looked up (I kid you not!) the sun, hidden until now, burst out from behind the clouds and illuminated everything around me. It was utterly, ridiculously beautiful. I was beseiged. How on earth could I not smile in the moment, not feel my soul lifted.

But this was just the beginning. What happened next was as if something was happening far bigger than I could comprehend. I still find it hard to articulate, but it was as if the sea was calling me. I climbed barefoot onto the jagged rocks, intuition drawing me closer and closer to a pool of bright blue water several feet below me. The water was clear and I could see to the bottom of the ocean floor. Nearby, a cave yawned darkly into the depths of the cliff. The sound of the waves echoed rhythmically inside it, an acoustic symphony of sea and stone ringing out around me. Oh the drama! And there, as I stood trembling, I made the decision to leap. *

As I hit the water feet first it was as though all my fears were simultaneously drowned. Just the weight of my body descended deep into the water. While thousands of tiny bubbles of air burst around me, so too did all the things that had held me back. The reasons NOT to do jump, the risk, the fear. “I am not brave enough. I am not strong enough. I am not well enough”. All these self limiting thoughts and notions were instantly washed away leaving only what was wild and free, and alive. As I swam in those bright blue waters, in the autumn sunshine, I knew that I was being healed. I noticed how my heart felt a little less heavy, and the pain and sadness was gently fading away, leaving only what mattered. My spirit. Revived.

It was only afterwards, with a renewed strength and conviction that I would be able to return home, I met the owners of the farmland where I’d been staying. Gentle, kind people I told them of what had brought me here. Of my “broken-ness”, and the need to mend. They listened and smiled knowingly. And then softly spoke of the legend of St Govan’s. How they had lived on the farm for decades and knew of it’s history. How others like me have come here, and why.

I was dumb struck.

This short film is my best attempt to show you the magic that happened that October morning. I hope you can feel it.

Girl Gone Wild x

Filmed at St Govan’s Head, Pembrokeshire, West Wales

For more info surrounding the legend of nearby St Govan’s chapel visit; www.explorechurches.org/church/st-govan-chapel-bosherston

* I feel a duty to say that climbing barefoot on jagged rocks, on your own, and jumping into the sea in unknown territory isn’t something I’d encourage anyone to do. I have been told off by some of the wild swimming community for doing this. It isn’t safe, I could have had an accident, the coastguard would yet again be called out to rescue someone who has put themselves at risk. I know that I probably shouldn’t do these wild things.

BUT, I feel I must explain that this is in my nature. I will never try to restrain it. Since a young age I have needed to push boundaries. I need to do these things so that I can feel the life pulsing inside me and the adrenaline pump around my body. If I don’t, then I don’t feel alive. I believe that taking this kind of risk, which for me is only moderate, is still infinitely safer than the drugs, alcohol, people and dangerous situations I subjected myself to when I was younger. I would never encourage anyone else to do this. We must all know our own limits, and be responsible for our own choices.

End of Disclaimer.

Here Comes The Sun…

Witnessing the sun rise at any time of year is a magical thing to see. The drama of it will always make my heart sing, but in winter, with the dark mornings and sparkling frosts, it somehow feels even more magical when dawn breaks.

Yesterday morning as I was setting off for a sea swim my youngest son was up earlier than usual and I asked if he’d like to come and watch the sun rise with me. Now, my children aren’t known for being very enthusiastic about outdoor activities in the mornings so I was somewhat surprised when he said “yes”!

Delighted to have unexpected company I failed to check the weather conditions and simply bundled together a bag of swim stuff for myself, and a rucksack with some warm layers for my son. It wasn’t until we were driving down to the beach that I realised the sky (and any hint of dawn) was obscured by dense cloud.

Now, if you have kids you’ll know that in order for a new experience to be something they’ll enjoy, then it simply has to be a good one. If it’s a negative experience then it’s unlikely they’ll want to stay, let alone repeat it! (I guess we’re all like this really). So I was cursing myself for inviting him to watch what I promised to be a “magical event”, when I hadn’t checked if the magic was likely to show up.

We arrived at the beach to a grey sky, cold north wind and no visible sunrise. My heart sank. Still, I gave my Dryrobe and hot water bottle to my son while I had a quick dip. He scowled at me from the shore, making it clear he was less than impressed!

We drove home, me trying to convince him it was a great way to start the day, him disagreeing. I told him that this was actually part of the magic. That I’d been wrong to promise it because it’s not guaranteed. And because you can never really know what kind of beauty you’ll see, this is why Nature is so amazing. This is why when you DO see the magic, it feels really special. Like it’s revealed something to you that not everyone can see. And it’s done this because you made the effort to look, and take notice.

No response.

Later that day I asked my son if he’d like to come again the following morning? To which he shook his head.

And so it was this morning, I made my way to the beach at dawn on my own. And of course, there before me, in jaw dropping splendour , was THE most beautiful scene. The moon still up in the sky while the sun rose and golden light spilled across the ocean. With not a breath of wind the water was completely still. Stepping into the sea was like stepping into a clear, cold bath. I felt like crying! It was stunning and yet all I could think of was my son, and what he had missed!

But I suppose, deep down I know he will see it when the time is right. Maybe what makes a sunrise magical is that you seek and find it for yourself. It is your reward for trying. Perhaps trying to create this magic for someone else simply won’t work?

And yet, I think this what I want for everyone! What I experience in Nature is so profound, it makes me want to share it. I want to know if others see it and feel it, and are boosted in the same way. Is this so wrong?

Surely this is why we create? We feel moved by something. Inspired by something. Isn’t this why we write, or paint, or cook, or teach… we want to share something. To invite the participant to experience something and enjoy it. Maybe even inspire them to go create their own magic, their own way.

I guess there’s nothing wrong in trying to create a bit of magic. Maybe you’ll just never be able to guarantee the result!

And so, as I swam in the sea this morning, I captured every detail of the moment in my mind. Full of inspiration I returned home and wild words poured out of me, describing what I’d seen. I wrote a poem. (Below) To capture the magic so I can remember it, but also so I can share it with those that missed it. To try and create a bit of the magic that was there in that moment. To encourage my son, to encourage you, to encourage everyone of us that there is always magic to be found. You just have to keep looking.

Quiet morning light.
The moon lingers a while
Holding the space between night and day
The sky holds its breath.
While the sea lies undisturbed,
A silent lake
slipping beneath the horizon.
The break of dawn spilling liquid
gold upon glistening glass.
I float beneath the surface
Bathed in a golden sea
My mind, body and soul awash with the new day