Time to try

I have been blathering away to myself, for quite a long time now, about trying to produce a larger piece of writing, maybe even a book. I realise that if I don’t do it now it will never happen. Of course, it probably wont happen anyway. More than likely I will get bogged down in the usual feelings of shifting perspectives and fractal complexity that tend to assail me whenever I try to focus on a specific objective. But at least I will have tried, and the next time the thought; ‘it would be fun to write a book’ occurs to me I will be able to say, ‘remember, you tried that once and couldn’t do it’, so shut up and get on with something useful’.

So I intend to try. I don’t know what the usual or best approach is, but, given a rough direction, I intend to just start to write and simply see what happens. Sometimes thoughts breed thoughts in a way that makes planning too far ahead pointless.

So, I have put the first draft of a few paragraphs below, as a merest toe in the water and indication of intent! I may occasionally add little bits as things go along, if they go along, as I feel it will help me to put something ‘out there’. If anybody reads this and has comments, please feel free!


The rockpool is about a metre long, half metre wide and thirty centimetres deep.  A small depression in dark rock lying at the eastern end of a small sandy bay on the north Pembrokeshire coast. I have arrived at nearly the lowest point of a low Spring tide. The sea is less than a meter above what is known to sailors as LAT or the ‘lowest astronomical tide’ and at such a tide much more foreshore is accessible than is usually the case.

It is cold and grey. The sea is rough from a recent storm, and a residual swell is washing round the headland that defines this side of the bay.  Despite this cold greyness I can already feel the calming and soothing effect of this place working on me.

I have been visiting this Bay, and the particular area around this rockpool for a year or so now. I started coming here as part of a citizen science project designed to monitor species of shore life, but unfortunately, despite having worked in science for many years I found I lacked the discipline to do the science properly. I could not focus. So, instead of conducting proper timed searches I just potter about seeing what I can find and thinking and dreaming about the sort of things being near the sea makes you think and dream about.

There is much to inspire here.  In terms of the wildlife alone it can feel like living inside one of those iconic ladybird books of the 1950s and 60s. A new edition maybe; ‘What to look for in Pembrokeshire’ whose cover would show an anemone filled rock pool and behind which dolphins would swim in a blue sea whith black fingered, red beaked Choughs displaying above. In these days of constant reporting of ecological disaster, I am drawn to this place as an iron filing to a magnet.

But it is not just the wildlife. The folded cliffs and the rocky outcrops that crest the nearby Preseli hills speak of geological drama and even the night sky appears clearer than usual, revealing worlds beyond.

Just wandering and experiencing is enjoyable here. Walking along the cliffs, or on the hills, is often dramatically beautiful. There is a quality to the light which, combined with the juxtaposition of sea, cliffs and hills produces something which is nearly always special and sometimes feels transformational.

Unfortunately, for me, it is never quite enough to just be in a place and enjoy it. I always want to do something more with it. Sometimes it is just to use it as inspiration for trying to paint or draw, or write poetry, but more often it acts as a spur to think about what I suppose might be thought of as the bigger questions of life, science and philosophy.

And so today I am sat here, on these rocks looking out to sea, with a coffee in hand wondering where to start.

But then I realise, it doesn’t matter too much where one starts. It is all connected. The sea is boundless. Wherever you jump in is, in some sense, the same as everywhere else. So, as I am in the fortunate position of having no plan to work to, no deadline and no one to please, I will probably just wander and see what turns up.

Short walk

I wanted to do a blog with no (or very few) words. Words can be so difficult; always limited or limiting in some way.

So here it is; a short walk in my favourite area of the Preselis – to share.

(The music is me attempting to play Roy Harper’s lovely instrumental ‘Blackpool’).

There is a little lyric with this song which I wasn’t up to singing:

"The rain falls like diamonds
pin-pricks the still water
spreadeagles it's laughter
across the green sheet
of the sleeping sea."

Roy Harper - Blackpool, (from 'The Sophisticated beggar').
(Lots of good songs on this album, but maybe an acquired taste!) 

Low tide

5th December 2021

I arrived at Pwllgwaelod bay entirely serendipitously near the bottom of a very low spring tide. Storm Arwen had come through a few days before and it was still grey, windy and cold with a considerable swell rolling into the eastern lee of the bay.

I had meant to just walk over the sand to the sea’s edge, say hello to the sea, and then head up the cliffs for my usual walk around Dinas Head. But, looking over to the far side of the bay, I saw the extreme low tide had left a little cove, which I particularly like, accessible without the usual scramble over wet rocks.

I wandered toward, and then around the headland that separates the two coves and made my way over the dark volcanic sand to the sea. There was nothing in particular to attract attention. I had seen seal pups here in the past, but there were none today. There was a pipit or two, the odd gull and a few crows flying dark against the grey sea, but no choughs, though again I had seen them here previously. Having nothing to engage with I simply stood for while gazing out to the horizon. It was when my eyes dropped that I noticed something in the sand, at my feet.

Even without its romantic and mythical connotations it was an intrinsically exciting shape. Had it been an exhibit in an art gallery, I can imagine the blurb would have used phrases like ‘dynamic rhythm’ and ‘tension of contrasting forms’. It was smooth, a fawn rectangle, gently rounded and swollen, with tightly coiled twisting fibres springing from both corners of one end; it reminded me of an element in a painting by Wassily Kandinsky.

It was a nice find and something new to add to the impressive list of species I have found in the few hundred square yards of this Bay1. It was, however, somehow something more. For a couple of days I had had Tim Buckley’s haunting ‘Song to the siren’2 going through my head, including as I had stood looking out to sea. And then there this was, at my feet, a mermaid’s purse . It seemed to be a small nod, outside of rational thought, towards the existence of meaning in the world: an act of synchronicity, and I must say, at that moment, welcome.


Fig. A mermaid’s purse, or more scientifically, the egg-case of a small-spotted cat shark3. I had never found one before and I imagined the rough weather had cast it up here on to the sand


  1. There is a photo record of species found in this little bay here:
  2. My favourite version:
  3. Also known as a dogfish. Scientific name: Scyliorhinus canicula. More details here:

Twenty four hours (or so) on the Preseli hills

18 November 2021

I find this place on the edge of the Preseli hills has everything I need. There are the hills, a large expanse of sea and an even larger expanse of sky.

I usually arrive late afternoon, perhaps after a walk around Dinas Island and then sit peacefully as the world quietens. I walk up to the rocks at Carn Enoch before it gets dark and in the morning cook and eat breakfast, sit and drink coffee, read and daydream or maybe try to write. Sometimes I will go for a walk over the nearby hills towards Fishguard before heading back home around lunchtime or early afternoon.

My most recent trip followed just this pattern. As usual the light here produced something special and it left me wishing I could share the experience. This wanting to share is a feeling I often get and as social media provides the perfect (and sometimes the only possible) means of doing this I have decided to post entries here at times.

I hope you enjoy them.

(There is a little more about the Preselis here )

Evening: Having nearly failed to persuade myself to make the effort and walk up to the rocks that evening, I was treated to a dramatic and rapidly developing sunset out towards St David’s and Ireland beyond, complete with Titian skies.

Morning: The following morning the air was rain-clean-sharp and bright with towering cumulus clouds,

which at one point looked like so many billow-sailed galleons heading into Newport bay,

and then sometimes a little more heavy and threatening.

The transformation this place can bring about often renders the world practically unrecognizable from what it seemed on first arrival and I am already looking forward to the next time.


A place to read

29 August 2021

Today the buzzards are loud, mewing incessantly. I look up, but the conifers leave only small patches of sky visible between their feathery tops and the birds are hidden.

Their calling is met by the sound of the stream rising from the valley bottom, a hundred or so feet below me. The stream is also loud. It has been so for weeks now. It is loud because it is shallow, running and chattering over rocks; the water low at the end of a dry if not overly sunny summer. It will be loud again in the winter, but with a different voice, a voice born of rushing brown turbulence.

I am pleasantly suspended between these two sounds; the birds and the river. Suspended literally as well as metaphorically, on a seat slung between two trees halfway up the valley side.

To my right are conifers. Majestic. Two hundred feet tall or so. Western hemlock, planted maybe eighty years ago, native to northwest America but looking naturalized and attractive on this steep hillside.   Conifers provide a poorer habitat than deciduous woodland, but these trees, I know, are enjoyed by the local marsh tits who harvest their cones. They were also visited last winter, I think, maybe, hopefully, by a pair of crossbills, although the birds were high and the identification difficult.

To my left is scrubby deciduous woodland; a mixture of hazel, oak, and beech; full of tawny owls and, in the summer months, chiffchafs, blackcaps and pied flycatchers.

The valley itself is a wooded gash in otherwise rolling county; as if a knife had been drawn across proved earth, leaving a cut which opened when the crust was baked. But in fact it was ice, not fire, that created this valley; melting ice draining away from beneath the glaciers of the last ice age, ten thousand or so years ago.    

The particular trees I am suspended from are perched on a rocky outcrop twenty or so feet high. Coupled with the steep natural fall of the land this extra height is enough to allow me to see right across the valley and to lend my seat a certain vertiguousness, which I enjoy.

Today it is warm, still and quiet. There is little movement other than a gentle rain of pine needles from the branches above and the occasional flicker of white butterflies finding the sunnier patches of the woodland floor.  But it is not always like this. Sat up here in a strong wind I have been in a mountainous sea, all green waves and movement; trees of different thicknesses finding their own resonances within the wind, bending and swaying, towards and away, each to a different time, like the violin bows of an amateur orchestra. The seat is attached to the trees, so you are in a boat on this sea rather than looking from the shore; there is even an edge of the sailor’s fear; what if a mast should break or a spar come crashing down.

But, so long as it is dry and not too cold, this is a wonderful place to sit and read. I know I am lucky to have access to it. Lucky to the extent even that guilt sometimes takes the edge even off the pleasure of reading.