Drifts of Rock and Sea: Gaynor Funnell explores wild and remote Ceibwr Bay in Pembrokeshire
The sea is creeping its way up the shoreline as I make my way across the slabs of slate that bridge Nant Ceibwr, the stream that gently empties into the sea at Ceibwr Bay on the North Pembrokeshire coast. To me, the word bay is something of a misnomer as the word sums up images of a wide, sweeping curve of sand and sea – Ceibwr is its pocket-size cousin.
It’s warm for this time of year and the offshore wind does nothing more than lightly stir the hair at the nape of my neck. No clouds pierce the spring-blue translucency of the sky, against which the sea is a darker reflected labradorescence of turquoise, teal and aqua. The ruffle-lace tops of waves sigh as they touch and explore the shore … then a suck as the water is pulled backwards towards Ireland. It’s a remote, rocky, wild place, with little parking for summer visitors.
Two shouldering arms of cliffs enclose the inlet, formed where the earth’s layers were thrown, moulded, twisted, and corrugated, the eroded fragments of which litter the shoreline – sandstone, mudstone and boulder clay. The landward side is marginally softened by berber-tough grass, knotted with threads of yellow celandines, pink sea thrift and linen-white stitchwort, which, according to folk-lore, should never be picked in case it evokes thunder.
I crunch my way to the large boulders that are embedded in the right side of the beach. They are elephant-grey, fissured and cracked in some places and smooth and rounded in others, a combination of the earth’s fury and the seas never-ceasing attrition. The rock I sit on – angled and cold – lies in front of the chiaroscuro of caves. It’s a microcosm of the landscape around me: moulded, striated, pewter-grey, with bladderwrack clinging on with bulbous brown fingertips as the sun drains it of moisture, and a tide line of lettuce green moss, which springs back as I touch it, white-crusted with salt. An indentation at its foot cups a small pool of iced water.
A wren tic-tacs from the cappuccino froth of blackthorn above the cliff edge, the sound piercingly loud for such a diminutive bird, a chiffchaff chiff-chaffs, a cock blackbird trills a warning call, an escaped pheasant alarms, and a blackcap sings incessantly – a note-jumping warble like a scratchy 78 record on repeat.
A herring gull comes to join me, standing pink-ankled deep in the water, his head cocked, and he stares at me with primrose-cool eyes as if waiting for something. He’s a handsome bird, with a cement-grey back and white chest, and a blood-red fingerprint on his beak. In a crowd, he’d be raucous, quarrelsome and noisy, but by himself, he has no need to be. He ducks under the waves several times, water droplets sheening off his head, and is eventually rewarded by the catch of a wriggling, sludge-brown crab. He takes an inordinately long time to eat it: stabbing and tearing and gulping.
I’ve seen gulls gouge eyes from sheep and I know what those vicious, golden beaks can do. When finished, he struts to the fresh water of Nant Ceibwr, drinking just where it merges with the salt. A male mallard watches from upstream, his peacock head iridescent in the sun and a grey wagtail dips and flicks and darts.
In the vee between the headlands, five gannets cruise past, bone-white wings like sails, the tips dipped in ink. They move slowly, conserving energy for their arrowhead dives. Gannets often mean dolphins, but not today – there’s no triangular darkness or crest of silver breaking the water.
A kestrel throws himself off the vertiginous cliff and I follow his gingerbread back and slate-blue head as he hovers and glides, hovers and glides, hovers and dives…
The longer I sit, the more I notice: a tiny stream of evian-clear mountain water trickling down the side of the cliff and a rock pipit drinking from it, holding onto the darkness of moss alongside; the dull sparkle and glisten of quartz crystal running through rocks as the sun hits them; a winking shard of aquamarine sea-glass, wedged between two stones; the undercurrent of drying seaweed lingering in the air.