Mackerel don’t like sunshine – according, that is, to the amateur fisherman on whom we were relying for our supper. When we first arrived at the campsite he told us that he goes out in his boat every day and, in the evening, sits outside his motorhome with his catch for sale at 50 pence per head – DIY gutting: what he neglected to mention was that when the sun shines – as it has for the past few days – the mackerel disappear into the depths so he will inevitably come home with an empty bucket. When I asked him why he even bothered to go out on sunny days he looked at me as if to say “What else would I do?” We had expected that our hike along the Wales Coast Path would put us in the way of abundant freshly-caught seafood but this has not been the case. We came across just one fishmonger – and he was closed that day. Whatever is caught by whoever remains in the fishing industry must be sold elsewhere. Fortunately, that evening, we had a carnivores’ option on board for the BBQ – again.
But the unavailability of fish has been partly compensated by another type of produce. Curiously, the coastal towns – large and small – have been rescued from culinary desertification by Italians: there is no shortage of prosciutto-and-rocket panini, fancy Tuscan wines and authentic espresso. The Welsh descendants of Italian immigrants are challenging the ubiquity of the chip-shop and pub-lunch offerings for so long associated with British seaside holiday resorts and the effect of this competition can be seen in an apparent fight-back by the traditional outlets. It is recognisable in the adoption of the Farrow & Ball colour palette so familiar to visitors to the resorts of Suffolk and Norfolk, chalk boards proclaiming trendy menus, chairs and tables spilling out from fashionably stripped interiors and welcoming staff who have been taught to smile at customers.
But the hike is not all about sustenance, any more than it is all about invigorating exercise and magnificent views. It is also about appreciating the peculiarities of infrastructure that enhance the individuality of a place. For instance, what to us is a continuous path is actually divided by county into sections for the purpose of administration, so that the rivalry between Cardiganshire and Pembrokeshire as to which has the most beauteous coastline is evident in the resources devoted to the adequacy of the signage, its branding and the state of maintenance of the route. And, tourism being such a crucial part of the economy, there are little ‘hopper’ buses that ply the single-track roads from cove to cove. These are useful indeed but the traveller must be alert to the fact that the brightly-liveried and cutely-named Strumble Shuttle, Poppit Rocket and Cardi Bach buses are run by different contractors whose policies on ticket pricing and customer-friendliness can vary alarmingly.
And, at this, the height of the summer season, the holidaymakers themselves provide much to interest the observant. The path is not what the majority come for – most of the time we saw no more than one or two other hikers – but when it drops down to an accessible beach there is the expected throng. Beaches can be busy places: little children run about excitedly, dig pits and paddle, squealing; older children play cricket or volley-ball with their parents; water-sports enthusiasts launch their various forms of transport – dinghies, surfboards, paddleboards, kayaks – I never thought there could be so many variations of flotation fun; and professionals take boatloads of people out to see dolphins and seals. We spotted dolphins once – a mother and calf we were told, although it was hard to tell from our cliff-top view-point. We watched them frolic for a while before they swam off.
“Yes”, I replied. “So, how come you never see dolphins at the fishmongers?”