Wales: Seal Pups, Saints, Ponies, Coastal Walking, and World Cup Rugby 2015

26 Sep

Standing on a narrow isthmus of land, a cove on each side, I positioned myself to observe grey seals in the rocky inlets. I was glad of the binoculars I’d rented for three pounds from the warden, the detail was fascinating. I watched fat, sluglike mothers lying on the shores of the coves keeping half an eye open to watch their white pups higher up the beach, while others cruised the waters of the coves. The seals weren’t perturbed by my presence, every so often a grey head would pop out of the water, peer at me, then quickly submerge and swim away. 

I was alone, nobody within cooee, even though I was next to the jetty just below the Ramsey Island cafe and shop. The other four day visitors were scattered over the island. The two volunteer wardens were off doing their duties.


I couldn’t figure out what was going on with the two huge female seals nearest me. They appeared to be having a conversation, approaching with open mouths and then turning away. I could only see one seal pup nearby and one mum was indicating the pup was hers. She dragged herself down to the water’s edge and wallowed there. The other, larger and more scarred grey seal stayed where she was, propped her chin on a rock and seemed to sleep. Try as I might I could not locate the second female seal’s pup.


Suddenly my eyes were attracted to a great red splash of fluid cascading over the grey rocks as the second seal lifted her tail and rear flippers and slapped them back down. I blinked and there was a small, yellow and pink blob where before there’d been nothing. She had just birthed a plump seal pup. Slick with amniotic fluid and blood the pup’s front flippers were pinned under its chest so its shoulder blades stuck out. The tiny whiskered face resembled a white labrador pup, reminding me of my friend Julie’s lab, Indi, when she first arrived. Such a thrilling moment and only me to witness it! I’m not ashamed to say I cried. 

Mum wriggled her way round to nuzzle the pup’s head for a few seconds before dragging herself full circle around the pup. She came to rest where she started and stayed immobile for some time. Before my eyes the soaked pup’s fur started to dry out and I watched it begin lifting its head and trying to free its flippers. With flippers freed it tried to wriggle forward but made little progress.


An hour after the pup arrived I saw mum pass the afterbirth, a glistening, bloody lump the size of a loaf of bread. She remained where she was with her eyes on the pup. From time to time the pup would make a mewling noise but mum stayed put. The pup couldn’t seem to move towards her so did not nurse. A full ninety minutes after the birth I had to pull myself away. The ferry had arrived to return day visitors to St Justinian’s lifeboat jetty on mainland Wales.


I could hardly believe my luck in witnessing this miracle of life on Ramsey. Stuart, Catharine (Stuart’s sister), and I had circumnavigated the island that morning on a wildlife cruise and seen seals and pups in all stages of maturity, from tiny yellow bags of bones through to the bright white cute pups of the postcards, to plump grey young ones ready to strike out on their own. Ramsey pups are nursed by their mothers for 21 days then left to fend for themselves. I’d opted to land on Ramsey to explore the wildlife reserve for the afternoon while Stuart and Catharine returned for World Cup Rugby viewing and more coastal walking respectively.


When I told one of the wardens I’d seen a seal birth he was quite jealous. Mike has volunteered on Ramsey for two weeks a year for the past ten years and never witnessed a birth. He said Ramsey grey seals birth on the same beach on the same day each year. I’m sorely tempted to return to Ramsey on September 20 next year to see if my mum comes back to do it all again. I’ll know her by her reverse tattoo of scars, she has a singular curlicue pattern on the right side of her breast. 

 The Bachelor Pad – male seals who are too immature to mate or who missed out on claiming a cove and the females in it. 

 Two researchers sit inside this box from 8:30am to 5pm daily filming the mother seals and their pups on the beach below. There is a sheer cliff in front of them.

This experience, on the second last of seven days in Pembrokeshire, Wales, was the high point, but once again this beautiful, unspoilt country delivered sublime walking and warm hospitality. When will the rest of the world wake up to the attractions of Wales? 

 Sunset at Whitesands Beach 

 Our base for the week in St David’s City, the smallest city in the UK. 

   St David’s Cathedral, still a pilgrim destination. 

  St David’s shrine 

 St David 

Day one walks – Pennard and Wormshead

 Southern side of Wormshead, Gower Peninsula (we had walked the northern side previously)

Day two walk – St David’s to Solva return


St Non’s well, chapel and shrine. Non is said to be the mother of St David.


Look in the lower central part of this map – yes, it’s St Elvis Rock! 

After lunch we met wild ponies on the cliff path.   
And picked blackberries.   
Tea at Warpool Court Hotel was a treat after four and a half hours walking. 

Day two walk – St David’s to Whitesands    

Can you see the climbers? And the bloke sitting below them fishing?

We thought the white thing on the rocks was a fallen sheep, it was a seal pup placed there by mum at high tide! You can see her in the water.


 Day three – Abereiddy to Abercastle. Catharine arrived for a few days.  
   Day four Marloes Peninsula 

  Delayed while the hunt passed. Those children look too tiny to be there.  
 Milk delivery in glass bottles – when did you see that last? 

 Back to Warpool Court for a final coffee with Catharine, we were serenaded by a Spanish waiter playing a grand piano.  
 Popped into tidy Tenby on our way to Swansea-noted for a return visit.  
   Excellent coffee from this mobile cafe. 

   Dawn over the Mumbles courtesy of a 7am fire alarm caused by guest’s shower. Stuart wearing my bathrobe. 

This is the penultimate blog post for this trip, I have a gallery of photos from Wimborne, Dorset and Kingston Lacy Estate to share then there’ll be a pause while we regroup and work on our house build in Byron Bay.


It’s been another fantastic travel experience visiting places we’ve longed to go to for decades and revisiting favourite spots to see them dressed in different seasonal colours.


Over the past two months we’ve celebrated our son Tristan’s wedding in England, revisited Edinburgh, sampled St Petersburg, cruised, kayaked and walked in Norway, ducked into Helsinki, Tallinn and Stockholm and hiked with friends in the Italian Dolomites.


The grand finale was joining the other 67251 people in Cardiff’s Millenium Stadium yesterday. We were there to cheer on the Wallabies for their World Cup Rugby win against Fiji. After all the excitement we’re laying low in Wimborne, Dorset, spending time with family and friends before starting the long trek home Sunday.

  Cardiff embraces Rugby World Cup fans.  
First time I’ve seen a wine glass holder in a female toilet.

  Charles and Stuart in the Fanzone pre match.  
   The queue for Cardiff Central Station. We waited two hours for a train to Newport but others would have stood in a queue for much longer. Not good enough Cardiff. 

 I’ll miss my Welsh vegan breakfasts, so good.


3 Responses to “Wales: Seal Pups, Saints, Ponies, Coastal Walking, and World Cup Rugby 2015”

  1. neilson1 September 26, 2015 at 8:14 am #

    Well I have loved ‘travelling’ with you, but we miss your sunny smile. Welcome home. Cx

    • Sharon Tickle September 26, 2015 at 9:09 am #

      Looking forward to a big catch up Cassie. Mizu lunch! Will be in touch after tuesday. Sxx

  2. Linda September 26, 2015 at 8:48 am #

    My brother lives near Tenby, I love visiting, the beaches are beautiful and there is so much to see locally. Your photos are wonderful

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