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Stop 12 (730m) – St Ann’s Head Lighthouses – SM 806 029
St. Ann’s Head was once the location of a chapel built by Henry Tudor to mark his landing place. The chapel did not survive for long, and is known to have been derelict by 1600. It is thought that a primitive lighthouse consisting of a coal-fired brazier probably existed around this time.
Trinity House oversaw the building of two new lighthouses on the Head in 1714, consisting of a taller ‘high light’ and a ‘low light’ 200 metres away. In 1841 the ‘low light’ was rebuilt, under the supervision of John Knott, the senior lighthouse keeper with Trinity House. This is the modern functioning lighthouse, the last remaining shore-based lighthouse in Pembrokeshire. It was converted to mains electricity in 1958, and automated in 1998.
The footpath across the field takes you quite close to the new lighthouse buildings, although there is no public access to the site. The Coast Path continues along the metalled road past the old ‘high light’.
The ‘high light’ was decommissioned in 1910. Just before the Second World War its lantern was removed and a concrete observation room added on the top of the structure, after which it became the Milford Haven Fire Command Headquarters. During the war it acted as the Royal Navy’s Port War Signal Station, with the role of identifying any warships or submarines approaching Milford Haven. After the war it became the Coastguard Station. It is now used for holiday accommodation.
The round building halfway between the old and new lighthouses houses the foghorn. About 100 metres behind it is a helicopter-landing pad used for lighthouse maintenance operations, and beyond that, near the cliff edge, is a small square building that housed the original foghorn.
If you have a head for heights, you can walk along the path close to the old foghorn house and look out towards a cut into the Headland called Cobbler’s Hole. The rocks on the far side are deformed into down-folds (synclines) and up-folds (anticlines). This folding was caused by movement of plates in the Earth’s crust pushing against one another. In places you can see faults in the rocks – the folding has caused a fracture in the strata so that the beds on one side of the fault are displaced relative to the other.
On top of the Old Red Sandstone are layers of younger rocks – limestone, millstone grit and coal measures from the Carboniferous period (354 to 290 million years ago).
The Coast Path continues along the road towards a boundary wall that cuts off the headland. During the First World War St. Ann’s Head had a similar role to that in WW2, with an observation post looking out to sea. All evidence of WW1 artefacts has disappeared, except for holes cut into the boundary wall at intervals. These are rifle loopholes that would have been used to defend the Trinity House land from attack from the landward side. During the Second World War the defences were augmented by barbed wire and a minefield outside the boundary wall.
Follow the Coast Path through the entrance in the boundary wall and turn left through the gate.
The steep-sided inlet to the left is called the Vomit, named after the plumes of sea-spray that rush upwards from the inlet during westerly gales. The path follows close to the cliff edge for some distance. Take care along this stretch. Follow the signposted route, and make sure you stop when observing your surroundings.
You are now walking up the west coast of the peninsula. The vegetation here is different from that on the sheltered east coast. As discussed earlier there are no woods on this part of the coast, just short turf with a profusion of different low-growing species of flowering plants, and the occasional stunted wind-pruned tree.
The ornithologists among you will have plenty of species to look out for. As well as gulls, fulmars and jackdaws, look out for less common birds such as choughs, storm petrels, buzzards and wheatears that make an appearance around St. Ann’s Head. Porpoises and dolphins are also regularly spotted off the Head.
The next stop is some distance ahead, but there is plenty of natural history for you to enjoy as you walk along the cliff path.