We clamber down, change and leap into the pool. The shock soon passes – it is not that cold and the sun is threatening to appear. One of the marvels is the lip of smooth rock, a natural horizon pool that beats anything five-star hotels can offer. Maddy dons a facemask and snorkel and swims down to gaze at the barnacles, mussels and sea anemones that cling to the pool’s walls, a whole world, refreshed by the tide twice a day.
Sophie is enraptured. ‘Okay, I admit it – this beats anything I can remember from the West Coast – but comparisons are unfair. Big Sur is wild and magnificent too.’
We tear ourselves away to get to Rhossili for a surf lesson with the Welsh Surfing Federation, who give tuition in the bay, profits going to support the sport. There is a good crowd and the sun comes out. After a brief lesson on the sand, we head out into the breakers and within an hour some of us are standing up – for a few fractions of a second. It’s not much but the feeling is there – that glorious sense of catching a wave, rapidly followed by that sickening sense of falling sideways for an awkward submersion.
Nick, an instructor, tells me that he’s been watching the US surfing championships on satellite TV, live from Huntington Beach, California. ‘The water temperature there is lower than here,’ he says with a grin.
That evening we eat at Langland’s Brassiere in the Mumbles, an erstwhile fishing village but now more of an upmarket suburb of Swansea. We eat fish and watch kids in Bermuda shorts lighting a beach fire to warm up after surfing.
Next day we do some mountain biking in the deep forests of Brechfa and visit the home of Dylan Thomas at Laugharne. ‘Think of him as the Welsh beat,’ I advise Sophie, who gets totally absorbed in reading Thomas’s epic lines in the man’s own parlour.
By late afternoon we are heading further west into Pembrokeshire, out past St David’s, Britain’s smallest city, and on the north coast’s idyllic coves. The visitors here have usually been coming for years and don’t want to go anywhere else. This is Britain’s far west, and unlike the American variety, it feels undiscovered. Londoners don’t drive this far, preferring to head for Cornwall, and the result is that you can wander down to a beach such as Mwnt and suddenly find, as we did on a balmy August evening, that you have the place to yourself.
‘In summer,’ says Sophie, laughing, ‘this place must be totally packed.’
‘It is summer, my dear. Shall I book the tickets for California?’
We walk out into the shallows. ‘No rush,’ she says, ‘isn’t there another cove to explore just over that hill?’