I made it back to England! Hard to believe that I’ve completed Scotland and Wales now. I feel like I’m on the homeward leg, even though there’s still a long way to go.
A lot of miles in a short week – no wonder my feet were sore in my new boots!
What a hot and sunny week; the temperatures were way above average for the time of year. Very little wind all week (except on the hill tops) so it has made for some sweaty walking conditions.
This week has been spent skirting the edge of the Severn Estuary, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It is made up of an intertidal zone of mudflats, sand banks, rocky platforms and saltmarsh, and I’ve seen it all.
The estuary has an immense tidal range (second biggest in the world) and a classic funnel shape that makes it unique in Britain and very rare worldwide. I have seen lots of wildlife (butterflies and insects as well as birds) and passed several reserves created to watch it. The birds clearly find the mudflats and the dirty-brown water more appealing than me. I did see first hand just how great is the tidal range. Certainly, around Weston-Super-Mare, Brean and Burnham-on-Sea (what a misnomer!) I often couldn’t see the water.
Such a beautiful morning, very sunny but then it got mistier as we approached the Severn Estuary. Oliver dropped me back at Caldicot and I got straight on the coast path, crossed the M4, and headed for the new Severn Bridge. It didn’t take long for the most to burn off.
I passed underneath the first bridge (built in 1996) and immediately came upon the village of Sudbrook; built to house workers constructing the Severn railway tunnel 1873-86. It took 3000 men to build this 4-mile long tunnel. The original pumping station is still in use.
Black Rock picnic area is the site of the only remaining lave net heritage fishery. People wade out into the Severn and catch salmon in nets that look like a bigger version of one a child would use.
I could see the old Severn Bridge; a bit hazy in the bright sun.
I started walking along the estuary towards it but soon the path veered inland across farmers’ fields. One farmer was out sheering his sheep, blocking a gate I needed to get through. He was very friendly and rounded his sheep up into a smaller pen to allow me to get past. It was only after I’d gone past that I realised I was on the wrong path. Oops. Well I couldn’t go back so I had to adjust my route slightly but it wasn’t a problem.
I walked through the village of Mathern, with its statue of the Celtic King Tewdrig of Gwent. He defeated the Saxons in battle near Tintern but was mortally wounded and died on his journey to Flat Holm. Mathern Church was built where he died and the village grew up around it.
I made it to the bridge. A magnificent suspension bridge opened in 1966, a long time after the train tunnel. I walked across it and into England. (It’s actually 4 bridges.)
I noted that the sun was shining and hoped that was a good portent as it rained on me when I reached Scotland, was sunny when I crossed from Scotland to England, and grey when I entered Wales. Those initial weather signs would each be good descriptors for the weather I encountered afterwards. I hope it’s the same this time!
I walked across the M48 tolls and into the service station, where I sat down to wait for people to join me for my first walk in England. My ex-friend, Sally, had written to the Radio 4 Ramblings programme and so Clare Balding and her producer, Lucy, were coming to walk with me. I was not looking forward to it and had roped in Laura to join us.
After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing with cars we all set off from Aust to an industrial estate on the outskirts of Avonmouth. We were following the Severn Way Path so that made navigation a bit easier having left the Wales Coast Path behind.
It turned out to be a really fun afternoon and they were good company.
It remained sunny all afternoon as we walked along the estuary, past Severn Beach and under the M4 bridge (for the second time today).
Because of the uncertainty of today I had arranged to spend one last night with Oli and Laura, so I was driven back into Wales one last time. Laura and I went straight to the park for an icecream to celebrate a fun afternoon.
Oliver kindly dropped me off just on the outskirts of Newport, by the power station. It was early.
Just past the power station was Newport Wetlands Reserve and I walked through it early in the morning all on my own.
It was a lovely place; reedbeds in old lagoons that were once used to dump coal ash from the power station. It was beautiful and peaceful. I heard the boom of a bittern and saw a bearded tit.
The Reserve stretched quite a long way and along the bank of the estuary. I had to walk inland to Goldcliff in order to get around Chapel Pill and then I walked past the Goldcliff Lagoons. I stopped at one of the bird hides and found a ranger inside. We got chatting as we watched the waders and he lent me his telescope. He was watching for crows and buzzards because last year these predators killed all the avocet, lapwing and redshank chicks. I helped look for crows and, when two appeared, the ranger got out his laser to annoy the crows and cause them to fly off.
I made it back onto the sea wall and it wasn’t long before I got my first glimpse of the new Severn Bridge.
Nearly there, nearly made it around Wales. First I had to cross the M4 a couple of times and get the train back to Cardiff from Caldicot.
Easy walking and planning this week as I was hosted by Oliver and Laura all week (and Meirion and Ann on Monday night). This meant I carried a light pack all week and dispensed with my walking poles.
Strange weather this week. Fortunately I didn’t see the snow that lots of the UK received, but I did have my fair share of rain and hail. None of it dampened my enthusiasm for the walks though.
My favourite section of the week was the Blue Lias cliffs of the Glamorgan Heritage Coast; simply stunning. I also like Cardiff Bay and it was nice to share walking the Newport Transporter Bridge with Oli.
I spent all week alongside the Bristol Channel staring across at North Devon. The Severn Estuary does seem to extend out a long way and is muddy brown; rather different from the blue sea of last week. The channel was clearly well defended during WW2 as I have passed lots of pill boxes this week.
An opportunity to spend the Bank Holiday weekend with Oli and Laura was not to be missed. Besides, it rained pretty much non-stop from Saturday evening onwards.
Lots of eating, some drinking and plenty of relaxing. I took the time to go shopping in Cardiff for new boots (the same ones as my previous two pairs). The pair I got in August were cracking around the toe joint (a recurring issue) so I managed to get them replaced, despite the obvious wear. I had my feet measured again in Cotswold Outdoor and this time I left with a size bigger as the assistant was convinced mine were too small. So now I have size 8 boots (or boats!), and I wear size 6.5 shoes. I also replaced my inner and outer socks and my superfeet insoles; the only thing I didn’t replace was my feet!
Oliver cooked me a bacon and egg sandwich and then drove me back to the sea wall leading from Cardiff to Newport. What a great brother I’ve got!
The weather was very changeable today, bright sunshine interspersed with heavy showers. I survived 3 such showers without getting wet. The first came after only 5 minutes of walking and I was just by a cafe so I ran inside and had a coffee.
The sea wall reminded me of Essex and the low lying land with ditches was rather like the Norfolk Fens; there even seem to be a smattering of Dutch names!
West Usk lighthouse marked the turn inland up the Ebbw River. I had to run to the lighthouse and take cover behind a wall from the second downpour.
The next bit of the path was completely blocked by a herd of about 50 cows and a bull. Only one thing for it, I tried to look big and shoo them all away. Scary, but I managed it and then I walked very quickly around the path to get away from them.
I arrived in the outskirts of Newport and survived my third shower standing behind a tree. I don’t think the path went through the best bits of town, at least I hope it didn’t.
I arrived at the Newport Transporter Bridge and went into the small visitor centre. Having been on the Middlesborough Transporter Bridge already on my trip I was keen to go on this one, the only other working transporter bridge in the UK and one of only 6 worldwide (only 20 were ever built).
The Newport Bridge is even older than the Middlesborough one. It was built in 1906 and then restored and reopened in 1995. It crosses the River Usk and was built to ferry the workers to the steel plant.
Before I crossed the bridge, first I was meeting Chris and Ginny for lunch at one of the old pubs next door, The Waterloo. It was great to catch up with Chris.
After lunch I met Oliver and we climbed up the Transporter Bridge together and walked across the top platform. Once on the other side we caught the gondola back across the River Usk. We were lucky that the views were great this afternoon.
I caught the train from Cardiff Central to Cadoxton, a suburb of Barry. I still had to walk through the suburbs and around the chemical works to Sully Bay.
The coast path ran past the edges of suburban gardens and was way marked by stones with various little mosaics telling the story of Sully. The beach was made up of vegetated shingle, which is apparently quite rare.
At Swanbridge I stopped for a 2nd breakfast overlooking Sully Island. The tide was in so no chance of walking to it.
On the way to Lavernock I passed an old WW2 anti-aircraft battery; unsurprising set in a location with great views.
At the church in this tiny village there was a plaque commemorating the first radio transmissions across water that were made by Marconi, who was based at Lavernock. In 1897 he received a message at Laverock that was sent from Flat Holm.
From Lavernock Point it was a short walk to Penarth, with its big houses on the cliff top and a pier on the small sea front.
Back up the hill to Penarth Head and some great views across the Bristol Channel, taking in the islands, and also over Cardiff Bay.
I dropped down to Cardiff Bay and walked across the Cardiff Bay Barrage. What a feat of engineering. It was built 1994-99 to create a freshwater bay and it certainly seems to have created a busy and well used environment.
One of the barrage sections was drained for repair and the South Wales Fire Service were carrying out some training.
The East side of Cardiff Bay was busy, with people and lots of fantastic buildings. I walked past the Welsh Assembly and along Roald Dahl Plas.
Cardiff Bay very much celebrates being the home of Roald Dahl (he was Christened in the Norwegian Church) and being the start point for Scott’s voyage to the Antarctic in 1910. I was mildly amused to note the lovely mosaic memorial to Scott and his colleagues is located directly in front of the Norwegian Church!
From Cardiff Bay the coast path wends its way alongside a small canal flanked by houses and apartments (I saw grebes and coots with their chicks). After that the walk was best forgotten.
I spent a good hour walking alongside a busy road through a series of industrial estates and then, when I reached the water’s edge, it was only to walk past a sewage works and various other nasty sites. I walked past 2 landfill sites, although it seemed more like I was walking through and over them. It wasn’t pleasant walking and the smell was horrible. There was one small settlement of chalets that I walked past and they were surrounded by rubbish and various animals, including horses standing in muck and mud. It was all very sad, and smelly.
I had to walk up and down the banks of the Rhymney River to escape, and even the river was muddy and filled with rubbish and tyres.
Finally I reached the sea wall, just as the wind picked up. Walking along it reminded me of Essex all that time ago; walking atop a big grassy bank designed to hold back the tide.
When I reached the Cardiff/Newport border I phoned Oliver (who had offered to pick me up) and headed into the road. I had seen 2 sides of Cardiff today.
I was up early to catch the bus into the centre of Cardiff and then the train to Llantwit Major, named after St Illtud who founded a college and a monastery here in 393AD.
I stopped for a coffee at the velo cafe in the old part of town. Fuelled on caffeine I headed out to the coast. It was a lovely morning, the sun was shining and there was very little wind. Consequently I had an excellent view across the Bristol Channel to North Devon.
My walk to Aberthaw was nice, mostly along the cliff and then a stretch at the back of a long, rocky beach covered in anti-tank defences (known as Dragons’ teeth around here).
Unfortunately, while I was bathed in sunshine I could see a huge dark cloud looming over Aberthaw Power Station (all power stations seem to have dark, moody skies over them). With a lack of wind the rain clouds just didn’t seem to be moving.
Aberthaw has a biodiversity area, created by the power station, not only with finance but also by providing a tropical environment! Apparently Bass and Smoothound Sharks come here to breed in the warm water.
I had only just climbed the cliff out of Aberthaw when the first hailstorm hit me. I managed to get my waterproof jacket on but didn’t bother with the trousers and just accepted I was going to get soaked. For the next 3 hours the weather alternated between hail and heavy rain, and the temperature seemed to drop by about 10 degrees. All the time I could see Devon bathed in sunshine!
I walked past RAF St Athan (now Cardiff Airport) at Rhoose. Rhoose Point had a sign telling me I had reached the southernmost point of mainland Wales. This old quarry filled with new houses seemed like a desolate place in the pouring rain. I needed a cafe to dry off.
I was thoroughly soaked by the time I reached Porthkerry Country Park. I stopped at the cafe for a cake and a break from the rain so I could swap maps and add a layer.
The rain eased slightly as I arrived in Barry. I stood on the cliff and surveyed Cold Knap Point and Barry Island.
As the tide was out I walked across the sand/mud to Barry Island.
Whitmore Bay was just around Friars Point and there I came face to face with the famous Barry Island Pleasure Park. It looked a bit sad without any people and only a few places were open. I didn’t stop.
On the other side of the island are the docks and a view of Barry Power Station.
The sky was black over Barry so I hurried on, keen to cross the bridge and get to the train station before I got drenched again. I almost made it.
I sat at Barry station and watched the heaviest downpour. Everyone was shivering in the cold. The sun was out when I arrived back in Cardiff!
Many thanks to Ann and Meirion for looking after me. Meirion gave me a lift down to Sandy Bay and I walked past the funfair and all along the beaches of Sandy Bay, Trecco Bay and the edge of the Merthyr-mawr Warren Nature Reserve. It was high tide so there wasn’t much beach but lots of shingle.
I reached the Ogmore River and had to divert inland, through the Merthyr-mawr dunes (apparently the 2nd highest in Europe), around the sewage works hidden in the trees, past the remains of Candleston Castle, to the village of Merthyr Mawr.
It was a lovely walk and very quiet. Merthyr Mawr was very picturesque with its thatched cottages and church surrounded by a carpet of bluebells on the banks of the river.
I crossed two bridges to Ogmore, which also meant I was now in Glamorgan. I found myself back at The Pelican pub (too early for lunch!) and alongside Ogmore Castle (another Norman Castle built 1116).
It didn’t take quite so long to walk the road down to Ogmore-by-Sea and then I was back on cliffs.
I walked along to Southerndown and stopped at the pub there for lunch. The wind was picking up and I could see squalls of rain that kept just missing me.
A huge sausage sandwich later and I felt invigorated and ready to carry on. It was very windy and at times I felt like my rucksack was being ripped off my back. Great fun walking along some very exposed cliff tops with no fencing and lots of cliff falls.
The Glamorgan Heritage Coast has the 2nd biggest tidal range in the World. I was glad that I had stopped for lunch because the walk from Dunraven Bay to Nash Point should be done at low tide. I would have been possible to walk the whole way on the beach; however, I stayed on the cliff top and was rewarded with some spectacular views of the rock formations.
Dunraven Bay used to have a huge mansion house but it was demolished in the 1960s as it became unaffordable. There is a small heritage centre there and walks through the gardens. The beach has lots of large rocks on it known as ‘dancing stones’. It was very noisy as a coastguard helicopter was practising something around the cliffs of Witches Nose, the bit that sticks out at Dunraven.
The Blue Lias cliffs on this stretch of Glamorgan coast are spectacular. They are formed by layers of limestone and shale, and they captivated me. Around every turn the cliffs, and the flat rocks on the beaches below, gave another dramatic view.
I rounded Nash Point, which has 2 lighthouses (one not used), and arrived at St Donat’s Bay.
This was a strange place; concrete castle-like walls the length of the small bay to keep the public out. I could see an outdoor swimming pool behind the walls and it looked like some sort of activity centre. To get to the town behind I can only assume one must walk through the small wood on the side of the cliff?
I reached the cliff top overlooking Col-huw Point, the spit of shingle that forms Llantwit Major’s beach.
Here I headed into the, larger than I expected, town to catch the train back to Cardiff. Llantwit Major certainly seemed like a thriving community with lots of shops, several pubs and a lovely old centre.
I caught a bus into the centre of Cardiff and then a train to Baglan, saving me a walk out of Swansea and across the River Neath. I made my way through Sandfields housing estate to the waterfront at Aberavon Sands.
At the end of the promenade is Aberavon Beach, which is lovely, except for being right next to the docks servicing Port Talbot steel factory.
The path turned inland to skirt the docks and the steel works, and I spent the next couple of hours mostly walking next to a main road, sandwiched between the M4 and the factories. It was not the most exciting walk.
Eventually, after another roundabout, I turned away from the main road and across several railway lines at the end of their tracks. Suddenly I entered a sand dune and wetland wilderness.
It was a long walk along the soft sandy paths through Kenfig National Nature Reserve. A wild place next to all the industry. I didn’t see much wildlife though, mainly geese and skylarks.
I approached Porthcawl via Rest Bay, which I later found out is significantly lower and has less sand than before the 2013 storms.
Porthcawl seems like a nice town, originally developed around a small harbour to service the iron and coal industries of the valleys and now a seaside resort. I walked along Lock’s Common and the esplanade, with its 1932 Grand Pavillion, and out to Porthcawl Point.
I noticed the plaque on the wall commemorating the first Porthcawl Annual Christmas Day swim that has been running since 1965.
I had a lovely evening with my friend Al’s parents. Meirion and Ann really looked after me and made me feel very welcome.