It was nice to have a couple of days with my Oliver and Laura. Fran from Montrose was also staying for the weekend, ahead of a course in Cardiff. We ate lots of food, watched some rugby and went for a walk on the beach at Ogmore, near Porthcawl. Oliver and I did some stone skimming and fossil hunting.
After some debate, the concensus of opinion was that I wouldn’t be able to wade across the Ogmore River on Tuesday and would have to walk inland to the bridge.
Our walk ended with an excellent pie and chips at the nearby pub called The Pelican in her Piety.
I awoke to rain pattering on Pippa’s cabin. After tea and poached eggs on toast and more chatting it was after 10 am before I left. It was still raining.
I walked back through Southgate to the cliffs and then along to Pwlldu. The cliffs were beautiful, even in the rain. Pwlldu beach had a house built behind the shingle with a track through a ford to reach it.
As I approached Mumbles, Caswell and Langland Bays both gave the impression they were very popular tourist beaches. Caswell in particular was a lovely big, sandy beach.
Mumbles Head was a bit of a disappointment as there were lots of workmen and barriers (it looked like they were doing something to a tunnel through the cliff), and the weather was such that I could barely see the lighthouse, never mind any views across to Devon.
I carried on into the town and stopped at one of the many, many cafes. Apparently Mumbles used to be an oyster town, but they weren’t on any menu I saw. I picked well as lunch at the Kitchen Table was very nice and gave me a chance to dry off. The rain wasn’t heavy, just persistent.
Swansea Bay was big and had a promenade all the way around it, much of it with a fitness trail. It looked like a lot of effort had gone into improving the sea front.
I walked along Marine Walk as far as the Swansea Marina and then headed into the centre of Swansea to the train station. I passed Swansea Castle, built in 1290. This is not the original one that was built by the first Lord of Gower in 1106.
I caught the train to Cardiff for a weekend with my brother and his wife.
A darker, cloudy sky today; no sun to be seen. It didn’t matter because I was still on a high from yesterday. I made my packeted porridge and ate it in the hostel lounge, staring out across Port-Eynon Bay.
I was on the road just after 8.30 am, heading across the beach to Horton and then past some big houses onto the cliff path. I noticed that my legs felt a bit tired today, which I put down to the last couple of days being quite long and strenuous. How fortunate then that I wasn’t going to walk so far today (not that I knew it at this point as I was aiming for Mumbles).
I made my way around Oxwich Point and Oxwich Beach came briefly into view before I was enveloped by trees. The path wound up and down through a lovely wood on the side of the cliff and I got a chance to admire the carpet of bluebells. I crossed paths with a lady who was also walking the whole of the British coast. Natalia had started walking clockwise from Durdle Door in February. She was on a very different walk to me as her 5-year old daughter had died 4 months ago and she was walking for charity, and through grief. She had a back-up team that arranged people for Natalia to walk and stay with, so she wasn’t carrying a tent. We wished each other well and swapped website addresses; hers is http://www.elizabethsfootprint.com.
St Iltyd’s Church is buried in the wood, barely visible from the beach. Noting the saint’s name I wondered if I was still on some sort of pilgrims’ path?I dropped out of the wood onto Oxwich Beach, a long stretch of golden sand with huge dunes behind. In the middle of the beach I had to head into the dunes to cross a small river via a bridge. I stopped here for a short break and to eat something (porridge makes me hungry!). Then I stuck on the path, through the dunes and up the cliff. I found a brilliant rope swing and stopped to play on it for a bit.
I rounded the small headland to overlook Threecliff Bay; wow. What a stunning sight, with Pennard Pill meandering down the beach and the cliffs protruding into it. I thought it looked quite magical. (It also looked like the path did a lot of serious up and down.)
I kept stopping to admire the view from different angles as I made my way into the beach and across the stepping stones bridging the Pill. Pennard Castle was visible high on the cliff.Someone had lit a fire on the shingle and I walked towards it. Two ladies walking their dogs also gravitated towards the fire (I thought they’d put it but they hadn’t). We got chatting and they were both local. After 5 minutes Pippa had offered me a bed for the night just up on the cliff in Sandy Lane. It was too good an offer to refuse as my legs were tired and, unusually, I hadn’t got a plan for my accommodation that evening. It seemed like it was meant to be so I gratefully accepted the offer. Pippa advised that I walk up to Southgate, stop at Pennard Stores cafe, and then walk on to her house as a nice end to my walk. I took her advice and climbed the steep cliff off the beach.
There is some serious money in Southgate and some very large houses. I only had eyes for the homemade cake in the cafe and spent a happy couple of hours reading the paper and relaxing. I bought Pippa some cake and a bottle of wine and headed across the golf course to Sandy Lane.
Sandy Lane grew up as prefabs during the War and is still made up mostly of wooden chalets. It had quite a hippy feel to it. Pippa’s chalet was amazing; she is an artist and, along with her friend who is a builder, had recently done it up, complete with lots of quirky features (like bent tea strainers as kitchen cupboard handles). She will be renting it out in the summer as a holiday let (Gower getaways – Windyhill) and will live in the cabin in the garden (my bed for the night).
Pippa and one of her neighbour’s were going to the gym this evening so I went with them and had an evening relaxing in the pool, sauna and steam room. After that Pippa and I went to the pub for dinner and I didn’t get to bed until after midnight. I meet some wonderful people on this trip!
The forecast promised a sunny day and it was delivered for my walk around the head of the Gower peninsula. I started with Whiteford Burrows; a spit of sand dunes and pine woods protecting Great Pill and the marshes from the Celtic Sea.
Unsurprisingly, the wind picked up as I walked further out but it was beautiful. I wasn’t alone though; an army EOD team was out to destroy some WW2 ordnance (this area used to be a military range).
When I reached Whiteford Point I got a great view of the iron lighthouse, built a mile offshore in 1865 and the only one of its kind in Europe.
I jumped down the lovely dunes and began my long walk along Whiteford Sands and then across Broughton Bay to the point at Burry Holms.
I climbed onto the cliff top at Broughton Burrows (a cliff top covered in sand dunes) and walked around the corner to face Rhossili Bay. What a beautiful beach.
I walked halfway along the golden sand until I reached Hillend, where I walked past the deserted camping fields and climbed up onto Rhossili Down. The coast path actually goes along the base of the Down but on such a glorious day I wanted the views from the top.
It was a perfect day for enjoying fantastic views from Rhossili Down. I could see across the whole of Carmarthen Bay and beyond. I could see St Govan’s Head at the Bay’s Northern tip, Worms Head at the Southern tip, and across the Bristol Channel to Lundy Island and North Devon. It was breathtaking. It was windy on the top but worth the extra effort. It was early afternoon when I dropped down into Rhossili so I stopped for a quick coffee. I only had a short rest (out of the sun as I was a bit worried I was going to get sunburn or even sunstroke) I carried on to the Lookout Station opposite Worms Head. Here was a good spot to sit and enjoy the rest of yesterday’s picnic from the supermarket.
The tide was coming in so I was too late to walk onto Worms Head itself; I was quite happy just admiring it from the headland.
I still had a 7-mile walk along the spectacular cliff top to Port Eynon. This day had everything!
I passed a couple of forts on the cliffs, where circular earth walls and ditches were still clearly visible. There are lots of caves on this section of the cliffs but I didn’t climb down and explore any as I have done that before when visiting as a child. Culver Hole is the well-known man-made cave near Port-Eynon Point and was probably used by smugglers. (The small village of Port Eynon once had 8 Excise men stationed there.)
I rounded Port-Eynon Point and dropped down off the cliff by the remains of The Salt House, a 16th Century mansion built for the smuggler John Lucas. I passed through the beach-side campsite and stopped at The old lifeboat house that is now a youth hostel. Such an amazing location right on the beach and I had the best bedroom, overlooking the sea.
Diane, the hostel warden, was lovely and we spent ages chatting. She recommended the local pub for dinner and I enjoyed a lovely fish and chip supper. A great end to an amazing day.
A big breakfast set me on my way for the second half of the Millenium Coastal Park.
Llanelli seems to be expanding and regenerating; I counted 3 new housing estates fronting onto the Loughor Estuary. In the 19th Century Machynys (translated to mean Monk’s Island, even though it’s not an island but there might have been a monastery here to St Piro) was the industrial heart of Llanelli. According to what I read there had been 3 iron foundaries 3 chemical works, steel and tinplate works, a brickworks and of course the floating dock and railway line to deal with all of the industry and the output from the coalfields further up the valley. Now the land has been regenerated and there is a golf course and the Millenium Coastal Park. Indeed the golf course was on the site of a former village, Bwlch y Gwynt, that was cleared for regeneration in 1973, signifying the loss of a community (although the football team is still going).
There is a lot of marshland either side of the Loughor Estuary, and the Llanelli side has an area set aside for a Wildlife and Wetlands Centre. I really needed the loo and so headed to the centre to use the facilities. Fortunately no one noticed me walk in because it was only when I exited that I realised I should have paid to go in the place. They have a really good lookout across the marsh and there were lots of birds to watch.
I crossed the Loughor Bridge, left Carmarthenshire behind and entered Swansea and The Gower.
The path headed inland slightly, following the Gower Trail, to skirt the marshes. A few muddy fields later and I was in Crofty, where I stopped at the CKs supermarket to get some lunch.
As the tide was out I was able to walk the low road that skirts the edge of Llanrhidian Marsh. I stopped at a pub in Llanrhidian for a coffee, but it wasn’t the one with the Gower Brewery.
The sun came out as I neared my destination and I had good views across the Loughor to Burry Port and Pembroke. The marshes reminded me of Cumbria, except instead of cattle grazing there were horses roaming these marshes.
Just before Whiteford Burrows, a sandy and woody spit at the entrance to the estuary, I headed up the hill to Llanmadoc and my lovely accommodation. I had decided not to camp because the only campsite had such terrible reviews that I didn’t want to give my money to the owners (the B&B owners later confirmed their bad reputation). After such a long day I felt I deserved my pint of Gower Gold and an amazing Welsh lamb dinner.
I was up early and keen to leave. I had discovered there was a bus from the end of the road into Carmarthen, which would save me a road walk. I caught the bus. Driving into Carmarthen I was struck by the amazing sports facilities – a running track, rugby pitches, indoor rugby training facility and more.
I had intended to catch a train from Carmarthen to Kidwelly as the train line runs next to the coast, whereas the path takes you inland (presumably to avoid the train). I had a long enough gap between bus and train to get a coffee and a bacon and egg sandwich for breakfast. I contemplated hanging around in Carmarthen for a couple of hours and getting the next train (they come at 2 hour intervals) but the man in the cafe suggested there wasn’t much to see in Carmarthen, just the Roman amphitheatre, which apparently takes 3 seconds. However, when I said I was heading for Llanelli he suggested I stay in Carmarthen.
I caught the early train and watched the Afon Tywi go by out of the window.
Kidwelly is a small town “dominated by its castle”. I couldn’t see the castle, I think it was hidden amongst the houses and, having seen enough castles recently, I didn’t bother to hunt for it.
My walk began by following the 3-mile long Kymer’s Canal. It was built in 1768 to connect Kidwelly Quay with the collieries in the Gwendraeth Fawr valley and was Wales’ earliest industrial canal. It looks very small now.
I walked passed Pembrey airfield, through Pembrey Forest and popped out on Cefn Sidan Sands; 8 miles of golden sand and fantastic views of Carmarthen Bay and the Gower peninsula.
At the end of the beach is Pembrey Country Park, on the site of the former Pembrey Royal Ordnance Factory (which apparently suffered the first bombing raid of “The Blitz”). It provides lots of leisure activities, from Segway to skiing!
The next 21 km, from Pembrey to the Loughor Bridge, would be through the Millenium Coastal Park. This park seems to have been created to fill the gap left behind by all the heavy industry that used to be on the North bank of the Loughor Estuary.
I made my way past Burry Port (built to take over the coal export duties from Kidwelly and Pembrey in the 1830s) and into Llanelli.
I stopped to admire the rugby posts, complete with model of Phil Bennett evading an All Black, that have been sited to commemorate the Scarlet’s old ground, Stradey Park (now a housing estate). An old man started talking to me about it and was impressed I knew of Phil Bennett. He loved Llanelli a lot more than the man in the cafe this morning; he told me he has a caravan at Wiseman’s Bridge but after a few nights there he has to come home because he misses it.
Ironically, the old man had initially stopped me to ask why I wasn’t cold (wearing only shorts and a t-shirt) and, after 20 minutes talking to him as the wind picked up, I was now freezing. I only had a mile to go, past the Water Park (on the site of the old Llanelly Steel Works) and into town. How pleasant to be staying somewhere clean. I didn’t go out for the evening as I was able to get a homemade curry at the guest house.
Thanks to a trip to Caldey Island and a couple of days off, not so many miles covered this week. For the second time in as many weeks my initial attempt to catch a ferry was thwarted by poor weather. Despite this, once again I was able to delay a day and it was worth it to see Caldey Island in the sunshine.
In other areas luck has been on my side, from meeting George and Emma at Chapel Hill Fort to arriving at Amroth at the right time.
I learnt that South-facing coastline of Pembrokeshire has almost all of the county’s sandy beaches, but that doesn’t mean the cliffs are any less up and down!
This week I also saw a herring gull with a broken wing (he was hopping to avoid me), an injured raven who looked like he’d flown into a bush and was rather bloody, and I found a dead fish on a beach.
It wasn’t even 7 am when Sally dropped me off at Laugharne (pronounced Larne) and it was freezing; there was frost on the ground. Still, that’s not a good enough reason not to wear shorts, especially as the sky was bright blue and the sun was rising.
I stood at the base of Laugharne Castle and ate my breakfast (egg sandwiches) while shivering and admiring the wonderful view down the Taf Estuary.
Laugharne makes much of being the home town of Dylan Thomas and his family 1949-53. I was completely alone wandering around early on a Sunday morning. I checked out The Boathouse, where Dylan Thomas lived, and his writing shed, which has been decked out as it might have been. I even found his grave in the churchyard.
If he experienced such beautiful mornings as this, in such a wonderful, peaceful setting, then I’m not surprised he was inspired to write poetry. It was a magical moment in time.
By the time I reached St Clears I had just about thawed out, removed my fleece and added sunglasses and suncream. I crossed the Afon Taf and headed back down the other side, mostly following (albeit backwards) the pilgrimage route from Carmarthen to St David’s.
Wharley Point stands at the confluence of the rivers Taf and Tywi, and the views from this point were magnificent. Pendine Sands was just across the river Taf and I could see all the way SW to Caldey Island and SE to Worms Head.
I had been fighting a hangover all day and so, when I walked into Llansteffan at 2 pm I stopped at the Inn at the Sticks (named after an area of woodland called the sticks where locals used to meet to sit on benches, gossip and enjoy the view across the Afon Tywi). Their roast beef dinner was just the ticket.
It was only a short hop from Llansteffan to my budget accommodation (there aren’t many campsites around here).
The International Hostel at Pant Yr Athro was an interesting place. It was within a cluster of dwellings that included a posh hotel, stables and a chalet village; an eclectic mix. The hostel was dressed up as a Mexican bar…I couldn’t work that one out. The manager was very nice but I’m not sure he’s very good at cleaning. Lucky I was too tired to bother.
Sally was in Cardiff so popped over to see me and it was a good excuse for a couple of days off. My spare time was easily filled with some sightseeing (back to Tenby and Pendine Sands), lots of eating and some drinking. The Saturday newspaper contained an article on places to eat by the coast and it featured a restaurant at Coppet Hall, Saundersfoot. So, after reading about it we tried it out, and I can thoroughly recommend Coast for some top quality food.
It was a bit cold for swimming in the sea so we just admired the views from Pendine.