Day 112 – Llansteffan to Talacharn/Laugharne 9 June 2019

Day 112 – Llansteffan to Talacharn/Laugharne 9 June 2019

I am so glad to have met James and Anita. Apart from them being extremely interesting and nice people, we were able to circumvent the difficulties of Sunday public transport in Wales. There is a ferry from Glan-y-fferri (who’d have thought?) to Llansteffan, so we decided to begin walking there, and left one car at Talcharn/Laugharne, underneath the imposing Anglo-Norman castle. The countryside is littered with these twelfth-century strongholds, built by the Marcher lords who had licence from William the Conqueror to take as much land from the Welsh as they could and hold it on terms much less onerous than the land they held from him in England. Talacharn castle is more-or-less opposite Cydweli, where we had tea yesterday. The pair of fortresses guard the entrance to the Tywi estuary.

Llansteffan is a lovely little village. We arrived about 9am and set off towards the shore. We agreed to walk separately, as I am slower, and it is very tiring to walk at someone else’s pace. Just as we left the village, we could hear the church bells ringing and see yet another castle.

Church at Llansteffan

The sky was blue, the view over the estuary was amazing, across Cefn Sidan, all the way back to Llanmadoc, and the Worm’s Head beyond. The path starts by running through woodland – my favourite kind of walking – woodland overlooking the sea.

Woodland near Llansteffan

After a couple of miles, the track turns inland, up yet another estuary – this time the Tâf. The walk was largely uneventful – more road walking than is entirely pleasant, my knees do not respond well to tarmac. The poles seem to help, though. By and large, the signposting is good. Carmarthen, like Newport, has the tops of the fingerposts in bright yellow, which helps. I admired a flock of domestic ducks in one field (although Anita told me later they were geese). Surrounded by buttercups they had the air of an advertisement for wholesome food.

Passing that farmhouse, the signage was not brilliant. One gets the impression that some of the landowners are not that happy to have the Coastal Path traversing their fields – poor signs, unoiled gates, bullocks in the field etc, often give the impression that walkers are not welcome. I cannot help thinking that they get the money, so should be a little more accommodating. Of course, many farms are well-arranged for walkers.

Ducks or geese, on a farm near Tâf estuary.

Having looked at the map, it seemed to me that a short-cut was possible – rather than following the official path for about a mile, another public footpath served as one side of a triangle. Sadly, short cuts always mean long delays. The field, although a public footpath, was wall-to-wall bovines. Not just a few, but scores.  All far too interested in me. I trekked to the side of them, and entered another field – I could see the path about 200 yards away, but there was no way out of the field without going through the cattle. I turned back and took the official route. It went through another cattle field, but they were tucked into one corner, and rather more docile. I crossed a couple more fields, lots of grass, presumably for sileage, and sat down to eat my lunch. I discovered later that James and Anita had stopped in exactly the same spot!  Several fields later, the path decanted onto a minor road. As I turned left, I could hear ferocious barking.

Dogs, unlike cattle, do not bother me, but the two that came trotting out of a farm yard, onto the public highway were ugly customers. One was a labrador, normally a docile breed, and the other a collie. They were not docile at all. They barked and snarled and circled me. The worst thing is to show fear, so I breathed slowly and began talking to them,  in both English and Welsh, although I kept my poles in front of me. The lab looked as though she might have pupped recently, so perhaps she was feeling protective.  I struggled to pass them.  Then they began to calm down as I kept talking as soothingly as I could. The lab came close and wagged her tail, but I was not going to fall for that and try to pat her.  I hit on the idea of throwing the apple I had been eating, in the hope they would bound off, but only one fell for it – I was now trapped with one in front and one behind. Not such a good plan. They then bounced ahead and to my left. I hurried past and arrived at a farm gate. Clearly, I had missed the path. A young girl pointed in the right direction (the opening the dogs had shot down). I thanked her, and observed that the dogs were rather fierce to be allowed out on the road, but she obviously could not care less.  The brutes had raced off by now, but I was glad to nip down the path and clang the kissing gate firmly behind me. More open fields took me into St Clears. There was a lot of interesting information about the industrial past of the estuary – it is almost impossible to imagine these quiet, rural areas as once having been hives of industry.

The path runs alongside the main road, but a lot of effort has been made to keep the track safely behind the hedge. It then diverts through more fields, used for trail bikes, it seems, and then some of the loveliest fields of the day. I suppose they are ‘set-aside’ land, as they were brimming with wildflowers – buttercups, grasses, yellow-rattle, flag-Iris, red and white clover, all a-buzz with insects, including bright blue damsel fly-type things, bees, butterflies (although not so many of them as you might expect). Butterfly in Welsh is pili-pala – one of my favourite words.

Set aside farmland, near St Clears, full of flowers and grasses.

Passing through several fields, you could tell which had been set-aside longer, and which were perhaps in the first season. There was another strip of woodland, overlooking the estuary, then down a lovely green-lane, before entering the well-kempt wood just north-east of Talacharn, which is, of course, famous for Dylan Thomas having lived there. I know it is sacrilege, but he is not one of my favourite authors, so I did not detour to see his writing shed.

Carmarthen Bay, near Talacharn.

I arrived back under the castle at about 4.30.  Most of the tea-shops were no longer serving. Query, why would you turn away custom on a sunny Sunday in June?  The season is not that long, surely you want to make as much as you can?  One was open, offering an interesting fusion – Asian street-food and tea and cake. Excellent lemon drizzle. Knees a bit grumpy after so much road walking.

Cat has returned, having ignored me last night. Unusually for me, I have a massive blister, just where my right instep meets my heel – my sock must have got a fold in it.  Shan’t be bursting it though. Hopefully, it will subside overnight.

Total distance 14.2 miles, and gorgeous weather.  Another Silver day – perfection marred by the quantity of road walking.

Day 111 Penbre/Burry Port to Glan-y-Fferri 8 June 2019

Day 111 Penbre/Burry Port to Glan-y-Fferri 8 June 2019

The rain last night was so bad that I let Cat in. I was firm with him: 1. He had to go out when it stopped raining, 2. He had to go out when I went to bed, regardless of the weather. 3. I would not feed him. 4. He definitely was not allowed into the main bed-sitting room, but had to stay in the conservatory.

Those of you who have experience of cats will not be surprised to hear that I was woken at 3.42am by Cat uncurling himself from the small of my back, jumping off the bed and demanding to go out, having dined on the cooked chicken I bought for my packed lunches.  How do cats do it? From pleading to be allowed to take shelter from the storm, to the complete run of my accommodation in a few hours!

Today was definitely one of those days when I have to pinch myself to believe I am not dreaming – everything was just right – even getting lost a couple of times was no hardship.  I drove to Glan-y Fferri, intending to catch the 9.10 train. I allowed plenty of time to get there, as the narrow lanes can be confusing – in fact I went down one so narrow that a pedestrian and her dog could hardly pass me – it got steeper and steeper and narrower and narrower, and I was lucky nothing came in the opposite direction. I was early, so I sat in the car for a few minutes, then cursed myself as, if I had hurried, I could have caught the 8.24. However, the forty minute wait was a blessing in disguise, as two more walkers turned up. They were doing the same stretch as me today, and, after a bit of chat, we realised we are staying at the same place. We did not walk together – it is very tiring to pace yourself to someone else, and I could tell they would be faster than me.

I joined the path more-or-less where I left it yesterday, going round the dock at Penbre. The dock was created by local entrepreneurs, George Bowser and Thomas Gaunt in the 1810s for shipping coal from Gwscwm and Cwm Capel. It was formed by diverting water from the Derwydd to scour a deep tidal harbour, with sluices for clearing the silt.  The original owners failed, but the site continued to be viable until the early twentieth century by which time it had silted up too much to allow big vessels access.

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Penbre Dock

Quite a few boats were bobbing in the little dock, as I turned west, inland of the sand dunes. Like yesterday, much of the path was tarmac aimed at cyclists.

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Some sort of cycling challenge in progress in Pembrey Country Park.

It runs into a country park, with lots of tracks and trails, and even, rather bizarrely, a dry ski slope. I stopped on a hill to admire the view and eat some muffin. After a couple of miles, it decants onto Cefn Sidan, a Blue Flag beach which is absolutely superb – almost flat with sands graduating from gold to white, living up to their Welsh name of ‘silk’, and lots of low breakers after yesterday’s rain. It was a little marred by the quantity of jelly-fish, but the views across to the Gower on one side, and the headland at Pendine on the other were wonderful.

I was amused by a sign warning against the hazards of too much sun.  I think I will start a new page, with best sign of the day.

The rain had rolled away overnight, and the sky was mostly blue with broken cloud. The wind was quite fierce though. I could see my train companions far away and kept an eye on them, as the path turns back from the beach, into Penbre woods. I did not see the path, and was wondering where it might be when I saw that James and Anita had turned back. They told me they had walked a good way further on, and that we must have passed the track. We turned back and took the first path off the beach, but that was a dead-end.  We went back a bit further, and left the beach at a clear track, which took us into the wood. We consulted the maps and the GPS, and agreed that about a mile in the same direction would take us to the edge of the wood.  I decided to eat my sandwiches, whilst they walked on.

Ten minutes later, I started out, but before long I got lost in the hopeless maze of tracks that weave in and out of the wood, mainly designed for cycling. There was neither jot nor tittle of a sign, after the earlier section had been so clearly marked. After I while I was sure I was going in the wrong direction, so I whipped out my compass (when I say whipped, I mean I unpacked my entire rucksack to find it at the bottom). I was going south rather than north, so I turned around and took a different track, slightly reassured when some passing cyclists told me I was going in the right direction for Cydweli, but they did not mention it was a circular track.  At least a mile and half further on, I finally came to T-Juncion with a sign. Coast Path – going in both directions. As I was consulting the map, a couple of locals came up and put me on the right path.  She warned me about a field of cows. ‘Friendly or grumpy’, I asked, gripping my poles in business-like fashion.

‘Oh, quite tame.’

Nevertheless, I prepared my mind. In the far distance, I caught site of James and Anita again – clearly they had been lost, too.  The track turns across the old airfield, which is huge, and literally riddled with bovines. Naturally, some were on the path. I decided that holding my poles in front of me would make me look bigger.  I walked amongst them but, fortunately, although there was a bit of snorting, none of them moved.  The track then carried on to Cydweli – hard underfoot again. It was 3.30 by now, and I was keen for a stop. I found a very nice little tea-shop, where my friends had already imbibed, and ate a couple of Welsh cakes.  There next section was straightforward, a bit of road walking then up a track to Llansaint, through the little village, with superb views opening up of the estuary, then through more fields and down into a lovely, narrow little wooded glen.

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Glade near Llansaint, Carmarthenshire.

I was glad of my new boots – after yesterday, everything was slippery.  A steep climb up the other side, then though more fields, mostly well-marked, although I did go the long way round one of them, before coming into another glade.

I could hear some cows bellowing, and was glad when the path turned away from the field gate, although all it did was go ten yards down the hill, then enter the field just below where the cows were congregating. They were noisy, and not friendly. The mud was appalling, real boot sucking stuff, so even if I had wanted to run, I would not have been able to. I was glad  of my poles, that kept me upright when I might have fallen. Fortunately, the beasts were more sound than action. I went through the kissing-gate and followed the sign, which seemed to lead across a very steep and muddy field. The path was so muddy it was hard to walk, but to go off the path was impossible as the slope was enough to turn your ankle. I slogged along for about a half a mile, getting muddier all the way, till the path ended in a barred gate. I had obviously missed the route. Unable to face returning, I shimmied under the barbed wire onto the lane. The path then meanders through the back of Glan-y-fferri, back to the car park.

Just as I arrived back, the other couple did and we had a chat to Mrs B & B. Cat emerged, and I had to ignore him as she once again insisted that he was not to be encouraged. I felt like a guilty spouse, pretending not to know my lover.

Distance 15.3 miles and a Silver day.