Day 110 Gowerton to Penbre/Burry Port 7 June 2019

Day 110 Gowerton to Penbre/Burry Port 7 June 2019

I had a super drive down yesterday – just on six hours, which, considering I did not go near a motorway, was pretty good time.  I chose a leisurely route, with time for morning coffee at Chipping Norton, then along the A40 all the way to Caerfyrddin/Carmarthen, although the journey was marred by the news that the Ford factory at Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr/Bridgend is to close with the loss of 1700 jobs. What with that and the works at Porth Talbot being under threat, the whole economy of South Wales will be badly hit, and it is already a poor area.

Talking economics, rather than staying at ordinary B & B, I am self-catering, in part to keep the cost down. This is not a cheap hobby if I eat in cafes and pubs twice a day for ten day at a stretch.  My first location is just outside the town, on the coast path route. I have a little suite to myself – bedroom, bathroom, kitchenette, conservatory, and a deck overlooking the river. It was warm enough yesterday to sit out in my shorts – today is a complete contrast.  It has been one of the wettest days of the entire walk – the only days as bad might be the morning at Beachy Head, and a couple of wet afternoons with Chris and Tom in Essex in the winter of 2013/4. The forecast was bad, so I was pleased when I hopped off the train at Gowerton at 8.45 to find that it was overcast, but dry. Between 8.45 and 10.15, there were no more than a few flurries, but by 11.00 we had moved through ordinary rain to what some of my friends call double rain.

The path is straightforward. I can see why the M4 relief road has been cancelled – the back road out of Gowerton is serving as an alternative route already – despite being single track in some parts, there was a constant stream of traffic in both directions. Eventually, the path veeredoff into woodland, then a footbridge over the A48, and through more woodland, before joining the main road as it crossed the Llwchwr estuary. The original rail crossing was built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and much of his work remains, although it was updated in 1907.

Llwchwr Estuary

Original built by Brunel.

I was excited at the prospect of seeing the Llanelli Coastal Park – twenty (20???) years ago, it was one of the Millennium Commission projects that I worked on. Previously, the whole area to the south of Llanelli was industrial wasteland, but now it has been reclaimed, and there is a track running through for cyclists and walkers. I would have preferred the track to be a bit narrower, and perhaps less of it tarmac’d. It is hard underfoot and does not blend into the landscape, but I suppose it is easy cycling.  The path runs through wetland, past a golf course, and sometimes comes close to the shore, although for long stretches the raised railway obscures the view.  There are some nicely-designed seating areas, with slate and interesting levels in the grass, and in some parts, a profusion of wild-flowers – lots of cow-parsley and oxe-eye daisies.

Info on Llanelli wetlands

Copious bird-watching opportunities…when it is not raining.

Near North Dock, I could see the leisure centre, which I knew had a café – despite having brought sandwiches, I was cold and wet, and desperate for a cuppa. I was worried it might be closed – not many people would want to be out in today’s weather, but actually, it was packed, and was rather fancier than I anticipated. I opened the door, and the waitress did her best to hide her lack of enthusiasm as I stood in the doorway with water pouring off me.

I had a bowl of soup, then had no alternative but to put my wet coat back on and march off purposefully. I did not hang about and got to Penbre/Burry Port station around 2.30. I had to wait half an hour for a train, which was a cold and dispiriting experience, but at least it was on time.  I am sitting in my little conservatory, with a stray ginger cat for companion. I was asked by Mrs B & B not to encourage it, but although I ignored its cries yesterday, I couldn’t bring myself to leave it out in this weather. I hope I don’t get thrown out for breaking the rules.

Distance 11.6 miles and a Bronze day.

Update – 5 June 2019

Update – 5 June 2019

No – I haven’t been put off my coast walk by mad cows, but I have had no time to walk since last July.  In the meantime, I have completed the Icknield Way, and have sent my second book off to the publisher, so I haven’t been idle.  Looking forward to a good chunk of walking over ten days, from Gowerton, across the Llwchwr estuary into West Wales, and, on day five, I should reach the Pembroke Coast Path.  Annoyingly, all the luggage transfer services go in the opposite direction, and since I have given up carrying my pack unless there is absolutely no alternative, I am having to do a complex set of bus and train manouevres each day, which has taken most of a day to work out, given the paucity of public transport in the area – and certainly no buses on Sundays.

Once again I have new boots. I love the Zimberland fit, but I have worn away the soles again.  I am trying a Scarpa pair – they are a narrower fit, so I have gone up a size. The assistant in the outdoors shop was shocked when I told him I wear two pairs of socks, but given my blister-free history, I am not changing now.   I am also trying poles – I have to admit, more for fending off cattle than anything else, but many people do recommend them. I have got folding ones so they can go in the back-pack. Not the twisty ones, I found them to be hopeless when I used them before. Super-light, Black Diamond Carbon poles – only 140g each, which is astonishingly light.

The forecast is not brilliant, but no point in worrying about that.

Day 109 – Cheriton to Gowerton 25 July 2018

Day 109 – Cheriton to Gowerton 25 July 2018

We had a great celebratory meal last night, at an Italian restaurant in Mumbles, and I confess I was a little heavy-headed this morning. We hoped that today might be the lucky day for finding an 11 o’clock coffee stop, but alas, no joy.

We left one car near the station at Gowerton, then came back to the pub we finished at yesterday, and turned off down the lane where, had the sea wall at Cwm Ivy still been intact, we would have emerged from the salt-flats. To begin with the walk meandered around the flats again, but then entered farmland and some pleasant wooded areas.

However, it was not long before the path joins the road at Crofty.  We arrived there around 10.15, but neither pub was open.  The door of one was actually open, and a lady was laying tables, but she did not feel able to serve us coffee – nothing could be done before twelve.

Somewhat disgruntled, we marched on. Before long we saw a hiker coming towards us and stopped to talk. She is doing the Wales Coastal Path, but in the opposite direction. We talked about the optimum number of days to do on a trip. I said that in some ways, I’d like to do a really long chunk of two or three months, but that in fact, the longest stretch I have done was two weeks, by which time I was thoroughly fed up.  Her advice was that, once you push through the two-week mark, walking becomes your life, and you sink into it completely.  Not sure – one to think about if I have an extended period of free time – not likely in the immediate future.

The road was quiet to begin with, but became busier.  In parts, you can walk to the side on the old railway track, now a cycle-path, which used to serve a branch line from Gowerton to Penclawdd, initially installed to move coal from the mines in the Morlais valley. It is hard to believe there were once mines in the Gower – the Welsh Development Agency has done a fantastic job of removing all signs of this once pervasive industry.  Before the railway, there was a canal, which brought coal from inland to the dock, for transport to sea-going vessels.  There is the merest ghost now of the dock to be seen at low-tide.

Some effort has been made to make the route pretty with wildflowers, and it was good to see across the estuary, but after yesterday’s gorgeousness, today was bound to be a bit tame. Nevertheless, the weather was pleasant, and having my brother-in-law for company made it a silver day.

12 miles.

Day 107 – Caswell Bay to Port Eynon

Day 107 – Caswell Bay to Port Eynon

What a difference from yesterday in the weather!  When we started out, it was grey and mizzling and continued overcast until well on into the afternoon. We drovIMG_4131e down into Gower, and left one car at Port Eynon, before coming back to Caswell Bay.  We dropped down on to Pwll du beach – being very critical of the rather ugly 1960s block of flats that over shadows it. Walking to the end of the beach, it was not clear where the path went – either over a heap of rocks at the end or else up onto the road in front of the block.

Whilst we were deliberating, we saw a couple of brave swimmers – it was still wet and quite chilly, and we were thinking that swimming was the last thing we fancied – suddenly, the man called out – Nick! Astonishingly, the couple had been my sister and brother-in-law’s neighbours in Surrey back in the early 2000s. Talk about a coincidence.  Just proves you cannot go anywhere without running into someone you know.

We chatted for a moment, and asked about any cafes in the vicinity – coffee was feeling like a good plan. Unfortunately, the nearest was an hour away at West Cliff.  We arrived at the excellent café in pouring rain, so spent a good 45 minutes having a delicious Welsh rarebit and coffee. It was still drizzling as we emerged but we were slightly comforted with the thought that the latest weather forecast was for sun in the afternoon.

Back on the path, we went round the headland, and found ourselves overlooking Three Cliffs Bay. The path then deviates into Pennard Burrows – as one might guess from the name, this is a series of sand-dunes – not brilliant for walking in, and easy to lose the path,  but, with the general lay of the land, not possible to get lost, even though you have to go slightly inland, towards a ruined church, as there is only one place to cross the little stream – a series of stepping stones. There were quite a few people about by this time, with dogs and children as the rain had stopped.

Over the stream, and up onto a low headland, than down through woodland with dunes under foot, onto Oxwich Bay.  We met a boy of around 12, who was holidaying with his IMG_4189family, who was eager to tell us about the giant blue jelly-fish he had found. It was the largest one he had ever seen – it was even the largest one his dad had ever seen!  And when we came onto Oxwich beach, we could agree that the jelly-fish are monsters!

We stopped for a drink at the hotel at the end of the bay, then went through the woods at the west end of Oxwich – there is a little church hidden in the woods, dedicated to St Illtyd. Legend has it that the first Christian church was built here in the sixth century – the current building is ancient enough – 13th & 14th century.  Unfortunately, it was locked.IMG_4206

There was a steep pull up to the top of the cliff, but the sun was beginning to shine quite brightly and the views were excellent as we did the last few miles along the beach edge before arriving at Port Eynon. There were lots of ponies wandering about – presumably they wander on the common land like Esmmoor ponies. IMG_4233

We found a pub, and had a welcome gin and tonic. The pub was crowded, and lots of people were eating. However, the presence of a (used) nappy in its sack on the table next to us argued in favour of a home-cooked meal.  A silver day, with 13 miles covered.

Day 106 – Abertawe to Caswell Bay 22 July 2018

Day 106 – Abertawe to Caswell Bay 22 July 2018

Today was quite a contrast to yesterday!  I left the rather lovely Air B and B I have booked, with the idea of leaving the car about halfway between Abertawe and Mumbles. Nick, my brother-in-law from Australia, was due to meet me mid-afternoon, so the plan was to walk half-way, then meet him back at the house and continue.

I duly parked, and waited for a bus. And waited. And waited. According to the timetable, they passed along the road every  half hour, and I saw two come along, and turn up the road just before the stop I was standing at. I wrestled with downloading the timetable again on my phone and concluded that the bus I wanted did not run on a Sunday (atlhough the whole site was rather vague on detail), so I drove into Abertawe and parked by the station again. A good hour wasted!

But it did not matter – the weather was warm, and although I was feeling somewhat battered about the legs after yesterday, I was in good spirits. I walked down through the shopping area of Abertawe, past the ruins of the Norman castle, and into the bay area. This has been renovated in recent years and is a rather lovely marina. There were hordes of people around, apparently a charity run is in progress.

I fought my way against the tide of runners, and along the marina, coming out onto a short passage of sand-dunes, before the beach.

It is a superb beach – I am amazed it is not a more popular holiday destination. The sands are flat and golden, with a long tidal range.  I walked steadily for a couple of hours, soothing my scratched legs in the clear water, before climbing back up onto the cob and finding a bus that was actually going to Swansea. I picked up the car, and went back to the house, where I met Nick.  After a swift lunch, we dropped one car off at Caswell Bay, just beyond Mumbles and took the other back to where I had caught the bus. Proceedings got off to a good start with an ice-cream from the local dairy.

Again, it was a leisurely walk – the beach at this western end of the bay is much less attractive – quite a lot of rather smelly mud, so we walked mainly along the promenade, into Mumbles. We could see the lighthouse on a promontory, off the beach below – there were steep stairs going down, then up again to the lighthouse rock, but much of it was inaccessible. The lighthouse was built in 1794, and re-engineered in 2017 to be LED lit. The other famous feature is the pier, with the station from the old Swansea-Mumbles railway – the first railway in the world that took paying passengers. At that time it was horse-drawn, but converted to steam-power in 1877. Always a popular holiday destination, Mumbles was described by Dylan Thomas as ‘a rather nice village, despite its name’.  The town was chosen by The Times newspaper as the best place to live in Wales in 2018 – personally, I preferred the beach at the Swansea end of the bay, but it is certainly a charming town.

The path then climbs up onto a headland, over the golf course and in the late evening sun we could see far away to the headland above Oxwich.  A thoroughly enjoyable day – actually reaching Gold standard.

Day 105 Cynffig to Abertawe/Swansea 21 July 2018

Day 105 Cynffig to Abertawe/Swansea 21 July 2018

I thought today would be long, but fairly easy, and not especially exciting, since it involved walking through the industrial areas around Neath – Porth Talbot. Well, it was certainly long!

Pleasingly, public transport posed no problems – once I had worked out how to use the ticket machine in the car park for Swansea station. A queue began to form behind me as I wrestled with the machine that insisted on either charging for two days, or refusing to recognise my card. I apologised to the waiting commuters behind me, but people round yur are very patient.  Had I been in the south east, there would have been a good deal of harrumphing.

Train to Pyle, then bus to Cynffig. En route between the train station and the bus stop, I was delighted to see the coach for the Bridgend Male Voice Choir, and a selection of its smartly dressed members.  Sadly, they did not break out into Bread of Heaven – in fact, they were nipping into Asda for the all day breakfast!

As I waited for the bus I began talking to an elderly lady. Her hair, I noticed, was a thick plait down her back, reaching her waist. It was only when I stood behind her that I realised it was doubled up. Loose, her hair must have reached mid-thigh. I wonder if she has ever cut it.

The route back through the dunes was easy enough. I chose a flatter path than I had used to come the other way, earlier in the year, so it was a bit quicker. I was then on the beach and what a splendid beach it is. IMG_3993

I took off my boots and walked along ok the sea edge. Glorious, the sun shining and the Devon shore clearly visible. Inland again, then a rather confusing path around the edge of the steelworks. I could hear bikes and the roaring of sand buggies. As always with dunes, the paths are confusing and I found myself on a track high over the main path, so was obliged to slide down a fairly steep slope to join the path.

This took me along the old railway track. I crossed several train lines, and was fascinated by Mariam Knuckle Yard. What could it be? Perhaps a giant’s graveyard? Full of jacks for the game of knucklebones?  The other side of the railway was a road, leading nowhere in particular. I was delighted to see a parked car, and a man with no shirt sitting on a deckchair, facing it. Only in Britain…

I crossed the M4 and headed towards the wood surrounding Margam Abbey ruins, which I reluctantly decided not to investigate as time was marching on. I stopped to empty sand from my boots before entering the wood and had a chat with man clearing rubbish who told me there would be a mass on hill on Wednesday 23rd July, commemorating two Catholics hanged, drawn and quartered for hearing the Mass – dobbed in by their brother…nice.

Entering the word, it was difficult to see the path. But I climbed up steeply until I found it running east west. It was fairly clear and soon became well marked. Eventually, it was broad and gravelled. It turned sharply down, which was a surprise, but I followed it, relieved to see another west leading path branching off. This was also gravelled, but after some 300 yards simply stopped.IMG_4031

I carried on, over difficult woodland, thinking I would find a clearer track, but it got worse and worse. I could hear motorway to my left, but there was no track, the terrain was very steep, there were broken branches everywhere. I kept trying to move west. According to map there were two well marked paths, but I could not find either. Since I was near the motorway, I tried to climb north, reasoning that I must hit one of them, but it was much too steep. all I could do was inch west. I am covered in cuts from the brambles, and the splintered wood. I can only be glad it has been so dry. There were lots of mossy rocks probably, normally slippery as glass.

I began to feel very worried. If I slipped, no one would hear me or see me. I saw a bit of plastic, which I hoped meant occasional visitors who might find my bones and give them decent burial. Eventually, I emerged, scratched, sweating, thirsty and filthy.

This was followed by a long stretch along heathland, where the farmer had carefully locked all the gates. The path is very poorly signed. At one point, having marked straight on, it stopped abruptly at a barbed wire fence. I could see path on the map, and gate the opposite side, so I put map on barbs and scrambled over. This brought me into the back of Port Talbot and a dull walk through its back streets, before reaching the shore again at Baglan.  IMG_4038

This is another lovely beach, but then the path turns up the Nedd estuary, into Castell Nedd/Neath. I was pretty exhausted  by this time, but there was still a further three miles or so back to the carpark in Abertawe, mainly by the side of the A48.  In theory, it was supposed to be 19 miles, but with all of the wanderings and ins and outs, it was nearly 22.
IMG_4047