After lunch (a rather uninspiring prawn-cocktail) I head across the bay, turning to look back at the far side and to take a photograph of the area I’ve just left. This is probably the least scenic part of Porthcawl, with a fun fair and amusements lining the beach.
But I soon come to a pretty marina – well, ships on water are always pretty, even if the marina is simply a great concrete basin.
This section of the walk is rather spoilt for me by an unpleasant encounter.
Eager to get on with my walking, I’m irritated to find myself tangled up with an extensive family group who are chatting mindlessly among themselves and taking ages to cross over the lock gates at one end of harbour wall. Finally, I give up waiting for the stragglers and mingle with the group as they amble along the gangway. The father is holding open the gate for the bridge and gives me a foul look as I walk through. ‘Thank you,’ he says, sarcastically. ‘Thank you,’ I respond automatically, and feel immediately guilty.
As I walk away I ruminate on this encounter. First of all, I’m upset that the father considers me rude – as I think politeness is very important. Secondly, I become convinced he was the rude one. I didn’t ask him to hold the gate open for me, did I? Wasn’t it his family who were blocking my way? And why bother to say anything at all, unless the intention was to upset me? Nasty man.
Then I get upset with myself for getting upset. Sometimes you can over think things!
The esplanade along the western section of Porthcawl is more elegant than on the other side, but the beach is rocky and less attractive to families.
At the end of the bay is Hutchwns Point. From here I can look ahead and see the beach of Rest Bay, the promontory of Sker Point, and Kenfig Sands beyond – known by the locals as Sker Beach. On the far shore – Swansea!
As I round the point, I see something else: the industrial mass of Port Talbot. Gosh, it looks smoky.
The next section of walk is very enjoyable. There is a newish wooden walkway along the top of the sands. The beach is wide and clean. I see a few would-be surfers despite the calmness of the waves. Over the channel is the coast of Devon, with the hump of Hangman’s Hill clearly visible.
Past a golf course, and I reach Sker Point. Somewhere inland of here are the ruins of Sker House – the site of an old monastery and once an important house. But all I can see are some yellow buildings on the other side of a field of cows. Is that it?
I don’t know, but I soon have something else to think about. Ahead is Kenfig Sands.
I am about to enter an extensive area of vegetated dunes. Under here lies the ancient town of Kenfig, which had to be abandoned as the sand took over, until it became completely buried during the 14th and 15th centuries. I reflect on the irony of this. In some places, the sea is swamping the land with water, but here it has drowned a whole town under a deluge of sand.
The Wales Coast Path follows a well-worn track through the dunes, skirting the coast. The sand hills block the view of the sea. Ahead are the smoking chimneys of Port Talbot.
I would prefer to walk along the beach, but my plan is to turn off along a bridleway and walk inland across the dune system to reach the village of Mawdlam, where my husband is picking me up in an hour’s time. If I stick to the beach, I might miss the turn-off point.
On my map, the bridleway I need is marked with orange lines, which means it’s a ‘permissive path’ rather than a public right of way. And, rather confusingly, it is also labelled as ‘Wales Coast Path’. This nomenclature is explained when I pass a sign that indicates the coast path along the edge of the dunes might become flooded during tidal surges. The bridleway provides an alternative route for walkers.
This information gives me the impression that my bridleway will be dry and easy to navigate. A false impression, as it turns out.
Here it is. A sandy track, winding up and down through the dunes, and marked with occasional stubby signposts. Easy.
It isn’t long before the path disappears under a pool of water. It does this several times. Each time, I find a way around the water – horses seem to prefer to keep their feet dry too and have trampled out alternative routes. Each time, I wonder if I will ever find the path again.
The thing about dunes is this: when you’re down in a dip you can’t see anything else and it feels quite claustrophobic. When you’re up on top of a dune, all you can see are more dunes. It’s disorienting – easy to lose your sense of direction and hard to keep your eyes fixed on a distant waypoint. Too many dips and hollows.
One of my fellow coastal walkers, Andy, told me how he became lost in the these dunes, with night falling. It must have been an unpleasant experience.
As I get nearer to what I hope is the far side of the dune system, grass is replaced by bushes, and then by trees. My path becomes a stagnant river.
Who would have expected to find so much water? And so many trees? I was expecting dry sand and marram grass.
And then, when I feel I’ve been walking forever, I am out of the flooded woodland and into sand again. Ahead are houses. That’s my destination. Mawdlam.
I’d anticipated it would take me 1/2 an hour to walk through the dunes. In fact, it took me 45 minutes. Pretty good going, considering the various watery obstacles in my way.
Miles walked today = 15.5 miles.
Total miles = 1,721