We are staying in a B&B perched high up on a hillside. The access road is bumpy and rough, but gives us stunning views across Port Talbot and Swansea Bay.
A short drive down the M4, and we reach Mawdlam. From here, my plan is to walk back across the Kenfig Dunes and pick up the Wales Coast Path again.
From the road there is another great view, across the dune system and a lake – the mysterious Kenfig Pool. Somehow, during my tortuous trek across the dunes yesterday, I managed to miss this large patch of water.
I set off along the sandy footpath, through the familiar ups and downs of the vegetated dunes, following the stubby signposts.
This time I am prepared for the water-covered paths.
And the marshy pools.
Everything seems clearer in the bright light of a new morning and, despite having to make numerous detours from the marked way, I am less nervous about getting lost.
The ground becomes dryer. Mud gives way to sand again. I must be nearing the sea.
And soon I reach the Wales Coast Path, which runs along a track following the shoreline, but still separated from the sea by a further bank of dunes.
It’s Easter Sunday and there are other walkers on the path. It’s not exactly crowded, but still a shock to come across people. Ahead is the industrial complex of steelworks – dominating the surrounding countryside and belching out smoke. No rest from production over Easter.
The walkers in front of me disappear, and I realise they must have turned off the path. I follow their footprints through the sand, and find a route down to the beach.
I leave the dunes and walk close to the water. To my left is Swansea Bay. Ahead, the steelworks draw steadily closer.
This is turning out to be a wonderful walk, full of contrasts. I like the juxtaposition of tangled industrial shapes with the flat emptiness of the unspoilt beach, the softening of light caused by the smoggy haze, and the way the reflections of chimneys lie staggered across the wet sands.
As usual, I take far too many photographs.
I was hoping to continue along the beach for a while further, but the sands are interrupted by a flowing river. It’s shallow, but wide and fast flowing. I turn inland, following the river bank, until I regain the Wales Coast Path and find a bridge across the water.
On the other side, I walk around the edge of an area called Margam Burrows. A huge dune bank rises up on the left hand side. The path surface is very soft and every step is an effort, my footsteps dragging in the deep sand. I’m soon hot, sweaty and puffing hard.
Looking for firmer ground, I climb up the grassy bank on the right hand side of the path. Other people have clearly done the same, because a narrow track has been worn along the top of the ridge. I have to watch my step – it’s narrow and steep – but my pace increases.
Looking at my map, I had anticipated this section of the path would run along the outskirts of the industrial area. But, although I can’t see what’s on the other side of the high bank, the path itself runs through an area of surprising beauty. The gorse is in flower. The trees and bushes are just showing their first serious green buds.
This is a great example of an ‘edgeland‘ – that hinterland between urban and rural landscapes, where ownership is uncertain and the landscape left wild and unmanaged.
To my right I see a railroad siding, with rusting trucks. Abandoned?
I leave the dune system behind and cross an area of marshland. The Wales Coast Path follows a raised wooden walkway.
Then an area of heathland. More gorse. Birds singing. The steelworks in the distance.
And it’s time to cross over the railway tracks. They are obviously still being used. Several trains are shunting around.
I walk past a BOC complex. It’s not just steel being produced here, but all the related industries too. And a weighbridge. And next a bio-energy plant, seemingly funded through the EU and the Welsh Government.
Then I am standing beside the A48. A busy road, but this section is relatively pleasant because of the unspoilt hillside on the far side.
A mile later, and the Wales Coast Path turns off the main road. But this is not the end of road walking today, and so I begin a tedious journey along the streets of Port Talbot.
I was anticipating finding a café at this point, or a pub. I’m tired and hungry. But these are quiet residential roads and I don’t pass anywhere where I can stop for a rest and a drink – not even a local shop. I’ve brought water and my usual snacks, but there are no parks or benches to sit on, just rows of front gardens. And people engaged in the Sunday ritual of washing their cars, staring at me as I trudge along.
Finally, I come across a track that leads along behind some back gardens. It is strewn with rubbish: paper bags, bottles, a dumped mattress, a pile of abandoned baby toys (why?), and the ubiquitous dog poo. But at one end I find some large stones (placed to deter traffic from using this tiny lane) and I can sit on one of these and have something to eat and drink.
I started this walk struggling with soft sand. Now I am struggling with hard pavements – tough on the feet.
Leaving the residential area, I walk along beside the steel works, following a dual carriageway. This road must be new, because it is not marked on my map – and I feel somewhat disoriented. Also, I am bursting for a pee. But there are no public conveniences and the area is too built up for a quick squat behind a bush. Anyway, there are no bushes.
I’m really grateful to leave the road behind, and follow the Wales Coast Path signs down a track that leads along the south bank of the River Arvan. An old metal bridge, closed to traffic, takes me across the river. I walk towards the sea. The air seems fresher and my heart feels lighter.
I stop to take a photograph of the old, rusty bridge. No wonder it’s closed to traffic. It doesn’t look very safe.
The industrial zone and docks lie to my left, across the river. I meet dog walkers.
And then, at last, I am at the mouth of the river and – round the corner – find the beach.
This is Port Talbot proper. A seaside town, dominated by the steelworks to the south, but with a wonderful beach. I’m walking northwards, and with the industrial zone out of sight and behind me, I can really enjoy the views .
The sea is a long way out, but I cross the sands and walk close to the water. The sun is low in the sky and the light shines through the clouds in crepuscular rays.
At the end of the beach, I head up to the promenade. Time for an ice cream. And public toilets. And then I buy a cheese fritter from a chip shop – cheap and very filling.
I take one last photo looking back along the beach.
My walk today is over. Tomorrow I should reach the outskirts of Swansea. I am already looking forward to it.
Miles walked today = 14 miles
Total distance = 1,735