After lunch in West Cliff, my walk continues along open land above the sea. The sun is shining, the gorse is golden, and I’m filled with joy. This is turning into a wonderful day’s walking – one of the best I’ve ever experienced.
Ahead the ground falls away to reveal Three Cliffs Bay. Here a great expanse of beach is cut into two sections by a meandering stream, and an attractive outcrop of rocks sits in the middle of the sand. I see tiny figures walking across the beach below.
At this point the path comes down from the cliffs and into the valley. This means walking through the dunes of Pennard Burrows. It’s a popular spot and I meet other walkers, most of them casual strollers rather than long-distance trekkers.
Dune walking is tough. The slopes are steep and the sand too soft to offer much resistance, making each step an effort. I follow the Coast Path signs, but try to walk on the grass wherever possible.
I’m disappointed to find the path veers inland as it descends. I was looking forward to walking along the beach. But, after pulling out my map, I realise the path is heading towards a crossing point over the stream (Pennard Pill) that cuts across the beach.
As I emerge onto the valley floor, I disturb a couple of young lovers, who thought they had found a secluded spot among the dunes, not realising they were sitting slap in the middle of the Wales Coast Path! I resist taking their photo and hurry on.
Half way across the valley, I look back and see more walkers disturbing the young lovers. Above are the vegetated slopes of Pennard Burrows – another extensive dune system that has reclaimed old settlements. Somewhere among the sand sits the ruins of a submerged church (which I never saw). My photo shows the more impressive ruins of Pennard Castle.
The path becomes a little vague at this stage. I look around, expecting to find a bridge over the stream. Instead, I see stepping-stones.
Later I learn the stones are only passable either side of low tide. By sheer chance, I’ve arrived at the right time! This makes a nice change. Most of my experiences with stepping stone have left me defeated because of high water.
Warning signs would deter me from trying to cross the stream if the stones were submerged. Today, when the stream looks shallow and calm, it’s hard to believe this crossing could ever be dangerous.
The path leads me along the other side of the valley, through sparse woodland, back towards the beach. My excitement at regaining the sands changes to horror. The sand is so wonderfully fine and deep, my boots sink down and every step is a supreme effort.
I think it should be possible to follow the beach from this point all the way to Oxwich Burrows, to where another stream interrupts the sand. But I’m worried about finding my way blocked by the tide, by rocks, or by some other obstruction, and I don’t want to have to retrace my steps in these impossible dunes. I’ve only covered a few hundred feet, but am sweating and puffing with exhaustion.
So I never make it as far as the beach, but stick to the official Wales Coast Path, following its finger-post signs as I slip and slide my way upwards and over the dunes.
When I reach the top of the incline I’m rewarded by finding firm ground again, and a great view back across the valley. There is the meandering stream of Pennard Pill, with its oxbow curves. And Pennard Burrows on the other side. Beautiful.
A little further on, and I have another wonderful view – looking down onto Three Cliffs Bay again and its impressive beach.
While ahead of me lies the vast expanse of Oxwich Bay. Here a wide strip of unmarked sand stretches into the hazy distance, the beach only broken by the blue smear of a stream, just visible at the apex of the bay.
What follows is an hour and a half of magical walking – through some very varied, wild and interesting terrain – where, amazingly, I don’t meet another soul until I reach Oxwich.
But at this stage I don’t realise how enjoyable the rest of my walk is going to be. And the first thing I notice, from my high viewpoint, is another set of sand dunes. Nicholaston Burrows. My heart sinks. More soft sand. I should have tried harder to regain the beach.
Traipsing through the dunes has slowed my pace. And I’m beginning to worry about missing the last bus from Oxwich. I make a resolution to head to the beach as soon as I can find a reasonable way through the dunes. The path, however, has other ideas. It keeps to high ground and takes me through woodland. The going is soft underfoot, but firm enough to make rapid progress.
After a while, I realise I am winding around the lower part of the cliffs just inland of the Nicholaston Burrows, avoiding the sand altogether. Surrounded by trees, I relax and really enjoy this section of the walk. It’s a relief to be out of the sun and walking in the green shade.
When I emerge from the trees, I find myself on a flat area running behind a low ridge of dunes. Off to the left, somewhere out of sight, must be the sea. I could head off in search of the beach, but I decide to stick to the path instead. It’s well trodden and easy walking. In fact, it’s lovely.
I could be anywhere. Spain, maybe. Or Mexico. I feel I am on the edge of a desert in a dry and foreign country. Grass. Birdsong. No buildings. Nobody in sight.
A short time later and grassland gives way to sand. I have reached the banks of the little river that cuts across Oxwich Beach. It’s nameless on my map. And here is the bridge.
Beyond the bridge the path follows the edge of another dune system, Oxwich Burrows. But I’ve had enough of dune walking and I stick to the flat sand of the beach. In the distance, hazy blue in the light of the afternoon sun, is my destination today, the village of Oxwich.
I’m walking with the sun in my eyes. The beach is wide and featureless, so I get the illusion I’m walking endlessly along some sandy treadmill.
As I near the end of the beach I begin to see a few other strollers. A couple out on the wet sands are looking for bait. Behind them, across the bay, are the cliffs I’ve recently walked across, near Pennard – West Cliff, East Cliff, High Tor, Pwildu Head.
At the far limit of Oxwich beach is a concrete slipway. Nearby is a large but deserted car park. I walk into the village, past a hotel and find the bus stop.
After my slow struggle through the dunes, I realise I’ve made rapid progress across the beach – flat walking and with few distractions. Now there’s time to buy a cold drink and snack from the village shop and catch an earlier bus than I had planned. Worryingly, the woman in the shop seems very vague about the times of buses and says the operator has changed recently.
I checked my homeward journey on the internet with Traveline Cymru before I set out this morning from my B&B. But the buses were few and their timing seemed very erratic. So, I found it hard to believe the information given was correct. I’d also downloaded a timetable from the internet and printed it out before I left home, but the times on my download bear little relationship to the times on the Traveline website. And I have lost my mobile phone signal, so am unable to phone for a taxi.
It’s a relief, therefore, to see someone else waiting there in the bus shelter. Turns out she is a local girl, who works in one of the cafes. We have a good chat.
Yes, there is definitely a bus due soon, she tells me. She catches it every day. And yes, the bus times changed recently because a new company took over this bus route. It’s better now. The new company runs its buses on time.
The girl greets the bus driver like an old friend. We are the only passengers. I find out her father works on the buses too, but on a different route. This bus does not go directly to Swansea, so we have to change buses in the middle of nowhere, but our driver phones up the connecting bus driver and checks he is on his way, and waits with us until the second bus arrives. The second bus driver is the son of the first bus driver. He conducts a loud telephone conversation with someone (his wife, I think) for the duration of our journey into Swansea, something about putting his mother into a home, or not. It’s all rather incestuous, but rather fun too.
I decide I love Wales. Not as much as Cornwall (yet), but it comes a close second.
Miles walked today = 15 miles
Total distance round the coast = 1,766.5 miles