Not wanting to waste this sunny afternoon, I drive to Llangennith, find a car park, walk through a holiday complex of static caravans, and re-join the coast path at Twlc Point. Now I’m back at Broughton Bay. It’s beautiful – just as beautiful as Rhossili in my opinion – and even more deserted.
The air is clear and I can see right across the water to another shoreline. When I check my map, I realise I am looking across the mouth of the estuary of the River Loughor, to Burry Port and Pembrey Burrows. One day, after I’ve completed my walk around Gower and negotiated the next estuary, I’ll be walking over there. But I mustn’t think too far ahead. Just enjoy today.
I spend the next couple of hours wandering along a never-ending beach.
First there is Broughton Bay, a mixture of scrumbled rocks and sand, with a few dog walkers on the shore and the occasional kite surfer skimming the foam of the distant waves.
The beach of Broughton Bay merges seamlessly into Whiteford Sands.
Ahead I see two figures walking close to the water’s edge, a man and a woman, and I wonder if they are the same couple I met yesterday and again this morning. Perhaps I could catch them up and find out?
To my right is a vegetated dune system. The largest dunes tower above the beach and even have names on my map: Prissen’s Tor, Hills Tor, Cwm Ivy Tor.
I am overtaken by a couple of quad bikes racing along the sands. I wonder where they are going?
The two walkers ahead – the ones I’ve been half-heartedly trying to catch up – leave the water and cross the sands, heading inland for the dune system.
I don’t follow them. The official Wales Coast Path does meander up and down the dunes for a short while, before coming down to the sands at (I think) the very point at which my walkers head inland. In any case, I’m sticking close to the sea, following my number 2 rule of coastal walking: “keep as close to the coast as is safe, legal and reasonable”.
Further along the beach the dunes become flatter. And I find out where the quad bikes were going. They’re searching for bait. I see them out near the water, where the soft sand changes to stickier mud.
At the far end of the sands is a small pillar and, as I get nearer, I realise it’s a lighthouse. It looks rather fragile and lonely out there. [When I get further along on my walk, an information post will tell me this is the last remaining iron lighthouse in Europe.]
The Whiteford dune system sticks into the mouth of the estuary like a giant finger. A second sandbank is forming as a flap coming off the tip of the finger. I round the tip and leave the route of the coast path to walk along the flap, a new extension of the dune system.
I check my map. On the western and seaward of the peninsula, my map shows the tawny orange of sands. On the eastern and landward side of the peninsula, the orange turns a murky green. ‘Mud and Sand’. The map is exactly right. As I round the far end of the flap, the terrain changes. Dry sand gives way to muddy sand.
Since I started walking the wind has picked up. Soft sand is being blown up and over the low ridge of new dunes, and from there is driven in streams across the surface of the softer mud inland.
I stand and watch the skating sand. Where it all end up? Will it completely cover over the muddy surface and turn this area into a new beach? Or will it pile up and form a series of dunes, extending the flap further? It’s an awe-inspiring demonstration of the constantly shifting nature of the coastline.
After completing my deviation around the new flap, I don’t see any signs for the coast path. But I know I can’t get lost. All I have to do is walk back along the edge of the dune system.
It’s a different world on this side of Whiteford Burrows. Sand is replaced by marsh. I walk through a clump of trees, standing like incongruous sentinels on a hump of land. I meet a couple of lone men, carrying binoculars. Bird watchers.
This inland edge of the peninsula is wooded, and I head towards the firmer land and find a path that meanders through the trees. This is Whiteford Burrows Nature Reserve
It’s very beautiful. Peaceful. Apart from the two birdwatchers near the tip, it’s deserted. And the terrain is extraordinarily varied. As I approach the base of the peninsula, the trees thin out and once again I am walking through vegetated dunes.
Or are they dunes? My map mentions ‘Shell Mounds’. At first I think these might be piles of sea shells. A medieval refuse dump for seafood eaters? Or are they gun shell mounds? This area was used as a firing range in the past.
Further along and the path becomes a track. Ahead is the mound of Llanmadoc hill. I meet some sheep. They seem unworried by my appearance.
To my left is marsh. Cwm Ivy Marsh. And the coast path heads across the marsh, following a raised causeway. I’m tempted to follow it, but it’s now 6:30pm and I need to return to my car before darkness falls.
Suddenly I’m overcome with fatigue and sit down on a log for a rest and a snack. I phone my husband and tell him I am still walking. He sounds amazed.
A short time later I pass an old hut, and see a number of people congregated. They seem to be making a film. There are a couple – just inside the building – dressed in some sort of period costume.
I reach the base of the peninsula and leave Whiteford Nature Reserve behind. I’m back on the official Wales Coast Path and walk along the footpath through private land. Signs tell me to stick to the path.
But I am soon faced with a steep hill. It’s not an ordinary hill. The grassy slopes disguise a giant dune. And the sandy path underfoot becomes very soft.
The climb to the top is very hard work. But the view is wonderful. I can look back along the finger of Whiteford Sands, all the way back to the little iron lighthouse in the far distance. Everything is bathed in the golden light of early evening.
And ahead is the static caravan park at Llangennith, where I started out on this particular circular walk. The mass of dunes behind is Llangennith burrows. Further off, to the far left of the photo below, is the familiar outline of Worms Head.
From now on the path heads downhill and it’s easy-going. I reach the beach of Broughton Bay and walk along it until I reach Twlc point. I’m back where I started.
I take one last photograph of Broughton Beach. Something is burning on the far shore. It looks mystical and magical in the slanting light of the setting sun.
It’s nearly 8pm by the time I reach my car. Next to me, a van has just arrived. Young men pile out and begin to pull on wet suits. They’re going surfing. In the twilight!
- A similar route to this walk was described in The Telegraph: Great Autumn Walks
- The ‘Shell Mounds’ turn out to be shell middens, made from sea shells and not from gun shells. They are listed as a Welsh Historical Monument.
- The iron lighthouse off Whiteford Point has its own Wikipedia entry.
Miles walked = 8.5 miles (18 miles today in total)
Total distance = 1,800 miles