The sun is shining and Pen-clawdd looks more picturesque than I remembered it.
I set off heading eastwards towards Gowerton, following a well-paved cycle/walkway alongside the coast road, and making rapid progress. To my left is an expanse of flat marsh and the distant bridge that will take me over the River Loughor and towards Llanelli.
I come across an interesting memorial bench, roughly carved and strikingly original. To Bob Burn: “Cyclist And Inspirational Teacher”. [Later I search for Bob Burn on the internet, but Google only brings me multiple references to the Scottish poet Robert Burns, no matter how many times I type “Wales” and “Welsh”!]
A little later, according to my map, the Wales Coast Path veers off to the right and ambles across the top of a low ridge of hills just inland of the road. I stop and think about this. The route over the hills looks attractive and would give good views over the estuary. But the walk/cycle path continues alongside the road and keeps me closer to the water.
Do I follow the route of the Wales Coast Path?
Or follow my rule number two? “Keep as close to the coast as is safe, legal and reasonable.”
It seems perfectly safe, legal and reasonable to continue on the coast road, so that is what I do. Of course I worry about my decision. Perhaps the path will come to an end and I will be forced to dodge traffic and walk in the road?
A little further along and I see a footpath sign off to the left. This cuts across a couple of fields in the marsh, taking me even closer to the estuary and shortcutting some road walking. But, after I cross the first field, I find the footpath is horribly overgrown and the next gate is fastened shut. I could climb over it – but there is a forest of nettles on the other side. Defeated, I return to the road.
The paved cycle-path leads me safely to the outskirts of Gowerton, where the meandering Wales Coast Path re-joins my route. And we both turn left along a minor road towards Loughor.
The minor road has no separate pavement, so I’m forced to walk in the road. Further on there is a narrow cycle lane, marked off with white lines on the road. Traffic is light, but it’s not ideal.
The road takes me down to a small bridge. Here I stop for a photograph. Across the marsh is Pen-clawdd, and I can see the distant hump of Llanmadoc Hill. Suddenly I realise I’m leaving Gower behind.
After weeks of looking forward to walking The Gower – a thought that kept me going through the industrial zones of Newport and the boring roads of Cardiff – I can’t believe I’ve walked all round this beautiful peninsula and I’m about to leave it behind. Call me sentimental, but I feel a lump in my throat…
Over the bridge and the Wales Coast Path veers inland once more. (I’m beginning to realise the ‘Coast’ part of the name is a flexible concept!) But my quiet road, with its cycle lanes, continues straight ahead and so I decide to stick to the road.
Eventually the road passes under bridges, under the railway line and the A484, taking me into Loughor and here I rejoin the official path once again.
I walk past a recreation field and can’t resist climbing up a mound to look at Loughor Castle. It’s a ruined Norman castle built on top of an old Roman fort. It would have commanded the estuary and have been a great strategic position.
From the castle I can see a pub. This is where I was considering stopping for an early lunch. But it’s closed. Open only in the evening. My first disappointment of the day. (There are more to come.)
Near the castle is a church – St Michael’s. It’s perched on top of a hill and surrounded by trees, so I am unable to get a decent photograph of the building, but there are amazing views from the little churchyard.
The graves are an interesting mix of old and new. One headstone caught my eye. David and Martha Harris both lived to the good old age of 87. But as a young couple and over the course of 5 years between 1922 and 1927, they buried 4 daughters.
How sad. And what did the girls die from? They weren’t children, but young women. Winifred (aged 21), Gladys (19), Olive (16) and Anne (26). Their names are evocative of the age.
There is a mystery here. Maybe one day I’ll research it.
On a happier note, the final stone, added later at the bottom of the main memorial, is to Nellie Harris who lived to be 68. At first I thought that meant at least one daughter survived, but then I take a closer look. Here is Nellie’s husband too, John Everard Harris. So Nellie wasn’t a daughter to David and Martha, she was a daughter-in-law. But at least they had a son (John) who survived them.
Leaving the churchyard, I walk down towards the Loughor Bridge. This is a busy road bridge, with a rail bridge running alongside it and just hidden from view in the photo below.
Over the bridge, and the Wales Coast Path leads off to the right. This time I don’t hesitate about following it. The main road is the busy A484 – far too unpleasant and dangerous to continue walking alongside.
So I end up walking through a strange development – a weird mixture of new housing and industrial units. But at least there is a pub ahead and lunch to look forward to…
… except this pub is also shut. Whether permanently or temporarily is hard to say. The building looks in reasonable condition, but the path to the front door is overgrown with weeds. (This is my second disappointment of the day.)
Onwards. A footbridge takes me up and over the A484 and the railway line…
… and down towards the bank of the estuary. This part of the walk is only marred by a cloud of thick black smoke. Someone is burning something toxic. Tyres maybe? The smoke smells foul.
I follow a track along the water’s edge. Spring flowers. Lovely.
But I’m getting hungry. It’s 1pm. Time for lunch. My map shows a PH off to right. I wonder if I can get to it through the caravan park?
Mindful I am trespassing, I walk through the park, searching for the pub. And I find a clubhouse. This must be it! But the windows are dark and the doors are locked. I walk around the building and try several doors, but can’t find another way inside. (This is my third, and final, disappointment of the day.)
And then I notice the security cameras.
Instantly I become paranoid, convinced the park’s security men are tracking my movements and watching this strange woman trying to break into their clubhouse. Expecting to be challenged at any moment, and trying to look casual, I trot – as quickly as I can without actually running – back through the park and towards the river.
[Later, looking at the map more carefully, I realise the pub was probably a little further on and in fact there was a public right-of-way through the park – but sadly there were no signposts to inform walkers of this fact.]
Anyway, by now I’m both tired and hungry. I find an isolated spot and sit on a wall overlooking the estuary. It’s a great spot for a snack. I pull out my apple, emergency chocolate bar and water bottle.
But my lunch is rudely interrupted. And in the most extraordinary and bizarre manner. I bet you will never guess what happened next…