185 am – Ferryside to Carmarthen

I check my map. Today’s walk looks straightforward, and I’m worried it might be boring as it follows tracks and roads up the estuary. But the day turns out to be surprisingly eventful.

It’s a damp and dull morning when I set off from the beach at Ferryside. Across the river the pretty village of Llansteffan seems tantalising close.

01 Llansteffan from Ferryside, Ruth walking the Wales Coast Path

Once you could simply have taken a ferry across the Towy (this formed part of a pilgrim route to St David’s), but the ferry stopped running years ago. Now you have to hike miles up the estuary to Carmarthen in order to cross the river.

I stop to take a photograph of Ferryside’s railway station, and decide one day I really, really must travel along this line. I can imagine the wonderful views as the train hugs the coast, following it more closely than the path does.

02 Ferryside station, Ruth hiking through Wales

I walk up the main street, heading northwards.

This collection of ramshackle wooden huts look like a series of neglected allotment sheds, but turns out to be the Mariners Surgery – a genuine NHS branch surgery. I’m shocked.

03 Mariner's Surgery, Ferryside, Ruth Livingstone

Reaching the end of the village, the Wales Coast Path leaves the road and follows a series of farm tracks. I would prefer to be walking closer to the river, but my track is separated from the water by fields of cows and the raised bank of the railway line. In the distance I can see the ruins of Llansteffan Castle.

04 fields of cows, Ruth on the Wales Coast Path

When planning today’s walk, I intended to take a little diversion along a footpath that crosses over the railway line and then follows the bank for half a mile, before rejoining the official path. (This is yet another example of a public footpath that runs closer to the coast than the official Wales Coast Path does!)

But I’m not a morning person and it takes some time for my brain to wake up. So I manage to forget all about this plan! I even take a photo of the place where the footpath branches off and goes over the line (with the Stop, Look, Listen sign below). By the time I remember, I’ve gone too far to turn back.

05 missed the detour, Ruth walking the Wales Coast Path towards Carmarthen

The farm track is undulating enough to keep the views interesting, but the walking is easy. I get tantalising glimpses of the river.

06 country road between Ferryside and Carmarthen, Ruth hiking in Wales

At one point I see a speedboat on the water, towing a couple of water skiers.

07 view over Towy, Ruth walking the Wales Coast Path

Sometimes the banks are high, crowded with flowers, and my view is restricted to the immediate road ahead.

country lane, Ruth hiking in Wales

I walk past isolated farms, and at one point have a nasty incident when a couple of dogs – a tiny terrier and a yellow Labrador – race out of a farm-yard and begin barking and growling furiously at me.

The terrier is the more aggressive of the two. I’m horrified when he takes a mouthful of my trousers between his teeth.  If I had my poles, I would have hit him. I try talking to the Labrador – usually a friendly breed and one I’m very fond of. But the Labrador has been thoroughly wound up by the terrier, and refuses to respond to my voice. He is barking and snarling too, teeth bared. A bite from him would be worse than from the terrier.

The terrier takes another bite of my trousers. I back away and slowly side-step around the dogs. But, to my horror, they follow me – keeping up a relentless yapping and growling. I continue backing down the lane, telling myself not to run.  As I get further and further from their gate, the terrier stops attacking my ankles and, eventually, they both stop pursuing me, but keep barking horribly as I go round a bend in the track.

It’s been a nerve-racking experience and my heart is pounding. Although I can no longer see them, I can still hear the dogs barking, and I’m relieved to see the path leaves the track. I quickly climb over a style and into the safety of a field.

I’m out of the frying pan and into… a field of cows and bullocks. They decide to charge over towards me. This would normally terrify me, but I remain remarkably calm when faced with the stampeding herd. I even manage to take a photograph. At least cows don’t bite.

09 close encounters with cows, Ruth walking the Wales Coast Path

The cattle stop charging just before they reach me, but they continue to mill about in an agitated way. One of them even has a ring through its nose. Not a good sign. So I’m anxious to get out of the field as soon as I can. But I can’t see a path. And I can’t find a way out.

Eventually, by walking around the perimeter of the fence, I come across a metal ‘kissing gate’. It’s down a slope and not visible from the top of the field.

10 way out of the field, Ruth on the Wales Coast Path

Through the gate, and the footpath drops down into a narrow, wooded valley, with a stream running along the bottom. It’s lovely. The air smells damp and deep green. But there’s a steep climb down to a ramshackle bridge. A fallen tree lies at one end of the crossing, its roots in the air, its trunk forming an ancillary railing beside the bridge.

11 valley with bridge, Ruth falling on the Wales Coast Path

The fallen tree should have been a warning. On the way down, just after I take the photo above,  I lose my footing. Wet earth has slipped away from rock, and my boots skid over the smooth surface. I fall backwards, saving my camera from injury by raising my arms. And I land heavily on my shoulder and elbow.

I lie on my side, feeling dazed. Then, worried. I’m down in a deep valley, hidden from view, with no phone signal. What if I’ve broken something? I could be here for days!

Carefully I sit up. So far, so good. Then I lever myself up onto my feet, nearly losing my balance again on the slippery rocks. But I am relieved to find nothing is broken. My elbow hurts, and my shoulder aches, but my legs are fine. I can walk.

Well, I’m uninjured, but it’s not been a good day. What next? I’m feeling seriously rattled and rather paranoid. The world is set against me. I just want this walk to be over. Why am I doing this?

I climb out of the valley and into the next field – and I meet a horse. It comes towards me, picking its way delicately over the ground, coat as white as an angel and with pale lashes framing gentle eyes. It stands a few feet away and snorts hopefully, maybe looking for an apple or a carrot.

12 horse, Ruth hiking near Carmarthen, Wales

I’m not particularly fond of horses, but this horse is both beautiful and friendly, and I give its nose a rub. Immediately I feel much better.

The footpath takes me through a hedge and into a back garden, across a neatly clipped lawn and past children’s play equipment. It’s surreal. A patch of suburbia within the wilds of the countryside.

Back on a road, and I’m looking forward to reaching the next place marked on my map. Towy Castle. A castle means dry stones to sit down on. And I plan to stop here for a drink and a snack.

But Towy Castle turns out to be hugely disappointing. There’s a farm and a collection of holiday lets. And an old people’s home, I think. But no castle.

13 the disappointing Towy Castle, Ruth walking in Wales

More dogs bark at me, but they are behind a glass window. Their owners sit in window seats, drinking coffee and having a lazy Sunday brunch. I try not to stare with envy. I’m really hungry now, bruised and tired.

I leave the houses and – with the sound of barking dogs following me – walk down a field. Ahead the path goes through a gate, with a pretty view of the river framed by the gap in the hedge.

14 towards Cwymyrarian, Ruth walking the Wales Coastal Path

On the side of another deep valley, beside some ruined buildings, in a place called Cwmyrarian, I sit on damp grass and eat my snack. An apple and a chocolate bar.

After the break I feel better. I always do feel better after eating chocolate!

Now I follow farm tracks across sloping fields. I love the roll and tuck of the land, with hedges everywhere, mixed with trees. And in the distance the gleaming line of the river. It’s so much nicer than the flat, prairie fields of my home country, Lincolnshire.

15 rolling fields, Ruth walking along the Wales Coast Path, River Towy

The track joins a tiny lane, lined by flowers and threaded with telegraph poles.

16 b-road into Croesycellog, Ruth walking in Wales

And I walk through the pretty village of Croesyceilog, where I come across my first walker of the day. In fact, my only walker of the day. He won’t meet my eyes and doesn’t greet me, which seems odd. I take a photograph of his back.

17 first serious walker, Ruth hiking in Wales

I must say, he seems very neat and tidy. Clean boots. I, on the other hand, am covered in mud. There are brown smears all along my left side (where I fell), I have a soggy green patch across my bottom (from my snack break), and – if you look closely – you will find doggy tooth marks on my stained trousers (made by the terrier from hell).

No wonder he ignored me. I look like a tramp.

The road leads onwards. On my map, it changes from yellow to orange. I’m moving towards civilisation. Towards Carmarthen.

18 down towards the A484, Ruth on Wales Coast Path, Carmarthen

At a roundabout I join the familiar A484. And walk on a cycle/walk way running alongside the busy road.

19 A484 into Carmarthen, Ruth hiking through Wales

I’m meeting my husband in Carmarthen. We are having a late lunch there, and I will be finishing my walk, because I’ve had enough for today. At least, that’s my plan…

[To be continued…]

About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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22 Responses to 185 am – Ferryside to Carmarthen

  1. jcombe says:

    Oh dear oh dear! First off that path you saw that crossed the railway line. It was probably a waste of time. I tried to follow it, got so far and it became very overgrown with no obvious path. I had to turn back.

    I’m pretty sure I had an “incident” with that same dog. I remember it now it also came out barking at me. When I did this walk it was raining and this bit being quite sheltered I had put an umbrella up. So I was able to fend it off by waving my umbrella in it’s face, which seemed to make it back off.

    I think it was this walk where I also came across two blocked paths (in the same area), one where the farmer had deliberatly put some sort of farm machine right in front of the kissing gate, so you had to climb over it and over the gate. Then another where the crops had been planted right up to the kissing gate so you came into a field of head-high crops! I guess those issues must have been fixed now.

    I think it was also this walk where you had to go around the side of a house and open the gate – it felt like walking into their back garden! I thought I had gone wrong until I spotted the Wales coast path sign on the gate.

    I also remember getting lost at that wooded valley where you fell over too, but I think like you I found the gate eventually. I hope your next walk is better, assuming this has not put you off.

    • I really, really missed my poles on that walk. I didn’t take them with me because I was anticipating mainly road walking. They would have been useful to fend off the dogs.

  2. I too had a nasty encounter with those same two dogs. The previous farm had a bundle of baby labs so when I saw the next lab, I wasn’t too bothered. They circled me for ages, so scary.
    I now carry dog biscuits just in case but haven’t seen any as aggressive as that again, thank goodness!

  3. Just realised I had a big fall that day too, but in the field with the cows rather than the wood. It was very muddy that day! Ah, coincidences!

  4. theresagreen says:

    Oh dear, poor you! Hope you’re not too bruised and battered. It sounds as though the farmer here does not welcome walkers on his land and has deliberately sited animals to give you a fright! It also seems the designated route is a bit risky, so as others have had similar experiences here it may be worth informing the folk that look after it and promote it – the Path has its own website – http://www.walescoastpath.gov.uk/?lang=en ?

  5. Marie Keates says:

    Those dogs sound nasty. I’m pretty sure a lot of farmers do things like that to put off walkers. It actually makes me quite cross so I’m glad you reported it. This sounds like a very eventful walk and mostly not in a good way. Can’t wait to read the next part.

    • I would like to think it’s not deliberate, just thoughtlessness because many people don’t realise footpaths=walkers, especially in very isolated areas. But these two dogs were so aggressive I’m sure the owners need to be notified.

  6. That must’ve been quite an experience with the dogs and then your accident – isn’t it funny how we strive to protect our precious possessions over ourselves… I did the very same thing when I slipped backwards on New Year’s Eve, landing hard on my backside! I’ve only had one experience of a teeth-bearing Jack Russell but the owner was on hand to call it back. It seems like they’re extremely ‘protective’ is areas that are perhaps less frequented by walkers. Glad to hear you’ve reported it, though. That sighting of the white horse was almost symbolic after your tribulations before. 🙂

  7. owdjockey says:

    Hi Ruth, you’ll be pleased to know that I encountered the dogs, well at least the Labrador, who followed me up the lane continually barking. The terrier remained indoors barking(thank god!) giving it large!! Had no problem with the slope that you slipped on as I was going the opposite way i.e walking from Carmarthen to Burry Port. Met your ‘angelic’ horse, but he did not approach. Caught the train back to Carmarthen, a really nice journey

    • Hi Alan. I did complain to the council about those dogs. Seems like nothing much has changed and they’re still terrorising walkers! Glad to hear you negotiated the valley of death without a slip, and very glad to hear you met my angelic horse – for a while I wondered if I’d dreamt it up 🙂 That train ride is marvellous, isn’t it, with gives you the best views of that part of the coast.

  8. Scwp says:

    The Ferry between Llansteffan and Ferryside or vice versa is now back in action after 60 years. Timetables are posted in the village and are available on carmarthenbayferries.com. A single passage is £5.

  9. Karen White says:

    What an eventful day. The dogs must have been very frightening, even a small dog can inflict a very painful bite – thank goodness it was only your trousers. Then your fall, again, what a relief you were ok – well, relatively. I would have saved my camera too!

  10. Jason says:

    Hi Ruth.
    I really enjoyed reading your article. I stumbled across it as I’m a regular cyclist in the area with Ferryside beach as my final destination. I’ve been considering whether the route you took to Carmarthen was at all suitable for a mountain bike. Reading your feedback and I’m inclined to think not!
    Thank you for the enjoyable read.

    • Hi Jason, most of it would be fine for biking – but that valley after the cow field… well, you could carry the bike over that bit, I guess. What a lovely area to cycle in. Best wishes.

  11. Beti Ede says:

    Hi Ruth
    Thank you for your story and photographs. You write well, a book next perchance.
    Maybe won’t do that walk now….
    I am so sorry about the dogs from hell and the nasty fall. You’re right about such things made doubly worse when walking alone. Will try and remember about dog biscuits and an umbrella.
    Thanks again Ruth for a very interesting read.
    Best wishes

  12. Thank you for your kind comments. I don’t know if the dogs are still there, but I wasn’t the only walker who had trouble with them. I wish you many enjoyable dog-free (and cow-free) walks! Best wishes.

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