I catch the first bus of the day from Carmarthen to Llansteffan. It’s two weeks since my last walking expedition in Wales, and this time I have left both my husband and my car behind, so I am relying totally on public transport. (Thank goodness for Traveline Cymru – which takes some of the pain out of the planning process.)
Llansteffan is both a seaside resort and an agricultural community. It has an old Norman church and, nearby, a strange white building with a curved front looks like a shop, but is actually the Old Pound; not used for dogs, but for holding stray sheep.
[I couldn’t find any additional information about the Old Pound on the Internet, although I did discover that the red telephone box next to it is a listed building.]
As I set off walking through the village I get distracted by a woman and a dog, whose progress is erratic in front of me. In my hurry to overtake them, I forget to snap a photograph of the castle. So here is one I took on my previous visit.
I follow the Wales Coast Path as it climbs into woodland (called The Sticks) and circles around Castle Hill. Through gaps in the trees, I get a great view looking up the estuary. The sun is breaking up the clouds. and it promises to be a fine day.
Llansteffan has a unique historical ritual during which the villagers elect a totally unofficial ‘Mayor of the Woods’. This spot in The Sticks is where the ceremony used to take place, and here a piece of modern sculpture by Judith Griffiths-Jones has been erected: a steel bench with a musical theme. It looks rather wonderful.
Below the woods is the beach and I notice that the dog-walker, who was following me earlier, is now walking along the sands. I decide to go down and join them.
It’s a gloriously empty stretch of sands, with just a few dog walkers and a couple of fishermen at the far end. The tide is coming in very rapidly. These fishermen are forced to keep moving. Almost as soon as they set up their lines, the tide overtakes them and they have to shift further up the beach.
Not wanting to get cut-off, I scramble up some steep steps and rejoin the official path on the cliffs above. The sea is relentless in its progress, and the fishermen are on the move again. Ahead I can see the promontory of Wharley Point
Before reaching this headland, the path dips down to the shore at a place called St Anthony’s Cottage, before rising to regain the high ground.
From the top, I can look clear across the mouth of the estuary, to Pembrey Forest and its golden collar of Cefn Sidan Sands, where I can even make out the stubby post of the military control tower. Beyond this the details of the landscape are obscured by blue haze, but I can see the ridge of Whiteford Burrows and the humps of Llanmadoc Hill and Rhossili Down on The Gower peninsula. The knobbly finger pointing into the sea is instantly recognisable: Worm’s Head.
It’s amazing to see these old landmarks so clearly. Maybe for the last time.
I come out of woodland and walk along a green slope scattered with golden gorse bushes. Ahead, across the water, is a cliffy coastline with a piece of low-lying land at its base, framed by bright sands. It all looks tantalisingly close, but I know I have yet another estuary to navigate before I reach that shoreline.
As I progress, I begin to see the details of the opposite shore and can check them against my map. The low-lying area is Laugharne Burrows and its surrounding marshland. On the far side, further along the coast, is a collection of houses. Pendine. Beyond that, somewhere, is the beginning of the Pembrokeshire coast.
I feel a surge of excitement, knowing I will soon be walking along the marvellous Pembrokeshire Coast Path. But first, I have one more estuary to go.
The path turns away from the sea and follows a winding country lane. I’m heading up the River Taf, towards the town of St Clear and the nearest crossing place.
Between folds in the landscape I catch a glimpse of the mouth of the river. Over Laugharne Burrows is another stretch of water – open sea – and the town on the distant promontory on the horizon must be… Tenby!
In a field nearby a farmer on a tractor has been making hay. A large bird wheels above him. I don’t have my telephoto lens with me and only manage a few blurred photographs. I’m hopeless at identifying birds. Is it a red kite?
The lane seems to be heading straight down to the shore of the River Taf. Over the water is Laugharne, with the grey ruins of another castle.
I nearly continue straight along the lane, which turns into a track and ends at the water’s edge at a place called Black Scar. It would have been a dead-end. Just in time, I spot a Wales Coast Path sign, half hidden within the foliage of the hedge, and turn off to the right.
The footpath follows higher ground, through woodland, thickets of weeds, across fields, until I come to the edge of a flat valley, dotted with sheep. There seems to be a raised causeway crossing straight over the mouth of the valley, but it’s not marked as a public footpath on my map.
After dithering for a few minutes, wondering if it’s worth going down to try out this shortcut, I remember the breach in the causeway at Llanmadoc, and decide to keep to the official path instead.
I pass a field of young cattle. Cows are not my favourite animal, as many of you will know, but these are soft-coated and cuddly looking. Cream and caramel. They keep their distance, ears pricked, watching me with friendly interest. I think they’re beautiful.
The path has joined a country road. A river meanders across the middle of the valley, and the road crosses this obstacle via a bridge. Pont-y-Mwche. When I reach the far side of the valley, I realise the surrounding land is owned by the National Trust and there is a footpath across the causeway, but a sign warns it is closed. ‘Perygl.’ Danger.
From here I walk through a farm and then along the marshy bank of the river. The path is indistinct and I am worried that I’ve missed the trail, but am reassured when I see the familiar blue and yellow sign up ahead.
The path turns away from the shore, taking me up through tangled woodland, along the edges of crop fields, and down farmer’s tracks, until I join a road again.
At this point the Wales Coast Path has been diverted, due to the old route being ‘unacceptably wet for the majority of the time’, and now follows the road instead. But the old footpath signs still remain and the weather has been dry for several weeks. I decide to follow the original route.
I walk beside fields where the ground is covered in plastic sheeting. Young shoots have pushed their way through, tearing the plastic as they grow. At first I think this is accidental damage, then I realise the field was designed this way. It’s sweet corn, I think.
At the bottom of a slope I reach an area of water meadow with a meandering stream. I can see how this could easily turn into a marshy quagmire, but am relieved to find the ground is dry at the moment.
Unfortunately, I’m not alone. A herd of cattle is enjoying the lush grass.
I make my way nervously along the bank of the stream, hoping the animals won’t notice my presence on the edge of their field. But one large bullock trots over and begins to follow me. He/she is soon joined by others. I continue walking, as quickly as I can. After a hurried look behind, I realise I’ve accumulated quite a following and feel like a pied piper – but with cattle instead of children.
There is no turning back now. I begin to worry that, because the Coast Path was diverted, I may not be able to get out at the other side of the field. And I’m very relieved to find a stile.
From the safety of the other side of the fence, I take photographs of the cattle. One of them, the ring leader, seems to want to eat me.
After this encounter, I stick to the official diverted route, and follow narrow roads through farmland. It’s pleasant walking, but I’m growing tired. It’s gone 1:30 pm and I’ve been walking for nearly four hours without a rest. I find a strip of mown verge and sit on the grass for a quick drink and a snack.
At a place called Foxhole, I leave the road to follow the footpath, but get lost crossing a large field and end up resentfully trudging around the perimeter until I spot a footpath sign and discover the way out. My relief quickly turns to dismay. I enter a field of cows.
I’ve never seen such a concentration of the beasts. They are everywhere, with hardly a spare patch of grass between them. My path seems to lead straight into the mob.
After a while I realise the cows have been deliberately corralled into a small area of the field, enclosed by a single strand of electric wire. The wire is too low for me to crawl under, and too high for me to step over. I look around for an insulated section that would allow me to cross the electrified barrier, but I don’t see one.
Deciding there must be an exit point at the far end of the pen, I decide to walk to the top of the field. This takes a heart-thumping few minutes. I follow the line of the wire, expecting to find a way through, but I don’t. I also expect the cows to move out of my way, but they don’t. In fact they seem terribly dopey – which is both a relief and a hinderance, because those lying down don’t even bother getting up. I’m forced to step between them, placing my boots literally inches away from their haunches.
It’s a relief to get to the top of the pen unscathed, but I still can’t see a way out through the electrified fence. At least the wire is higher at this point. I wonder how powerful the shock is if you touch the wire? I decide I’ll have to risk it and crawl underneath. So, I take my rucksack off and get down onto my hands and knees, trying to avoid the worst of the cowpats. It seems to take ages to inch myself under the wire, but I make it to the other side without getting an electric shock.
The rest of my walk is uneventful and mercifully cow-free. (Well, yes, cow-free. But I do meet a bull…).
I pick up the path again and walk through more fields, towards St Clears.
I approach the outskirts of the town, my path takes me down through a couple of fields and then over the Afon Cynin via footbridge.
From the footbridge, I look back the way I’ve just come, and see a bull has entered the field. (My husband says every immature bullock looks like a bull to me. But this is definitely a fully grown bull with dingle-dangle accessories.) A bull!
I stand on the bridge, relieved not to have crossed its path earlier, when I notice it seems very old and walks with a distinct limp. In fact, it can only move with painful slowness, one foot at a time. Arthritis? How sad. Poor old boy.
I never thought I’d feel sorry for a bull.
Over the bridge and I join the A4066. Leaving the coast path behind, I head into St Clears. I’m early for the bus back to Carmarthen but find the bus stop is very inconveniently placed, stuck into a dark gap between a hedge and the pub, right next to a doggy-poo bin. I don’t want to sit in there. It’s hardly inviting.
Across the road is a café. I’m their only customer and order a large buttered tea-cake and a pot of tea. It costs me a miserly £2.50.
Back at the bus stop and I grow increasingly anxious as the only buses that stop are school buses and the drivers won’t let me on! The scheduled bus eventually arrives, 20 minutes late.
Miles walked today = 11
Miles along Wales Coast Path = 277
Total distance around coast = 1,884 miles