188 pm Laugharne to Pendine

What’s so special about Laugharne? The poet, Dylan Thomas, lived here during the last years of his life, and is buried in the churchyard. The rest of the world seems to know this (including many of my fellow coastal walkers), but it was news to me!

Below is a photo of the Boat House, where Dylan and his family stayed. They would have enjoyed  the unspoilt and wonderful view across the River Taf. It’s a familiar landscape to me, being the route of my walk yesterday.

 Dylan Thomas's boat house, Ruth walking in Laugharne

[Later I learn of a controversial proposal to erect a wind turbine on the hill across the water. The plans are currently on hold, following a judicial review. You can read the current position here:  www.dylanthomaswindturbine.co.uk . I’m usually in favour of wind turbines, but I agree it would be a terrible shame to spoil this particular vista.]

On the lane above the Boat House is a shed. This was once a small garage, but Dylan Thomas converted it into a writing room. It’s almost directly above the Boat House and enjoys the same view. What an inspiring place for a poet! Through a glass door, you can see his table, littered underneath with discarded pages of writing, his coat draped casually over the chair. I’m not sure how much of the furnishings are original, but it has a nice authentic feel to it.

Dylan Thomas's writing shed, Ruth hiking through Laugharne

After taking photographs of the writing shed, I notice a concrete promenade running just above the beach, and so I leave the cliff-side path and go down to walk along the shore and into Laugharne.

lower path to Laugharne, Ruth in Wales

The concrete promenade ends in a grassy common, lying just under the ruined castle’s walls. There are lots of people about, walking and sitting in the sunshine.

Ruth on Wales Coast Path, Laugharne Castle

After crossing a stream (you can choose to use the ford or the bridge), I find myself in the middle of a car-boot sale. But, more importantly, I see a café straight ahead.

car boot sale, Laugharne, Ruth's coastal walk

I stop for lunch and enjoy watching the bustle of people. A coach pulls up, and more tourists get off. I’ve not seen so many visitors invading a Welsh village before. It must be the lure of Dylan Thomas.

Then I wonder how many of these tourists have actually read his work? I have a hazy recollection of being bored by an amateur production of Under Milk Wood many years ago. But most people will know the poem ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’, and its famous refrain: ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light’. I’m ashamed to say that’s the only line I can remember of Dylan Thomas’s work.

After lunch I walk along the Wales Coast Path as it follows the shore around the little bay and then along the wooded slope of Sir John’s Hill. Up on higher ground I stop to take a photograph of Laugharne’s meandering river and its castle walls.

 Laugharne castle and harbour, Ruth Livingstone hiking in Wales

The path I’m following was originally built to allow cockle pickers access to the shore. It’s now rechristened as ‘Dylan Thomas’s Birthday Walk’, because this is where the poet walked on his 30th birthday and wrote a poem about the experience.

I enjoy the views, just as he would have enjoyed them. I take a photograph looking up the River Taf, which clearly shows the flat valley below Mwche Farm, (This was the valley with the causeway, the one that I considered crossing but was glad I didn’t try, because I later found out the path was closed.)

across River Taf estuary to Mwche, Ruth walking the Wales Coast Path

And I can’t resist another photo looking back across the bay. Dylan Thomas’s boathouse is the white building at the bottom, right on the edge of the water. It looks tiny.

look back to Dylan Thomas's boat house, Ruth walking down the River Taf

The walk ends with a notice board that displays the stanzas from Dylan Thomas’s birthday poem, and encourages visitors to make a birthday pilgrimage to this spot to mark their own birthdays. I wonder how many people do this?

And, from here, there is a fantastic view across the Laugharne marshes, a vast sage-green pancake, furrowed with watercourses. At the far end of the marsh are watch towers, marking yet another military range. And across a blue band  of sea – which looks ridiculously narrow from this perspective – are the bright sands and green trees of Pembrey Forest.

Laugharne marshes and Laugharne Sands, Ruth livingstone

I feel an immense sense of achievement. It’s taken me 5 days of slow walking since leaving the beach at Pembrey, but I’ve finally navigated my way around the estuaries of the River Towy and the River Taf. I’m back on the coast again.

Beside the path, I spot another plaque. This one is metal, set into concrete, and I assume it’s marking an important historical event. ‘The Gathering at the Llareggub’. It talks about the flattening of a hill under the feet of a great army. And talks of a natural causeway running all the way to Greater Rockall.

 The Gathering at the Llareggub, Ruth Livingstone in Laugharne

I’ve never heard of this great military gathering. And I feel dizzy thinking of an enormously long, 850km, causeway connecting this area to a place called Rockall.

Amazed by the depth of my ignorance about historical events, I walk on.

The Wales Coast Path leads down off Sir John’s Hill and joins a track, winding around the edge of the marsh.

Ruth on Wales Coast Path along edge of marshes

This area has been reclaimed as farmland. I pass meadows, and this rather lovely group of young cattle.

 lovely bullocks, Ruth on her coastal walk

Ahead is an area I can remember seeing from the other side of the estuary. What I thought were striking cliffs, turn out to be the edges of a quarry.

Coygen Quarry, Ruth hiking the Welsh coast

A loud bang makes me jump.
Are they blasting the rock face of the quarry?
But the noise seems to be coming from behind me.
I turn and look across the fields in the direction of the marshes. A puff of smoke is rising from behind a hedge. The bang was a blast, a military blast.

military action, Ruth in Laugharne Burrows, Pendine

I continue my walk expecting to hear further explosions, but that was the only one.

The track joins a road and this leads me up a hill and away from the marsh. I soon find myself back on the A4066.

road walking A4066. Ruth on Wales Coast Path to Pendine

My map shows the Wales Coast Path follows the road for the next 4 miles, all the way from here to the village of Pendine. My heart sinks. Despite having expected this, and despite the road not being terribly busy, I’m not looking forward to 4 miles of tarmac walking and traffic dodging.

But I needn’t have worried. The Coast Path dives off to the left, and I walk across fields on the other side of the hedge. It’s pleasant in the sunshine, and great to be separated from the traffic, even though I seem to be several miles away from the sea!

footpath on fields alongside A4066, Ruth in Wales

For the last couple of miles, I walk alongside an MoD fence. I always find it odd to see signs saying that our military establishments are being guarded by a civilian force (QinetiQ in this case). It seems weird to me.

 MOD Pendine Burrows, Ruth walking the Wales Coast Path

The countryside on the other side of the fence doesn’t look very military. Rolling meadows, filled with tall grasses and wild flowers, including sunny yellow flag irises.

peaceful meadows, Ruth walking the coast road, Pendine

A sign says I’m walking alongside one of the largest dune systems in Wales. Shame I can’t see it. The military took over the dunes during the second world war.

I walk past caravan parks and static holiday homes. Another sign tells me that Pendine is home to the world land speed record. (That was back in the 1920’s of course.)

I’m on the outskirts of Pendine and can smell the sea in the air. Leaving the road, I take a shortcut through a car park and – at long last – arrive on the beach.

Pendine, Ruth on Wales Coast Path, Carmarthenshire

I walk to the end of the promenade and buy a cold drink in a shop.  I can’t see a bus stop sign, so I ask the man in the shop if he knows where the bus stops.

‘Yes,’ he says, and leaves me hanging for a moment. ‘Do you want me to tell you?’

I’m a little too tired – and worried about catching the one and only afternoon bus – to appreciate his humour. But it turns out the bus stops right outside his shop. With half an hour to kill, I take my drink to the beach and sit on the steps.

Looking out to sea,  I realise I can see The Gower! There’s Llanmadoc Hill, Rhossili Down and the knobbly outline of Worms Head. I’ve walked so far… and yet I’m still in sight of those landmarks.

 beach at Pendine, Gower in distance, Ruth hiking in Wales

Back at the unmarked bus stop, and time passes. Nobody else is around. I begin to panic. Perhaps the shopkeeper was joking – and there isn’t a bus after all?

It arrives, eventually, 20 minutes late.

You can read more about the Dylan Thomas Walk: www.dylanthomasbirthdaywalk.co.uk

And if you want to find out more about the mysterious ‘Gathering at the Llareggub’, this is the place to start: http://www.kcymaerxthaere.com The truth is out there. Or is it?

Distance today = 12 miles
Along Wales Coast = 289 miles
Total distance = 1,896 miles


About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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18 Responses to 188 pm Laugharne to Pendine

  1. jcombe says:

    I stuck to the main Wales Coast path here, but more or less at the junction of the Dylan Thomas birthday walk there is a path south over the fields to Laugharne Burrows. I assume it was a dead-end but did see someone leave the path ahead and begin walking it and it looked fairly well used.

    I was in Pendine when the army land was not in use so took the oppurtunity to walk a couple of miles east along the beach (and back again) once I got there. This is allowed when the range is not in use (it obviously was when you walked here). There is a red light on a post on the beach to indicate if the range is in use. I suspect (but I’m not certain) when the range is not in use you can use this path to access the beach (it looks like there is a track beyind through the dunes) and cut out that long walk near the road. I was wondering if you were going to try this route! Maybe someone will and I can find out for good. Perhaps I should have tried it, but I was worried about having to turn back which would mean I’d miss the last bus from Pendine. I remember taking that last bus – I thought it was quite early for the last bus – but I was the only passenger all the way back to St Clears, so it doesn’t seem well used.

    • I saw the footpath off the end of Dylan Thomas’s birthday walk too and, like you, I was tempted. The OS map shows a footpath with a sickle-shaped course through the marshes, but it seems to come to a dead end. I was also worried about missing the last bus of the afternoon, so I didn’t dare be adventurous with the route.

  2. Tony says:

    I share your puzzlement at defence establishments being guarded by commercial companies. Presumably their first loyalty is to their shareholders, so that presumably if they are offered a good enough deal by an enemy nation they should accept it…

    • Indeed. Or help overturn our democracy in a right-wing coup, or left-wing, if the price was right.

    • Bronchitikat says:

      I rather suspect that the reason the military aren’t guarding their own establishments is due to government cutbacks. Surely it’s cheaper to guard places with your own staff – who need guarding practice, than to employ an outside contractor. But there we are. Perhaps the army has been so drastically reduced that it just can’t raise the requisite manpower?

  3. I was weaned on Dylan. Apart from my mother’s literary attributes forming a basis for my enjoyment of literature and the arts Dylan had a huge influence on me as a romantic sixteen year old. I knew whole sections of Under Milk Wood by heart and other Dylan writings. His love for, and mastery of words, and his humour were thrilling. I am saddened to hear that you were put off by a snatch of an inferior performance of UMW. It does need some concentration and it has to be listened to (it was originally “a play for voices”, and only later performed on the stage) all the way through starting with the villagers asleep and progressing through the day with appropriate alterations of pace and mood.

    The BBC recording with Richard Burton is available on CD. I would recommend listening to it for the first time with nobody else present – this will be an unforgettable, pleasurable experience and worth every second of one hour and forty minutes. I reckon it is high on the list of all artistic achievements during the twentieth century.

  4. Ah, I didn’t know that was a Dylan Thomas poem! I can only hear it now in the voice of Michael Caine, after watching Interstellar. 🙂 QinetiQ also own/look after a small MOD base near Sand Point, Weston-super-Mare – although, more recent photos show that the place has been all but abandoned, with fences torn down and buildings left to ruin beyond.

  5. Marie Keates says:

    Yet another lovely walk. You had the best of the weather by the looks of it. Like you I didn’t know there was a DylanThomas boathouse. It looks fascinating. Wouldn’t it be nice to have somewhere like that to write?

  6. theresagreen says:

    I laughed again at your encounter with the shopkeeper, typically Welsh sense of humour!

    • Yes 🙂 I must say my heart sank when he came out and locked his shop up and the bus still hadn’t arrived. I thought his joke might have extended too far… but then the bus turned up.

  7. david watts says:

    Llareggub (read it backwards) was the town in “Under Milkwood”. As real as the causeway from Salisbury plain to Rockall.

  8. David L says:

    Yes, in answer to responses posted earlier, when the range isn’t in use you can follow the path J Combe mentions, leaving the Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk and following the sea wall down for 2 miles or so, always heading towards a watch tower. After 1.5 miles or so there’s a locked gate (‘No entry) but with no red flag flying on the pole next to it so I climbed over, following the track beyond out to Ginst Point. Cars can get here too, via Brill Gate (Range Access point further west), and there were a few sunbathers. Pendine Sands start just around the corner and run 7 miles to Pendine village, with stranded jellyfish twinkling in the sun.

  9. Karen White says:

    The castle and river are very picturesque. I think I need to seek out the Richard Burtin cd too, as I’ve never been enamoured by Dylan Thomas’ work.
    I seem to recall that you’ve walked by more than one military base guarded by this commercial company. It does seem and odd way to do things.

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