Friday, September 23, 2011

Conquering coast paths

The seven-mile stretch of sands at Pendine

My brother-in-law, Paul, a keen hiker and passionate about the great outdoors, has always hated coastal walking, preferring instead to head for Wales’ more mountainous regions – the Brecon Beacons, Snowdonia et al.

Not me.  Given the option of an amble over the Black Mountains or a tough trek along the Welsh coastline, I’d opt for the latter everytime.  And yes, you did read that right, because as anyone who has done some serious coast path walking will confirm, there’s nothing tougher on the old legs than all those sea level to cliff top climbs – done over and over again in quick succession.

Anyway, with two proposed trips to the Rhinogs rained off in the past month and last weekend’s plans threatening to go the same way, we decided instead to enjoy the best walking this lush land has to offer in south, rather than north, Wales.

And with the launch of the Wales Coast Path looming ever closer (May 5th 2012), we thought it would be exciting to visit the Carmarthenshire stretch of this new national trail and find out how much progress had been made in waymarking the route.

No more mud, just nice solid boardwalks
Welsh readers will know that the official Pembrokeshire Coast Path ends at Amroth.  When we completed the 186-mile trial in January 2008, we were enjoying ourselves so much we decided to carry on to Pendine Sands (best known as the location of five land speed records between 1924-7). Unfortunately, almost as soon as we crossed the Pembrokeshire border, the path, no longer official or well-trod, deteriorated dramatically, with the absolute low point, a steep climb through thick, wet, squelchy mud from Marros Sands to the cliff-top above (I hate mud!).

I’m delighted to report that said mud is now a thing of the past and, in its place, there are nice solid boardwalks (I love boardwalks!).  So a big thank you to Carmarthenshire Council for sorting out this stretch of path well ahead of May 2012.

While the Council’s coast path officer may be diligent, there’s little he or she can do about the sheer amount of climbing on this short but spectacular section of path (Amroth to Pendine).  It probably didn’t help that we did an out and back walk, creating a sinking realisation (for me at least) that every knee-aching descent was going to become an even tougher ascent when we turned around and did the whole route in reverse.

It’s worth the effort though. The views from the top of those cliffs are amazing – Worm’s Head in one direction and Caldey Island, Tenby and Saundersfoot, in the other.

An active rain cloud heads in our direction 
It goes without saying that we got rained on, but Carmarthenshire coastal rain isn’t quite as wet or horizontal as Rhinog rain (or so Harri insisted), and there is a nice pub at Amroth (the New Inn) where you can sip your favourite tipple for however long it takes for the rainbow to appear.

Ah, Welsh pubs and the characters who prop up their bars – now that’s a subject for a whole new blog.

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