Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Day 1 – Setting off (Amroth-St Clears)

The Wales Coast Path was launched in May 2012 -
Harri is  writing the official guide for the stretch from Amroth to Swansea
At the beginning of every hike, I have ridiculously high expectations. Forget the sodden marshlands of last month’s expedition, the endless clambering uphill and the relentless, sheeting rain of yesterday, the next journey promises to be different.

Time and time again, I set myself up for disappointment and that’s how it was with our first three days on the Amroth-Swansea section of the Wales Coast Path.

What made my optimism even less understandable this time around was that I’ve previously walked two out of the three stretches we planned to cover today. Buried deep in the dredges of my mind there were undoubtedly memories of the tough, undulating coastline between Amroth and Pendine, the interminable detour inland around MOD land and the endless wet fields. Whatever, my brain chose not to resurrect bad memories from previous walks and instead I experienced afresh the delights of squelching up the hill from Marros Sands (the boardwalks are a welcome addition but we need many more of them!) and trudging along the roadside path from Pendine.

This being our first day, we were late setting off. Sixteen miles isn’t a daunting distance but the difficult terrain of the five mile stretch to Amroth took us roughly three hours, slow-going by any standards.

There’s no denying the initial climbs are tough – and this being a coast path, the route regularly sends you plummeting back to sea level only to be faced with another soaring cliff – but the hard work is worth it for the views. I didn’t realise at the time, but the vistas across the waves to Caldey Island were the only proper sea views we would have in our three days’ walking.

Last autumn, Harri and I walked from Laugharne to Pendine and back in one day. It’s a tedious stretch of ‘coast’ path, namely because after reaching Pendine seafront, the walker is directed inland almost immediately to avoid the vast swathes of coastline acquired by the MOD during the Second World War. Harri is currently investigating an alternative weekend route along Pendine Sands when the weapons testing range isn’t being used so beach walking should be possible for those who prefer their coast paths to be coastal.

After what felt like a never-ending trek across tarmac, the Wales Coast Path meanders through a succession of fields running parallel to the main road. In some, the path is fenced off and the ground relatively dry underfoot; in too many, however, the path is ill-defined, wet and boggy – just the sort of hiking I love!

The views from Sir John's Hill are well worth the effort
At last, we reached Sir John’s Hill and entered Laugharne via Dylan Thomas’ ‘Birthday Walk’. Now Laugharne is a place that is definitely worth visiting, albeit a bit on the touristy side. The presence of Carmarthenshire’s favourite son is evident everywhere, from the sculpture overlooking the estuary to Brown’s Hotel, Dylan’s writing shed to his former home, the Boat House. It’s a pretty spot to while away a few hours, but unfortunately, we were running late and so it was a quick glance through the shed window and ever onwards (and at that point, very definitely upwards).

The atmospheric interior of Dylan Thomas's
writing shed
The final stretch of today’s walk was virgin territory for both of us and so mildly, no make that madly, exciting. It all started so promisingly – we trotted out of Laugharne along a wooded path high above the water, tiring a little but nonetheless keen to sample the delights of Carmarthenshire’s undiscovered coastline.

As our moods plummeted, the slug count soared. This county must surely be the slug capital of Wales; they were everywhere, thousands of them clinging to the saturated vegetation. I tried to avoid standing on them, but they were so numerous, I soon gave up. And bog run organisers, take note – I thought the Brecon Beacons were wet but they are nothing compared to the sodden, squelching fields of Carmarthenshire.

Carmarthenshire's exploding 
slug population is the only thing to look at for miles
Having worked in the public sector for many years, I understand the concept of committees, camels and horses, specifically how there is a reverse exponential relationship between the number of people around the table and the quality of the decisions made.

Assuming that premise, there were surely hundreds involved in determining the official coast path route for the Laugharne-St Clears section of the Wales Coast Path. In short, it’s terrible: there are no estuary views worth noting, in fact, there is nothing interesting to look at; the path is frequently indistinct, in many places no more than a line cut through the vegetation; there are slugs, slugs and more slugs no doubt relishing the bogginess of the ground.

At the end of a gruelling day there was only one thing left to do – toss my stinking socks into the bin and head to the nearest off-licence.

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