Thursday, September 13, 2012

Day 4 - No 'bird' watching here - Kidwelly to Gowerton

The Millennium Coast Path - could that be the sea in the distance?

After an early start (we left Newport at around 7.20am), we found ourselves back at Kidwelly railway station having caught an over-priced train from Gowerton (how we single journey travellers are penalised!). In the morning haze, the previously bleak station was transformed into the perfect starting point for a long day’s walking.

On the fourth day of ‘our’ stretch, Harri and I were planning to cover 23 miles – far more than any one day’s hiking in the finished book but necessary if we were to complete our walking this week.

By now, I didn’t think any decision by Carmarthenshire council could surprise me. Later I was to discover how wrong I could be!

The day started promisingly enough at Kidwelly Quay where groups of bird watchers were already enjoying the glorious views across the estuary.  The official path followed Wales’ oldest canal - Kymer’s Canal - for about a mile before heading inland and alongside the railway. After crossing the track, we were forced onto a busy main road for several hundred metres and then finally joined Route 4 of the National Cycle Network.

By now I should be waxing lyrically about the sea views, but unfortunately, as per the norm, the Bristol Channel was nowhere to be seen. Instead, there were the usual fields filled with cows, and as we know by now, where there are cows, there are cow pats; this time they were deposited liberally along the concrete surface, ready to splatter unsuspecting cyclists.

You'll encounter more
 than just cyclists on Route 4
Eventually, Route 4 took us away from cows and across swathes of unoccupied MOD land, until finally we entered Pembrey Forest where there were no views of anything but trees (thankfully, deciduous) for several miles. We walked briskly through the woodland, aware that the sea was less than a kilometre away but unable to glimpse even a wave.

Fortunately, our tedious walk through woodland was interrupted by a rather exciting phone call. A senior editor  at the AA wanted to offer Harri some route-checking work in the Cotswolds later this month. This good news certainly put a bounce into our step and we emerged from Pembrey Forest feeling very upbeat.

We mused about why the official coast path route had diverted us behind Cefn Sidan beach, undeniably one of Wales’ most beautiful stretches of coastline. The beach, which is bordered by Pembrey Country Park, is popular with families and sunseekers, but bizarrely, these eight miles of golden sand seemed to be ‘off limits’ to coast path walkers.

We pondered why Carmarthenshire council had once again steered people as far from the coastline as possible, then Harri recalled reading that Cefn Sidan is a popular, though unofficial, naturist beach. We decided the long detour around the beach must be the council’s way of ensuring hikers aren’t distracted by a little unexpected ‘bird’ watching.

Whatever, we soon joined the 21km Millennium Coast Path which runs from Pembrey to Bynea Gateway on the other side of Llanelli.

At last, after many miles of inland walking, we had rejoined the Welsh coast and, in the early September sunshine, this stretch of the Wales Coast Path proved to be absolutely delightful if not a bit hazardous (there are a LOT of cyclists whizzing past).

Harri enjoying the sun at Burry Port
Neither of us had been to Burry Port before but we were instantly bowled over by this busy little seaside town, with its pretty harbour and colourful houses.

The next few miles brought back (painful) memories of my first half marathon in March this year, though the permanent markers are in kilometres (it was marked in miles on the day). It could have been psychosomatic but somewhere between Burry Port and Llanelli my feet started aching very badly. 

That’s the trouble with these long tarmac stretches – you can cover a lot of miles very quickly but they play havoc with the old soles of we old souls (okay, that's me). 

We limped into Gowerton in the early evening and, forsaking a drink in the pub, drove straight to our home for the next five days – a Travelodge room. At £123 for four nights, Travelodge delivers no frills but the rooms are clean and functional – and the receptionists are always extremely  helpful and friendly. 

After a 23-mile day, that’s really all that matters.

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