Friday, September 14, 2012

Day 6 - More bog than blog - Llanridian to Rhossili

The majestic Rhossili Bay with Worm's Head in the distance 
The full splendour of the Wales Coast Path was finally revealed today, no doubt helped by the glorious autumn weather.

With the lure of the open sea and the majestic Rhossili Bay later on, it wasn’t difficult to believe that Harri has landed one of the best jobs in the world.

A concrete path weaves its way around the coastline for several miles from Llanridian and, from the amount of dead crabs scattered in the grass alongside it, we deduced that a recent tide had been particularly high.

Gower's coastal landscape is richly varied
Fortunately, there was no sign of sea water as we made our way past the spectacular Cwm Ivy and North Hill Tors and through the dunes around Broughton Bay. The beach, though stunningly beautiful, is unsuitable for swimming due to the strong tides at the mouth of the Loughor estuary so Harri resigned himself to waiting until we reached the magnificent Rhossili beach for his daily dip.

While he enjoyed splashing around in the sea, I paddled in nearby rock pools, amused by the antics of two dogs who were running in and out of the largest pool and seemed to be having even more fun than Harri. Bbbrrr! I get cold just looking at him.

I’m always astounded at the iciness of the sea around Wales, actually around the UK generally. Years ago, when I lived on the Isles of Scilly and had a beach on my doorstep (literally), I found the best time to go for a swim was after my evening shift as a silver-service waitress. The sea always felt much warmer at that time of day and there was the added incentive of a brandy and babycham in The Atlantic Hotel afterwards – lethal for the legs but definitely one to warm the rest of the body. Does anyone even drink it these days?

Boardwalks - my favourite terrain 
But I digress. At Broughton Bay, we were unsurprised when the official route took us high above the beach and along the edge of Rhossili Down – the views across to Worm’s Head were superb but, even so, I longed for the feel of that fine, white sand between my toes. There's just not enough beach walking on the official coast path - it would be interesting to know the rationale behind some of the more baffling route decisions.

From Rhossili, Worm’s Head looks deceptively close and it’s not unusual for people to underestimate the time needed to walk there and back across the rocky causeway and end up stranded there, Dylan Thomas apparently one of them.  Fortunately, there are now volunteer coastguards who display each day’s ‘safe to cross’ times prominently so there’s really no excuse anymore for cutting it too fine and having to call out the emergency services.

We reached the village of Rhossili in plenty of time for the bus to Reynoldston and killed some time in the National Trust shop. Not for the first time, we mused on how we can walk for hours and barely see a soul then arrive in a popular tourist spot and find ourselves in the middle of a throng. It was exactly the same on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path when it seemed like all Pembrokeshire’s tourists congregated in and around St David’s and Tenby.

There isn’t a bus from Rhossili to Llanrhidian so Harri’s plan to get off at Reynoldston and walk the short distance over Cefn Bryn seemed sensible. At this point alarm bells should have been sounding in my head, but lulled by the warm sunshine, stunning scenery and the promise of another cider at the Dolphin Inn, I agreed enthusiastically.  Reynoldston is one of those sleepy, affluent Gower communities that I never tire of visiting.

A few years ago, in nearby Burry, we experienced one of the most imaginative bed and breakfast arrangements at Green Bank Cottage. This is a place that understands hikers! Instead of the usual unwanted cooked breakfast (as well as being problematic in terms of slowing us down, catching buses, etc. a big breakfast makes us feel sluggish for hours), the wonderful hosts at Green Bank provide a fridge and nibbles in the room and leave a continental breakfast (with hot croissants and rolls) outside your room at an agreed time. Perfect! Other bed and breakfast owners please take note.

Anyway, the day seemed to be going well. All was idyllic on the short, early evening walk to the top of Cefn Bryn. Below us, in Reynoldston, sheep grazed contentedly on the village green and cows predictably gathered around road side signs; we climbed the backbone of Gower on a wide grassy path, barely raising a glance from the wild horses which roam the slopes, foals at their side.

Having a scratch - wild horses mingle with
walkers above Rhossili
I didn’t think anything was amiss until I noticed Harri looking anxiously at the map – this is a sight so far that it should immediately alert me that something is wrong. His verdict? While the path under our feet was wide and distinct, it wasn’t taking us in the right direction and, unless we veered downhill towards the treeline, we most definitely would not end up in Llanrhidian.

There was just one teeny, weeny problem, i.e. what lay between us and the treeline. It was then that I experienced that awful feeling of deja vue – hadn’t we been here before, on this very hillside, facing the very same problem? That problem being how to traverse a bog without a boat/thigh waders/water skis or very long legs? Given that my available accessories were shorts and sandals and very short legs, I instinctively knew this was not going to be pleasant!

Now readers of this blog will know that I’m not too keen on mud or very cold water. Mix the two together and you get icy cold runny mud – my idea of hell on earth! After lots of prevarication (for some reason, Harri prefers to call it 'whingeing'), during which I struggled to think of some solution which didn’t involve holy intervention or a helicopter, I finally accepted I had no choice but to wade through the filthy, revolting bog. And so began one of the most unpleasant experiences of my hiking life.

Just when I’d think it couldn’t get any worse, Harri would study the map again, shake his head and announce that we had to retrace our watery steps and attempt another ‘route’.

After half an hour’s desperate floundering, we finally made some headway and managed to fight our way through to a farmyard – only to have several barking dogs come running at us. Fortunately, their friendly owner came rushing out to assure us their barks were louder than their bites.

Determined to have our cider come what may, we ‘cleaned up’ our filthy, scratched legs on a pavement a few yards from where a man was mowing his lawn. He didn't seem too bemused by our antics so I'm guessing getting stuck in the local bog must be a regular occurrence in these parts.

A few days later, Harri stumbled upon a news story about a woman who’d got stuck on Cefn Bryn last year and had to call the emergency services out to pull her out.  Lucky escape or not,  Harri knows he’s not heard the last of today's misadventure! 

High above Rhossili beach are spectacular 360 degree views 

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