Friday, September 14, 2012

Day 8 - And so it ends - Three Cliffs Bay to Swansea marina

A mammoth bench overlooks Three Cliffs Bay
Our last day of coast path walking this year.

Whenever my spirits plummet, Harri assures me ‘we’ll be back’ – he’s right, of course, because one of the bonuses of being commissioned to write an official Wales Coast Path guidebook is that you also get to devise the accompanying Top 10 Walks book. So, one way or the other, we’ll be back in Carmarthenshire/Gower before the winter’s over.

Harri’s stretch of the path ends at Swansea marina which posed us with the problem of where to park. Parking for anything up to ten hours is never cheap, but was likely to be even more expensive in a city centre.

Harri’s solution was to park midway along the Swansea seafront, catch a bus back to Pennard then walk past our car to complete the final three miles to the marina. There was one drawback – unless we wanted to pay two astronomical bus fares in one day, we’d have to walk back again.

While we were waiting for our bus, Harri spotted a car driver having a quick shave while he waited in rush hour traffic. I’m not sure if this is legal or not – the car wasn’t actually moving at the time - but can you really be paying due attention to the traffic when you’ve got an electric shaver pressed to your cheek? I'm not sure.

Enjoying the sunshine without a care in the world 
At Pennard, the stroll to rejoin the official path at Three Cliffs Bay was infinitely more enjoyable than it was the previous evening when we’d been tired and hungry.  The ever-present cows roamed contentedly around the golf course, completely uninterested in any human comings and goings.

There’s always something bitter-sweet about your last day anywhere and knowing we were gradually edging our way towards urbanisation didn’t help.

As we walked past the beautiful houses of Pennard, Harri spotted his former Masters lecturer, now semi-retired, and we slowed down for a catch-up. After we’d said our goodbyes, I sat on the grass while Harri went off looking for the poet Vernon Watkins’memorial stone at Hunt’s Bay below. Watkins, who died in 1967, was a lifelong friend of Dylan Thomas and the stone is inscribed with two lines from his poem ‘Talieson in Gower’: 'I have been taught the script of stones, and I know the tongue of the wave'.

Unfortunately, like others before him, Harri was unable to locate the stone, leading him to believe that it’s been subsumed by vegetation over the years. 

Explore the beautiful Bishopston valley behind Pwlldu
At Pwlldu, Harri took his final dip of the week and I dipped my toes in at the water’s edge. Higher up the beach, I leaned I closed my eyes and lifted my face, relishing the warm sun on my skin and trying hard to create sensory memories to sustain me throughout the winter months. There’s something magical about the sea; I don’t think I could cope with living in a land-locked country. I seem to remember reading that Bill Bryson was almost an adult before he had his first glimpse of the ocean but then the States is a lot bigger than little old Britain. Newport’s not the most scenic of cities (oops, nearly wrote town there!) but its location is ideal for travelling to the coast.

We continued on our way, eventually reaching the tarmac path that hugs the coastline from Caswell to Langland and beyond. Both are undeniably pretty places but they lack the rugged splendour of Rhossili, Broughton and Oxwich. I sensed I was dragging my feet as the Mumbles headland came into view – around that corner sprawled Swansea, its manmade landscape, its crowds, its queues of traffic. All too soon we were returning to civilisation – how I longed to turn and retrace our steps back to Rhossili.

Looking down at Caswell Bay 
Trying to stay positive, we upped our pace, reasoning that the faster we walked, the sooner we’d be finished. It was late afternoon and we still had the full sweep of Swansea Bay ahead of us, plus a nasty little sting in the tail – that return walk back to the car. At least I wasn’t running it, I consoled myself, remembering how ill-prepared (and over-dressed) I was for the Swansea 10k in 2010. 

As we neared the car park, Harri gave me the option of stopping but I knew we’d be sorry if we did;  aborting the walk with just three miles or so to go would have presented us with future problems. No, I insisted bravely, we’ll walk to Swansea marina as planned (Harri later admitted that he'd been half-hoping I'd insist on stopping!).

The boat park at the Mumbles
I’d forgotten that the docklands area of Swansea has been expanding rapidly in past years; the reality of walking to the marina meant passing block after concrete block of shiny new apartments with their bare, unloved verandahs, all crying out for some TLC. I’m at a loss to understand why anyone would want to live in one of these modern tower blocks when they could buy or rent a terraced house with a nice little garden for less, but each to his own I suppose.

By the time we finally reached the marina, my feet were in a sorry state and I was somewhat regretting my earlier magnanimity. It was, however, a beautiful evening and a cunning plan was forming in my mind.

So that’s how we ended five days and almost one hundred miles of coast path walking – sitting on a bench overlooking Swansea Bay, with a bottle of Sainsburys’ best dry cider and a large packet of Tyrells (definitely the best crisps ever) and (me) getting my hand kissed by a (drunken) stranger.

All in all, a very decadent end to a hard week's hiking.

We finally reached Swansea marina at twilight

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