Sunday, October 28, 2012

Wales Coast Path: Beachcomber's Cut Part 1

Pendine Sands - a vital stretch of the Wales Coast Path
Nearly two months after completing Harri’s guidebook for the official Wales Coast Path, we were still pondering some of the bizarre route choices, specifically why so many of Wales’ best beaches have been completely bypassed.

Anyway, Harri’s publishers, Northern Eye, were more than happy for him to suggest ‘alternative’ routes where he felt the official route wasn’t particularly scenic (or anywhere near the coast), which is how we found ourselves heading back to the Carmarthenshire stretch yesterday.

The first beach we were planning to ‘reveal’ to would-be Wales coastal hikerswas Pendine. Now there is a very good reason why this seven-mile beach is closed to the public sometimes. During WW2, it was acquired by the Ministry of Defence and most of the beach is still used as a firing range from Monday to Friday.

An MOD watch tower 
At weekends, however, there is no logical reason for the long Wales Coast Path detour along the busy Pendine to Laugharne road. We’ve walked this route three times, twice out and once back, and believe me, it sucks. Anyone expecting a coastal walk will be sorely disappointed as the open sea remains hidden behind swathes of MOD land and views of the estuary only become visible towards the end.

Harri’s plan this weekend was to investigate the more scenic route along Pendine Sands and find out if it was possible to head inland at Ginst Point to reach Sir John’s Hill (which later links to Dylan Thomas’s Birthday Walk ).

As you enter the beach at Pendine, there are signs warning of the dangers of unexploded munitions, but if the red flag is not flying, visitors are permitted to stroll along the firm, sandy beach, for miles if they so wish.

Ripples of sand at low tide
On a bitterly cold but gloriously sunny October morning, we set off to uncover the delights of this magnificent beach, the location for many land speed records.

At the Pendine end, we were surrounded by dog walkers, family groups, holidaymakers, outdoor enthusiasts, even runners with dogs, but gradually, as we clocked up the miles, the people fell away until it was just Harri and me, and a vast expanse of sand, sea and sky.

At low tide, Pendine is a beachcomber’s paradise. As we headed east the sea was barely visible. The hard, damp sand was strewn with shells, driftwood and plastic bottles. We passed the remains of a tree, decorated with garish detritus, presumably by passers-by, a heavy wooden door, numerous oil drums and frequently, bundles of hay woven with knotted nets.

The detritus tree adds a splash of colour to the beach
At Ginst Point, there was good news. After leaving the beach we joined a gravel track leading to two car parks and then walked along the old sea wall embankment, enjoying views across the estuary towards Llansteffan Castle and the old ferry crossing point.

We retraced our steps, which is usually very boring but with the tide in, the beach was transformed and we walked along the water’s edge, me looking for shells and Harri just enjoying the late afternoon sunshine.

Today’s walk took a little longer than usual, mainly because I was experimenting with my new Canon Compact camera. The crisp, cold weather was perfect for landscape photography but it didn’t mean I couldn’t have a little fun with the various settings (my current favourites are monochrome and vivid colours).

Discovering the delights of monochrome

We timed the end of our 18-mile walk perfectly and were just arriving back at Pendine village (too tired even to stop at the pub) as the sun was setting behind the hills of distant Pembrokeshire.

As I pondered which setting to use for that all-important sunset photograph, Harri reminded me that today’s walk had fulfilled all my criteria for the perfect hike: it was coastal, flat, there was no mud and, most important of all, the sun had shone all day.

I agree. It was the perfect hike along a magnificent stretch of sand – so why don’t coast path officials want you to walk it?

Just one of my many sunset photographs 

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