What can one say about Ferryside? It was like stepping back into the 1970s as I was abandoned on a windswept campsite under grey skies with the threat of rain. I had hoped to eat in a local pub but the campsite owner told me that they didn’t serve food on Sunday evenings so before he left, Barry had taken me to the village shop. It had very little fresh food but a huge heap of perfectly ripe kiwi fruit in a bin outside. I bought a handful from the ill-mannered chap on the checkout, along with some cheese and a large carton of juice. I’d ditched the stove as there were plenty of places to buy food en route – or so I had thought.
Despite the tumbleweed feel the showers were good, although I could have done without the constant cheesy pop music, and the unnerving question from the owner about whether I felt safe as a woman travelling alone. That intensified the sense of this being a place lost in a distant past. I didn’t tell him about the sharp knife I keep close by to enable escape in case of fire in the tent caused by my (non-existent) stove.
I slept well and woke early, leaving before breakfast. The whole area is poor, both in spirit as well as wealth. There are some signs of community as a set of rundown buildings houses a community cafe and craft courses but the ‘Hotel and Spa’ at the far end of the village was so tatty and dirty that I reckon you would catch something nasty if you partook of the facilities. Just beyond the hotel the trail climbed steeply up steps to fields where paths led to tiny Llansaint, with its white towered church, then descended to Kidwelly. I’d intended visiting Kidwelly Castle but the predicted rain arrived early, so I listened to my growling belly and headed for the Castle Cafe instead. A veggie cooked breakfast with a mug of tea cost £4.50 which felt like quite a bargain, particularly as I could charge my phone as well. I ignored the slug trails across the carpet and enjoyed my breakfast.
From now on the trail was predominantly on tarmac. A short walk through the town led to a disused quay and canal once used for the shipping of coal. Cycle paths took me through salt marshes to a former airfield, now a motor racing venue. It was very flat, and bleak, and damp. Broken concrete tracks edged with wild flowers led into Pembrey Forest, a large country park, still on tarmac trails but with less broken concrete and barbed wire. Here the rain began in earnest and I draped my poncho over my rucksack to keep dry.
The pine trees kept the wind at bay until the tarmac ran out at Cefn Siddan Sands. Over four kilometres of sand had to be crossed, walking into a headwind that drove the heavy drizzle into every crevice, and sand into my socks and trainers. It was quite a struggle, not helped by the headache and neck ache that were developing. It felt as if the beach would never end. I had hoped for a large cosy cafe at the Country Park Centre but all I could find was a tiny cafe at the dry ski slope. I didn’t fancy camping in the wet weather, and it was still quite early in the day, so I booked Bed and Breakfast in Burry Port and hurried on through dunes towards Pembrey harbour, which is silted up and mostly disused. From there it wasn’t far to Burry Port harbour, which is still in use but a shadow of its former self.
Burry Port and its near neighbours were once noisy, dirty but thriving industrial towns. The industrial revolution was powered by coal from the area, and copper and tin works once lined the coast. A power station followed later, and new villages were built to house the huge workforce. All of that is now gone, and little remains of its past, apart from information boards and memorial plaques. It is a testament to the area that it has been developed into a series of nature reserves with wetlands created where once the ground was polluted by industry. A network of cycle paths link the coastal towns and are well used by cyclists and walkers.
The Globe Guesthouse was inexpensive and basic (£40), but the room was clean, the shower hot and powerful and the owners friendly. Sadly the eating out opportunities were limited to an unpleasant smelling pub, a greasy chippy and a pub that housed the Burry Port Motorcycle Club, none of which took my fancy. So I bought a cold collation from the Co-op and ate in my room. My legs felt battered by all the tarmac, and there was much more to come.
Torrential rain in the night convinced me I’d made the right decision to find accommodation. As did the excellent night’s sleep. Breakfast was good and my hosts, regaled their guests with tales of travelling to Cuba and Kenya, and their of lives working as chef and barmaid in local pubs. I felt well rested as I set out into improving weather, skirting the harbour where boats sat in the foul smelling mud of the marina waiting for the tide to turn. The cycle paths took me past lush foliage and shining lakes where once the power station had stood, and past the site of Bwlch-y-Gwynn village demolished in 1973. Cockle pickers could be seen out on the sands, vehicles close by to transport them to safety once the tide turned. After Llanelli the trail snaked through the National Wetland Centre of Wales Llanelli Wetland Centre. Wetlands are some of the most endangered habitats in the world and it is encouraging to see this area restoring theirs, bringing in tourists and school groups to educate them about the importance of such habitats.
I can’t say that this is an area that I would visit out of choice so I enjoyed being led through it by the Coast Path. This now took me inland beside the Loughnor Estuary, where the tide was racing in, drowning sandbanks at speed. Oystercatchers drifted in flocks between the remaining mudflats. A footbridge crossed a main road and a railway and then a road bridge crossed the estuary. More busy main roads followed by a pleasant bridleway led to Gowerton, where I stepped off the Coast Path and climbed inland towards Gowerton Golf Course and my room for the night. Tomorrow I would set out around the beautiful Gower Peninsula
To be continued…