Stage 50, 17th April: Burry Port to Carmarthen
With another estuary day in store, the sea continued to be a rare sight as I left a slightly unloved Burry Port to the now familiar thwack of golf balls on the fairways of Ashburnham Golf Club and made my way up the River Towy.
Within minutes I was into Pembrey Forest and caught up with ex Welsh Guard and dog walker, Gavin, who warned me of impending doom in terms of an impassable flooded path ahead. I brazenly dismissed it as a minor obstacle to circumnavigate and headed on my way. Over confidence bit back. The flooded path was more than a minor puddle and the ducks setting up home should have given me a clue that maybe an alternative route would have been wise. Nonetheless I attempted to get around it by disappearing into the thick undergrowth of the forest floor laden with three-foot high brambles, hidden water filled hollows and other thorny straggly bits. A machete would have been handy but I hadn’t included one in my kit list, as jungle wasn’t terrain I had planned for. My walking pole therefore doubled up duties and I spent the next forty-five minutes hacking a vague and indiscriminate trail hoping that the big haired man from ‘Deliverance’ didn’t make a show anytime soon.
Having extracted myself from the depths of the wilderness I then left the forest only to be accosted by a herd of very frisky and inquisitive bullocks. Again the stick came in handy in warding off their aromatic approach and the remaining day was spent extracting thorns from my hands and legs, relieved that the blood loss was only minor.
The afternoon was mainly one of narrow lanes, with more than the odd car cutting things a little finer than I might have liked. On reaching Ferryside I thought a Caramel Magnum was well deserved before I headed off-road, across fields, alongside a railway, through farms, down the odd drive full of sports cars and through someone’s back garden, complete with trampoline and children’s toys, for a rendezvous with Thelma and Louise in Morrisons car park in Carmarthen.
Stage 51, 18th April: Carmarthen to St Clears
Yet more estuary walking, this time the West bank of the Towy and the East bank of the Taf. Carmarthen didn’t give me a good start. Though I began the day on the outskirts of town and only needed to skirt it, the route and signposting was bizarre. Not only were the coast path signs often hidden but some were blatantly wrong. I’m sure the rivalry between supermarkets might have been partly to blame as the path which started at Morrisons was also signposted alongside Tesco, but not on my map!
I backtracked and made my way back over the dual carriageway to find the path with workmen sitting down admiring their newly installed gates. When I tried it the first gate wouldn’t open, so after instructions from the man in the digger using a gesture which I think meant “lift” but could have meant “plonker” I got through. Another hundred yards, same again and again and again. By the fifth gate I’d sussed that they had installed the gate opening mechanism completely wrong and that quality British workmanship was alive and well. I didn’t have the heart or the nerve to walk back and tell them, as I suspected the original hand gesture might have meant something a little harsher.
I continued to follow the coast path which insisted on disappearing off in strange directions to avoid road walking. I tried one particular one which was heading in completely the wrong direction and well off my planned route, so I gave up and ventured back down to walking the road verges down to Llansteffan and a Mint Feast on the sea front.
Llansteffan was a picturesque little town and having tucked into my sausage and mustard sandwiches I decided I would not follow the inland coast path and take a perfectly good path along the coast instead. I’m glad I did. The view at Wharley Point across Laugharne Sands was stunning with the swirling tidal patterns of the sand bars offshore shimmering in the bright sunlight (photo).
After a few more dodgy signs and a walk through Pop Larkins’ farmyard the last joke of the day was on me as the path completely deserted me in the middle of a marsh. Soggy footed and mud spattered, I made my own way up some farm tracks and along the A40 for my end of day rendezvous in St Clears.
Stage 52, 19th April: St Clears to Tenby
Saturday would normally have been a rest day, but the logistics of my support crew meant that for this week I would take Sunday off instead. The weather continued to be bright, but the warmth of yesterday was replaced by a very chilly and bracing wind.
A slightly later start than planned due to a quick radio interview with Monica at BBC Radio Leicester (01:54 in) but at least the coast path seemed a little more thoughtfully planned as it followed the road safely tucked behind a fence which edged long lush grass fields heavy with dew. With my now clean but wet boots I headed down the River Taf to celebrate my first 1,000 miles in the middle of a flowering gorse lined field near Delacorse. I paused to take the obligatory selfie (photo) but felt a little disappointed that I neither had a beer nor company to share the moment. Instead I gave myself a 1,002 mile celebration with a Dairy Milk ice cream at Laugharne.
From the ruins of Laugharne Castle I took the woodland cliffside Dylan Thomas Birthday walk to pick up the road again. Much though I would have preferred to have walked down the vast expanse of Pendine Sands, the military ranges made it inaccessible from the East. So the road was my only option. At Pendine I fancied a few minutes in the grandly titled ‘Museum of Speed’, but my arrival timed with their lunchtime closure and a brief peek through the windows didn’t really urge me to hang around for reopening. Both the building and the number of visible exhibits didn’t seem to reflect the enormity Pendine had played in being the home of the land speed record for so long and I felt it warranted something a little grander.
A couple of steep climbs over Gilman and Ragwen Points then dropped me down for six miles of low-tide beach walking into Pembrokeshire and a seaward skirting of Amroth and Saundersfoot. For the first time I thought that two hours of beach walking needed livening up, so I plugged in my earphones and listened to the football commentary for the afternoon. Dean Saunders swore (mildly) as he summarised for the Cardiff v Fulham match – the BBC apologised!
I met up with Thelma & Louise North of Tenby for the last time. Flip-flop clad, they accompanied me for the last couple of miles into the very pretty but very overcrowded Tenby for a well-earned stop at Penally Court Farm who offered us a lovely free pitch for the bank holiday weekend.