The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Wentwood

Tuesday 24 March

Consideration was given to the possibility of squeezing two hills into today, but it would likely have been exactly that: a squeeze. Or perhaps a rush, constantly wondering whether I would make my afternoon deadline to be home. So, instead I opted for just the one hill, but shunned the option of parking less than a mile from the summit, instead choosing to take a bit of a meandering route up through the forest from Parc Seymour.

A good choice, even if I do say so myself. A nice bit of woodland preceded the managed forest, and so much did we enjoy it (particularly as our ascent was in the sunshine) that instead of taking the short route (down the road) back to our start point, we meandered back through the woods, where the path choices were plentiful (and some of them were even shown on the map).

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Recent forestry works have temporarily messed up the summit and our approach, but one benefit of that work is that rather than the summit being fully wooded, with a wall of trees preventing views, you can now stand at the trig and look out over the Severn Estuary and the Severn Bridge. When I say ‘stand at the trig’, I mean ‘stand relatively close to the trig’, as the forestry works have created a camouflage wooded-defence around it:

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Trig point in disguise

As I already said, we chose to wander back through the woodland for our return, on a nice dirt path (well, nice except the little bit torn up by tyres), noting as we went that the clouds were looking very dark and foreboding. We must have walked the right route at just the right pace, as we hadn’t been back inside Colin for more than 2 minutes when the heavens opened; hail and rain lashed down in a way that made us mutter “Glad we’re not out in that!”.

(6.4 miles; 1300’) 

And, that was that: it was time to go home, after a most enjoyable trip involving 178 miles of Welsh Coast, followed by 11 Marilyns, over the course of 15 days, 13.5 of which were dry and most of them sunny.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

4 Marilyns West of Caerphilly

Monday 23 March

Mynydd y Glyn

Mick described our route up this hill as being like a salute: we took the long way up and the short way down. Having found somewhere suitable to park a 6m van in the residential streets of Cymmer (arriving after the local residents had left for work would have made it easier), off we set up well-trodden paths, knowing that at some point we would have to leave those paths to reach the summit.

It turned out that the well-trodden paths didn’t follow the lines of the rights of way, and further turned out that a barbed-wire fence didn’t feature any crossing places, even where the rights of way lay, all of which led to a very circuitous ascent, variously over grass and slag heaps. Here I am standing at the top, from which snap you may notice that the views were somewhat curtailed, even though the cloud was well above the summit:

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Our descent was a much simpler affair, as we headed straight for Cymmer, handily finding a stile exactly in the right place over the only fence we needed to cross.

(2.8 miles; 900’)

Cefn Eglwysilan

It’s possible to drive to within about 200m of the top of this hill, but it involves a tiny lane with no obvious parking, so we opted to leave Colin in Trallwn on the east edge of Pontypridd and we walked up the road instead.

The final ascent from the road must be a bit of a ‘mare of bracken in summer, but at this time of year we could see trods through the remains of last year’s growth, which led us steeply to the top. It was still heavily overcast, with the views being lost in the murk:

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(3 miles; 900’)

Craig yr Allt

This was the outing upon which a cyclist mistook me for a horse! It’s not an everyday event, and probably not one to which I would have confessed, had I been in the cyclists shoes.

That was within minutes of leaving Colin, as we made our way steeply down* a path which is still shown on the OS maps as being a lane, but which has been sealed off at each end for long enough that nature has reclaimed most of its former width. (*If I’d paid any attention to the contour lines I may have chosen a parking spot which didn’t involve heading steeply downhill before we started on our objective!)

As for the hill itself, its shape was far more pleasing than the previous two, and judging by the well-trodden paths to and along its ridge, it is popular place to visit. Its shape also suggested it must be a fine viewpoint on a clear day. It wasn’t a bad viewpoint even on this day:

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The final pull back up to Colin wasn’t as bad as it had seemed in descent and no-one mistook me for a horse on the way back...

(3 miles; 700’)

Garth Hill

This hill will be remembered as the one where I attempted to navigate Colin, on a really tiny lane, around a bend that (due to the combination of steepness and angle of bend) was physically beyond him. A retreat was made (that was quite a manoeuvre!) and we decided that rather than trying the lane from the other direction, we would simply extend the walk by taking the lane on foot. 

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The offending bend

A number of public footpaths in this area appear to be missing (no signage from the road; no evidence of them on the ground), but we did finally find one which took us off the road and towards our objective. We could have continued following that path, giving us a nice gentle route, but when we saw a trodden line up the side of the hill we took it. Steep enough to touch the ground in front of you with an outstretched arm, we certainly gained height quickly … and I also quickly decreed that we were going back down the long way. Surely nobody’s knees would forgive them for descending that way!

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A broad, grassy ridge awaited us once we had huffed and puffed our way up, together with a substantial layer of mizzling low cloud. For a day when it was meant to rain all day, we couldn’t reasonably complain about finally having to don waterproofs half a mile before our final summit. Of course, I did complain as the weather was now robbing us of even limited views.

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There are a number of ancient burial mounds along this ridge. This trig lies on top of one of them.

A different set of paths saw us off the hill, before we trod the tiny lane again in the other direction, where I tested Mick to see if he could describe all 8 of the hills we had visited over the last 2 days. He confirmed what I thought: when visiting this number of hills in a short space of time it’s really difficult to remember them all without jogging the memory by looking at a map!

(3.2 miles; 1000’; Total for day: 12 miles; 3500’)

Three Mynydds (Mynyddau?) and a Foel

Sunday 22 March

Mynydd Drumau

Pulling up outside of the church in Bryn Coch at the same time as the congregation for the early morning Sunday service, I realised that when I’d researched where we could park for this hill, I’d not considered that we might find ourselves there on a Sunday morning. The congregation was small; I don’t think we put anyone out.

Having made our way up a lane and through some woodland, a small amount of trespass was required to reach the top of the hill (probably no more than five minutes worth) and it was nice and early on a Sunday morning, so what were the chances of the farmer seeing us?

There’s a clue to the answer to that question in this snap of me at the trig point on this unremarkable hill:

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Lambing sheep = early morning farmer visits. As it went, he was too busy wrestling a sheep to the ground to pay us any attention as we hopped over one of his gates and made our way back to the public footpath. Arriving back at the church the early congregation had departed, and so did we, towards another Mynydd.

(3.3 miles; 600’)

Mynydd Marchwyel

It would have been perfectly possible to visit the top of this, our second hill of the day, without a single step of trespass. However, I had decided that the preferable approach was from the village of Cilfrew, which required us to trespass for a total of around 3.9 miles. But, it was Sunday morning, so what were the chances of meeting a farmer?

To reduce our chances further, a blistering pace was set as we sweated our way uphill in the sunshine and I was pleased when we finally crossed a fence into the forestry, 250m before the trig point, which put us onto access land.

It certainly isn’t a hill that boasts views from the summit:

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But the return journey made up for that:

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We made it back to Cilfrew without (to the best of our knowledge) anyone having witnessed us sneaking across the private land (except for the two dog walkers, who were also trespassing).

(5 miles; 1000’)

Mynydd Dinas

The inland alternative to the Wales Coast Path, around Port Talbot, goes very close to the top of this hill, but I had opted to stick with the coast on that walk and return to visit the hill afterwards, so that’s what we did for our third summit of the day.

A very pleasant walk up was had, with extensive coastal views. The steel works of Port Talbot did, of course, draw the eye, and being so vast with so many smoking chimneys it looked like something out of a previous, more industrial, age. I did take a snap, but you can’t really see what I mean about the steel works. Did I mention that I really do need to get a new camera?

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Easily locating the path which leads to the trig point (prior research had paid off again), I had expected to find another trodden path from there to the “ground 2m NE of flat rock 65m E of trig” (i.e. the highest point). Not only was there no such trodden line, but the depth of heather, mini trees and spikey things made me think that there was no way we were going to locate that rock.

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Striding along the path towards the trig

Thrashing around, I was just about to give it up as a bad job when I stumbled across that elusive rock, completely surrounded by heather (I’m standing as I am to hold back some of the heather so you can see the rock):

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Sure enough, 2m away a small patch of heather proved not to be as deep as that surrounding it, and I found myself standing on the highest ground.

Whilst we hadn’t had the hill to ourselves (four walkers, one runner), it had been pretty quiet for a sunny Sunday afternoon. We were nearly back down in Baglan when we rounded a bend and were met with this view:

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That was a big group! But they were well grouped together, so we got away with just half a dozen greetings without leaving anyone out.

Consideration was given to continuing, on foot, straight from this hill to our next one, but for various reasons we stuck to Plan A, which was to drive around to Pontrhydyfen, as we intended to stay there the night anyway.

Foel Fynyddau

Arguably, with hindsight, we might have been better approaching this hill from Baglan after all, but if we had done that I’m sure it wouldn’t have been a memorable outing (I’m having enough trouble remembering which hill was which, making memorable snippets a bonus), and there’s nothing like encountering a hundred blow-downs in your path to make a walk memorable:

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The clambering that ensued was made even more ‘interesting’ by the quantity of brambles, and there were thoughts that we should have stuck to the modern, maintained (but very meandering) forest track rather than trying out this old, abandoned (direct) one. Of course, by the time we got to the worst mess of fallen trees we had put enough effort into this route as to make us reluctant to back-track, and our persistence (and clambering) did eventually pay off.

We spilled back out onto the modern track (by which I mean we climbed over the last tree and jumped down onto the track, from which vantage point the old track was invisible) just as four mountain bikers passed by. I’m sure they must have wondered where we’d been and why.

A better line was found to shortcut the final switch-back, leading us directly to the top, which I concede was a little cluttered from some angles…

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… but gave good views:

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A much better (and more direct, but far less memorable) route was taken to get us back down.

(4.75 miles; 1400’; total for day: 16 miles; 3600’)

 

It had been a lovely warm spring day, although that evening the forecast told us that it was to be the last fine day of this long run of high pressure.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Mynydd y Betws and Mynydd Uchaf

Saturday 21 March

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It came to my attention last night that today was quite an important day in the world of Six Nations Rugby. Whilst Mick had only suggested that he would be pleased if we could be somewhere with TV reception in time for the England match, I knew that his preference would be to watch all three matches back-to-back. As he has been so kind as to be my personal chauffeur for the last week and a half, it would have been mean of me to drag him up hills instead.

So, a rest day was declared and after a lie-in, an extra day at our campsite (electric + excellent TV reception) was booked as soon as the office opened at 9am.

That gave us 3.5 hours before the first kick off and I reckoned that we could just squeeze a couple of hills into that time (I would have been right too, if it hadn’t been for a stop to refuel Colin and a bit of a traffic jam on the way back).

I think we can still count it as a rest day, mind, as the entire distance walked in bagging these two hills was under 1.5 miles. Mynydd y Betws was a particularly quick outing, as the top lies adjacent to the road, although we did span it out a bit by walking over to the grassed-over mounds and dips which are clearly still discernable as the site of a castle, plus there was a bit of wandering around in searching for the highest point.

Mynydd Uchaf involved a little bit more effort, involving around 150’ of up (compared with about 10’ for the first hill).

Whilst the day may have been short on walking, it was big on views, with very few signs of civilisation (if we overlook the wind farm) being evident around us. Surprisingly, there were still a few little patches of snow sitting on the south side of the Brecon Beacons.

Friday, 20 March 2015

WCP: Gowerton to Pembrey

Friday 20 March 2015

Distance: 15.5 miles

Weather: Wall-to-wall sunshine (although the sun did almost disappear briefly at about 9.25am)

The original plan had been that I was only walking as far as Gowerton on this trip, following which we would spend a few days visiting some of the coastal(ish) Marilyns which lie between the Gower and Newport. That plan changed yesterday, based on the weather forecast; with yet more sunshine forecast I couldn’t resist squeezing in just one more day walking along the coast.

The sunny days are leading to cold nights, and last night was the coldest yet, but even at 7.15, as I strode off down a nastily-busy little lane, there was promise that it would soon warm up.

There’s not much to be said about the first bit of the route, which saw me approach and cross the River Loughor, but once over the river (via the road bridge), off I veered to the salt marshes, which has been designated as the Millennium Coastal Park. For the most part that was quite pleasant, although unspectacular.

At Machynys, Mick strode towards me and performed his usual about-turn, which saw us walking together towards the west side of Llanelli. It was fortuitous that we met when we did, as Mick was well equipped with solar eclipse viewing gear, whereas I had none. Thus, at 9.27 (when everyone within sight was stopped and viewing through one means or another) we got to witness the eclipse:

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Mick’s solar eclipse viewing gear: a light coloured Tilley hat and a pair of reading glasses

The day, which had been warming up nicely, cooled back down noticeably as the moon got in the way, and it was quite a while later when it felt warm again. By then, I had paused for coffee in the comfort of Colin, before joining hoards of people out on this section of the Millennium Park (I think the ease of access together with there being a seafront promenade cause the popularity of this particular area).

In terms of prettiness, the highlight of the day was probably the lighthouse and beach at Burry Port, where the lighthouse we passed first thing yesterday at Whiteford Burrows appeared to be just a stone’s throw away across the water.

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Hard surfaces prevailed today as the WCP followed cycle paths, and even the last section through the sand dunes to Pembrey was no exception, although here the surface was formed by that plastic grid stuff, through which grass can grow (although on this occasion it had been filled with grit).

Finding Mick parked up at Pembrey I decided to call it a day rather than continuing on to Cydweli, and so that’s it for this section of the Welsh Coast. It has been most enjoyable, made more so by the weather (if we overlook the Barry day). There’s some surprisingly nice coast down here, and I’m already looking forward to the final section (235 miles to go), which will take me through Pembrokeshire.

For now, though, I need to spend some time looking at a map, deciding which hills we’re going to visit this weekend and how we’re going to approach them.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

WCP: Llanmadoc to Gowerton

Thursday 19 March 2014

Distance: 17.6 miles

Weather: Glorious again, although hazy views

I tend to wake up early when out and about walking on a Colin-based trip, mainly because I tend to fall to sleep too early. I woke up early again this morning, which was a bit annoying as it had been a later night than usual and I hadn’t slept well. As a result I felt like i was going really slowly today (hmmm, just looked at my speed profile for the day and my perception and reality don’t quite align).

Unusually, Mick started out with me today, on the basis that 5 miles after setting off the route would take us back within 500 yards of where Colin was parked, having walked up one side of the narrow spit of Whiteford Burrows and back down the other side.

If I had paid more attention to the path closure notice before we set out along the spit, I might have decided to omit the excursion (even the official Coast Path gives the option to omit it), but I’m glad that I didn’t pay more attention, as this spit is well worth a visit. The west side was a large expanse of beach sided by dunes (after today’s news, I looked out for wet wipes washed up, but all I found was the usual thousands of pieces of plastic of various shapes, sizes and types):

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Then, within yards of rounding to the east side we were in a green land with a large variety of plants.

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It was definitely the highlight of the day, even though we did then find the continuation of the path to be closed (yep, we ignored the closure, hopped over the gate and went to have a look at the ‘washed away section of wall’ which confirmed to us that it’s not passable), causing us to perform a closed loop around the point. With Mick headed back towards Colin, I continued on the 1-mile diversion. I was certainly glad a while later that I had mis-marked the route on my map and didn’t need to walk right the way into Cheriton, as there are now stepping-stones and a permissive path cutting across the marshes.

The following path along the marshes was interesting but not spectacular, then it was onto tarmac for the rest of the day (bar a little section of fields right at the end of the day).

I finished my day at Gowerton Caravan Club Site, even though I knew that it doesn’t open for the season until tomorrow. Instead, we’ve driven a little way to park up for the night, right on the edge of the salt-marsh where we’re watching the tide come in and hoping it’s not a high enough tide to cover the car park (which it clearly does sometimes).

WCP: Port Eynon to Llanmadoc

Wednesday 18 March 2014

Distance: 13.2 miles

Weather: wall-to-wall sunshine

I had an incentive to walk briskly today, as I have a friend who lives on the north side of the Gower and the sooner I reached Llanmadoc, the more afternoon we would have available to us to catch up. Thus, I set off at a clip … and made a complete meal of the first mile of the day due to deciding to shun the official path in order to stay closer to the coast. I eventually got back on route, but not without a bit of scrambling and more ascent than if I’d just followed the WCP to start with. Ah well, you win some…

Ascent was a minor theme of the morning. Underfoot the path was lovely and, once again, the surroundings were spectacular (particularly under the gorgeous blue skies), but it did involve lots of sharp little ups and downs.

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Having rounded Worms Head (which I could have visited as the tide was low, but it would have been an out and back for no great reward, so I didn’t), I met (with 7 miles walked) the first other walkers of the day. I’m not sure where everyone was; there weren’t even dog-walkers to be seen.

Below me now was a massive expanse of beach (about 3.5 miles long and, being low tide, very wide) and, as I suspected from the map, at Rhossili I was able to access it. In so doing not only did I have some delightful sandy walking, but I missed out a few wiggles in the official path as it heads through the dunes.

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There was only the smallest handful of people on that beach (really, where was everyone on this gorgeous sunny day?), and one of them was Mick walking towards me out of the haze.

Being just a few minutes after low tide when we reached Burry Holm, we probably could have continued on the beach to round the headland and the next little bay, but we took the safe option of heading up into the dunes (as it goes, looking from above we reckon we could have made it around at sea level, but it looked like there’s probably only a very small window of opportunity around low tide).

We could have stayed on the beach all around the west side of the isthmus at Whiteford Burrows, but that wasn’t on the agenda for today. Instead, inland we went to find Colin parked just where Mick had left him in Llanmadoc and soon we were sitting drinking tea and putting the world to rights at Rhian & Paul’s house. An excellent afternoon and evening was had, after a fine morning’s walking.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

WCP: Mumbles Head to Port Eynon

Tuesday 17 March

Distance: 15.6 miles

Weather: Hazy morning, giving way to a glorious afternoon

What a splendid day’s walking that was! Had the weather not been hazy, it would have been coastal walking perfection. Whilst Swansea Bay was perfectly nice, I found it incredible that such a change in surroundings could be gained in the space of a handful of paces, upon rounding Mumbles Head. Suddenly, I was on a rugged coastline, wiggling around, heading up to cliff-tops and down to bays, with gorse predominating around me. Gorgeous!

I confess I was a little worried, about 3 miles in, that the local authority had installed a tarmac/concrete path the whole way around the Gower, as that was what I had been walking thus far …

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…however, by the time I reached Caswell Bay (where I should have headed down to the beach at the first opportunity, rather than following the coast path around) the tread had become more natural, and beyond that bay I was happily on grass and dirt paths.

Mick had encountered issues with getting Colin parked at Oxwich, due to a tardy car-park-opening-man, so I didn’t meet him until just east of Threecliff Bay, which you can see in this snap (it is a really bad picture; I do need a new camera, but it wasn’t helped by the haze):

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Threecliff Bay is the start of an enormous expanse of sand, which at low tide runs all the way to Oxwich, and it is a stunning location. The coast path would have you wiggle your way across the dunes behind the beach, which surely can’t allow such appreciation of the coastline, but fortunately for me, Mick had already done a recce and established that (if we rushed, to beat the tide) it was possible to get around Great Tor, keeping to the beach for 2.5 glorious miles of firm sand.

We made it around the headland with a matter of moments to spare before it would have required a paddle; half an hour later I was having an early lunch in Colin.

Persuading Mick that joining me for the first half an hour of my afternoon was preferable to sitting reading his book, I led him past a chapel and up 273 steps. That’s a lot of steps, and thus it’s understandable that after undulating gently at that altitude for a short while, he shunned the notion of accompanying me down the steps towards Oxwich Point, on the basis that by the time he got to the bottom it would be time for him to head back.

It’s a shame he couldn’t accompany me along the next section, as it boasted more incredible scenery, by now with the sun bursting through:

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At Port Eynon I was (yet again) tempted to continue on another 4.5 miles, but once again managed to talk myself into moderation.

We might have stayed at Port Eynon where (contrary to my internet research) one of the campsites was open. However, when quoted £27 for a bit of grass for the night we reverted to Plan A and are now parked up as the sole occupants of a Certified Location up the road (complete with toilets and showers) for half the price. I do believe that’s the most we have ever been quoted for a night at a campsite.

(As an aside, we spent last night in a large car park, tucked away right at the very far corner from the entrance. At 1am I was woken by a car pulling up right next to us, despite every other space being free. A minute later another car pulled up. I had to know what was going on and thus had a peek out. As they pulled huge multi-part rods out of their boots, I had the answer: fishing. At 1am! They returned at 5am. I struggle to understand the attraction of fishing in the first place, but going out for 4 hours at 1am on a cold night? Madness!)

Monday, 16 March 2015

WCP: Port Talbot to Mumbles Head

Monday 16 March

Distance: 15.3 miles

Weather: Overcast with just a few drops of light rain

Having spent the night parked up on the seafront at Aberavon Sands, I was but a handful of paces from the beach when I set out this morning, giving me a lovely start to the day:

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That dog walker is the only person I saw on this stretch of beach at 7.30am

Shunning the official route, I kept to the beach until it hit the River Neath and then took to its bank, as I suspected the marked route would involve soft sand followed by tarmac, whereas my way was (bar a few paces) firm sand followed by grit track.

The river (as so many of them do) called for a bit of an inland diversion, under the M4 and across the adjacent bridge which carries a dual carriageway. So noisy with traffic was it on that bridge that when Mick phoned me to tell me where he was, I couldn’t hear a word he said. The views at this point weren’t great either:IMG_8444

A path adjacent to another busy A road, followed by a bit of B road, took me to the Tennant Canal, which was far superior to the road walking. In fact, it was incredible to think that I was only 10 minutes away from the busy roads I’d just walked and that I was heading towards a city:

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At the point this snap was taken the canal is so disused and covered with reeds that it’s not possible to discern that there was a canal there. Earlier then canal had been obvious.

At the point I located Mick availing himself of the wifi in a MacDonald’s, I was over half way through my day and it felt like lunchtime. My watch told me it was 9.40am! I declared I was going to walk slower for the rest of the day.

A short while later, upon rounding a corner and crossing some dunes just past Swansea Docks, it was a joy to see a huge expanse of sand which was ahead of me. Thus, instead of the expected route along the promenade, I took to the water’s edge, not appreciating for a while quite how far away from the prom I had strayed. By the time I spotted Mick about to stride past me at the top of the beach, I was over half a kilometre away from the prom! Funnily enough, I had that lower section of beach all to myself.

It’s not possible* to walk the beach all the way to Mumbles Head, so we were eventually forced onto the prom to walk along The Mumbles, before reaching Colin’s resting place at Mumble’s Head just after noon. As always, I’m tempted to carry on a few miles, but I’m already 6 miles ahead of schedule and there’s no real benefit in me getting further ahead; I’m not short of time on this trip.

Tomorrow, I’m looking forward to another change in surroundings, as the Gower awaits.

 

(*Actually, it probably is possible, but the underfoot conditions made it undesirable.)