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5495 miles already walked

Cities, Steel and Dunes

Dramatic walking, a snake, views from a WI bench, a lifesaving retriever, a Norwegian church, sand dunes, a policeman, heavy industry, clocking 4,500 miles and a trip to London all feature in this week’s extended Victory Log update.

Before continuing my walk around the Gower peninsula and into the sweep of Swansea Bay, I’d a commitment to keep in London. Last year I’d agreed to be the guest speaker at the WRNS BT Annual General Meeting to be held at Trinity House. When I agreed to speak, I genuinely thought I’d have finished the Victory Walk, but of course readers will know various circumstances have conspired against me!

Having found a safe place to park our Victory Van, we boarded the train at Port Talbot Parkway, making a quick departure for London Paddington. My subsequent return visit to Port Talbot via the Welsh Coast Path proved to be far less speedy – but more of that later. 

Trinity House is a stunning building which overlooks the Tower of London and river Thames.  It was a huge honour to speak to the 180 guests, including the charity’s Royal Patron who is also Patron of the RNRMC, my other chosen charity for the Victory Walk. Thankfully, the audience was most appreciative, and this was reflected in the £331 donated that afternoon.

For us, it was a chance to see and thank key people who’ve provided help for much of our journey – a mixture of veteran organisations, Morrison’s, the Sea Cadets, and the Caravan & Motorhome Club, to name but a few. It was also good to meet up with one of the oil refinery’s first responders who came to my rescue on the day of my February accident. Certainly, a happy but tiring day, after which we returned to Carmarthenshire to collect the Victory Van. A former Wren communicator (who was one of the first to serve at sea) had kindly provided safe custody for our vehicle.

Back on the Gower, I was rewarded with some glorious sunshine as I walked through Whiteford Dunes, passing the disused cast iron lighthouse on my way. Looking seawards, the distinctive shape of Worm’s Head, which can only be reached at certain states of the tide, became a familiar sight as I circled Rhossili’s wide sandy bay.  Thereafter, I crossed a series of grassy-topped, high limestone cliffs, regularly intersected by steep valleys.

Port Eynon’s long beach followed as I made my way to Oxwich.  It was on this section of path that I almost trod on an adder sunbathing.  Anyone who knows me well knows I’ve a real fear of snakes, so after the initial shock, I made myself follow it as it slithered along in front of me before it slinked off into the undergrowth. Rather than having a ‘hissy fit’ I took slow deep breaths and gave its exit route a wide berth.

The lofty cliffs and bays that followed Oxwich were certainly some of the Gower’s best. A string of sandy beaches and smaller pebbly coves took me ever closer to Swansea Bay.  Above Three Cliffs Bay I ate my lunch on a sturdy WI Centenary bench and looked across the Bristol Channel: north Devon’s undulating coast was clearly visible.  Popular Caswell and Langland bays followed before I reached the charmingly named Bracelet Bay, by Mumbles Head and its lighthouse.  Ahead of me lay the wide arc of Swansea Bay where I clocked 4,500 miles.

Mumbles lighthouse witnessed a shipping disaster in January 1883 when the lighthouse keeper’s two daughters, Jessie Ace and Margaret Wright, went to the rescue of the Mumbles lifeboat crew.  The lifeboat was responding to an emergency, when it foundered.  The two sisters managed to save 2 crewmen, but sadly another 4 perished.  Jessie and Margaret are remembered by a blue plaque placed at the end of Mumbles pier.  As I walked into Swansea, I came across another lifesaver memorial to ‘Swansea Jack’, a retriever dog. During his short life of seven years, Swansea Jack is credited with saving the lives of 27 people in the Swansea dock and riverbank areas where he lived with his owner.

Reaching Swansea was a good feeling: I was about to start the final push to the Severn Bridge by moving onto the South Wales Coast Path.  I took time to wander past Swansea’s Barrage, Marina and its Norwegian tin church.  The church originally served Norwegian sailors in Newport (Gwent), who found themselves away from home delivering wooden pit props for Welsh mines and taking coal cargo back to Norway. Later, in 1910, when trading business was moved to Swansea, the church was relocated there, and it survived as a place of worship until 1998.  By then it had become a listed building and had been moved again owing to redevelopment schemes in Swansea Docks.  It then had its final move in 2004 and is now used as a nursery and gallery.

With the picturesque part of the day’s walk over, I knew my route would then be less scenic. I pushed through paths in woods which had a sinister feel about them, before they opened out a little to take me by a disused canal.  More fun was to come, walking beside a very busy main road which lead me up towards the M4 and its predecessor, the A48. A convoluted route of twists, underpasses, turns, and overpasses eventually saw me emerge near Briton Ferry. Here I crossed the River Neath and headed down its other riverbank towards Aberavon Sands and Port Talbot. 

Ahead, I could see Port Talbot docks where the repossessed giant Sertao deep-water drilling ship, capable of drilling to a depth of 40,000ft, has been docked since March. It’s now up for sale as its owners have gone bankrupt. That night we parked at the Sea Cadet unit, TS Resource opposite the steelworks complex.

Refreshed, I stepped out next morning convinced I had an easy day ahead of me. Wrong! I soon found myself hopelessly lost (or, as a pilot would say – temporarily unsure of my position!) as I struggled to locate cycle paths and tracks squeezed between all manner of roads, in and around industrial estates.

To make matters worse, it soon became obvious that many route signs had been meddled with, reversed or vandalised.  As a child I was told, if you get lost, ask a policeman, but we all know they are much harder to find these days. Wrong again!  Just as I was beginning to despair, incredibly a police car pulled up in the street ahead of me and with their help I was sure of my position once more.  I also think it’s true – policemen are much younger these days!   

Finally, I managed to skirt the huge steelworks, stopping for lunch by the shunters and sidings on the site’s east side. Then, another foray into dunes at Kenfig Burrow before rushing on to meet sea cadets from TS Dragon later that afternoon.   It was a small but incredibly friendly unit whose cadets made a generous donation to the Victory Walk.

After Porthcawl I started to walk the Glamorgan Heritage Coast. This began with yet more dune walking through Merthyr-Mawr Warren, before reaching the Ogmore river. These dunes gained fame when some scenes for the 1962 ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ film, starring Peter O’Toole, were shot there.  Although there was no sign of Lawrence’s camels, I saw many horses being galloped in the area and on the nearby beach.  Despite a low tide, the strong flow of the Ogmore River required me to walk upstream to cross at the pretty village of Merthy-Mawr, before coming down the other side.

After this, the extended week rounded off with some excellent clifftop walking: more rises and falls, and closer views of the opposite coast I’m soon to tackle.  Accompanying more dramatic limestone cliffs were beaches covered in huge slabs of rock the size of football pitches. Nash Point with its two lighthouses came and went leading me to Llantwit Major.

Here we met an 82-year old Royal Military Police veteran who stopped to talk to us and spontaneously produced a £20 note for our collection pot. Ivor understood the difficulties and needs of other former servicemen and women less fortunate than himself. He was happy to help the Senior Service and gave us a smart salute as we left! 

See Photo Album No 73  – Cities, Steel and Dunes