At the beginning of October my daughter and I embarked on the next leg of the WCP, the Aberavon Trail. We were dropped off by “Hubby” at the rugby club ground in Aberavon. An opening in the metal palisade fence led us on to the tow path alongside the River Afon where the aggregates depot could be clearly seen on the other side. There were small fishing boats moored along the river bank above which cyclists and pedestrians were travelling. The vegetation was mostly Brambles, Nettles and Grasses. Closer to the shore it was sandier and the grasses were more compact reaching down to the old mooring areas. Rotting pylons and rusted metal supports were scattered among the rocks, looking like a mouthful of jagged uneven teeth with a number gaps or crevices. The path soon took on a Mediterranean feel: sand dunes and scrub on one side and wooden fences shielding the houses within on the other, Palm trees and Yuccas adorning their gardens. As the path wandered through the sand dunes there were a number of wood and rusted metal sculptures, depicting the industrial and steel making heritage of the district. All have references to the river and sea creatures found in the estuary: Brittlestars, Lungworms and Honeycomb worms.
The steel industry is at least 750 years old. First the Monks of Margam Abbey worked with locally mined ores making agricultural implements in small stone-built furnaces. In 1717 Lord Mansel’s Forge was built in Velindre; this later became the Margam Tinplate Works in 1822. Large scale smelting using the Bessemer technique meant that a new harbour was needed for exporting the finished material, so the River Afon was straightened to accommodate it in 1837 and extended in 1898.
The ubiquitous Marram-grass covers the dunes but is punctuated by Sea Holly, Evening Primrose, Sea Club-rush, Common Hawkweed, Burnet-saxifrage, Ragwort, Three-horned Stock (Matthiola tricuspidata), Dwarf Thistle (Cirsium acaule), Sea Rocket and Sea Plantain (Plantago maritima). After rounding the bend and leaving the Estuary we headed on to Aberavon Sands. This sandy beach ran for some way, the conurbation that is Aberavon to the right of the path and the magnificent stretch of sand to the left. Marinas Quay is a new development of seaside houses and apartments all with access down steps to the beach. The beach itself was not crowded but there were lots of walkers with and without dogs. Dogs are not allowed on the beach from April to September. There were some horses with riders galloping at breakneck speeds on the quieter areas. Also canoeists in wet suits were riding in on the waves and young children with their grand-parents were grappling with kites that swooped and flew in the wind.
We then started to walk along the promenade; this began with an enormous model of a Blue Whale. Also, a park with seaside planting and convenient seating areas which was populated with Wagtails (Motacilla alba) and Linnets (Carduelis cannabina). Planting consisted of Mixed Grasses, Thrift, Spurges (Euphorbia species), Adam’s Needle (Yucca flaccida ), Mezereon (Daphne mezereum) and Sea Beet. Across the road from here there used to be a Leisure Pool called the Aberavon Lido where my family often went swimming. There was also a large hall used for exhibitions, entertainment and agricultural shows, where my mother and father would exhibit flowers, vegetables and wine, with great success. In fact Mum’s wine was so good that the judges and the Mayor drank it with their lunch after the judging had finished and the Show not yet opened. The area is now under development, creating another leisure complex.
The promenade was split into a walking lane and a cycling lane with white safety rails partitioning off the beach. There were seats and lampposts dotted along it for walking and resting at anytime while taking in the scenery and atmosphere. Some of the lamp posts had resident gulls perched upon them: Great Black-backed and Black-headed gulls in their winter plumage. The next sculpture to interest us was a large black swirling metal affair. I am afraid I have no idea what it depicts and I did not notice any signs. I will leave it to your imagination.
Along the promenade were some well appointed toilets, a Life-boat station and places for refreshments. There were areas for children to play: an aquasplash, a skate-board park and a playground. There were lots of Starlings flying around landing on anything that looked like a perch and grubbing in the grass for food. My daughter and I took a breather on one of the benches overlooking the beach; I had a coffee and a Lion Bar while Sara had an Ice-cream. As we were sitting there, three Swans flew passed, skimming the shallows and then banking back over the dunes.
At the end of the promenade the beach continues but the path first meandered into the dunes along gravel, past the Naval Social Club Port Talbot, then on sand before descending down onto the beach. On either side of the path were Dwarf Thistles, Sea Beat, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, both Hedgerow and Dove’s-foot Crane’s-bills, Common Restharrow, Strawberry Clover (Trifolium fragiferum), Hare’s-foot Clover (Trifolium arvense), Dewberries and Sea Holly.The Ragwort, Curled Dock and Yarrow were all in seed.
The tide was way out when we descended onto the beach. A few walkers and a man practising his Tai Chi were on the sand. I recognised the movement as I am also an aficionado of the art of Tai Chi and am often found in the back garden standing on one leg and hopefully being at one with peace and reflection of the moment. The sand was littered with shells at the high tide mark: some lovely specimens of Common Razor Clams (Ensis ensis), Common Oyster (Ostrea edulis) with shiny mother-of-pearl inside, white Baltic Tellin (Macoma balthica), Common Cockle (Cerastoderma edule), Common Mussel (Mytilus edulis) and Variegated Scallop (Chlamys varia). The walk was brisk with the wind blowing in our faces, the sound of the waves breaking on the shore and the smell of the sea in our nostrils; an absolute olfactory delight.
Baglan Bay and Witford Point were in the near distance and the WCP took a left turn from the Beach and into the dunes and Baglan Burrows, clearly marked with a way-sign and bright orange traffic cones. Sandy paths meander through Marram-grass, passed an artificial Christmas tree with decorations and Dewberries. Scattered amongst these were Sweet Violets (Viola odorata) not in flower, flowerless Common Restharrow, Sea Holly and Evening Primrose. The path soon paralleled a metal fence which was the boundary of Hyder Baglan Bay Injection Plant and previously BP Baglan Bay. There were notices warning not to use motorised vehicles but there were clear signs that motor-bikes were enjoying the rough terrain amongst the sand dunes.
Here the path sported other plants such as Polyploidy ferns, Common Toadflax, Cotoneasters (Cotoneaster horizontalis) profuse with berries, a lonely Field Pansy (Viola arvensis), Common Centaury, flowering Common Restharrow, Yellow-wort (Blackstonia perfoliata)starting to produce seed and Common Hawkweed. The gravel path ran along-side the fence with mixed trees away to the left. Some were just showing signs of autumn colour: Copper and Silver Birch, Alder, Hazel, Field Maple (Acer compestre), Sycamore and the occasional Scot’s Pine. Also along this path were a jumble of concrete blocks, remains of a quite substantial structure, some forming tunnels which would be very useful for wild-life and others standing erect like tombstones. Growing around and between these were all the previously mentioned plants plus a few brown-orange mushrooms which could be an Orange Milkcap (Lactarius aurantiacus), Sharp Rush, one with a resident spider an Orb Web (Araneus diadematus )with beautiful diamond or cross shaped markings, Gorse, Buddleia, Yarrow, Common Eyebright, Pale Toadflax (Linaria repens),Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica), Dewberries with fruit: and supported by the fence was an enormous Pampas-grass (Cortaderia selloana).
To the left was a marshy area. An elevated pipeline crosses over-head from Baglan Hydro to some point in the distance. This could be the old pipe line from BP Baglan Bay. Lots of rushes and reeds were covering the marshland which stretched towards the estuary and the River Neath. Also in the distance the M4 and slipway A483 to Swansea can be seen in the haze. The path went under the pipeline and followed the contours of the fence surrounding the industrial complex, the site of the new Baglan Energy Park. This is mainly wasteland where Buddleia, Brambles, Japanese Knotweed and Gorse line the route but is punctuated with Bristly Oxtongue, St. John’s Wort, and a late flowering Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) which is also bearing seeds. The WCP veers to the right clearly marked on the tarmac in chalk or white paint. It then runs along-side the estuary of the River Neath with its mud-flats and transport channels. Many Common and Lesser Black-backed gulls and an Egret are feeding on the banks and in the water. Also a Cormorant was drying it wings.
Squat Alder trees with both male and female flowers, mixed grasses, Pale Toadflax, Great Willowherb and Bracken are scattered along the route. Before the path turns away from the river, following the channel towards the Outer Basin, the Floating Dock and past the Neath Port Talbot Council offices , The Quays, and a recycling depot on Baglan Energy Park, a bridge crosses the Baglan Brook whose waters flow in a torrent into the River Neath. This area has been developed into a park with seating and walking paths, Jersey Park. In spring and summer months it must be a riot of colour with many plants and flowers, the remnants of which can be seen all along here, although some were still in flower: Viper’s Bugloss, Red and White Clover, Black Medick, Bristly Oxtongue, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Ragwort, Oxeye Daisy, Common Knapweed, Greater Knapweed, Curled Dock and Dove’s-foot Crane’s-bill.
BP Baglan Bay was one of the largest petrochemical sites in Europe in 1968, due to falling markets there was a gradual closure of the facility between 1994 and 2004.
Baglan Power Station Proposed site of Baglan Energy Park
Baglan Energy Park, the Quays, is home to the Baglan Bay Innovation Center, the Sustainable Product Engineering Centre for Innovative Functional Industrial Coatings (SPEIFIC) project, Hi-Lex Cable System Ltd, Remploy Ltd., Montagne Jeunesse and headquarters for Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council’s service response centre. The new £15m solar energy project based at Baglan Bay houses 20,000 photovoltaic panels, enough to provide renewable, green electricity for over 1,200 homes per year in Wales. Baglan Bay provides all the right conditions for a photovoltaic park, from good exposure to sunlight, an ideal coastal climate for cooling panels and located in an area that does not impact upon the public.
Along the fence surrounding the Quays were broad-leaf Cotoneasters (Cotoneaster dammeri), Sweet Box (Sarcococca confusa) and Willows (Salix alba). By following the path towards a stand of Silver Birches and Alders we passed the Brunel Tower. It was refurbished in 2009 as part of a regeneration programme; an accumulator tower for the hydraulic system which operated the dock gate and cranes for the unique Briton Ferry floating dock. Around the tower and a large black anchor, Knapweed, Vetch and both red and white Campion were growing in profusion.
Briton Ferry Floating Dock opened in 1861, and closed in 1959. The dock consisted of an outer tidal basin and an inner floating dock, where the water level was maintained by a single gate, which included a buoyancy chamber. It served the tinplate, iron and steel works that grew up in the area in the industrial revolution.
After passing the tower we walked upon the pavement along Brunel Way under the M4 and then onto the over-pass which spans the A48. The A48 road leads off the western or old bridge, the Cleveland Bridge or Neath-by-pass road, which crosses the Neath River, the Neath Canal and various railways and roads. The bridge consists of a 17-span steel viaduct some 585m long, carried on steel and concrete piers. It was completed in 1955. The river is crossed by the central span of 91m. It runs parallel to the newer M4 Bridge which was completed in 1993. After crossing the over-pass we had reached the Golden Arches of McDonalds and there to meet us was hubby. Another stretch of the WCP completed. I am really enjoying these walks and also learning and writing about my experiences along them.
Wales Coast Path Region G map 96