On a very wet and windy weekend in February I stayed at the Railway Inn in Penclawdd. I wanted to complete the Loughor to Penclawdd part of the Wales Coastal Path (WCP).
I started at the car park near the inshore rescue lifeboat station. It was drizzly and grey but nothing too untoward that I couldn’t envision walking in. The tide was out exposing the mud with its tidal runnels, rotting posts and slippery seaweed strewn rocks. Boats were left stranded in the mud. The water was racing through the channel under the bridge, over which the A484 passed, to the sea. Across the hazy channel there were a number of Gulls (Herring and Black-headed) and a solitary Red Shank on the mud flats.
I headed up Ferry Road past the fishermen cottages and onto Castle Street. Lougher Castle stood across the road: a large green mound, dotted with newly emerging Daffodils, with the castle seeming to teeter on the fringes of invisibility. This site has been of strategic significance for many years as it controls the lowest fordable spot across the estuary of the Loughor river. Here are the remains of a thirteenth-century tower on top of a twelfth-century earthwork castle, thrown up on the corner of a Roman fort dated about 70 AD. A castle ring work was constructed in the 12th Century by Henry de Viliers – at this stage all the buildings would have been of timber. There were four stages of rebuilding with stone gradually replacing timber. The small tower of Pennant Sandstone dates to the 13th century when Loughor belonged to the de Braose lords.
After a very cursory look at the castle I continued past St. Michael’s church on a path towards Parc Williams. The path ran parallel to the A484 and around the playing fields. It was lined with trees: Ash, Birch, Oak and Hazel. All were ringed with Daffodils; some were even in flower showing off their buttery yellow trumpets which were sprinkled with sparkling raindrops. The tree trunks were thickly clothed with moss and lichen, while buds were bursting among the branches and catkins were fluttering like lambs’ tails in the wind. The bark of the Silver Birches was deliciously peeling away from the trunks, orange, brown and beige snake-skin ripples contrasting with the silvery green uprights. But blighting this delightful picture were the brown soggy leaves from last year congealing in patches along the path and on the grass under the trees.
The path entered a housing estate but was screened by hedges which also were starting to come to life. The roadside was carpeted with moss and Clevers were popping up everywhere; there were also a few Primroses peeping through the undergrowth. Their pale lemon dainty flowers were quite a contrast to the blousy Daffodils sighted earlier on. The hedges gave way to fences and concrete walls but above and below the wall green shoots were vying for space. A number of the trees still had last year’s brown cast-offs clinging to their branches. The leaves and seed pods would have looked and felt crinkly and crispy on a dry, cold winter’s morning but today they just hung in the damp air. Some red Dog-rose berries were also clinging to the prickly branches but here and there new buds were emerging. Dandelions, Buddleia, Brambles, Ivy, Hedgerow Crane’s-bill, Broadleaf Dock, Celandines, Mosses, Ribwort Plantain, Hawthorn, Hazel were gathering strength and producing patches of lemony, lime green growth. The only dark green leaves belonged to the Holly.
Birds were singing in the tree tops despite the now heavy drizzle and the hum of the traffic on the A484 to which the path ran parallel. They were silhouetted against the drab grey skies as they alighted on the wet branches: House Sparrows, Long-tailed tits, Blackbirds and Jackdaws. A single Grey Wagtail landed on the path, pumping its tail vigorously, in front of me. The path was also littered with seed heads dropped from above into the puddles now assembling under my feet.
I crossed a road (Culfur Road) and left the tarmac path. I then entered a wood through a metal gate; it was very muddy underfoot. The Dragon-shell logo of the WCP pointed into the wood and up an incline. As the drizzle persisted, a veritable stream of water was flowing towards me and making no attempt to funnel its way into a gully which coursed alongside the path. Oh well onwards and upwards. Slogging my way through the mud and soggy leaf litter I was able to notice that green life was taking over what earlier in the year would have been a portrait of beige/brownness. A Magpie flew above me, its beak full of nesting material. It seems that not only the flora but also the fauna are getting into gear to welcome the Spring.
Trees with buds but no leaves lined the rutted ground. Some Honeysuckle entwined in the thicket was coming into leaf; the sight and smell of the flowers in the Summer would be wonderful . Some Celandines, Irises, Hart’s- tongue ferns and Bluebells were pushing their way through the carpet of leaf litter. The tree trunks looked huggable with their varied striations and knobbles: Oaks with their mosaic like crustations; Sycamores were smoother but had a mottled appearance; Hawthorns were again smooth but also knobbly with their bright dots of emerging buds; in here the peeling Birch bark was black; other trees had very smooth reptilian bark; older contorted trees had dead or fallen branches covered with moss and lichen. I felt as if I was walking through the “Old Forest” of Buckland in the Shire as portrayed in the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit”.
Again the birds were singing and again they were silhouetted against the greying sky. Great Tits and Blue Tits called to their mates and flitted amongst the skeletal branches.
Always looking upwards into the branches, I suddenly found myself squelching through water, mud and broken branches. I did not feel comfortable but after a few hundred yards the ground became firmer.
I came to a parting of the ways. To the left was a stile, to the right a path to the coast and straight on a path to who knows where. My choice was clear. I obviously took the coastal path to the coast. The trail stretched onwards through woodland where the floor was carpeted with Celandines and mosses clung to the gradual sloping sides of the path. As the trees thinned out, a steep bank emerged on the right and fields were arrayed on the left. I startled some Wood Pigeons in the trees and they flew off in the direction of the coast.
Suddenly a wooden stile leading to some steps and a metal bridge came into view. The bridge crossed the now infamous A484. Over the bridge and then I had to cross a railway line. I gingerly approached it, and after looking both ways a number of times I ran across into the safety of a stand of Willows. The fluffy pussy-willows were just starting to peek through. I wanted to rub them with my fingers to experience their softness. A road took me past a farm, Pen-Y-Fernel, where lots of different poultry were milling around. At the end of the road was what looked like an old oven built into the wall. This then led on to a busy road. This was my old friend Culfur Road which I crossed earlier. Along here there were fine views, if a little foggy, of the mud flats towards the estuary. The hedges were full of cultivated Daffodils, some with deep orange centres, Herb Robert, Polyploid Ferns and green shoots of Cow Parsley.
I turned left off this road to cross a bridge across the Afon Lliw and onto Pont-y-Cob Road. The water ran swiftly under the bridge and between grass banks and Common Reeds. The rain was now steadily falling as I crossed a stone bridge where Herb Robert and Hedgerow Crane’s-bill were growing.
I made a decision then to take a shortcut to the main Penclawdd Road (B4295)rather than follow the WPC through woods and a number of fields which would bring me out onto the road nearer to Penclawdd. A footpath was clearly signposted across a field which didn’t look too muddy and contained a large number of Common Club Rush. This brought me out onto the main road which I followed, on the pavement, for some time, quickening my pace as the rain became much heavier.
When a cycle track became apparent to the left, I took it and walked upon a tarmac tree-lined route. Brambles and Gorse were also visible along this path which paralleled the main road. I am afraid I took very little interest as I walked but kept my head down and purposely walked faster than on previous walks.
When the trees receded views across the estuary became more noticeable. There seemed to be a few people braving the elements and taking their dogs for some air along this open stretch. The scenery was of a flat landscape of clumps of reeds and rushes in the midst of dips and watery patches interwoven with channels which meandered out into the estuary. Beside one such channel was a Great Egret, standing proud and tall, surveying the land around it. Also out on the mud flats was a pair of Swans, while in the bushes were lots of House Sparrows making such a racket, even over the noise of the rain which by now was falling in great quantities from an ever darkening sky. I soon reached the warm inviting Railway Inn where a shower and then a bowl of Cawl and a glass of cider awaited me.