I take the trusty NAT303 bus to the Priory, Barry and change buses to the Watts Coaches 100 to Barry Island on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Barry Island is bustling with visitors. Park, Funfair and Beach are full of happy tourists or locals. There is a party atmosphere as music blares out from loudspeakers along the promenade, which runs the length of Whitmore Bay. There are queues for Ice-cream at Marco’s Cafe, famous for Nessa working there in the comedy Gavin and Stacey. The Funfair or Pleasure Park was opened in 1920 and was famous for its “figure 8” railway ride; it soon had more than 50 rides. It has recently been closed for refurbishment; it is now open but with significantly fewer rides to entertain everyone. Windbreaks, beach umbrellas, deck chairs and towels or blankets are arrayed along the beach; adults sunbathing or playing and making sand-castles with the children. There are a few hardy souls braving the water, either paddling their feet or paddling canoes. The multi-coloured beach-huts can be seen at the furthest end of the beach. The gulls are flying overhead hoping to pick up the odd titbit or two. The beach backs on to the promenade and at the end of this, the striated Lias cliffs take over, above which are the gardens and park area. At each end of Whitmore Bay are numerous rock pools, which can be explored when the tide is out. Nell’s Point is to the left and Friars Point to the right of the Bay.
From the beach I walk up a slope to meet the path leading from the park. This then carries on to Friars Point or towards the harbour. The area around Friars Point is a geological Site of Special Scientific Interest. The hay meadow is one of the best examples of a Cowslip meadow in south east Wales. I have missed this spectacle as it is now July and the Cowslips have all gone. However, this rich grassland flora is home to a variety of insects including bees, hoverflies and apparently some rare species of crickets and grasshoppers. Again I am too slow to catch sight of them. The Old Harbour was a flourishing port in the 16th century, exporting coal, Bridgwater cotton, butter and cheese to towns on both sides of the Bristol Channel and also to France. In the 19th century Limestone and Rabbit pelts were shipped across the channel. Friars Point has the remains of a pillow mound, an artificial rabbit warren where the rabbits could be controlled. However, with the opening of Barry Dock the trade here and elsewhere along this stretch of the coast was halted. (See the dock at Aberthaw).
I walk towards the harbour and Watch House Bay on a tarmac path that runs through part of the meadow and above Watch House Bay. Daisies , Buttercups, white Clover, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Ladies Bedstraw and a few Great Burnets (Sanguisorba officinalis) cover the grass, and The Cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae) nestles among Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris).Rough patches of ground have an assortment of plants including the ubiquitous Nettles, some Great Willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum), Brambles, Creeping Thistle, Bindweed, Ox-eye Daisies, Curled Dock, Ragwort and Fleabane (Pulicaria dysentrica) just coming into flower. There are also areas planted with Escallonia, a usual seaside cultivated plant, their bright red flowers shining like jewels in the sun. The harbour is very mucky with hummocks of sea grass and some hulks of old fishing boats sticking out of the mud. At the harbour wall is a mosaic showing a compass; dedicated to The PS Waverley and The MV Balmoral. These were two steamers that used to ply the coast, dropping tourist off at numerous places on both sides of the channel. The PS Waverley is the last seagoing passenger carrying paddle steamer still in operation. She was built in 1946 to replace a PS Waverley that was built in 1899 which was in service as a minesweeper in WWII but was sunk in 1940. Major Restoration work between 2000 and 2003 now allows her to circumnavigate the British Isles. It operates sometimes from Penarth Pier but mainly around the coast of Scotland.
Since the tide is out I will venture onto the sand and cross Watch House Bay which should lead me to the Knap. I climb down behind the harbour wall where some Thrift plants have wedged themselves amongst the rocks – the sand is a little wet, but nothing I cannot handle – and head across the bay. Houses along the edge of the bay have a magnificent view across the channel, probably costing a magnificent price as well. At the other side of the bay I am surprised to see an expanse of flowing water which I will have to cross. Do I take my boots off and go paddling or find a narrow stretch and take a chance be-booted? I go for it, getting only a slight bit wet. There is an observation tower, The Watch Tower, at this end of the bay, also a shed used for storing distress or warning rockets, they were built in the 1860s.Up the pebbly slope I enter the Knap.
A large grassed area surrounded by paths, flower beds and a wall awaits me at the top of the slope. The rectangular grass region is where the Knap Lido stood; it was opened in 1920 and was originally filled with sea water. Many a lovely day has been spent here with the family when I was young. The Lido closed in 1997.
The Knap Lido.
The paths lead to the promenade which starts at Cold Knap Point: the park and boating lake on the right and the pebbly beach on the left. A number of benches are placed along here, many of them in memoriam, affording a good view of the channel, the coastline of Somerset, the Quantock hills, the Viaduct at Porthkerry and the aeroplanes approaching (Rhoose) Cardiff Wales Airport. Cold Knap can be interpreted as Cald meaning shelter and Knap meaning hillock or tump. The boating lake, which has existed since Roman times as a tidal lake, was developed in the 1920s in the shape of a Welsh harp. There are a few motor boat enthusiasts sailing their boats on the lake today. There is a Lifeboat, a colourful yacht, an American launch and a Royal Navy cruiser all being remotely controlled from the lakeside. Of course there are the Swans and Seagulls floating serenely across the water.
Walking along the promenade of Pebble Beach fine views of the park can be enjoyed. The gardens have Escallonia and Tamarix trees (Tamarix africana) and a number of the grass banks have been sown with wild flowers, a lively riot of colour. In the sea are wind surfers with their sails catching the wind and speeding their operators zigzagging over the water. At the end of the promenade there are new luxury flats overlooking the Pebble Car Park, where you will find a kiosk and toilets. This area used to be the site of Brindles Ballroom a well known dance hall. Built in the 1920s it closed in 1982. I know my parents were keen dancers and went there before I was born. There are a number of cars parked and many people are walking or sitting and taking in the rays. The beach is lined with red, white and pink Valerian, whereas the cliff behind is festooned with the usual coastal plants. The many shades of green are punctuated by pink Mallow, Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum), Brambles in flower, Narrow-leaved Everlasting-pea (Lathyrus sylvestris), Broad-leaved Willowherb (Epilobium montanum), white Elderflowers, Bittersweet, Wood Sage, Hedge Bedstraw (Galium mollugo), Field Roses and yellow Wild Parsnip and Ragwort. The Coastal Path traverses these cliffs, called Bull Cliff, but there is no signpost to indicate this. I decided not to follow this and walk along the beach towards Porthkerry Park. The Viaduct can be seen in the distance. The parking area only stretches a short way and then you need to walk on the pebbles until you find more solid rocks.
The flat tessellated rocks reminiscent of this area are pock marked with rock pools which contain shellfish, a variety of seaweeds and anemones: Common Periwinkles (Littorina littorea ), Common Limpet (Patella vulgata), Toothed Wrack (Fucus serratus), Bladder Wrack (Fucus versiculosus), Gut-weed (Ulva intestinalis), Sea-lettuce (Ulva lactuca ), Pepper Dulce (Osmunea pinnatafida) and Beadlet Anemone (Actinia equina). In some of the pools you can see the “snail trail” left by the Limpet as it forages for food. As the flat rocks start to break up large patches of sand appear snaking their way in between them. Also, weathering and sea erosion have left some of the rocks looking like squat towers of lasagne between the large pebbles. A whole tree, roots as well, has washed up on the beach. It has been there a while because it has weathered and much of it buried beneath the sand. It looks like the skeletal remains of a dinosaur. As the tide goes out the sand is left in pristine condition, that is until I leave my footprints to mark my passage on the shore. A slope of smaller pebbles line the upper part of the beach and this leads directly into Porthkerry Park and Golf course. At the right of this is a path into the woods. The Welsh Coastal Path, if I had followed it over the cliffs, would have brought me to this point. It enters the Park via a long set of steps called the Golden Stairs; it is reputed that a pirate’s treasure of gold bars were buried here. Looking back across the beach you can see the top of the cliff where the WCP route is located.
The cliffs and park 2015
The Park has happy memories for me, not only as a child but also as a mother. My mother, myself and my children would often drive to Porthkerry, walk in the park and play on the beach, sometimes with my mother’s dog, Scamp.
The cliffs and park 1989
I follow the path which runs parallel to the stream. This is a mixed wood of deciduous and evergreen trees: Beech, Field Maple (Acer campestre), Sycamore, Ash, Oak, Hazel and Yew (Taxus baccata). The Oak and Beech tree trunks give contrasting textures to the scene. Amongst the trees there are many winding paths, all way marked, red, white and purple. Irises, small Holly bushes (Ilex aquifolium), a variety of ferns, stalks of deflowered Bluebells Enchanter’s Nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) and grasses intermingle in the dappled shade. I take a detour through the meadow to the cafe and toilets for a comfort stop and an Ice-cream. There is a queue for both but I am in no hurry. The ice-cream is cold and delicious. I then make my way back to the path in the woods, enjoying my ice-cream and watching the people having fun all around me. Birdsong is everywhere and I am surprised, firstly, by a young Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) landing in the clearing and then by a Squirrel scampering up a tree. The sunlight piercing the tree canopy makes wonderful patterns on the moss and leaf littered ground. The sunlight also highlights the Hoverflies as they flit about the leaves. The banks of the stream have eroded in places and the twisted roots of some of the trees can be clearly seen. Ivy and moss, Overleaf Pellia, Elegant silk-moss (Pseudotaxiphyllum elegans) dress the trees and the large roots which criss-cross the path.
Eventually a bridge crosses the stream into the other end of the meadow. Looking back I can see scores of people sitting, playing, walking and picnicking in the field. I can remember doing the same thing when on school or Sunday school outings. The edge of the field is packed with a variety of grasses, which have not been cut, together with Rosebay Willowherb, Nettles, brambles, Bindweed and Horsetails (Equisetum arvense ). I walk under the railway bridge, last encountered on the Porthkerry to Fontygary walk, and take the left-hand road towards Cwm Ciddy Lane. There is lots of vegetation on either side of the road; Meadow Browns and Speckled Woods are flying and resting among the leaves and grasses. A side road, accessed through a gate takes you on the Barry Heart Walk, indicated by red circular plaques. I carry on up the road. Soon two cars pass me and I wonder if they are the people who live in the houses near top of the road, as this is a no-through road and is privately owned, but walkers are allowed access. At the gate they have to turn around with difficulty. They tell me to blame it all on the SAT NAV. An interesting notice hangs upon the gate.
After passing through the private land, the road is lined with a variety of plants. Butterflies and birds scoot across my path. A Robin perches upon a fence chirruping quietly away until I get too close then off it goes. Hogweed, Hedge Woundwort, Bittersweet, Bush Vetch (Vicia sepium), and Wild Parsnip seed heads, Nettles, Curled-dock, Spear Thistles, Prickly Sow-thistle (Sonchus asper) and Meadow sweet all assert their presence as I continue my journey. A Mistle thrush (Turdus viscivorus) flies towards me carrying what looks like nesting material then veers into a tree. Water is congregating in muddy patches beside a hedge and gate into a field where cows are all lying down. In this water are a few birds, Linnets (Carduelis cannabina) splashing and drinking in the sunshine. I am nearly at the end of my trip when the Cwm Ciddy Toby Inn comes into sight. This is where I will have a bite to eat and a glass of my usual Cider before catching the bus home, the 303 again.
Wales Coast Path Region H map 102