Llanelli has long been associated with the coast. Once a small settlement from where coal was exported via creeks to the coast, by the middle of the 19th century it grew to be one of the busiest ports in Wales. New Dock was opened in 1835 and the deeper North Dock added in 1896 allowing larger ships to be loaded. Llanelli coast is now transformed from one of heavy industry into a landscape of leisure and nature. Rows of chimneys and factories have been replaced by the Millennium Coastal Path and associated amenities.
“Remember, Remember the 5th of November. Gunpowder, Treason and Plot”: the little ditty to recollect Guy Fawkes’ and his associates’ audacity to blow up the Parliament of James 1st in 1605 – Bonfire Night commemorates this event. It was on this day that we started the third part of our Loughor Estuary walk. We were deposited on the Millennium Coastal Path at the site of the Copperworks Dock (1809 – 1951), Machynys. It was developed in 1824 into the first floating or wet dock in Wales.
The path meandered alongside the Afon Lliedi. The tide was out; the river was diminished to a small stream cutting its way through the sticky mud flats toward North Dock in one direction and the estuary in the other. Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a Grey Heron were patrolling and extricating juicy morsels from the mud. Much of the mud was covered with Sea Purslane, while the drier areas had a mix of Grasses, Brambles and Dog roses. Dried husks of plants and seed-heads were also evident: Oval spikey Teasel, tall rigid cylindrical capsules of Great Mullein and Common Reeds with silky hairs on stalks almost like candyfloss on sticks.
We crossed the bridge over the Afon Lliedi.Its “stream”, which ran underneath, zig-zagged, slithered in slurries towards the estuary; rotten posts of a dock, which once must have seen a plethora of activity, were exposed by the low tide; the mud looked slippery and slimy; the standing water shimmered in the low winter sun. Bicycles and shopping trollies, embedded in the mud, hoping for release, poked grotesquely towards the sky and in the near distance was Machynys our starting point of today’s walk.
On the other side of the bridge was North Dock, now sealed with a lock gate. It was built between 1896 and 1902 to facilitate the export of coal and tinplate from the surrounding industries. With the decline of heavy industry in the area, the dock was no longer needed to export goods and has been redeveloped for leisure. The rejuvenated dock is an important part of the Millennium Coastal Park with water sports and a zip-line. The old engine Pumphouse, an eye-catching and historic grade II listed building on North Dock, has been transformed into a restaurant, “Sospan”. The head chef Andrew Sheridan and the restaurant were crowned the best in Wales 2014 by Good Food Guide readers. The Pumphouse is a joint venture owned by Welsh rugby stars Stephen Jones and Dwayne Peel.
Overlooking Llanelli beach and offering panoramic views of the Loughor Estuary and the Gower peninsula was the imposing Discovery Centre. Near here was massive sculpture of a cormorant by Rhys Lewis which is made entirely of wood and stands on a tall column.
From here the Promenade ran above Llanelli Beach, a wide purpose-built walk and cycle way. Many of the old wooden pylons have been utilised as features for seating areas and viewing platforms. The wind started to blow with more vigour and the sand from the beach stung our eyes and our mouths became gritty.
A beach of golden sand is protected from the estuary by a breakwater. Seaweed and detritus were washed up at the high tide mark and above this were several maritime plants: Marram Grass, Sea Spurge, Sea Beet, Common Ragwort, Dog Roses and dried remnants of Sea Radish. Images of the past were apparent as rows of disused factory buildings were artfully blended in with the scrub on the other side of the path.
The brooding hulk of the Whiteford Lighthouse was still an ever-present feature and its structure was becoming clearer the closer we approached it. This rusting salty giant of the sea was a picture, delightfully mottled red, green, gold and purple. It is in fact situated 4 miles offshore just above the low water line on the south side of the shipping channel of the estuary. It was built in Llanelli in 1865, made of cast iron and copper and listed by Cadw as Grade II, a Scheduled Ancient Monument. It is the last remaining wave-washed cast-iron lighthouse in British coastal waters and an important work of cast-iron architecture and nineteenth century lighthouse design and construction.
The path ascended towards a Millennium Coastal Park marker and viewing area, where the views of the estuary were sublime. The winter sun and the gathering clouds, with the associated drop in temperature, afforded me some very atmospheric photographs. Under our feet was a railway tunnel and a sprinter train passed as we were ascending.
Our path then descended to join another path which wound around the Sandy Water Park and Code Cefn Padrig, neither of which we could see at the time. However, an imposing hill in front of us would allow us a glimpse of the aforesaid amenities. I ran up the hill towards a plinth, unknowingly leaving my daughter at the bottom. I turned around at the top and saw her laughing and taking photographs of me puffing and panting, also gesturing, pointing out that there was an easier view point further along. Oh well! I had a much better view: the whole of the Water Park, a wooded trail, a stone circle and the Llanelli rooftops.
Sandy Water Park has been developed from the four-acre site of the old Dupont Steelworks, one of the largest and most advanced steel mills in the World. The lake was one of the cooling lakes associated with it. The works were known locally as the Klondike works, as they were Llanelli’s equivalent to the gold rush! It closed in 1981.
Coed Cefn Padrig is also part of this site. It once was under water before the construction of the embankment for the South Wales Railway in 1847. It is now a lovely little woodland trail named after Saint Patrick who roamed the area in the 9th century; Cefn Padrig is a sandbank just offshore. It was created in the 1980’s and is a great haven for birds and small animal species. There are several animal sculptures to be found throughout the wood, all created by local sculptors, some of which are based on animals found in the ancient Welsh story “The Mabinogion”.
The Llanelli Gorsedd Circle is a modern stone circle of twelve standing stones, representing the counties of Wales and a large formation flat topped stones in the centre known as the Logan Stone. Gorsedd Stones (Cerrig yr Orsedd) can be found throughout Wales and are erected for the National Eisteddfod of Wales. They form an integral part of the druidic ceremonies of the Eisteddfod. These stones were last used in 2014. Gorsedd translates as ‘altar’ in English.
The path circumnavigates a field with life size rugby player statues and giant rugby posts adorned with saucepans. The giant rugby posts with a saucepan/sospan at the top are in honour of the greatest rugby team there ever was “The Scarlets” (whose song is “Sospan Fach” a song about a little sospan) who are Llanelli’s favourite sporting greats. Under the posts there is a steel art installation in the shape of one of the All Black players trying to tackle Phil Bennett while he is on the way to scoring a try in the game that we all remember when we beat the All Blacks in 1973.
Many people were out walking, all were wrapped up warm and not lingering too long in one place. Pine trees lined the path and led to a roundabout with a red dragon on a pole, the pinnacle of the Millennium Coastal Path. The estuary was nowhere in sight from the path but a set of steps leading to the “sky” seemed a good pointer to views.
So, with “Eye of the tiger” ringing in my ears,
I once again went “Running up that hill”.
Again, I was not disappointed.
At the top was a depression with seats and views over the estuary. Out on the mudflats were a flock of Shelducks, a few Black-headed Gulls in their winter livery and some diving Rooks. What an amazing sight: Rooks diving and picking up Mussels. They flew over us and dropped the shellfish on the paths to break them. Also, there, were some Cormorants with outstretched wings sunning themselves as the sun peeked out from behind the clouds.
The village of Pwll came into view. A chapel and cemetery on the hillside were highlighted in the sunlight. The mountain behind them was covered in patches of flowering Gorse, dry bronze Bracken, red, orange and brown leaf trees and green Yews and Pines. We soon crossed one of the creeks of Afon Dulais; Common Reeds, taller than us, were growing on all sides, brown, beige feathery stalks swaying in the wind. Magpies were resting on branches and Jackdaws were perching on fences. The Afon Dulais flowed into the Ffynon Helig lakes. These were devoid of wildfowl on the lake, but the clear blue water was surrounded by masses of Common Reeds where they might have been hiding.
The village of Pwll is synonymous with Coal mining, Wool, Bricks and “Pop”. There had been coal mining small scale enterprises here since 1709; Crown Colliery was restarted in the 1900’s and New Pool Colliery opened. The industry declined in the 20th century. From 1851 to the 1950’s there were wool factories here. Brick making from local clay deposits were here from the 1870’s to closure of the Pwll Brickworks in 1962. The “pop” in Pwll was the Pool Aerated Waterworks established in 1888 and finally closing in 1994. Water from a local well with the addition of sugar, flavourings and CO2 produced a variety of fizzy drinks. Very popular in an era when temperance was promoted.
A blue plaque commemorating the enigmatic pilot Amelia Earhart was situated near the Pavilion Café, our pick-up point.
Earhart was flown across the Atlantic in 1928 and landed in the estuary near Pwll on 18th June that year. She was an American aviator who set many flying records and championed the advancement of women in aviation. She became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, and the first person ever to fly solo from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland. During a flight to circumnavigate the globe, Earhart disappeared somewhere over the Pacific in July 1937. Her plane wreckage was never found, and she was officially declared lost at sea. Her disappearance remains one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the twentieth century.
After a cup of tea in the café we drove home. The clouds turned black and rain soon followed. The sun then came out and a rainbow materialised in front of us. The weather stayed dry into the night, which was fortunate as we had planned to go to the local firework display. Again, it did not disappoint, and a spectacular display was enjoyed by all.