The Millennium Coastal Path (MCP), part of the Welsh Coastal Path (WPC), is a walk from Loughor to Burry Port and then on to Pembrey. This is the last section of my estuary walk, Pwll to Burry Port. Cutting the 15 miles walk, from Loughor to Burry Port, into sections has allowed more time for observations and reflections. It is a very walker friendly path attested to by the number of people using it.
My daughter and I wrapped up warm and kitted ourselves with all our walking gear and cameras. The Pavilion Café was our starting point. We collected a take-away coffee and hot chocolate. Then we started out along the path with a Robin serenading us from nearby branches. With the bright sunlight behind him, I could only achieve a silhouette photograph.
Tiny tots were training for a Rugby match in the field alongside the track. Soon we stepped off the path and crossed the railway line which had been running parallel to the estuary for some time. Again, the tide was out and the mudflats in the estuary were exposed. There were a few fishermen trusting their luck to the lagoons of water left by the receding tide. On the mudflats were a wide array of birds. A few Grey Heron were mimicking the fishermen, using their prowess to catch any fish trapped in the shallow waters of the lagoons. Herring, Black-headed and Great Black-backed Gulls, were strutting or sitting on the mudflats or flying in large groups mewing and cawing furiously above us. There were Cormorants with wings outstretched. A pair of Little Grebes floated serenely on the shallow lagoon. Flocks of Oystercatchers could not be missed. These striking black and white plumaged birds with their red beaks, legs and eyes, covered large areas of the mudflats; their loud distinctive peeping could be heard even over the cawing of the Gulls. We also saw a few Shelduck, a Greenshank and a Curlew mingling with the other wildfowl. The latter two were using their long bills to feed on the biological richness available in the oozing mud.
From our vantage point we saw the curve of the estuary and several features mentioned on previous sections of the Millennium Coastal Path: the railway tunnel, The Old Pumphouse, The Discovery Centre and Machynys. In the opposite direction the lagoon swirled around to Bay Bach and The Earth Sculpture “Walking with the Sea”, to some old dock equipment, a bridge over the railway line, substantial metal structures to offset the coastal erosion and the steeple of St. Mary’s Church in Burry Port. Some of these areas we will meet later.
I was excited to see all these birds on the estuary and was reluctant to leave. However, we crossed back over the railway line to regain the path just before a train came trundling past.
The cycle path headed around a bend and into a wooded area. But, we left the tarmac and headed along a gravel path. It was signposted with the Welsh Coastal Path Shell Logo which was also wrapped in a woolly pink and purple jumper, obviously to ward off the inclement temperatures which were steadily plummeting as the sun disappeared behind the clouds.
The track overlooked a small stream which formed a depression between it and the railway line. The stream was choked with Sea Purslane and Reeds. Mudflats could be seen through windows in the vegetation that lined the right-hand side of the path. There was some green in the grass, the evergreen Pines, Gorse and Brambles. The meadow, to the left of the path, was covered with plants but most were dull, dried or dead: Bracken, Wormwood, Hemp Agrimony, Hogweed, Docks, Knapweed, Sea Radish, Evening Primrose, Fleabane, Imperforate St. John’s-wort and Vetch. A smorgasbord of seed-heads, all shapes and sizes: feathery, silky, spikey, pea-like, saucer-like and bulbous. There were some glimpses of colour: yellow prickly Gorse formed dense patches; green shoots of Creeping Buttercup, Sea Radish, Imperforate St. John’s-wort, Vetch and Hedgerow Crane’s-bill pushed through their decaying flower stems; more yellow, surprisingly, from Common Ragweed and Cat’s-ear which were still flowering at the end of November; pale lemon dainty Sea Radish flowers mingled with the peppery seed-heads on the rest of the plant; a thistle with royal purple crowns above spikey leaves broke cover. Let us not forget the trees and bushes in all this homage to vegetation. There was silver green Sea Buckthorn but no bright orange fruits to break-up the dull shimmer. Also, mellow butter yellow of those trees who were stubbornly clinging to a mantle of leaves, a threadbare coat that would allow the rain to percolate through. Alder were outlined against the sky with their seed-heads dangling. Other trees were naked from the trunk up, but from waist down were wrapped in mottled skirts of yellow and green Lichen. The mish-mash of low growing naked trees and bushes in the wood tumbled together in brown, yellow and red domes, looking like pincushions awash with hundreds of needles. Coppiced Ash, smooth grey branches topped with charcoal tips, and Oak, knobbly grey branches topped with bronze, brown tips, were reaching sky-ward; those pencil like branches and buds were awaiting the warmer seasons. Trees, whatever the season, present us with an ever-changing picture to delight and sometimes surprise.
“I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.” “*”
These seasons would transform the meadow from damp fallen leaves and dried beige stalks into a carpet of riotous colour. A strategically placed noticeboard explained the nature of this semi-natural grassland and what to expect in the form of fauna and flora through the seasons.
Another WCP marker, this time topped with a home decorated pebble, led us back on to the Millennium cycle path. We ascended a hill and crossed over the railway line; this was the bridge I mentioned earlier. We overlooked a pool surrounded by soldier straight Common Reeds; Mute Swans serenely glided over the calm surface; both reflections echoed in the mirror clear water. Another large silver MCP marker came into sight between two grass sculptured mounds; grass sculptures seem to be the order of things on this section of the path. At the top of the hill the estuary once again came into view.
The path meandered through woodland and the estuary views tantalised us through their naked branches. Robins and Blackbirds in the branches were once again silhouetted against the lowering sunlight. A pond or small lake was nestled in a depression. A pair of Mallards, a pair of Gadwall, a Tufted Duck and a Little Grebe were leaving swirls as they swam, then disappeared as they dived leaving only ripples in the seclusion of the highly reflective waters.
Above Bay Bach we stood and looked out over the estuary. We saw another Grey Heron, this time on its own, preening itself and posing for some lovely photographs. There was also another Greenshank patrolling in the low water. The flocks of Oystercatchers were now further out on the mudflats. Following the contours of Bay Bach towards a spit of land sticking out into the estuary, we could make out the distinctive Earth Sculpture mentioned earlier. “Walking with the Sea” is known locally as Teletubbies Mountain because it looks similar to the popular children’s programme. The sculpture was designed to be seen from land, sea and air; it has a tiered effect and a winding path leading to the top. Before we left the area, a cheeky male Blackbird came to say hello.
Leafless woodland, sprinkled with a few Pines, was our constant companion for a while. The floor was carpeted with green: Nettles, grasses, Ribwort Plantain and Crane’s-bill. But, now and then a shaft of colour would catch our eye: White umbels of Hogweed, disintegrating yellow Buttercup flowers, little pockets of white Yarrow, a lone Pink flower of a Bramble, Red Viburnum berries looking very sorry for themselves and yellow leafless branches of Dogwood.
Larger stands of Pine cut through with yet more grass sculptures, grassy rides and sandy paths were our next accompaniment. One ride had several Blackbirds and Jackdaws scraping in the grass. One Jackdaw ventured up into a Pine, precariously balancing on the end of a branch, to gorge itself on some newly emerging needles. We ourselves ventured up a sandy path through the Pines and ended up in sand dunes near the estuary.
This was Burry Port beach, a huge expanse of golden sands, which is a recent addition because this area east of the harbour entrance was once all mudflats. There were no surfers or canoeists here today but when the weather is right it boasts some of the best surf in the county. The mouth of the estuary was in sight and the water was getting deeper, deep enough for small boats to travel on it. Wow! There was Whiteford Lighthouse, almost close enough to walk to. Whiteford Point and Sands protruded into the sea, across the estuary from us. The dumpy Burry Port Lighthouse and another MCP marker could be clearly seen, although still a way off.
Again, there were many birds near the waterline of the estuary: Herring Gulls and Oystercatchers were in large numbers; squadrons of Sanderling or Dunlin flew over the water and then settled. Dogs and children with their minders were frolicking on the sand. The fishermen were also there hoping to make a catch on the incoming tide. The sand dunes were covered with Marram-grass, Pink and White Clover and an assortment of shells: Scallops, Cockles, Mussels and Razor Clams.
Eventually we re-joined the cycle path by walking through a skateboard park. Magpies flew overhead landing on the ramps and grassy knolls. Another small lake presented itself; it was surrounded by Common Reeds, Great Willowherbs and Hogweeds, all dried and brown in their winter finery. On the lake were Gulls and wildfowl. Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls were having a fine time splashing and washing themselves in the clear fresh water, divesting themselves of the saltiness they would have picked up out on the estuary. Several Tufted Ducks with their blue grey bills were swimming in small groups; the sun gave the black and white males a purple sheen and their tufts caught the breeze; the females could only tag along in their dull brown plumage. Little Grebes were there as well showing off their winter coats of dull bronze tops and buff underparts. A lone Pochard accompanied them; he was the brightest of them all with an orange red head and eye. Also gliding magnificently on the water was an adult and a young Mute Swan; the cygnet was a dappled grey in contrast to the adult with its pure white feathers, arching neck and orange bill. Reflections of them could be seen in the mirror-like water with only minor distortions caused by the soft ripples as they swam effortlessly across.
We walked ever closer to the lighthouse, a white squat column topped with a red light, which guarded the entrance to Burry Port Harbour. Then on to the walkway around the harbour and marina past life-boat and coastguard stations and the Yacht club. The boats listed precariously in the mud of the harbour, while sea-birds wandered between them leaving tiny tracks in that gloriously sticky mud. Herring Gulls were here again, together with a pair of amorous Redshank. Also, a Little Egret was stalking in the shallows and catching tiny fish in its long black dagger-like bill. I was disappointed only to take a passable photograph as the fish were neatly swallowed much too quickly.
On the right-hand side of the dock were reminders of Amelia Earhart’s sojourn in the area. There was a plaque and plinth dedicated to her coming ashore here in 1928. There were artefacts in the harbour relating to this, including the original wooden buoy to which her aircraft “Friendship” was moored.
Burry Port harbour was built between 1830 and 1836 to replace the harbour at Pembrey. It was born out of the industrial revolution and was created to transport coal from the nearby Gwendraeth valley to rest of the world. It now boasts an £8 million marina where water levels are controlled by an automatic tidal gate. The yacht club was formed in 1963. It has an intriguing logo, a Welsh hat with crossed hatchets which allegedly were the weapons used by the Gwyr y Bwelu Bach, translated to “men of the little hatchets”, who were responsible for looting the ships that were wrecked on nearby Cefn Sidan sands. The lighthouse was built in 1842 and restored in 1995. It and a lighthouse at Pembrey play an integral part in guiding boats into the harbour.
“*” is part of a poem called Trees by Joyce Kilmer