The Pelican Inn, Ogmore, to Newton Point, Porthcawl.
Castles, Dunes, Nature Reserves and Beaches.
I start off from The Pelican in her Piety Inn, Ogmore and walk towards Ogmore Castle. The ruins of the moat and bailey castle can be accessed by a gate. It has a wooden bridge over the moat and the grounds can be investigated. The castle was built in the 12th Century, the home of William de Londres, one of the Norman knights who invaded Britain with William the Conqueror. It protected William de Londres, his family and servants from the revolting Welsh, who were not happy about being invaded. Being Welsh myself, I am not in the least bit revolting nor do I wish to revolt.
After taking in the surroundings of the castle I cross the Ewenny River via the “Stepping Stones”, there are about 30 of them and are only accessible when the tide is low enough. The other side of the river is quite muddy and there are Curled Dock and Grey Club-rush (Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani) lining the bank. In a short distance a concrete path takes you towards a swing bridge which crosses the Ogmore River and then leads on to the historic village of Merthyr Mawr. The path is skirted by a dry stone wall which encompasses a meadow full of Ox-eye Daisies, Clover, Buttercups, Spear Thistles and Yarrow (Achillea millefolium). Along the path are lots of different plants either single or in large clumps: Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica ), Silverweed, Yarrow, Ragwort, Brambles, Hedge Bindweed, Teasel (now in flower), Nettles, Hemp Agrimony, Creeping Cinquefoil (Potentilla reptans), Spear Thistle, Himalayan Balsam, Mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris) and Self Heal which has Large White (Pieris brassicae) butterflies all over it. Some of the trees lining the route are Sycamores bearing fruit – as a kid we called them whirly-copters – Ash and Hawthorns, one of which was full of Swallows. They were perched upon the branches preening, themselves but as I approached they spread their wings and took off in a flurry, skimming over the meadow.
There were many walkers and a queue was forming at the swing bridge, newly painted gleaming white in the sunshine. Children were playing on the banks of the River Ogmore over which the bridge was spanning. The banks were overhung with branches and Himalayan Balsam and Mugwort filled in the spaces between them.
Once the bridge is crossed, a road with walls on either side leads into Merthyr Mawr Village. The walls are sprinkled with Herb Robert, Ivy-leaved Toadflax ( Cymbalaria muralis) Navelwort and Hart’s Tongue fern. While over the wall to one side is a mixed wood with the hairy Giant Willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum), Meadow Sweet, Creeping Thistle, Hedge Bindweed, fruiting Brambles and yet more Himalayan Balsam. The opposite side has a newly cut meadow with a stream passing through it and on the margins can be found a few Common Figwort (Scrophularia nodosa).
At a triangular junction, the village green with cherry trees bearing fruit. I take the left hand turn through Merthyr Mawr. The green is surrounded by some lovely thatched cottages. Some think Merthyr or Mymor or Myfor a Welsh Saint was martyred here. Mawr means big, large or great but the village is quite small. However, other theories say that Merthyr Mawr or Great Tombs is named after the large Stone Age burial complexes that lay beneath the sand dunes. The village is close to Island Farm, a WW11 POW Camp from which there was a famous escape attempt by German inmates.
The road takes you through the village past St.Teilo’s Church, an Anglican church which was restored between 1849 to 1851 by Benjamin Ferrey and John Pritchard on the site of a medieval church. It is said to be one of the best unspoiled Gothic Revival churches in Glamorgan, with a number of beautiful stained glass windows, including “The Resurrection”, 1851, “Fortitude”, 1921 and “The Baptism of Christ”, 1992. The church grounds are surrounded by Oaks, Yew, Horse Chestnut and Rowan trees.
The road wanders past meadows, pastureland and woodland, all with a variety of flora and fauna. In the meadows: Daisies, Common Hawkweed (Hieracium vulgatum), Field Bindweed, Yarrow, Lady’s Bedstraws, Dove’s-foot Crane’s-bill (Geranium molle)Pink and White Campion (Silene latifolia), also many Meadow Brown butterflies. In the pastureland: Ox-eye Daisies, Fairy Flax (Linum catharticum) and Redshank (Persicariamaculosa). The sheep have been spooked and are running “hell for leather” down towards the corner of the field. The woodland has the usual Ivy clad deciduous trees, scrambling Traveler’s Joy, Bracken, yet more Himalayan Balsam and just visible near the wall is a lone Lords and Ladies plant. Its leaves have died and left the red berried flower spike to peek out between the grasses and Ivy. Also hidden amongst the trees is a car park and camp-site, a “Bush-moot” experience is taking place on the last two weekends in July.
Ton Farm appears on the right of the road, a place where I have fond memories of picking fruit and vegetables with my Grandmother many years ago when I was in the sixth form at school. There is no pick-your-own there now but there is Ton Nursery where plants and hanging baskets can be bought.
Paths other than the Welsh Coastal path (WCP), with its distinctive dragon-shell logo, lead off from the road towards Tythegston and Newton, although Newton is where I am heading eventually.
At the end of the road is the car park for Merthyr Mawr Warren, a National Nature Reserve. In the car park you will find notices to obey, such as “Do Not Cross Fence Lines”, “Keep to the Countryside Code” and “Keep Pets Under Control” etc. and information about the reserve, together with a rather rough toilet block. Always welcome on these long walks. Also watch out for Adders, slithery ones, not the numerical kind. he park is in mixed woodland, all the usual suspects represented plus some Holm Oaks.
From the car park I made a detour to visit Candleston Castle ruins, which is just a few hundred metres to the left and up a light incline. The Norman family de Cantaloupe built a fortified manor house here in the 14th century, although most of the manor lands were lost to sand dune encroachment. It was occupied until the 19th century.
The sand dune system once ran from the Ogmore estuary to the Gower Peninsula. The dunes at Merthyr Mawr are the second highest in Europe. Sandy beaches and sand dunes along this relatively unspoilt coast are home to many plants, insects, mammals, reptiles and birds. The Dunes also have a rich archaeological heritage with items from Iron Age, Bronze Age and Neolithic Stone Age being uncovered from time to time by the shifting sands. Dune woodland and scrub give rise to the diversity of wildlife. I hope to see some of it today. Although the dunes have a wide variety of birds inhabiting it, birdsong is not the first thing to be heard here in July, as the hectic rush for procreation has ended and the birds need not be so vocal. Interesting fact; scenes from Lawrence of Arabia were filmed among the dunes in the 1960’s. The film released in 1962 won seven Oscars including one for Best Picture.
Another detour towards the “Big Dipper”, one of the highest single sand dunes in Europe, through leafy paths and over a wooden bridge onto the sand. This area was my destination every Sunday morning in the Summer months when I trained up, down and around the “Dipper” for cross-country races with Bridgend Athletics Club. Now this was not that long in the past as I was running the Gwent Leagues well into my 50’s, say about eight years ago. I can still imagine the aches followed by the long soak in the bath. Aaaah….
At the bottom of the “Dipper” there is an expanse of scrub where Common Restharrow, Lady’s Bedstraw, Wild Thyme, Self-heal, Hawkweed, Common Centaury (Centaurium erythraea),Agrimony, Burnet Rose with berries and low growing, ground hugging Dewberry (Rubus flagellaris) proliferate. Flitting among this joyous conglomeration of plants are about fifty butterflies, mostly Meadow Browns but some Small Coppers (Lycaena phlaeas). I then gird my loins and begin the long trek up the “Big Dipper” trying to zigzag on the less steep parts where the Marram-grass and Horse-tails grow. Near the top more plants in the form of Ragwort, Rosebay Willowherb, Common Stork’s-bill, stumpy trees and Sea-Buckthorn are growing. As I climb through a narrow path, I am not the only one struggling. There is a Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae) caterpillar, looking like an elongated bee, moving up ten millimetres then sliding down four, I am a little faster than him though I am quite breathless as I reach the top. Time for a sit down to survey my surroundings, I think. Did I really run up and down this dune?
I should now follow the WCP but as I wander down memory lane I completely miss the route back to the car park. Oh well I will just follow the red route, which should take me further down the beach than planned and simply miss the river path. The smaller dunes are populated with Dads and children sledding. There are feather mosses and Wood Sage in the shadier paths between the Sea-buckthorn, stunted Sycamores, Silver Birches (Betula pendula) and Scots Pines (Pinus sylvestris) and bees are buzzing all around. The dunes are awash with colour: pinks, yellows, blues and whites peeping or bursting through green and grey grasses and shrubs; Betony (Stachys officinalis), Rosebay Willowherb, Common Centaury (Centaurium erythraea),Ragwort, Evening-primrose (Oenothera erythrosepala), Wild Mignonette (Reseda lutea), and Viper’s Bugloss (Echium vulgare). The red route takes me through a green gate onto fenced land where cattle may be grazing. The paths are sandy but narrow and plants are close to the edge or above you if the path cuts through a dune. Spider’s webs seem to be clinging to many of the bushes and stunted trees are dotted here and Common Knapweed, Mullien, Stinking Iris with large bulbous seed pods and Wayfaring bushes (Viburnum lantana)bearing red berries make an appearance. I then spy a Ladybird (Coccinellidae species) with sixteen spots on the branch of a Creeping Willow (Salix repens). I then climb out of the fenced area via a gate onto yet another dune. At the top I can see the sea but it is still a way off in front. This looks like a likely place to see Lawrence of Arabia trotting towards me on his camel, figuratively speaking; no the sun has not got to me and I am not seeing mirages.
Another rest is in order before I tackle the next climb. As I sit down on a virgin area of sand I see only my footprints snaking off behind me. The sand is shifting and slithering all the time and as I get closer to the sea the wind is whipping it into little flurries and forming ripples on the ground. On closer inspection you can see the tiny particles shining like diamonds or glass.
On to the beach at last:Traeth yr Afon. Lots of people are taking advantage of the good weather and are lazing in the sun. The beach is not all sand but small pebbles are embedded in a spaced out random fashion, a marbling effect. Behind me at the edge of the dunes large swathes of the Marram-grass are swaying in the wind and above a Peregrine Falcon glides effortlessly stalking its prey. The sound of thunder as a horse and rider gallops past me, and then a train of horses from the nearby trekking school ride past a little more sedately.The tide is going out as seen by the ever increasing patches of wet sand. I venture closer to the water. It does look inviting, but there is no-one partaking of the briny-sea, so perhaps it is wiser I stay away from it. I thought the sand would be harder and easier to walk upon nearer to the water’s edge but it was pretty hard going, my feet sinking into the sand. I make my way back to the top of the beach where I find a convenient driftwood log to sit on and have a well earned drink and rest, watching the waves gently rippling in front of me. The pony trekkers have also stopped for a rest and there are some Black-headed Gulls (Larus ridibundus) flying over head. On second thoughts the trekkers are in fact waiting for a lone rider, not actually riding but walking with helmet in hand. Poor soul he must have come a cropper somewhere along the beach.
My next obstacle is the Black Rocks, definitely black in colour and slanting up from the sand in the direction of Newton. I could walk around them but I like looking in rock pools. They are quite difficult to navigate due to their slanted nature. There is very little life in the pools that I can see but the seaweed is plentiful with Gut-weed (Ulva intestinalis), Flat Wrack (Fucus spiralis) and green threads sea-weed (Ulva species).
After the Black Rocks the ground is covered in fine and rough shingle and many types of shell: Common Cockle (Cerastoderma edule), Common Whelk (Buccinum undatum), Dog-whelk (Nucella lapillus), Common Periwinkle (Littorina littorea), Common Oyster (Ostrea edulis)and Limpets of all shapes and sizes, Common (Patella vulgata), Slipper (Crepidula fornicate). Also found were Cuttlefish bones and a Gull’s tail feather. The Black-headed Gulls have come to earth or should I say sand. They are feeding in the wet sand and paddling in the softly undulating waves.
The top of the beach, after the Black Rocks, rises and is covered with pebbles. I climb these and regain the WCP which is a rough sandy track at the edge of the Merthyr Mawr Warren. Further along this becomes the Newton Burrows. Between the two is a disused rifle range which is partly buried by the sand. The path is marginalised by Ragwort, Viper’s Bugloss, Restharrow, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Wild Thyme, ground hugging Brambles, Gorse and Sea Rocket (Cakile maritima).Under my feet are a few bright yellow beetles. I soon arrive at Newton Beach where there are scores of people enjoying themselves in the sunshine. A few wind-surfers are criss-crossing the bay with the help of wind and waves. The life-saving shack is well populated, canoes at the ready and a red and yellow flag is flying. It must be all right to enter the water here then.
Newton beach has a small car park and edges the famous Trecco Bay Caravan Park, accessed via a small road. Newton dates from the 12th Century when it was “New Town” near the settlement of Nottage. It was a port and in use until 1828 when a new harbour was built at Porthcawl. Wrecking and smuggling were rife in this area, the Tusker Rocks, which run all along the channel, were a hazard to ships but false lights often drove unwary ships on to the rocks where locals partook in looting the wrecks. Trecco Bay Caravan Park is the largest caravan park in the UK. The Park was the destination of hundreds of families in “Miners’ fortnight”, the last two weeks in July, during the fifties, sixties and early seventies when all would congregate for fun and relaxation. I know because mine was one of those families and yes my Dad was a miner in the Cwmdu Colliery, Maesteg, Glamorgan. People from the Valleys still refer to this date as “Miners’ fortnight”. Later we holidayed further afield, to Tenby in Pembrokeshire and even further to Bournemouth in Dorset. Children today think nothing of getting on an aeroplane and flying off to exotic foreign countries.
Trecco Bay about 1940 Trecco Bay about 2000
There is a small tea-shop along the road from the car park where I bought a mug of tea to refresh myself, before going home and sliding into a long awaited bath. Newton Point will have to wait for another day. There are two pubs in the village: The Jolly Sailor, which is the oldest in Porthcawl, and the Ancient Britton. Both overlook the village green opposite St. John’s Church. No time for a visit today though.
Wales Coast Path region H map 99