My daughter and I set off from Llanrhidian. We would take the bus from here to Penclawdd and walk back along the Welsh Coastal Path. We waited at the bus stop but the bus stopped in a lay-by further down the road. It was there some time, so we sauntered over and talked to the driver. Apparently, the bus was a little early and would set off shortly. He invited us on to the bus. We were sitting there a while when he packed his bag and left us. Rather bewildered, we looked at each other and did not know what to think. However, much to our relief, another driver came along and started the bus. We were on our way.
We alighted at The Sunset Ocean Design shop in Penclawdd. After perusing their wares, we started our walk. The path followed the main road and skirted a seawall and everywhere were beautiful displays of wild flowers: Poppies, Cornflowers, Calundulas, Marigolds, Cosmos and Mallows. In front of us was the Church steeple rising above the houses. To the right of us was the saltmarsh. The tide was low and Lyme grass, Sea Asters, reeds and sedges were covering the exposed estuary. We were across the water from The Gateway Caravan Park (a place sited in a previous walk of the estuary.) There were Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Little Egrets and a Grey Heron feeding in the ditches and runnels. Some serviceable boats and some wrecks had also been left high and dry in these empty water-courses.
Further along the path and we were opposite Machynys (also mentioned on a previous estuary walk). There were many birds on the sand-bars: Common Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Cormorants, Godwits and lots more Little Egrets. As we walked past some bushes a host of Hedge Sparrows flew out, circled around and then landed in more bushes further down the path. The bushes were mainly Brambles but nestled under them were Black Medick, Valerian and White Bryony. We were still walking alongside the road with the saltmarsh below us. Patches of Sea Lavender and what looked like Hemlock Water-dropwort could now be seen in amongst the rushes and sedges.
We turned off the main road, through an industrial site and then onto a woodland path. This path had a wonderful variety of plants, some in flower others in the autumn plumage of seeds and fruits. Japanese Knotweed! You know how I hate this plant, but looking at it with its beautiful white starry racemes of flowers, you could see why those plant-hunters in Victorian times thought it so wonderful and an addition to all those stately gardens. A pity it has escaped and is now running riot in our country side. Fleabane, Agrimony, Bindweed and Tufted Vetch were tucked in amongst the Bracken and Brambles. Hemp Agrimony was present in large clumps sporting some pink flowers and huge fluffy round seed heads. Fruit and seeds there were in profusion: Blackberries in red, green and delicious purple/black; red juicy Dog-rose hips; red and yellow Crab Apples; green hop-like female and catkin-like male Alder seeds; plump purple Blackthorn sloes; vibrant orange Buckthorn berries and thrusting through it all were Teasel seed-heads.
Bursting out of the woodland, we were back at the saltmarsh and across the estuary we could see the Tata Steel plant. The saltmarsh stretched out to the right with a tapestry of coloured reeds, sedges and rushes: Bulrushes, Sea Club-rush, Sharp Rush and reddish sedges. Hedges on the left were heavily dripping with Blackthorn and Elderberry fruits. A wine-maker’s delight.
We headed out along a dirt track towards Salthouse Point. The track abruptly stopped and the area was a jumble of lichen covered rocks. In amongst the rocks various plants were eking out a precarious existence: Sea Purslane, Annual Sea-blight, Sea Asters, Rock Samphire, Red Bartsia, Sea Mallow, Water-pepper and berry laden Brambles. All around us in the sea-washed grasses and rushes were exoskeletons of small dead crabs; a fishy, sea smell was all pervasive. A cheeky Wheatear hopped from rock to rock, pecking at the crabs and other tasty morsels. At the end of the promontory the saltmarsh spread out for what seemed miles and there didn’t look like a sound path through it. However, we had seen some men cross over it some time ago; they must have been local fishermen who knew the routes through. We reluctantly turned back the way we had walked.
Regaining the track again we strode out with more vigour as it was on more level ground. Swallows were diving and swirling around us, too fast to photograph. They were emerging from barns or out-buildings on a yard which was filled with heaps of cockle shells. These shells were also embedded in the path. Water-mint, Purple Loosestrife, Fleabane, Sea Mallow and curled Dock intermingled with the Lyme-grass and rushes. We made our way around the saltmarsh, heading for the Marsh Road. Much of the paraphernalia associated with cockle gathering was all around us. Horses were roaming freely. We gingerly walked past them trying to avoid the puddles. Gulls, Pigeons and a solitary Wheatear were perching or resting amongst the Common Reeds, Common Glasswort grasses and small bushes.
Penclawdd and Crofty are renowned for their cockle industry. The Burry inlet is one of the few estuaries left in the country in which commercial hand gathering with rake and riddle continues. The biggest change that the local industry has seen is the replacing of horses and carts with tractors. The cockles thrive here because of the very large areas of mudflats, on both sides of the estuary, which are rich in feed. Since 1965 only licensed cockle gatherers are allowed to fish here. It ensures that the cockle industry is safe for future generations with quotas fluctuating with the availability of the cockles, so that a fully sustainable source is achieved.
Having gained the Marsh Road, we looked back at the village of Crofty; it was more substantial than we thought. The Marsh road was a narrow road through the saltmarsh with the usual flora that we had come to expect in this ecosystem. Small areas of water were surrounded by trees and streams flowed towards the estuary. Bulrushes, Water-cress and Water-mint grew profusely in this damp region. We were now passing through Llanrhidian Marsh which belongs to the National Trust. The area was previously a former firing range and warnings of not to touch any military debris were strategically placed beside the road.
Starlings seemed to be the predominant bird species here, as murmurations of them could be seen swirling around in the hazy, over-cast sky above us. A whole host of them landed in a clump of Brambles and Gorse, which was also home to creeping Bindweed, while seed-heads of Willowherb, Agrimony, Thistle and Hogweed poked through the whole mass reaching towards the sky. A veritable feast for the noisy Starlings. They didn’t half make a racket! A few House Sparrows just watched from the safety of a nearby Alder tree.
The saltmarsh was also home to numerous sheep and horses. They wandered across the road paying no attention to traffic or pedestrians.
The Starlings and Horses seemed to have some sort of symbiotic role, as many of the birds were quite calmly sitting upon the horses’ backs. Sea Asters, Sea Purslane and Sea Wormwood started to appear in large swathes as more streams percolated through the marsh.
Along the banks of one I was surprised to see masses of Mussels, packed so tightly that you would think you would be able to walk on top of them. At first sight I thought that the stream was chocked with dead brown leaves, although there were no trees anywhere near. On closer inspection they were unmistakeable.
In the distance over the saltmarsh we could just make out through the haze the Whiteford Lighthouse. Along the road, still a good way off, we could see the tower of Llanrhidian Church which was close to our destination.
Leaving the Marsh Road, we climbed a country lane towards the village. The hedges and dry-stone walls on either side were loaded with ferns, male and Hart’s-tongue, Ivy, and Horse-tails. We passed a George VI post box, which was no longer in service of the Post Office but the property of the two private houses on either side, Pen-y-cae and The Hollies. Then into the village. The very pretty Church of St Rhidian and St. Illtyd was on one-side of the road and the Dolphin Inn on the other.
St. Rhidian and St. Illyd Church is set against a backdrop of wooded cliffs that were one time quarried for limestone. It overlooks the Llanrhidian Marshes. There was a church here in the 6th century dedicated to St Rhidian, who was possibly a Celtic monk or Tryrulhid the wife of St. Illtyd. The church seen today is of the 13th century built by the Order of Knights Hospitaller with the addition of a tower and chancel in the 14th century. There is a commemorative stone for the lost village of Llanelen. Local legend purports that survivors from a ship which foundered in the Burry estuary made their way to the village. They were welcomed but unknown to the villagers the castaways carried the plague, and the entire population was wiped out.