Updated: Nov 19, 2019
From day 3 to day 6 I spent walking Carmarthenshire, famous for Dylan Thomas’s Boathouse and picturesque villages such as Llansteffan. It was an eventful few days that involved a tenting mishap, being chased by bulls, getting stuck in a bog and being saved by Welsh hospitality.
A fine mist of rain makes the morning routine much less enjoyable. It involves manoeuvring yourself in the small tent (with Tegwen) trying to dress yourself, get breakfast prepared and packing your gear. As I begrudgingly pack away my tent an elderly woman takes pity and comes over to offer me a cup of tea in her warm caravan. I head over and meet her husband, finding out her entire family from the Rhondda valley were also at the site on their summer holiday. Despite having all her family to look after and not knowing that I was walking for charity, she went out of her way to make me a tea, give me dog biscuits and even offered to make me sandwiches. It was a classic example of Welsh hospitality that I had heard so much about during my reading of blogs of those who have walked the Welsh Coast, and it made me start my day with a smile.
The stretch from Loughor first passed the Llanelli wetlands, which overlooks the River Loughor separating the mainland from the Gower. This beautiful green and peaceful area makes it harder when transitioning to tarmac paths as you pass towns such as Llanelli and Burry Port. Already developing a love/hate relationship with tarmac paths because although it doesn’t offer you that sense of wild walking and is hard under your feet, I find my pace is much quicker as it requires less concentration on where you’re putting your feet. Finally reaching Pembrey Park, which is an immense woodland of 500 hectares, hugged by a long wild coast and sand dunes. I’ve never seen so many shells on one beach as well as several shipwreck remains which Tegwen loves to explore.
The most eventful part of the day was when we came out of Pembrey Park, followed the only road that I saw and ended up at the edge of Pembrey military airport. We decided to cut across a field, to save doubling back on ourselves. All of a sudden there were 4 curious cows/bulls moving quickly towards us, we climbed on a pile of rubble waiting for them to lose interest and when we saw our break we walked past them. At midpoint to safety they decided to chase us and resulted in us having to run through the biggest pile of cow muck, although at the time I couldn’t really care! When you’re confronted with such large animals running straight at you in a field that isn’t really for walkers, I don’t really stand around to check if they’re bulls or cows, either way we were both scared.
With that crisis over we finally made it to Kidwelly (after walking a long stretch next to a busy road) where I treated myself to a pub meal and a few pints. I didn’t realise that camp was still another hour away down a narrow country road, I was exhausted and in discomfort but I think the beers helped. I set up my tent as quickly as humanly possible and it was a relief to be in my sleeping bag and cuddling with Tegwen, despite her smelling of cow muck, sometimes after a long, hard day you’ll take your cuddles where you can get them!
Thanks to a first few days of good ground covered, today was ‘supposed’ to be a relatively easy and stress free day. I had a lie in (8am alarm) and made my way up to Carmarthen walking past cockle pickers working hard on the low tide beach, and then onto country roads. It’s an idyllic setting overlooking Llansteffan on the other side of the estuary.
Carmarthen is a lovely small city with independent shops and eateries aplenty. I treated myself to jacket potato, beans and cheese, where already these simple meals seem a luxury due to my simple hikers diet of porridge and tuna sandwiches. From there I travelled down the not so coastal path, as it’s higher up from the sea and passes through fields which I find frustrating. I follow the estuary back down to the quaint village of Llansteffan where I spent a good hour in a local pub tasting local ales. Oblivious to the events that lay ahead.
This evening was my fist attempt at wild camping, easy enough, right? You pick a remote spot, put up your tent, clean up after yourself and leave the next morning. What could be difficult about that?! Well, I walked 2 miles away from town (first mistake) to a secluded spot, then it started to pour down, I can deal with that, 5 minutes and the tent would be up and I’d be inside drying off. A normal 4 pole tent on a beach will keep it’s shape even if it’s not totally fixed to the ground, but mine being a tripod system wouldn’t allow that, the two back corners of the tent kept falling inwards as the pegs would not hold into the sand. Tegwen was getting more frustrated, sitting and looking at me as she grew wetter and colder. I was getting more wet and equally frustrated and finally I had to grab all of my wet, sandy tent into a bundle and run for the shelter I had seen a mile back. It was dark at this point and I was far from anyone, I could have cried but the fear of not knowing where I was going to sleep kept me alert. After a call home, I made the right decision and walked back to the pub I had been earlier. The very friendly barman let me sleep on his couch, I couldn’t have been more grateful for this kindness from a complete stranger. What was supposed to be a horrendous experience, it turned into something that will lift my heart whenever I think about it.
Oh well, you live and learn. Thanks again to the wonderful Welsh hospitality, I am forever in your debt!
An early start (5am) as my friendly bartender friend doubled up as a civil servant in the day. The rain had cleared the skies and my morning walk was a splendour of lush, green fields and a sunrise that glimmered off the mildew layer. Despite the lack of sleep and tarmac roads, the view through every field gate was picture perfect and kept me thoroughly entertained.
Moving back up the next estuary towards St Clears I’m starving haven’t not eaten since I started 2 hours before, I keep on the look out for somewhere to sit and relax but I’m restricted to narrow, country lanes. After finally moving onto a less than obvious path through some fields, I find myself in hiking breakfast heaven. Stretched out in front is the estuary at low tide with hundreds of geese flapping away in the water. Behind them are rolling hills filled with trees and green farmland, all covered over in a fine mist that makes the whole setting eery but spectacularly beautiful at the same time. Apart from the geese and nearby moos from grazing cattle, it was silent and tranquil. I sat in awe as I ate my breakfast appreciating how lucky I was to be there in this perfect moment with Tegwen.
This perfect moment was soon to be ruined by a serious of events. Soon after leaving my breakfast spot I find myself wading through an ankle deep clay and mud mix. I use my walking poles to test the deepness and give my some stability, as my heavy backpack throws me off balance. I envisage myself sinking to the depths, sucked under like some Indian Jones film but alas after 20 minutes of struggle I arrive at the greenery I had been aiming for. At this point it was quite clear that I had come off the official Wales Coastal Path and found myself in a sort of no man’s land. Behind me was treacherous mud with an incoming tide riding up fast and in front of me turned out to be a swamp, a swamp that a Lord of the Ring’s fan would recognise immediately. I had no choice but to go forward, the large tuffs of grass which I precariously balanced on hid the trenches between them, I was wary to fall down as they were slippy and up to a metre deep. Again my poles were a life saver, keeping my balance and testing out the state of the next grass tuft. I eventually make it across the swamp field to find myself facing a large mud wall which was my only way forward if I were to join up to the path I was supposed to be on. I scrape my knees and elbows scrambling up and as I dig my hands deep into the mud to pull myself up, I feel myself falling backwards. If it had not been for an overhanging branch that I instantly reached out for, I would have fallen at least 6 foot back into the swampy trenches. I couldn’t believe what I was going through, I had expected my walk to be challenging but life threatening, I didn’t sign up for that! I jump over a fence and work out that I’m a field away from my path, which of course would be easy but I had to go through a field of cows or bulls which had already noticed me from one end of the field. Keeping Tegwen close to me I focus on the opposing side and the gate that leads me back to safety, I don’t look at the cows/bulls and they don’t move. I’m halfway across the field and the moment I breath a sigh of relief thinking that they would stay put, they decide to full on charge at me. After the ordeal I’ve just been through and the 18kg of weight on my back, I somehow muster the strength to run towards the gate. With only seconds to spare I throw Tegwen over the gate and then myself, twisting my knee as I land and I fall to the ground. In front of me are 20 plus cows looking at me with intrigue, I quickly realise they’re friendly and the running and knee pain were all in vain.
I rejoined the country roads and hobbled my way to St Clears, the knee steadily swelling up as I go. With my heavy bag, it becomes unbearable to walk on and I flag down a passing farmer who drops me off a couple miles down into town. I regenerate my strength in a friendly café, with ice on my knee, scoffing down scones and other pleasantries to boost my mood. I hear my first smattering of South Walian Welsh, the accent and words used make it difficult for me to understand anything being said, not that I speak it at all but I can normally get the gist of a conversation. As I started my day early it gives me a couple hours before my final stretch to my campsite, but even after 2 hours my knee hasn’t improved, if anything it’s worsened and I worry for the following day. The rest of my day’s walk is only 3 miles but once again along narrow country roads which aren’t fun and Tegwen has to be kept on a lead so I decide to give my knee as much rest as possible and get a taxi there. I ask myself if I should feel guilty and if I were cheating people out of their generous donations, but after everything I’ve been through that day, I knew I could be forgiven.
Arriving at Big Barn Camping brought much comfort, it’s friendly owner greeted me and showed me all the unique eco-friendly initiatives they have on site. Including a saw dust toilet, ample recycling facilities, spacious tenting areas and super cute cabins to hire. The rolling hills and farm yard animals to visit around made it the perfect place to end a stressful day. Tegwen sat up on a bench and looked out across the landscape, at peace, whilst I lay in my tent with the door open, sipping peppermint tea and reading my book, absolute bliss!
The good nights sleep and copious amounts of Ibuprofen have helped my knee somewhat although it’s still sore but alas it’s the last day of my walking week and I have places to go! It’s a cloudy day and I’m joined by my Mum and her partner Nick, our first stop is a couple miles away south to Laugharne where the famous boathouse home of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas resides. The views across the estuary are breathtaking, a real place of tranquility and wonder, I can see where Dylan would have got his inspiration. His writing shed, just a stone’s throw away from the house, is dressed up as it would have been. My Mum commented that there was no whisky on his writing desk as it was well known he was an alcoholic. He died at the young age of 43 in New York.
“They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go and they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.”
And Death Shall Have No Dominion, Dylan Thomas
We visited Laugharne Castle and the rest of the quaint village before heading off to Pendine Sands. A busy seaside village that marks the end of Carmarthenshire, from here it climbs up and the path sticks close to the sea as it passes busy pubs and families enjoying the beaches. It’s a long stretch round until we finally reach Saundersfoot, my resting place for the night, it’s a busy town full of eateries and drinking holes but before I can enjoy them I must first set up camp. I am delighted to arrive at Trevayne Farm, it sits high on top of the headland overlooking town, by far one of the best campsite views I’ve ever seen. It’s getting chilly and my Mum is waiting, so I do all that needs doing, get into some fresh clothes and head on to a well deserved pub meal and some beers to wash it down.
So there is the end of week 1! Possibly more eventful and challenging than I had expected but interesting all the same. I have a full days rest to allow my knee to heal, eat lots of food and enjoy the delights of nearby Tenby.
Walk it yourself?
Rating - 2*
Why? - This rating is based on the quality of the Welsh Coastal Path itself and not the beautiful sights and experiences Carmarthenshire has to hold. The path often walks on tarmac, down country lanes or fields far from the water’s edge.
Highlights - Pembrey Park, Carmarthen, Llansteffan, Llansteffan Castle, Laugharne Castle, Dylan Thomas’s boathouse
Tom’s Tip - The highlights above are, in my opinion, best visited by car. They offer nice pubs, attractions and beaches to visit but the path that links them isn’t worth walking, especially when you have the wild walking paths of the Gower so close.
Accommodation - Carmarthen is a large town that offers lots of choice for accommodation and a good base point for seeing the attractions around over a weekend
Travel - Carmarthen is connected by train and there are several local buses connecting you to Llansteffan and Laugharne.