After skipping last week’s hike due to the abysmal weather, we were really looking forward to walking 16 miles along the Glamorgan Heritage Coast today. Thanks to the regional railway line, it’s easy to do a linear walk along this glorious stretch of coast which stretches from Ogmore to St Athan.
It seemed the weather was at last on our side and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky as we waited impatiently at Llantwit Major for the delayed 9:22 Arriva Wales train to Bridgend (we eventually boarded at 10:03). Curious about what exactly the ‘operational delay’ was, I asked the ticket collector. As we suspected, the delay was actually down to human error with regard to staffing, i.e. the train was at Barry station all ready to go but someone had forgotten to tell the driver! We could have had another 41 minutes in bed (like the train driver) had we known!
At Bridgend, we followed the Afon Ogwr (River Ogmore) as it meandered alongside busy playing fields, a 200-metre track where the young athletes were being put through a warm-up routine that looked very much like they were training for the Ministry of the Silly Walks and eventually reached open fields full of mid-morning dog walkers.
The early morning promise had given way to grey, overcast skies, which made the temperature feel cool and autumnal. Regrettably, the pervasive Japanese Knotweed has found its way to this coastal area too and its presence set Harri and me off on an interesting conversation about post-apocalyptic stories involving plants (Day of the Triffids and Invasion of the Body Snatchers springing immediately to mind).
For the next few miles we crossed the Afon Ogwr no fewer than four times, the last time at Merthyr Mawr when we crossed first the Ogwr and then its tributary the Ewenni (Ewenny) close to Ogmore Castle. So far, the walking had been mostly level and relatively easy, albeit a bit wet underfoot at times, but when we reached the coast we would be following the steep cliffs and valleys of the Glamorgan Heritage Coast.
The official Wales Coast Path snakes along bracken-covered slopes thus keeping walkers off the main Ogmore road; however, given our recent experiences of footpaths in Wales, we were not in the least surprised to discover it somewhat overgrown. Faced with the option of forging through towering, wet ferns (and probably lower-level brambles) or braving the road, we foolheartedly plumped for the latter. Never again! It’s really rather terrifying to have cars hurtling towards you while you wobble precariously along a narrow grass ledge overhung with branches.
It’s disappointing to see the Wales Coast Path, launched with such excitement and exuberance just five years ago, becoming another casualty of austerity and the never-ending cutbacks to local council spending. (Unusually, the Wales Coast Path does not have National Trail status, meaning that its upkeep is the responsibility of cash-strapped local authorities.)
A quick aside, one of the best-named pubs in Wales lies along this stretch of road. The Pelican in Piety apparently got its strange name from the coat of arms of Sir Edward Carne, a sixteenth-century scholar, diplomat and English Member of Parliament who bought Ewenny Priory in 1545. The first inn on the site – the Pelican – was built by the Carne family, but it wasn’t until 2000 that the present-day pub changed its name to reflect its history.
Our family has always loved Ogmore. When I was working, my late parents used to bring their grandchildren (my children) here for picnics on sunny – and not so sunny – days, and we scattered their ashes along this rocky coastline. Unfortunately, the parking charges have soared in recent years and it now costs £5 to stay for longer than an hour, which seems rather extortionate for a place which offers very few facilities other than sand, sea and rocks.
Our late start meant it was time for elevenses as soon as we reached the coast, so we stopped briefly on an enormous stone/wooden bench. The cold wind blowing in off the sea meant we didn’t linger for long and we were soon back on our feet and following an old drystone wall high above the rocks. Here on the grassy level path there was plenty of evidence that those ‘can’t be bothered to poop and scoop’ dog walkers unfortunately still exist!
We walked over the clifftops past Southerndown and down to Dunraven Bay where the cloudy sky and £5 parking fee didn’t seem to be putting off the steady flow of visitors. From here, most people head straight up the hill to the site of Dunraven Castle (we usually do), but today Harri wanted to check out the remains of an old iron hillfort closer to the edge of the eroding cliffs … so close, in fact, that much of it has disappeared. There’s little to see on the ground, but you can still the hillfort more clearly on Google Earth. It’s an energetic climb but we were rewarded with amazing views across the Bristol Channel and to Exmoor beyond.
Immediately after Dunraven, we followed a steep and rather vertiginous footpath leading down to the beach. There really is no better way to witness the Glamorgan Heritage Coast in all its glory than to come down to sea level and gaze up at those towering, near-vertical limestone cliffs with their various strata and visible folding. Pile after pile of collapsed cliff face demonstrate why it is dangerous to walk directly below them!
Harri had checked the tides beforehand and our initial plan was to walk along the beach all the way to Nash Point. Unfortunately, our late train meant we were now forty minutes behind schedule; with high tide around 6pm and most of the beaches along this section of coast submerged well before high tide, we were conscious of the need to walk briskly. Which is easier said that done when the scenery around you is so spectacular and the ground underfoot rocky and uneven.
As we hurried along, several rivulets of roughly a metre wide were forming along the beach. They were easy enough to jump over, but I noticed that Harri was now watching the rising sea level very closely and had started to berate me for pausing to take so many photographs. He grew more concerned when he thought he heard some rocks falling from the cliffs because the last thing he wanted was for us to be forced off the sandy beach and onto the pebbles immediately below the unstable cliffs.
We rounded a bend and breathed a collective sigh of relief when we saw the sandy beach had made a reappearance on the shoreline ahead. Even so, Harri thought we might be cutting things a bit too fine if we carried on walking to Nash Point along the beach as originally planned; we would now be leaving the beach at the earliest opportunity.
At the far end of the sandy stretch, we reached an area of rock pavements set out like wide steps. For several minutes, it felt like we were steadily climbing, but it was just an optical allusion because, to our right, the incoming tide had remained at the same level. Harri was relieved when he spotted Cwm Nash in the distance. I think he still has nightmares about the time we got stranded on a pebble beach at the bottom of cliffs in Madeira (and had to ring a friend back in the UK to check if the tide was still coming in!).
Just before we left the beach at Cwm Nash, I spotted an enormous ammonite fossil embedded in a large rock, just another reason for loving this stretch of coastline.
The sun had made a reappearance by now and unsurprisingly Nash Point and its little cafe were busy. Every time we pass this beautiful spot, I vow to return and actually go inside the Grade II listed lighthouse (it’s open every weekend between March and October), but it’s still sitting there on my ‘bucket list’. Even if you don’t want to visit the lighthouse, it’s worth coming here for the views alone.
One of the things I love most about walking this stretch of the Welsh coastline is the views. From here, the Somerset coastline looks like an island with open sea in both directions. It’s another optical illusion, of course, but from Nash Point it looks this way simply because (the landscape around Weston-Super-Mare and Burnham-on-Sea is so flat you can’t see it from a distance.
Finally, Harri wanted me to mention how difficult and inaccessible the historic stone stiles make this stretch of the Wales Coast Path. While we understand the cultural reasons for keeping them in situ, it would make the coast path far more accessible for families and older walkers if a new gate (kissing or otherwise) was erected alongside the more difficult stiles. As it was, with my chipped, bruised shoulder and short legs, I struggled to clamber over several of them, especially as they are rather slippery when wet and the ‘steps’ either side often differed considerably in height.
And you’re interested in looking for fossils and following our linear route (24.43 km) between Bridgend and Llantwit Major, here’s the Viewranger link.