Steelworks and long sands on the shore of Swansea Bay
Along the eastern side of Swansea Bay runs a long strip of flat beaches, bordered by dunes 200 ft high in places. Industry and leisure share the coast, with steelworks beside surfing beaches, and old coal harbours cheek by jowl with modern caravan sites. Only at the far eastern end do the cliffs return – splintered and treacherous banks of limestone which nevertheless offer wonderful views across the Bristol Channel.
ABERAVON AND PORT TALBOT
To the west of Port Talbot harbour, where iron-ore ships dock to serve the nearby steelworks, a wilderness of sand-dunes has been reclaimed and turned into a man-made beach of 2 miles of firm sand, backed by Wales’s newest holiday resort of Aberavon. Facing south-west, the beach offers ideal surfing conditions in the right weather.
If the weather is bad, the Afan Lido, the largest leisure and entertainments centre in Wales, offers a solarium, an indoor heated freshwater swimming pool, a sauna bath, squash courts and an undercover stadium with seating for 400 spectators. Outside, the 2 mile promenade has ample car parking, and a large fairground with an amusement arcade.
Further up the Afan valley, 4 miles northeast of Port Talbot on the road to Cymmer, lies the Afan Argoed Country Park. The park has walks, nature trails and a Welsh Miners’ Museum of Coal.
Because they are more difficult to reach, Margam Sands are more secluded than Aberavon, but just as splendid. There is access from the M4, or from a lane which leaves the A48 Swansea to Bridgend road opposite the turning for Margam Abbey and Margam Country Park. After passing an old factory and a crematorium, continue on foot along the lane, crossing the railway line at a level crossing and eventually reaching the edge of a 3 mile stretch of sand, backed by dunes and overlooked by the blast furnaces of Port Talbot’s steelworks.
Bathing is safe, and there are good surfing waves when the wind blows from the southwest. On the opposite side of the main road are the ruins of Margam Abbey, with the old Abbey Church and its Museum of Early Christian Memorial Stones. These lie within Margam Country Park, which also has an Iron Age fort and an 18th-century orangery. An unusual feature of the park is its maze, which covers an acre of land and is claimed to be the largest in the world.
Access to Kenfig Sands is difficult, as they can be reached only on foot, either from Margam Sands or, in the other direction, from Rest Bay and Porthcawl. From the inland side they can be reached by a footpath from the road which leads from Mawdlam to Nottage and Porthcawl. The only sign of habitation is Sker House, on top of the headland of Sker Point, at the southern end of the sands: this was used’ by R. D-Blackmore, author of Lorna Doone, as the setting of his romantic novel The Maid of Sker.
The town of Ken tig was a busy and thriving community 800 years ago, but by Tudor times it was in ruins, choked by a tide of advancing sand-dunes. Only the castle ruins are still visible, between the railway line and Kenfig village. It was almost 500 years after the town was buried before Parliament passed an Act formally dissolving the Corporation of Kenfig. The dunes now form the Kenfig Burrows Nature Reserve, where a visitor centre explains the plant and bird life of the area.
This wide, sandy bay lies between Sker Point and the town of Porthcawl. Bordered by large car parks and a cafeteria, it offers a mile of smooth sand, with sheltered rocky outcrops. Surfing conditions are ideal, but only in an onshore wind.
Coal from the collieries in the inland valleys was once exported from Porthcawl harbour, but there is little trace of the workaday past in the present-day holiday resort. The dock was built in the 1860s, but the expansion of Barry as a major coal port 30 years later killed the trade at Porthcawl and forced the town to turn to the holiday trade for its prosperity. The old dock has been filled in and part of it turned into a car park, but the outer harbour remains as an anchorage for pleasure craft. Near by is a miniature railway, and the vast Coney Beach amusement park is one of the largest and best equipped in the country. A long promenade runs along the seafront, and part of the promenade’s lower tier has been roofed to create a series of sheltered suntraps. There is good swimming from the sandy, rock-fringed beaches of Sandy Bay and Trecco Bay east of the town, though swimmers should avoid the waters round the headlands.
This little hamlet, with its thatched grey-stone cottages, must rank as one of the prettiest in Wales. It is reached by a narrow lane off the A48 between Cardiff and Port Talbot, which ends at the edge of the wide stretch of dunes known as Merthyr-mawr Warren. Beside the dunes is Candleston Castle, a 15th-century fortified manor house which was lived in until the 19th century, and is now open to the public.
A walk across the dunes to the south-west leads to the sandy beach of Traeth yr Afon, where there is safe bathing. Closer to the Ogmore estuary the currents are dangerous, and swimming is prohibited.
A lane leads south-west from the crossroads at Marcross and finally reaches the clifftop by the disused lighthouse on Nash Point.
Near by is the lighthouse which replaced it, which is usually open tin weekday afternoons.
The headland offers splendid views, in clear weather, of the Gower coast to the north-west and the hills of Devon and Somerset to the south. From the clifftop, a series of paths follows a steep valley down to a tiny beach, with flat layers of rock and a small stretch of sand.
The village faces Porthcawl across the estuary of the Ogmore River, and straggles along the clifftop road. Below the cliffs is a grassy area which serves as a beach car park, and beyond it, a stretch of sand on which marker flags show where it is safe to bathe, well clear of the fast-flowing estuary currents. Out to sea the vicious spines of the Tusker Rock are visible at low tide.
Ogmore Castle, ½ miles upstream, guards a crossing of the Ogmore which is still marked by a set of stepping stones. Crossing-places like these were vital strategic routes for attackers, which is why the fortress was built there by William de Londres in the early 12th century.
Grey limestone cottages line the streets of this pleasant little village, set back from the cliffs above Dunraven Bay. A clifftop path from Southerndown leads to Ogmore-by-Sea. To the south, a road leads to the villages of Monknash and Marcross, from which lanes and paths wind on to more of the secluded bays along this wild stretch of coastline, such as Traeth Bach, Traeth Mawr and St Donat’s Bay.
Alternate layers of limestone and shale give the cliffs at Southerndown their unusually regular pattern.
The spectacular cliffs behind Dunraven Bay’s flat and open sands are dangerous to walkers on the top of the cliffs and below them, because their crumbling limestone layers are prone to landslides. Visitors should keep clear of the most eroded areas of cliff, and confine their swimming to inshore waters at high tide, well clear of the strong currents near the headland of Trwyn y Witch at the southern end of the shallow bay.
According to a local legend, ships used to be lured to their doom at Dunraven Bay by a family of 17th-century wreckers who fixed lanterns to the horns of cattle grazing on the clifftops. The ships would come close inshore to look for the harbour entrance, and run aground on the rocks at the base of the cliffs, where the crews were murdered and their cargoes looted. The story is told that one gang leader gave up the lucrative trade after one of his followers showed him the severed hand of a sailor’s corpse, bearing several rings. He recognised one of the rings as belonging to his only son, who had run away to sea several years before.
Traeth Mawr, or ‘Large Beach’ (its neighbour of Traeth Bach, ‘Little Beach’, lies just to the north), is a wide sandy beach backed by cliffs towering 200 ft high, and flanked by layers of rock so flat that they look like a man-made pavement. The cliffs are crumbling, and best avoided.
The only access to the beach is by a lane from Monknash, and a half-mile footpath which follows a gully cut down through the cliffs by a stream.