The idea of a Welsh Camino – a South Wales Pilgrims’ Way to complement the very successful North Wales one and provide a route to St Davids in time for the big celebrations in 2023 – seems to be gathering momentum. At this rate, it may need its own blog. Meanwhile, we are still working on the bit of the Cistercian Way that gets us west through Carmarthenshire to St Clears. At that point a Welsh Camino would need to cut across to Whitland and Narberth and on through Pembrokeshire.
But first we need to get to St Clears. The coast path looks like the obvious way from Llansteffan – then there’s the revived ferry at Ferryside – and I remember walking Pontyates to Llansaint, just above Ferryside, back in 2005.
Job done? Well, not quite …
Pontyates was as far as we got last time – https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2019/05/23/joining-the-dots-south-carmarthenshire/ . South from Pontyates, you stay on the line of the Burry Port and Gwendraeth Valley railway (a lot on the history of this at https://chasewaterstuff.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/some-early-lines-burry-port-and-gwendraeth-valley-railway/). You are actually walking along the Pontyates Mining Heritage Trail, with a big opencast site to your left, but it’s hard to imagine the rolling green countryside as a hub of industry. There are occasional plans to revive the railway line, but they wouldn’t affect the footpath as the remaining rails and track bed are mostly some way to the side.
The path is generally in good condition, though it needs a bit of work on bridging some wet sections.
At SN 44709 07322 leave the railway and turn right on a minor road, then left at the T junction. This is the little hamlet of Pontnewydd. The road bears round to the right and climbs steeply through the trees. At SN 43672 08343 cross a wider road and take the green lane which bears left between the old chapel and a bungalow (NOT the stony track at the far side of the bungalow).
The green lane is technically a byway for all vehicles – no. 11/18 on Carmarthenshire’s online map of rights of way. It is over grown on the way up but not impassable. After rain, you will get wet pushing your way through knapweed, but there aren’t too many brambles or nettles. Ignore all paths to the left and right – this footpath
takes you back down to the road you have just crossed. There is even a bench at the top.
Carry on down an increasingly steep path. When you reach SN 43082 08609, don’t take the waymarked footpath ahead of you but turn right on a stony track.
This takes you downhill to the Horeb Road at SN 43044 08788. Turn left, then right almost immediately, down a steep and roughly-metalled road through the oddly-named settlement of Knockingstone.
At SN 42337 08886 the problems started. Where the road from Knockingstone bends sharply to the right, the map shows a path going straight on across the field then bearing left to cross the river. This is technically another byway for all vehicles – no. 11/10 on Carmarthenshire’s online map of rights of way. There was a rather overgrown stile and gate, then a solid field of maize.
I thought about trying to walk round it, but the map showed an alternative green lane a little to the south. Back along the road and turn right at SN 42406 08885. A little way along, I met the farmer (well, actually, I met his dog – came out to bark then wanted to be patted). He apologised for the maize and said I was welcome to walk round the field. (As I understand it, legally, you should walk across on the line of the right of way – walking round the edge is technically trespass – but also, legally, if a right of way is blocked, you are entitled to use the nearest possible clear route.)
He also said that the lane to the south was a bit overgrown, the council had cleared it in the spring, he took cattle down it sometimes but hadn’t for a while. This lane is also a byway for all vehicles – no. 11/11 on Carmarthenshire’s map. It is certainly overgrown –
I got about half way along and could probably have bashed my way through but can’t recommend it as a permanent route.
I went a bit further along the road to see what access to the main road was like. You walk past the rather sadly closed mining museum and up a steep hill – but the main road is not safe to walk, very narrow verges or no verge at all, and a lot of very fast traffic.
I got as far as the side road linking to my originally-planned route. At SN 41913 08806 you would get to the main road and turn left. You then have a VERY awkward 60 m. on a narrow verge and a road crossing then at SN 41902 08793 you head up the lane. Through the first gate on the lane, the stile and gate to your right don’t look encouraging,
but the path has been cleared and is obviously walked.
Climb steadily along the edge of the wood. At about SN 41751 09237 you need to bear to the right away from the hedge and aim for the gate at SN 41689 09259. Cut across the next field, continuing to climb, to about SN 41616 09224, then turn right and continue with the hedge to your left.
The line of the old lane to Llwyn-y-barcud is the actual RoW but very overgrown and it looks as though walkers now go through the field to the right. There’s a very very rickety stile into the field at about SN 41331 09307 and a slightly less rickety one out again, bypassing the farmyard, but I scrambled out to the line of the original lane. This then crosses another lane at SN 41258 09346
and becomes a grassy track along the edge of the fields, with splendid views
then a lane. At SN 40220 09055 you join the roughly metalled road from Allt Cunedda and continue westward. At SN 40003 08926, Allt Farm, wiggle right then left on a minor road and follow it straight across the crossroads at SN 39266 08502 and into Llansaint.
From here, I thought to use the coast path. I should have done my homework: the church tower dominates the village and was once a navigation beacon. Inside are Welsh Commandment Boards and two early medieval stones inscribed CIMESETL … AVICATI and VENNISETTL – FILIUS ERCAGN … . The main road through Llansaint keeps to the right of the church. To follow the Coast Path, at the T junction at SN 38385 07996 turn right. You are now following the Coast Path waymarks. (If you turned left at the T junction and followed the coast path in reverse, you would reach the ruins of Penallt, home of the great Sir John Dwnn, courtier and diplomat at the court of Henry VII and one of the greatest Welshmen of his day. A painting of his family with saints, by Hans Memling, is at the National Gallery in London: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donne_Triptych.)
To follow the coast path to Ferryside, turn right along the lane at SN 38385 07996, past the caravan park and between some houses, then follow waymarks down across a field and into the woods.
I have to say, the climb down the the stream and back up was a bit steep at the end of a long day! I might go back and see if the path just to the north and past the sewage works is viable. Past the impressive buildings of Pengay Farm, a track goes down to the right towards the lost village of St Ishmael’s and its church, described by Lloyd, Orbach and Scourfield in The Buildings of Wales: Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion as ‘a delightful jumble of medieval fabric’. But once you are down there, you have to follow the coast road round to Ferryside. Instead, the coast path takes an off-road route. After Pengay, it bears a little to the right and contours round through the fields then drops down to Ferryside. When you meet the road, counter-intuitively, go right and up hill then take the lane to the left. This passes above the coast road then at SN 36593 10283 bears left to drop down to the railway station and the ferry.
The old jetty is derelict, so the modern ferry is an amphibious ‘duck’, operating only at high tide – see https://www.carmarthenbayferries.co.uk/. It can take a maximum of 10 passengers so booking ahead is probably a good idea. Fares seem very reasonable – a single is £5 for an adult, half for a child, small children, dogs and bikes go free.
So we still have some more work to do on this section. We have to decide what to do about the blocked paths below Knockingstone. I can’t see the farmer keeping a path clear through the field, and if it isn’t walked regularly it will grow over anyway. So the options are to settle for walking round the edge or to find a way of keeping the alternative lane clear. I need to look at an easier alternative south-west from Llansaint. And I want to visit the two churches and the ruins at Penallt, though I can’t see the route going past Penallt. I’m not sure about St Ishmael’s – it might depend on the congregation there. Might be a possible location for champing?