Section 13 and 14 of what will end up as about 75 stages were always going to be the most tedious involving post-industrial settings which while they have their own fascination lack aesthetic qualities normally associated with country walking. But they had to be done and today was my last chance for some weeks to pick up another section. I completed the Chepstow to Goldcliff section a week ago but was frustrated in my plans to get to Cardiff the following day by family reunions. My plan was to leave early and park in Newport, then get the first bus out to Goldcliff and then crack on for 25 miles. Something I realised I have not done in a day before, the best previous was just over twenty in the Lake District some 22 years ago, with 6 major mountains involved in that circuit it was a lot harder. For those interested it involved climbing Helvelyn by way of Sharp Edge then all the way round the Horseshoe that includes Fairfield and High Street before returning to the starting point.
I ended up leaving late and realised I would not have time to both park and get the bus so I ended up parking at Goldcliff and putting myself under pressure to make it to Cardiff in time to get the last bus. I had hoped to avoid that giving me the option, if I felt up to it, of carrying on to Penarth for a full 30 miles. Trains to Newport run until late, buses to Goldcliff are more limited. I also knew that there are no obvious placed to park at Goldcliff so having tucked the car away on the side of a lane I was slightly nervous about what might have happened to it when I got back. Gwent villagers can be territorial and there was a Blues sticker in the window.
I started the walk at Goldcliff Church because I wanted to see the flood mark, thought to be the result of a tsunami, but charming as it was there was no sign of a mark and the Church itself was locked so I couldn't go inside. From that point the walk heading off into the wetlands but with limited views of the Severn and frequent loops back to the road. So again the question of it being a coast walk has to be called into question. The diversions were to protect the birds from intrusion but I must admit to some cynicism about that. The sea wall is way from both the marsh and the estuarine sands and a strict keep to the path would surely be enough. Not only that, it was a Saturday in summer and I saw no one on until I was approach the wetlands centre so the traffic cannot be high. I was soon regretting wearing shots as the bath was overgrown with brambles and nettles and there was no way of avoiding them.
Finally the path returned to the coast and I was making good time. Approaching the wetlands centre the views opened up to the other side of the mouth of the River Usk to the lighthouses on the other side. Before I got to them however I would have to pass through the power stations around the back of the docks, use the Transporter bridge and then walk through the streets of Newport before finally returning to the coast. So leaving the coast I got ready to endure. Mind you reaching the docks was to some extent a relief as the bramble density increased greatly and the nettles started to hide behind them to spring out when I knocked the brambles aside with the trekking pole. By the time I made the banks of the Usk my lower legs were more blood than skin!
The highlight of this was always going to be the Transporter Bridge (pictured in the opening of this post). Its one of the great industrial relics of Britain and consists of a gantry tall enough to allow sailing ships to pass underneath with a wonderful old cast iron gondola that crosses the river hung by wires and swinging with abandon in the process. I saw it come in as I approached the bridge and started to trot as I didn't want to have to wait for it to go backwards and forewords given my deadline. Luckily they saw be coming, shouting at me not to run and waiting until I was on board. Funnily enough this was the first time I had been on it. It was always a sight driving to Cardiff, but off the main road. I had made my father drive to it so I could tick it off in my I Spy Bridges book but that was the limit. It was the highlight or the day, and that is only partially ironic! I'd recommend it to anyone passing through.
The guy who took my money for the trip on hearing of the distance travelled and planned to travel recommended that I stop off at Fanny's Cafe a few yards down the road. I felt a sense of obligation given that he had held the trip for me, and I did need more water. I was pleased I did, a real retro place dominating by a mam who organised me, my water, my seating and a mass of customers while dealing with a rep who was dressed down in public, her staff who were admonished in private, but loudly and then set off for the station to pick up an errant relative. For those who know South Wales you will know the Mam, a key aspect of the matriarchy that has dominated the area of areas, driven children through school so that they would not have to go down the mines, made sure there is always food on the table and so on. Th minute she opened her mouth I fell into a pattern of pleasured obedience. I also succumbed to a bacon butty and a pot of tea while my new water supply was put into the freezer as it was a hot day.
Replenished I put my best foot forward trying to ignore the lack of scenery and finally reached the coast and the lighthouse I had signed an hour or so before. Now a healing centre and bed and breakfast it was a new age treasure with a full size Tardis on the balcony! From that point the path was long and straight along the sea wall. Easy walking and good views of the mud but tedious towards the end. There is only so much of such scenery that one can take before it becomes monotonous. The approach to Cardiff was increasingly dominated by the waste processing plant and while Spolt beach could have been attractive it stank to high heaven was piled high with rubbish and surrounded by caravans and half starved horses. Even that was better than the final trudge down Ocean Way into Cardiff itself and that was compounded by the heavens opening to the point where I was so wet in the first two minutes there was no point in getting out a water proof.
I finally made Cardiff in plenty of time to make the train to Newport and the bus. Overall a good day, but I'm glad its over. But I did do 25 miles at 3 mob (if I allow for the cafe stop) and pass 50k steps on fitbit in a day so that was good. From now on all the sections have memories and their own beauty with the possible exception of the steel mills at Port Talbot.
Full picture set here, next up to Barry Island!