We could be accused, C. and I, of cherry-picking the best sections of the south Glamorgan coastline. I have a hunch, though, that the least promising looking sections of the Wales Coast Path may turn out to be the most interesting. Anyway, here we are in the car park at Dunraven, below Southerndown, with our old friend J., on a warm, dark autumn morning, for a true coastal cherry: the walk east to St Donat’s.
We pass through the gardens of Dunraven Castle, a Victorian pile demolished in 1963. They spread over several sections, all minimally cared for. It’s not hard not to imagine injured soldiers who lived in the house when it was a sanatorium during the First World War gliding wanly through the orchard as they recuperate from their wounds. Apples litter the ground and clog a circular pool. The only building apart from the walls is a tower, with ice house below.
Up on to the cliffs and over the wet fields, towards brighter skies. Just yards to our right, unprotected by fencing or ‘falling man’ signs, lie high crumbling cliffs of lias. These are rocks that are geologically young. Too young to resist the ceaseless attacks of the waves. Countless yellowy strata stand awaiting their inevitable fate on the flat slabs below, slabs that have themselves been eroded into shallow shelves.
The going on the coast path is easy, with only a couple of up-and-downers. It’s marked by pottery roundels with a conch symbol: a genteel touch you might expect to find in the Vale of Glamorgan.
The path cuts inland to cross Cwm Mawr before regaining the cliff top, and before long it descends again to Cwm Nash. Here we leave the coast and make our way through the trees and along a narrow road to Monknash, where the famous Plough and Harrow offers lunch and a pint. A man there tells us he was responsible for constructing, 40 years ago, the steep path down to the bay west of Trwyn y Witch. Was this was a more permanent achievement, we wonder, than any we could claim between us? We retrace our way down the path (its stones are slippery after rain), discussing as we go whether flying insects, their lives extended by the unnaturally summery weather, might have any sense of their mortality. Opinion is split.
We’re now back on the coast path, and on the track of the annual Soweto Walk: past the two lighthouses and cartoon-like foghorn at Nash Point, and down through woods to emerge suddenly on the concrete sea wall outside Atlantic College. Then up again as the rain starts to fall, and left towards the road, through the King George V Fields. These Fields were created throughout Britain in memory of the King, who died in 1935, ‘to promote and to assist in the establishment throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland of playing fields for the use and enjoyment of the people’. Now they’re owned by Fields in Trust (previously the National Playing Fields Association): assets to be cherished in an age when playing fields elsewhere are being sold off to the highest bidder by careless or cash-strapped authorities, and when the uses and enjoyment of the people are increasingly privatised. We pass through a gate to the road, past the elegant stone relief announcing the Field, and back to our waiting car. As we leave the rain starts to fall more heavily.