By now we tend to see the Wales Coast Path as ‘our path’. We don’t expect to see many other long distance walkers, and having planned our routes we expect to execute them without hindrance.
Imagine our indignation, then, when we find that the car park at Dunraven is closed because filming is taking place nearby, and our surprise when we park the second car in Porthcawl and find another caravansarai of film vehicles occupying the car park.
Irritation is soon forgotten, though, as the four of us set off walking eastwards, a very slight breeze on our backs and brightness in the air. Past Rest Bay with its hibernating amusement park. The word PLEASURE appears in large letters above its entrance, in case you forget). The ‘Buccaneer’ has lost one of its its letters (‘U’) and all of its glamour since C. spent time there in his teens. Past Trecco Bay, fringed by large static caravans with names like ‘Versailles’. On along a mile-long beach, Traeth yr Afon, empty except for a few dog walkers and horse riders. Then the path veers inland, along the estuary of the Ogmore river. Now we can see the detritus of the extreme winter storms: long drifts of plastic, polystyrene, wood and other debris are deposited high on the shoreline To our left stretch the dunes of Merthyr Mawr Warren (‘cwningar’, a sign tells us, is the Welsh term for ‘rabbitry’). Scenes from the 1962 film ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ were apparently shot here, though it’s quite hard to imagine Peter O’Toole careering over the dunes on a camel in Arab dress.
The path turns sandy and the going laborious, till we reach Candleston Castle and the road leading to Merthyr Mawr village. We could be in a southern English county here: the cottages, ancient and thatched, stand alone, with an elaborate Victorian church, in neat affluence. Behind the church, under an open shelter, are displayed some of the stone memorials found in the area, including a fragmentary late fifth-century pillar stone bearing an inscription commemorating ‘Paulinus [or Paulus], son of M…’: a reminder that Roman, or at least Latin, influence long outlived the end of Roman rule in these parts.
We pass a mysterious leather-clad woman with a blonde wig being photographed by a man against the background of a tree – could they be characters in someone’s film? – and cross the Ogmore river on a miniature suspension bridge. We make for the stepping stones across the Ewenny river opposite the ruins of Ogmore Castle. But the water’s still high and some of the stones submerged and greasy, so we retreat, despite siren calls from people on the far bank urging us on, and head upstream for the nearest pedestrian bridge. Back in Ogmore is the pub called The Pelican in her Piety. We dive in for a food and a pint. By chance, at the next table are R. and M. R. is now a restaurant owner but is also a film maker: he says film making is quiet at present.
Out in the sunless afternoon we head downstream, now on the east bank, with a cool wind in our faces. A car slows to a halt as a small lamb, lost, strays on the road. Where the river joins the sea is Ogmore-by-Sea, a glum collection of sixties and later houses strung along the hillside, each building competing for a sea view. The poet Danny Abse still has a cottage here, and Ogmore features in his classic story of adolescence, Ash on a young man’s sleeve (1954):
Ogmore covered by light green turf and dark green ferns. Ogmore by the sand by the river by the sea. A few miles from the shore when the tide was out we would be able to see black Tuska Rock … Way and over the other side of the river the sandbanks would swerve and curve past Jack Peterson’s house round the eye’s horizon, all the way to Porthcawl that would strike out its lion’s paw to be seen distantly but distinctly as though through the wrong end of a telescope.
There seem to be no people about here. No sheep to be seen either, though we’re walking on a worn carpet of well-chewed grass. The path keeps well away from the crumbly Triassic cliffs, so we miss the geological wonders down below. On the landward side long, straight limestone walls, six and seven feet high, are under pressure from the earth banked up behind them: some sections have collapsed completely, others show gaping holes, yet others have parts hollowed out, as if by ice-cream scoops.
Before long we’re at Southerndown and back to the film crews and their white lorries. Celluloid seems to have haunted us all day.