St Illtud’s Walk, day 1: Pen-bre to Furnace

May 26, 2023 2 Comments

It’s a local enough path, but I’ve never walked it before.  St Illtud’s Walk, invented by Colin Davies of Llanelli Ramblers in 1994, joins two country parks, Pen-bre and Margam, passing through three counties and some very varied terrain.  As practice for tackling Glyndŵr’s Way next month, it’s my ideal preparation, offering good distances and plenty of hills.

The first section starts from the coast at Pen-bre, within the Park.  This isn’t a place that’s easy to reach by public transport.  So I get off the train at Pembrey and Burry Port station and walk along the Wales Coast Path to join St Illtud at the entrance to the Country Park.  The tide’s low and it’s a fine morning, sunny with high cloud.  I’m soon down to T-shit, hat and sunscreen.  Two bottles of water, I realise, may not be enough today.  The Coast Path leads past two harbours, Burry Port, now a marina, with its squat white-and-red lighthouse, and the older, empty port of Pen-bre.  Larks sing overhead and there are just a few walkers and cyclists to share the journey with me.

The path tracks the course of a muddy pill, with burrows and the sea behind, and on the right are sand dunes, full of spring flowers.  At a WW2 pillbox I turn inland and finally, after 45 minutes of walking, join the St Illtud’s Walk.  Walking along the road north, I meet cars come in the opposite direction, carrying Country Parkers.  To left and right are coastal flatlands, drained by reedy drainage channels, and with clumps of yellow irises and buttercups.  Next the Way turns north-west into Pen-y-bedd Wood.  Here birdsong grows louder, and the main flower colour changes from yellow to blue.  Beyond the wood, a route passes a series of odd, Dutch-style houses, their gable ends facing the lane, and a farm, Pen-y-bedd, with well-posed scenes of derelict farm machinery and dilapidated farm buildings.

Here the lane turns abruptly right.  Once over the main road and railway line, the Walk suddenly becomes (and stays) quiet, enclosed and unpopulated.  So far, the signposting has been excellent, with no need to keep looking at the map.  Now comes one of the day’s purple patches, the Ffrwd Farm Mire nature reserve.  The path goes straight ahead, among low willow and hazel, bordered by stagnant watercourses on either side, with wider marshland on the right.  The Mire is a small oasis for water-loving plants and insects, and is reputedly the home of the shy Cetti’s warbler (not to be heard today).

At Ffŵd the path leads up the farm driveway, then lifts into woodland to the right.  Several large conifers have fallen across the route, causing diversions.  Then after a while the Way doubles back on itself to track the other side of the wood, Coed Rhyal.  Tall flowering grasses brush my bare arms as I tread the path floor, soft from last year’s oak leaves.  The path emerges into fields and a fine view of Pen-bre opens up below. Then downhill, past a large house and gardens.  (‘Upland’ Pen-bre hides a number of these houses, mostly the homes, it seems, of horse-owners and reflexologists; at lunch I spot a helicopter landing at one of them.)  I’m now almost back at the village.  On the road immediately below the end of this section, a sea of white cow-parsley, is the old, multi-chimneyed manor house of Court Farm.  Now in ruins, it was once the home of powerful local families, Le Boteler (Butler) and Vaughan (Ashburton).

Then back uphill – down and straight back up is a feature of this walk – to Pen y Mwmbwls (another one!), and more fine views of Pen-bre, Burry Port and the hills of Gower across the water.  Down and up yet again, and in a lane at the top of a buttercup field a magical bench suddenly appears, with another good view.  It commemorates Debbie Wallace and is carved with W.H. Davies’s words, ‘What is this life if full of care / We have no time to stand and stare?’.  There couldn’t be a better invitation for me to stop and eat my sandwiches.  The lane descends to Graig, then turns up left towards an old quarrying and coalmining village, Cwm Capel, along the thickly wood little valley of Nant Dyfatty.  Next to the road is a large building and a tall chimney stack, left over from the colliery.  Beyond the edge of the hamlet sits Capel Carmel, its well-tended gravestones enjoying fine views to the wood across the Nant.

Further up again, the path crosses fields below Hillcrest farm.  Signs have disappeared here, and I need to depend on the OS app to keep on track.  Worse, the farmer has tried to block the gates between fields.  The last field seems to have no way out, and I stumble about in a boggy wood before hitting upon the path at a small bridge across a stream.  After that I’m in a beautiful shady holloway, well below field level on either side, first among oaks and then, lower down, among beeches.  A quiet lane then hits busy Heol Trimsaran, and there’s no option but to follow it for several hundred yards.   There’s no pavement or verge and the traffic thunders past, a few feet away.  Luckily a lane forks off to the right, and all is peaceful for a mile or so, before a second, shorter spell on Heol Trimsaran.

Up through fields, for the last time, before a quiet road and another path lead down into Furnace.  Fom here there are views down to Llanelli below (though nothing as striking as the one J.D. Innes shows in his early romantic painting, now in Parc Howard). This is where I leave St Illtud, following the road into the centre of Llanelli, and beyond to the railway station.  Since my water ran out some time ago, the first thing I do is to buy more liquid.

Apart from the brief but ugly encounters with Heol Trimsaran, this first stage of St Illtud’s Walk is a good, energetic walk of around twelve miles.  It takes an erratic route, but in a good cause – a desire to incorporate several sections of serenity and beauty.

Comments (2)

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  1. Jane lyons says:

    Hallo. Is the boggy wood you describe entered next to the Trimsaran pillbox ? Just wondered as it would be great to be able to open up the very obvious track there which has been blocked now by high barbed wire fences.
    Thank you

    • Andrew Green says:

      Thanks, Jane. Not sure I remember now how I got into the wood, only that I stumbled around helplessly for quite some time trying to find a way through, even with the help of the OS app. That whole section of the walk could do with better signposting.

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