St Illtud’s Walk, day 2: Furnace to Pontarddulais

June 2, 2023 0 Comments

A week later, and I’m back at Furnace, this time with a companion, C.  It promises to be sunny all day, with a slight breeze to offset the heat.  We’ve walked up from the bus station, past the small villas of Llanelli’s Victorian middle classes and the spawling Stradey Park Hotel, where, according to the news the next day, the Home Office plans to house 300 asylum seekers.  Furnace, previously a tiny village called Cwmddyche, switched names when Alexander Raby, a Surrey speculator, arrived in 1791 to set up an iron furnace and forge.  We pass the Stradey Arms, the birthplace of John D. Reese, ‘Bonesetter Rees’, who found fame in the USA as an osteopath, with a particular reputation for treating baseball players (David Lloyd George was also his patient).

We leave the main road and rejoin St Illtud’s Walk at the point where I left it last week.  The path leads to a small reservoir, Tre-beddrod, built in 1855 to supply water to Llanelli.  The town grew so rapidly that it soon became inadequate, and Cwm Lliedi needed to be flooded only 23 years later.  Today it’s a tranquil spot, surrounded by trees.  The path leads north up the wooded cwm, before turning to cross fields.  Here, and everywhere today, most of the fields are grass meadows, painted bright yellow by thousands of buttercups.  I don’t remember seeing such a profusion in any previous late spring.  What’s more, white hawthorn is bursting out of hedges more lustily than ever before, and in the verges are explosions of tall white cow-parsley.

A lane takes us downhill, past horses grazing in daisied fields and across the old railway line to the Gwendaeth valley, now a cycle track, to the two Cwm Lliedi reservoirs.  We stop for a break and a biscuit on a bench beside the back end of the lower reservoir, and give thanks as we sit down to Cllr Giles Morgan, the bench’s donor.  A sign warns us to beware of the invasive and aggressive top gudgeon fish (we have to admit we wouldn’t recognise it if we met one).  In front of us is a rich mix of greens, from the grasses, reeds, bracken and willows growing in the muddy ground.  The reservoir was once used by Swansea University’s rowing club, but there are no signs of boats today.  We follow a broad path, sheltered by tall trees, along the waterside, and cross the dam at the end, where a small conical tower stands in the water.  The reservoir was opened on 17 September 1878.  Despite the drizzling rain, Mrs Phillips turned the crank to open the waterworks, six cannons were fired, and the party sailed on to the water in boats, returning to a champagne reception.  Mrs Phillips’s husband gave a speech, in which he claimed that the health and happiness of the people of Llanelli were now assured.

Out of the valley, the Walk winds around and then into the middle of the modern estate of Swiss Valley, sometimes on obscure paths, sometimes on streets lined with dull houses.  Each has a front door cased in a miniature pediment, architrave and pilasters, in the neoclassical style that passes for gentility among many architects.  The seaward views from here are fine, but it’s a hard not to mourn the loss of the fields and trees that preceded the houses.  At the bottom we join a minor road.  It passes the huge Gestamp plant, which makes parts for cars, but then it demotes itself to a country lane.  A small Carmarthenshire County Council truck comes towards us, slows and stops.  Its driver explains to us that every day she and her colleague stop in the nearby lay-by to eat their sandwiches. With its views over the fields and hills beyond, this spot offers them a brief, quiet refuge from their daily routine of roads.

Eventually we leave the lane and strike uphill through fields.  Pathfinding isn’t difficult, even when signposts fail.  Lines of desire, the legacy of earlier walkers – even if they’re few and far between, as they seem to be on St Illtud’s Walk – point the way forward across fields.  Next, we’re in a wood – bluebells are still in full flower – before returning to lane walking. We descend into the valley of Afon Morlais, where we have a choice of crossing the river by ford or footbridge.  The water flows smoothly by, under a canopy of shady trees.  Not long after, we stop for sandwiches on a lane-side bank under a clump of foxgloves.  The outskirts of Llangennech are not far to the south, but the only sounds we can hear are those of birds and a barking dog on Tyreglwys farm.

After lunch there’s more field walking before we join a lane that takes us all the way, past the farms of Glyncaerau and Penlan, towards the M4 motorway.  There are big views towards Graig Fawr, Cefn Drum and the other hills to the north, where the Walk will resume on Day 3, and back towards the railway viaduct over Afon Llwchwr.  But the roar of traffic is becoming more and more insistent.  Suddenly we’re at the motorway, and cross it via a footbridge.  Beyond is Yr Hendy, and after two more crossings, of the Gwili and the Llwchwr, we reach our destination, the centre of Pontarddulais.  We reckon we’ve deserved an ice-cream each – though this been a rapid and easy stage of the St Illtud’s Walk, just nine miles, plus an extra mile or so from the centre of Llanelli.  The next stage will take us up into the bare hills, and promises to be very different.

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