Wales is the world’s first country to have a path right around its coastline The first coast path to outline an entire country has now opened. This 870-mile trail runs from the Welsh border near Chester all the way to Chepstow in south-east Wales. If you really are up for it the new path joins up with the 177-mile Offa’s Dyke Path national trail along the Welsh-English border to create a complete circuit of Wales. We opted for a weekend walking sections of the lesser-explored Carmarthenshire path. The 68 miles from Amroth to Llanelli connect the walkers’ hubs of Gower and Pembrokeshire but, given sections of treacherous salt marsh, include some deviation inland. Culturally it’s a particularly rich walk, showcasing the landscape that inspired the writer Dylan Thomas to produce some of his best-known work. Based in Laugharne, where Thomas lived in the late 1940s, the plan was to walk out each day, returning each night for rest and recuperation.
Start walking at Pendine beach, the seven-mile sweep of sand opening up in widescreen on a blustery spring day.
Tenby lurks round the headland and fishermen are digging for lugworms. The beach was the scene of successive world land speed records in the 1920s and the rivalry between Malcolm Campbell and John Parry-Thomas who was killed here in 1927. His car, Babs, was salvaged from a sand-gritted grave – amazingly with its tyre pressures still correct – and is now exhibited in a small, wind-lashed museum just behind the beach. The walk into Laugharne leads inland around the Pendine Sands military base, following the road before veering back coastward and over Sir John’s Hill into town. Georgian Laugharne inspired Llareggub, the fictional location for Thomas’s 1954 radio play Under Milk Wood. Waiting at Laugharne’s ruined castle on the main square, the Grist, is a smiling Bob Stevens of Salt House Farm. Stevens has devised a two-mile, linear Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk around the estuary, overlapping with the coast path, with each of five new benches carved with a line from Thomas’s “Poem in October”. “The trail follows the walk Dylan documented in his poem,” explains Bob as we stand on a hilltop outside Laugharne, views across the salt marsh and ringed plover wading below. “I don’t like much poetry but I really feel the essence of the man by walking this trail each year on my own birthday.” That night, before supper, I take a look around the Tin Shed Experience, an offbeat anti-war museum/performance space on the town’s pastel-painted main drag. The venue recently hosted events for the annual Laugharne Weekend arts festival, including Howard Marks and John Cooper Clarke. “Laugharne is a time slip in the best possible sense,” says co-founder Seimon Pugh-Jones, as a life-size fibreglass figure of Captain Cat from Under Milk Wood stands guard at the door. “The quirky, bohemian atmosphere of Laugharne has inspired people since Thomas’s time,” he adds.
The next day, I transfer ahead by taxi from Laugharne, avoiding tricky twin estuary crossings across the Taf at St Clears and the Tywi at Carmarthen. Instead, I pick up the trail at Kidwelly, making good progress along the muddy path to the town’s 13th-century castle, before joining the coastal path towards Llanelli. The final leg of the walk joins the Millennium Coastal Park trail, a 10-mile man-made path through a former industrial area on the outskirts of Llanelli. It’s a flat, straight stretch, ideal for biking, with views west towards Pembrey Country Park and east towards the Gower peninsula. I finish my walk with a slight detour to the National Wetland Centre Wales. A stampede of wading birds, red-crested pochards and endangered marbled teal greet my arrival, all determined to claim a share of the birdseed I’m clutching in a tiny paper bag. Spring is in the air, with dragonflies and butterflies surveying the grounds of the Millennium Wetlands, while the flamingos are perfecting their wing salute for breeding. Families are cooing over fluffy-bundle hatchlings parading in the late-afternoon sun as part of Duckling Day events. Before leaving Laugharne, I take one last walk, a circular loop past the writing shed where Dylan Thomas worked, and past the Boat House where the family lived before Thomas’s departure on an American lecture tour in 1953, during which he died. I find refurbishment work at an advanced stage at Brown’s Hotel, the watering hole where Thomas ran up a bar tab as sizeable as his talent in those most productive final years. Across the road, George Tremlett, the owner of Corran Books and biographer of Dylan’s wife, Caitlin Macnamara, is making plans for the centenary of Thomas’ birth in 2014. “Dylan was a keen walker,” says George. “He described the tides, the estuary and the view from the Boat House in the poem “Prologue” with its 102-line wave formation”
(This day winding down now/At God speeded summer’s end/In the torrent salmon sun/In my seashaken house.)
The path leads me to St Martin’s Church, where both Dylan and Caitlin are buried in the graveyard. The graves are marked with a simple white cross, which looks out across the rolling hills of Carmarthenshire. In the cold stone interior of the church itself, a plaque to Thomas bears an inscription from one of his most evocative poems, “Fern Hill”. Travel essentials Getting there The nearest station is Carmarthen, served by Arriva Trains Wales (0845 606 1660; arrivatrainswales.co.uk) thanks to the Grauniad again.