Thursday, 26 February 2015

THE LOUGHOR ESTUARY AND SALT MARSHES



The north coast of the Gower Peninsula largely consists of an expanse of salt marshes which, while bleak in nature, provides an ideal environment for the production of the highly prized lamb from the sheep grazing here.  There is an abundance of nourishment from the plants growing in the marshes: Samphire, Sorrel, Sea lavender and Thrift.  The salt marshes stretch westwards from Crofty and are fringed by a number of villages.  Penclawdd and Crofty are known for their cockle industry, which dates back to Roman times.  Penclawdd was once a thriving sea port exporting copper goods, coal and seafood, and there used to be coal mines in the area.  Salthouse Point is a man-made area which formerly played a role in the area's shipping history, and later formed part of an army practice range.  Now the Point is an important wildlife habitat.  

Towards the western end of the salt marshes is the village of Llanrhidian, which offers wonderful views over the marshes.  There are similarly impressive views from Llanmadoc further west, while down below is the Whiteford National Nature Reserve where, in addition to a variety of wildlife, there are wildflowers and orchids for botany enthusiasts.  Between Llanrhidian and Llanmadoc is Weobley Castle, a fortified manor house which dates from the 13th century and which belonged to the de la Bere family until the 15th century.  The castle offers one of the best views of the marshlands and mudflats.    

Map of the area. 

File:The salt marshes below Weobley castle - geograph.org.uk - 1311232.jpg
The salt marshes from Weobley Castle. Photo by ceridwen, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 19 February 2015

LLANELLI



Llanelli, the largest town in Carmarthenshire, is an ex-mining town where the economy once thrived not only from mining but also from the steelworks and the tinplate industry.  The latter led to the town being nicknamed 'Tinopolis'.  However, following a familiar pattern, the 1970s saw the start of an economic decline with the closure of the mines coupled with competition from overseas steel producers, although some steel manufacturing still goes on in the area.  Aside from economic activity, the town also has a proud rugby tradition.  A few years ago a new stadium called Parc y Scarlets was built, named after one of the town's two rugby teams the Scarlets, the other one being the Llanelli RFC.

Today one of the main attractions bringing visitors to the area is the National Wetlands Centre on the banks of the River Loughor to the east of the town, where familiar birds such as geese and other waterfowl are joined by the more exotic flamingoes.  Recent sightings include black tailed godwit, goldeneye and lapwing.  Another draw for visitors is the Millenium Coastal Park, including a Coastal Path running for 13 miles from Loughor to Pembrey. There are also cycle paths, beaches, coarse fishing and other leisure activities to be enjoyed in the Park, all accompanied by lovely views of the Gower Peninsula to the east.  Back in the town, Llanelli House is an early Georgian building offering tours which tell the history of the house and the town.  Parc Howard Museum occupies a 19th century Italianate house and houses a range of exhibits including a large collection of Llanelli pottery.  A range of events are held in the town during the course of the year, including the Big Day Out Music Festival, a Beer Festival and a Carnival.  

Map of the area. 

File:The National Wetlands Centre Wales - geograph.org.uk - 88688.jpg
Some of the more exotic inhabitants of the Wetlands Centre. Photo by Nigel Homer, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 13 February 2015

BURRY PORT



In my piece about Pendine I wrote about the ill-fated flight by female aviator Amy Johnson and her husband, who ran out of fuel and were forced to crash-land before arriving in New York, having started out in Pendine.  In 1928 Burry Port witnessed a similar incident involving a female pilot, but this time the pilot, Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, was attempting her flight in the opposite direction bound for Southampton, and it was at Burry Port that she was forced to cut short her flight, also for lack of fuel.  However, she had a more fortunate outcome than the poor Johnsons: A Llanelli-based manager from the Anglo Americal Oil Company came to the rescue, ferrying cans of fuel out to Earhart's Fokker aircraft Friendship, with crowds of onlookers watching the spectacle from the quay.  The event is commemorated by engraved flagstones and a plaque in the harbour.

A harbour was built in this location in 1832 for shipping out the coal being mined in the locality, but the town did not grow up until a couple of decades later.  The canals used to transport the coal to the port gave way to the railway in due course.  Now the mines are closed, and the harbour has been converted to a marina for leisure craft.  The marina forms part of the Millennium Coastal Park.  Nearby Pembrey Burrows is home to a country park and the Saltings Local Nature Reserve.  Many rare plants are to be found here as well as birds such as ringed plovers, skylarks and redwing.  Pembrey Sands is treacherous to shipping, and as such has been the scene of many a shipwreck.  Not all of them, however, were accidents.  Some of the ships were lured onto the sands by local wreckers known as "The Men of Little Hatchets", so called because a type of hatchet was used for ripping open the cargo.

Map of the area.

File:Amelia Earhart memorial, Burry Port harbour - geograph.org.uk - 1025606.jpg
Amelia Earhart Memorial. Photo by Rose and Trev Clough, via Wikimedia Commons


Friday, 6 February 2015

LLANSTEFFAN



Llansteffan lies on the River Tywi, which merges with the River Taf to form a large estuary.  There have been fortifications overlooking the river here since the Iron Age, when a hillfort did the job.  Then the Normans arrived and in the early 12th century erected an earth-and-timber 'ringwork' within the confines of the hillfort.  The transformation into a 'proper' castle came courtesy of the Camville family, who held sway here from the 12th to the 14th centuries, and it later fell into Tudor hands.  The castle, now ruined, is run by Cadw and is free to visit.  

There is a settlement on the opposite side of the river called Ferryside.  There is no ferry from here now, but during the height of the mining industry the mines in the South Wales valleys used to close for two weeks in what was known as 'Miners Fortnight' and the miners used to flock to Ferryside by train and cross over to Llansteffan, filling up the lodgings in the village.  There was much fun and games during the holiday period, including a 'Mock-Mayor-making ceremony', a tradition which continues to this day in August.  There are some lovely old photos of mock mayors of yore on the Llansteffan website.  Dylan Thomas was a frequent visitor to the village, where he  used to get his hair cut by the legendary Octavius Owen, of Occy Owen's Emporium.  On one occasion the poet was due to be best man at the village church, and he was sent away with a flea in his ear by Occy Owen, who accused him of being improperly dressed.

Map of the area.

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Llansteffan Castle. Photo by Nigel Davies, via Wikimedia Commons