Did You See That, Wales Coastal Path?
On the Winter Solstice of 2017, I walked nearly 20km form Rhoose Train Station to Llantwit Major, alongside the Wales Coastal Path.
Every year on my birthday, I go on a long walk.
Some years back, I decided to stop by Paris for my birthday. My birthday was on a Thursday, I think, and I treated myself to just wandering the city as I had for the past five days. My wanders took me to the Parc de Bercy outside of the Cinémathèque Française. I spent some quality lonesome time in this place devoid of anyone but flowers and insects on that exceptionally warm December afternoon. I practice handstands and cartwheels on some walls, and simply enjoyed the air and the quiet in a bustling city.
I realised then that my birthdays should be celebrated as such.
A meeting on the train…
With the wealth of walks in South Wales, taking on the six-hour trek from Barry to Llantwit Major was a choice of convenience; the Wales Coastal Path connected both areas, an infrastructure existed (badly signposted at times, and disappearing many times), and trains could take me to and back. It could be done in under six hours, and with my walk day falling on the winter solstice I had a reduced amount of daylight to play with. Besides, as much as I enjoy being exposed to the elements, I didn’t cherish the thought of being stranded no where near public transport if the weather turned bad.
So I set out, arriving at the southernmost point of Wales around 9am. I only learned this, because of a man who approached me on the train, asking for help to read a letter his dyslexia stopped him from understanding. He told me about how he was getting better after having some problems and getting the NHS to fix his very bad teeth after many years. He spoke about poverty, and how that didn’t bother him as much as long as he had something to do. I photographed him next to a stone obelisk, promising to send him a copy. I haven’t yet… I just keep putting it off for some reason. When we got off the train, my instinct was to walk off to the right and get on with it, but he recommended I turn left to see something cool. “No, mate,” he said, “Come an see this; it is cool.” And we walked a little way off to the left, and saw an obelisk made of slate, erosion taking away bits of Wales into the sea and beyond, and some dogs in a bog. He taught me that Rhoose Point was mainland’s Wales’ most southerly point, and that it was a thing of local pride.
Through farm fields…
Insistent, strong wind blowing in from the North Atlantic haunted me the whole way. Cold and strong, the sort of wind that cools you down while you walk up and down farm field, and the sort that you hate whenever you stay still. Your map blows away, your fingers get numb in it. The air’s warm, but for that fucking wind blowing everything off. It gave me a headache that didn’t go away for a week.
I nearly went insane on the farm fields. You think you’re walking in a straight line, but the land curves and you’re following a wide angle rather than cutting across. And you think, just over that next hedge there’ll be something else, something different, and, no, it is more fields of suede or harvested carrots. And mud. So much mud. On you walk, over one hedge, another and another and, once you think you’ll see nothing but vegetable fields and your bag’s already too heavy from stealing them, you finally find a horse field. And you stop, freaking out, for you’ve never dealt with horses and remember all the times cows have chased you. So you walk around, trying to find another route, walk off for ten minutes before realising you’re going back East, so you double back, and slowly cross the horse field and learn, for the first time, that horses are nicer than cows. And they come along, smell you, and just let you be.
I walked down a cliff onto a carpark, from which I found blessed tarmac that led me into the village of Llantwit Major. On that beach, I learned that Llantwit Major was a great centre for learning in the Middle Ages, and Vikings often ransacked the place before they settled down.
I bought a bottle of craft ketchup at the village, and sat, covered in mud, tired, sweaty, in a pub with with a book I got in a charity shop up the road. There, I waited until my train arrived, nearly falling asleep with the pint in my hand.