Ian Bateman’s walk this month is probably not one you’re going to want to do, with the family, on a Sunday afternoon. It’s more than a marathon of a walk – in fact it is a 50 miler – or thereabouts. What’s a mile or two between friends?
Have you noticed how many charity events there are these days? They are predomin-antly undertaken by people of a certain age, involving something physically chal-lenging in an attempt to a) keep the ageing process at bay b) stay fit and c) to raise money for a charitable cause close to their hearts.
Well, reading that back it‘s a pretty good description of yours truly. Because over the past six years or so I, along with various chums and loose acquaintances, have undertaken a number of such events for those very reasons. I mention it here as this month’s article is dedicated to our latest adventure.
Now I have to say, that I have noticed that challenges are becoming more and more, um, challenging. People are stretching themselves to the very limit of their capabilities. The bar is being raised. The volume is up to 11. And something that was head turningly impressive, say 10 years ago, seems pretty routine now. Like the marathon. I might be wrong, but I seem to remember the marathon as the ultimate challenge. Nowadays, one marathon isn’t enough. Take Eddie Izzard. His achievement of 27 marathons in 27 days was a mind-blowingly astounding achievement. He could have only have made it harder for himself had he attempted them in a pair of mules and a ball gown.
But obviously we’re not all in that league, but we shouldn’t denigrate ourselves because our efforts are well meaning and whilst they’re not ridiculously difficult, they do stretch us a little, keep us fit and ultimately they raise valuable funds for good causes. (see 1st paragraph). Oh, and we have a good laugh!
So, what were we to do? At the outset we had to agree the criteria. Time-wise, we didn’t really want to do anything that took us too long, as it meant eating into valuable holiday time, yet it had to be physically challenging enough that it required months of training. And it had to be a walk. So in a moment of madness I suggested a 50 mile walk around the coast of Gower in one go. You heard. In a day.
So, that was agreed upon and that’s exactly what we attempted on June 3rd. Seventeen hardy individuals signed up, some it has to be said somewhat reluctant-ly, shaking their heads muttering it can’t be done; it can’t be done, but committing to it nevertheless, to what we imaginatively called, ‘The Gower 50’. (we didn’t just throw this together!)
And it took some planning I can tell you. We had to take into account the times of the tides so that we’d avoid walking on soft sand around Whiteford Point and hopefully the sand dunes at Tor Bay and Three Cliffs. The problem was that we had no idea what time we’d arrive at Three Cliffs so a ‘guesstimate’ was the best we could do.
Additionally and more importantly for some, we had to arrange toilet stops for the ladies in particular, especially on the northern leg of the route as it would be the middle of the night. So thanks to Penclawdd Bowls Club for lending us the key to their pavilion (sorry we left the light on) and Chris and Sian Griffiths of @ Cwm Ivy Coffee Shop who left the loo open for us. Needless to say, the boys were a little less fussy where they went. We also had a back up team comprising of Dai and Sparky with a van and a minibus, which were to meet us at pre-arranged points along the way, enabling us to rest and re-fuel and, should the situation arise, pick up anyone in trouble or wanted to bail out.
Our training walks were interesting too. We built them up steadily; a circular around Pen-y Fan – short but physically demanding; a walk around the Carmarthen Fans – longer, just as demanding and stunningly beautiful; Burry Port to Mumbles – hard on the feet as tarmac all the way; various 20/27 mile circular walks around the Gower, culminating in the whole of the Gower Way – 35 miles from the start at Mynydd y Gwair to Rhossili, a challenge in itself, made even harder by a very intense 400m sprint at Parc le Breos when we got chased by a herd of black bulls (they might have been cows, but they were big ,black, quick and agitated).
So, to the walk then. Most people were quite anxious before the start, because when you think about it, 50 miles in one day sounds pretty tough. We were entering into unchart-ed territory. We gave the nutrition aspect some serious consideration and for two days before the walk, ‘carb loading’ was the order of the day. (I’ll be perfectly honest with you, how I didn’t get pasta poisoning, I’ll never know!) For the walk itself, the mantra was eat little and often and keep hydrated. We arranged to pick some of the team up on the way in a minibus and to drop them off at the start point in a car park behind the Commercial Inn in Gowerton. The other members arrived by car. Unfortunately, whilst some of us waited in the car park the minibus driver Sparky, thought I said the car park of the Commercial Inn so they spent 5 minutes sitting there wondering where the hell we were! Not a good start. Anyway, panic over and after a quick pep talk and team photo (pic above), we were off!
We were all wearing head-torches and Hi-Viz vests and looked like a team of unlikely ground-workers about to dig up the road (not me of course – I’m more of a clerical person – definitely non-manual). The first 8 miles or so were pretty uninspiring. It was obviously dark, lit only by street lights so our view was therefore limited to the streets of Penclawdd and Crofty (apologies to residents of Penclawdd and Crofty – no offence intended) and the coast of Llanelli to our right. And the walk itself wasn’t that easy either, be-cause if you’ve ever walked any distance on tarmac, you’ll know that it’s very demanding on the feet and calves.
The group spread out pretty much from the start, the quicker walkers obviously wanting to get this agony over and done with as quickly as possible (young and impetuous Dwayne even jogging the first 5 miles or so) whilst the remainder and more sensible amongst us were just happy to pace themselves (actually, it wasn’t that so much, it’s just we couldn’t walk that fast!). Leaving Crofty behind and onto the marsh road, we at last began to feel the walk had actually begun as, at last, we were out in open country leaving the villages behind.
The first scheduled stop was in the car park of the Dolphin in Llanrhidian. Time for a quick energy bar/banana/pork pie and maybe a change of footwear for those who chose to wear trainers over the tarmac before moving on to Cwm Ivy. This section was the one I worried about the most. We were leaving the easily navigable road behind and going across country with only our head-torches to help us find our way. It would be easy for someone to go off route, and my concern was not so much for getting lost – we were only in Gower after all – but for walking further than was absolutely necessary. There was an awful long way to go. But as it panned out, it was negotiated successfully by all. We even found Dwayne, who leapt out of the dark shadows at Landimore, frightening the life out of everybody in the process (we reckon he got a taxi there!).
Onto Cwm Ivy coffee shop and the aforementioned loo stop. Unfortunately, as we crept past the house we set off the security lights causing Chris’s dogs to dutifully bark like mad. It was 3.30am. Sorry Chris and Sian. And it was here that we had our first casualty; Byron, who had only agreed to join the walk on the Tuesday before and hadn’t done any training, had two dodgy knees and who’d drunk 4 pints that afternoon. He decided that maybe, after all, he was ever so slightly under prepared and frankly over-optimistic, but to his credit he did have a go and he also managed to raise some money .
The next section also concerned me from the point of view of our morale, if nothing else, as it took us in a loop around Whiteford Point, which meant going in a completely different direction to where the route was eventually heading, only to return to where we’d started the section, close to Cwm Ivy. However, from a personal point of view it was probably one of the most rewarding parts of the trek simply because the day began to wake. If I was any good at this writing malarkey, I’d go right into Betjeman mode here and describe the coming of the dawn in a beau-tifully descriptive and poetic fashion. Unfortunately I’m not, so you’ll have to make do. Suffice it to say, as the sun gradually rose it began to light up the beautiful surroundings of Whiteford nature reserve and accompanied by nature’s sound-track of birdsong it certainly made you forget that your legs were beginning to hurt and that you’d only got 30 odd miles to go! Praise for the singing, praise for the morning indeed!
So around the point, marvelling at the silhouetted Whiteford Light-house, back along the beach towards Broughton passing Llanmadoc and as we looked behind us the sun finally rose above the horizon. And what a beautiful sight. The sunrise must surely be one of nature’s wonders, something that we take completely for granted. It’s quite breath taking and we looked back with mouths agape as if it was a once in a lifetime event. But here’s the thing – it happens every day! I know, who’d have thought it? Sometimes spoilt by clouds and howling wind and rain granted, but it’s on show often enough. I recommend you check it out sometime.
Reaching Broughton, we were hoping that the van would meet us at the beach, but we didn’t bargain on an entrance barrier blocking its way into the site, so we had to make an unwelcomed detour to get refreshments. Re-invigorated by the arrival of the morning and a cup of coffee we re-joined the path and made our way past Blue Pool and around the burrows at Broughton and eventually onto Rhossili Bay. Now, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this bit either because there’s nothing that dampens your spirits more on a long walk, than seeing how far you have to go stretching out uninterrupted in front of you. And this is exactly what you’re faced with at this point. Three miles of flat sand and the promise of a thigh bursting climb to Rhossili to reward you at the end. Happy days! So, the best way to deal with it is simply head down and get on with it.
After a steep climb up the path from the beach, we were met by our trusty back-up team who were by now busy making us bacon butties on the camping stove. It made a welcome change from bananas and energy bars I can tell you – big, thick, slices of gammon from Billy Upton’s butchers in the market…. mmm delicious. At this stage we were also joined by Carwyn, a sports masseuse (pic above left) who’s cur-rently working with the Swans (thanks to Huw Cooze for arranging), so after munching on our bacon butties and having life massaged back into our weary limbs we were ready for the next section. (By the way, big thanks to Carwyn for travelling all the way from Merthyr to join us for 7am).
Reaching here was certainly psychologically important as although we were still 20 odd miles from the finish, at least we were heading in the right direction.
Personally, to help me get through it, I simply targeted on getting to the next rest stop – Port Eynon then Oxwich and finally Pennard. It became a relentless slog at this stage. Friends, family and our mad sheepdog, Jax, joined us between Oxwich and Tor Bay which was a welcome distraction, although, I must admit that I really wasn’t in the mood to throw the ball for him. Unfortunately, when we arrived at Tor Bay and Three Cliffs we had to climb the dreaded sand dunes as the tide was now well in. Weirdly and thankfully, the climbs weren’t too bad, maybe because we were using a different muscle combin-ation, I don’t know, but it certainly wasn’t as bad as I’d feared.
Once we left Pennard, we knew we were pretty much home and dry. The bays came in quick succession; Pwll Du, looking gloriously Mediterranean with its azure blue sea, back-ed by its pebbled beach and vivid green vegetation – a very underrated bay – and finally the hot spots of Caswell and Langland, getting puzzled and disapprov-ing looks at our rather dishevelled appearance, from the great and the good who were sunning themselves on the terrace of Langland Brasserie. I felt like shouting in my defence, “BUT I’VE BEEN WALKING SINCE MIDNIGHT MUN, WHAT DO YOU EXPECT??!!”, but decided sensibly to save everyone the embarrassment. (To be honest, they were lucky they couldn’t smell me!).
Then finally, as you turn the last corner of the coast path, journey’s end mercifully comes into sight. At Castellamare, Alex, one of the owners and who was on the walk and his brother Christian had kindly put on a hearty feast of pasta (yeah, I know – but so very welcome) and a couple of well earned pints as a reward. So we’d done it, 16 hours or so after leaving Gowerton we’d reached our destination and the challenge was complete. We had an overwhelming sense of achievement. We’d set out at midnight the night before and here we were at 4pm the following day having walked the entire time. Tidy mun.
On reflection, it was a thoroughly satisfying experience on a number of levels, firstly by completing the challenge itself, which goes without saying. (However, it wasn’t quite 50 miles, but shh, keep it to yourself). The doubters said it couldn’t be done, but with a good deal of pre-paration and the right mindset (and plenty of pasta) we did it. But I think it was the reaction of one of the boys in the group, which in a lot of ways, summed it all up for me. Dai is a builder and fits the stereotype – big, strong, brash and hysterically building-site funny. Someone who you’d think would dismiss hiking out of hand as a pastime for softees. But that’s where the stereotype ended. I got to know him on our training walks and it soon became obvious that Dai had a much different side to him. He had an impressive knowledge of wildlife and the natural environment and was a talented story teller to boot. He was genuinely delighted and proud that he completed the walk and admitted that the whole episode was life changing. What was also satisfying was his new found appreciation of the countryside and recognition that a whole new world had opened up for him, one which had been on his doorstep all the while. From the look on his face when taking in the view from the top of Pen y Fan on a beautifully clear day to his reaction when he first caught a glimpse of Llyn y Fan Fach glistening in the sunlight, cupped by the sheer green slopes of the surrounding mountain. Before this, Dai knew the area, but didn’t know the area and I think that nicely sums up the experience that walking in the countryside gives you, a different and intimate perspective of this beautiful country of ours. So the moral of the story; get your boots on and get out there ‘cos Dai thinks it’s cool!!
In closing, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank a load of people, Firstly the walkers; Jeff and Alison Morris, Anthony Fox, Dwayne McDaid, Andrew Evans, Kevin Bennett, Jon Harrison, Alex Diiulio, Dai Webster, David Rosser, Joe Bateman, Kath Simpson, Huw and Denise Howells, Byron ‘Spesh’ Evans and Chris Mills; the back-up team, Dai Fox, Anthony ‘Sparky’ Watkins and Carwyn Morgan.
Also, Paul Nelson at Bassetts for supplying the minibus, Alex and Christian Diiulio at Castellamare for the food on and after the walk, Greg Murphy of Manor Cabs for providing free transport on training walks, Penclawdd Bowls club, Chris and Sian Griffiths @cwm Ivy coffee shop for the loo stops, Phil ‘Ginge’ Williams for the water, Huw Cooze for also providing water and Carwyn the masseuse, and Richard Jones of Coast Café. And, last and certainly not least, all those who kindly and generously donated their hard earned cash for our nominated charities. It was greatly appreciated.