Another in-fill section of the Wales Coastal Path that needed to be completed. This time it was a short section from Swansea to Briton Ferry that essentially joined up with the walk we completed a few days ago between Baglan Burrows and Port Talbot. This section fo the path is certainly not the prettiest, nor the most interesting but it does take you through post industrial landscapes. Swansea was once the copper smelting capitol fo the world and was nicknamed Copperopolis as a result. However, all that is now a dim and distant memory as all the steel, tin and copper works are long gone, and you have too look very carefully to find any evidence of them at all. Swansea is now a thriving University Town and the old industrial areas are now being absorbed into new developments. The first area that received this treatment was the docklands area, which now houses a successful marina filled with yachts, and new housing is still springing up around the docks and quays. We were a little bit organised today, and planed to only do the route in one direction so we parked at Briton Ferry and caught the bus into Swansea. Mind you this was a bit of a challenge in itself. The bus time table we found on the internet stated categorically that the Number 57 Bus left from Hill Street at 57 minutes past the hour. However, the only bus stop we found anywhere near Hill Street as outside the post office and had no indication of a No. 57 bus leaving from there at anytime day or night, only an X5 bus that left at 5 minutes past the hour. After a bit of searching for an alternative buss stop and not a little swearing we were rescued by an elderly lady who told us that we had an old timetable and the numbers of the buses had been changed last year. She then proceed to tell us all about her holidays over the past 20 odd years until the bus arrived.
So when we finally got to Swansea the days walk started at the Prince of Wales Dock. This was opened on the 18th of October, 1881 when Prince Edward (no surprise here if I told you he was the Prince of Wales) pulled a ceremonial gold and jewelled lever to open the main sluice, allowing water to flood into the new dock. However as trade declined in the later part of the 20th Century it was finally closed to shipping. It has now been developed to provide housing and is a pleasant part of the city close to the new University Campus. On the quayside stands a white wooden Norwegian Church, very similar to the one at Cardiff. This was originally built in Newport Docks in the 1890s, but was moved to Swansea docks in 1909 to serve the Norwegian sailors who came in on the ships bringing in pine for pit props, and then returning with coal. A neat circular trade route if ever there was one. However as the trade to the docks declined in volume so did the congregation decline, until in 1966 the Norwegian authorities ordered it to be closed. However, following a campaign by Mr. Eric Benneche, a Norwegian living in Pontardulais, who offered to take over the running of the mission and, with the aid of Swansea’s local Norwegian community, the church remained in use for another thirty two years until its eventual closure in 1998. In 2004 the church was moved to it’s present position behind J Shed on the quay of the Prince of Wales Dock.
We followed the path from here inland, soon loosing sight of the coast until we came to another remnant of Swanseas industrial past, the Tennant Canal. The original canal was part of the Glan-y-wern Canal, which was built across Crymlyn Bog to transport coal from a colliery on its northern edge to a creek on the River Neath called Red Jacket Pill. It wasn’t a very successful endeavour and closed after 20 years. However in 1818 George Tennant the canal was reopened, enlarged and extended. this allowed the canal to provide a navigable link from the Afon Ned (River Neath) to the Afon Tawe (River Tawe) at Swansea Docks. Commercial traffic on the canal continued for quite a while but eventually came to an end in the 1930s. Even though the canal may not have been carrying goods it still had a role to play in the wider industrial life of Swansea and the surrounding area by supplying industrial water to the petro-chemical industry at Llandarcy and Baglan Bay. All of these industries have now closed down but it may still provide water to a paper manufacturer based at Baglan. There is more information on the canal along with Tennant here (https://www.neath-tennant-canals.org.uk/tennant-canal-history). The canal infrastructure continued to decline, but in 1974 the Neath and Tennant Canal Society was formed, and ever since have been working hard to restore the canals. However, Our first encounter with the canal was not the most inspiring. In fact it looked like so many sad and neglected canals we’ve seen over the years – full of rubbish and detritus.
As we continued our walk parallel with the old blocked off canal we eventually came back to the canal side and it started to feel like a cared for canal again. The extensive reed beds from the Crymlyn Bog showed tantalising views of the canal basin, but eventually we were able to follow the canal all the way to Jersey Marine. This is where we leave Swansea and enter Neath-Port Talbot on the banks of the Afon Nedd. A small village notable primarily for an octagonal tower originally built in 1867 to support a camera obscura. The Jersey Marine Hotel adjoining the Tower was demolished in 1965, but has since been rebuilt. The tower was in a parlous and roofless state for years but was restored and is now well used for all sorts of events. The camera obscura, with its elevated position must have provided a fascinating view of the surrounding area with its industrial landscape below. Again, I saw we need time travel. I would have loved to have seen it all as it was.
The path then took along a busy and noisy road down to Fabian Way and past the massive Amazon Warehouse. We may no longer manufacture many products, but we still buy them. Fabian Way is a very busy road and is the only access to Eastern Swansea from the M4 motorway. I have to admit this was not our favourite part of the walk! But for me it did have some compensations.the winter so far has been pretty mild, except maybe for the past few days, but all along the verge plants normally associated with summer wee still flowering. These included Oxeye Daisy, Red Clover, Ragwort, and one of my favourites, Common Knapweed. These just should not be flowering at this time of year. I can only assume they’ve not read the field guides.
Soon we passed under the M4 viaduct and started to cross the Afon Nedd via the A48 viaduct. Whilst not as high as the parallel running M4 viaduct it is still more than 190 feet above the river running below. The views provide a dramatic overview of the remaining quay sides that once provided Briton Ferry with a thriving trade. Once there were quays stretching south through to the estuary mouth, and also included a unique floating dock designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Very little remains and you have to look hard to find them. Every time I drive I over these viaducts I look north in the hope of seeing a ship docked at the remain quay, and frequently see one there. Today there was nothing, only a view of the continued decay of the dock and a pile of coal, either waiting to the loaded or recently unloaded. Although all the deep mines have now closed in Wales, there are still a few small, privately owned mines still operating.
Coming off the viaduct we immediately entered Briton Ferry, which is now just a series of terraced houses, with closed or shabby shops on the Neath Road. But it was not always like this. There is a loving history of human habitation here on the banks of the Afon Nedd. There are at least 3 Iron Age forts around the town, and there was crossing here actors the river as part of the Roam road linking Cardiff with the towns further west. It was an important coal export port, but declined along with the closure of the mines throughout the 20th century. But it is still home to many, and should not be decried for that. Although todays walk was not the prettiest, not did it provide dramatic sea scapes, it was still an intestine amble though history.
We’ve done quite a bit in Swansea and here are some links within the blog to them: