When I came to Llanmadoc as a child, there were three pubs in the village, as well as a post office and village store. For such a small community, it isn’t surprising that The Britannia is the only surviving pub, but it was encouraging to see a newly built and thriving community-run general store and cafe in the heart of the village.
I left my bike at the guest house, because the lighthouse at Whiteford Point is best reached by walking across the sand dunes and forest paths that run alongside Whiteford Sands. The beach is sandy, three miles long and gloriously empty. As kids, my two brothers and I improvised games of cricket here, where the batsman could regularly hit the ball far enough to allow for an all-run six. Our games were wound up once my mother read that during the war, the beach was used by the army as a shelling and mining range. Apparently, they were still discovering, and clearing, a number of unexploded bombs each year.
Unexploded ordnance isn’t the only hazard in the Burry Estuary. Dangerous currents run against the Atlantic Ocean to the west, resulting in many vessels being wrecked on the beach over the centuries. In January 1868, sixteen coal-laden ships were wrecked after a short crossing from Llanelli, when a sudden ground swell left them floundering off Whiteford Point.
The first light at Whiteford Point was built in 1854. It was made of wood, and lasted just three years, when it was abandoned following extensive storm damage. Its replacement was the cast-iron lighthouse that still stands today, the only remaining cast-iron lighthouse surrounded by the sea in the United Kingdom.
Built in 1865, it has a sixty-one-foot tall, tapered tower, constructed from eight courses of cast-iron plates, with lantern and gallery on top. Unusually, the lighthouse had three Argand oil lamps and reflectors, one pointing towards the south channel, one towards Burry Port, and one towards Llanelli. The light was visible for seven miles.
When the Llanelli Harbour Trust built a new lighthouse at Burry Holms, responsibility for Whiteford Point lighthouse passed to Trinity House, who discontinued the light in 1921.
In the 1980s, a petition by local yachtsmen who sailed regularly between the Gower Peninsula and Burry Port led to a new, solar-powered light being installed in the tower, which displayed a white flashing light. After the solar light failed, it was removed and not replaced.
The cast-iron tower remains, and still serves as a daymark. It is currently owned by Carmarthenshire County Council, although in recent years there have been a number of attempts to sell it.
— Edward Peppitt (@thebeaconbike) June 22, 2015
At low tide, you can clamber over the rocks right up to the tower. But I mistimed my walk, and the closer I got to it, the faster the tide seemed to come in. I had to settle for a handful of selfies and photographs from the safety of the beach.
I met Caitrin, a tall Scottish woman in her sixties, walking her dog on the beach. She claimed to be lost, but didn’t seem entirely sure about where she was headed, or even how far she had walked. I spent quite a while chatting with her, largely to confirm that she was fit and well, and was not confused or unwell. She seemed in excellent health, just carefree and lost. I can imagine that wild Gower landscape could have that effect on many people.
I collected my bike in Llanmadoc, and before setting off, found a guest house in Kidwelly, not far beyond my next lighthouse at Burry Port, on the opposite bank of the river. It was probably no more than three miles, as the crow flies, but closer to thirty via the only crossing at Loughor.
The road out of Gower followed the water, and was completely flat, but tough going nonetheless. On the promenade at Crofty, there was such a headwind that it took all my effort to overtake an elderly man, who walked with a stick. A hundred yards later, he managed to retake the lead.
Everything changed once I crossed the river. With the wind now behind me, I barely had to pedal at all as I joined the Wales Millennium Coastal Path, a glorious thirteen-mile track that follows the north bank of the Loughor Estuary. The six miles along the south bank which I had just completed had taken the best part of an hour. The same distance along the north bank took about twenty minutes.
Burry Port was once a thriving harbour, accounting for the export of most of the coal mined from the Welsh Valleys. It was transported to Burry first by barge, on the canal network, and then by rail. The port was built in 1832, and The Burry Port Harbour Authority built a lighthouse on the end of the west harbour breakwater in 1842. It’s a squat, white-painted stone tower, with a domed, red-painted lantern with gallery. As the use of the harbour declined in the last century, so the lighthouse fell into disrepair. However, when the harbour was transformed into a marina for yachts and leisure craft in the 1990s, the lighthouse was fully restored, and was formally reopened in 1996. It currently displays a white flashing light visible for fifteen miles.
Kidwelly required a steep, uphill slog out of Burry Port, but I was getting used to these now and the sight of an uphill section of road ahead no longer frightened me. When I arrived, I discovered that it’s not a town that expects visitors on a Monday night. I couldn’t find a pub serving food, and even the owners of the B&B were going out for the evening, and left me a key. There was a Co-op, however, and as it was past six o’clock, I discovered a familiar selection of end-of-day, reduced-price fresh goods. I took a basket and gathered a scotch egg, a cheese sandwich, a green salad and an individual fresh fruit trifle. Together, it came to less than £2. I obscured the frugality by adding a bottle of Malbec, bringing the total bill to nearer a tenner.
When a B&B donates some/all of your tariff to @shiftms, you know you are staying somewhere special. Hats off to Kidwelly Bed & Breakfast!
— Edward Peppitt (@thebeaconbike) June 23, 2015