For the next stage I based myself in Swansea for a week and walked south down to Llantwit Major, west around the Gower peninsula, and north beyond Llanelli as far as Kidwelly, shuttling to and fro by bus.
Each morning I checked transport connections at the Bus Station with a lady who always greeted me the same way: “Where to today, my lovely!”
These were walks of contrast.
The weather changed constantly as fronts blew in from the west: one minute everything was all sparkling sunshine and suddenly the sky would darken as a leaden mass of thick cloud swept in.
Between Llantwit Major and Margam I found the most beautiful stretch of coast I have yet seen in South Wales: pristine beaches and powdery sand dunes alternating with a rocky coastal shelf, the mirror image of the coast of Somerset which was still just visible, immediately opposite, over the Bristol Channel. After which the English coast vanished from sight, subsumed into the mist.
On the cliffs of the Gower I found myself standing alone on a high isolated promontory above Rhossili Beach looking out over the sea: staring an incoming storm in the face, as a dark mass of swirling cloud, wind and rain raced in towards me casting a shadow dark as night over the world.
At Port Talbot, “Puh Tal-bht” as people call it, the path went inland around the massive steelworks which was so big and such a dominant part of the landscape that it almost seemed like a living organism: clouds of hissing steam billowing from pipes and chimneys, a vaguely chemical smell and the constant percussive beat of heavy industry, metal on metal.
At Cefn Sidan Sands I passed the remains of two shipwrecks protruding from the sand and walked for miles along the wide empty beach following the footprints of the only other person I met that day. Storm clouds like a tidal wave rose up behind me, filling the sky, making me feel very alone and exposed, caught out in the open. I felt as if some monstrous presence was stalking me, creeping up from behind, ready to pounce. I looked over my shoulder constantly, fearing that the iron grey mass in the sky would suddenly crash down and pulverise me into the uncaring beach. It was a relief to reach Kidwelly and see people again.
As if to remind me that I have been writing this blog for a year now, I have begun to see the same plants which were in bloom when I started these walks: fuscia, campion and hydrangeas.
And what a year it has been! To measure my life not in days and weeks, but in terms of distance, location and the passing of the seasons. To be alone in an enormous landscape and feel the sheer size of the world; to feel time and distance become one, as my path through life becomes one with the path I walk. “To see a world in a grain of sand. And eternity in an hour”.