This may be Day 13 in the geographical series, but chronologically itâ€™s number 95 â€“ Sunday 9 September 2018, and the very last stage of our Wales Coast Path journey. Weâ€˜ve left our â€˜home stretchâ€™, one of the flattest in the whole course of the Path, till last. Itâ€™s a route â€“ along the track of the Mumbles Railway, the oldest regular passenger railway in the world (1807) â€“ Iâ€™ve walked and cycled hundreds of times, and itâ€™s so familiar that finding new things to say about its features will be hard.
To mark the occasion C. and I have arranged a small gathering in the Queenâ€™s Hotel, one of the very few Swansea pubs to have kept its original appearance. Itâ€™s over four years since we arrived at the Queenâ€™s after our walk with J. from Port Talbot, and high time we closed the final loop. With us are just a few of our guestwalkers: J., M. and L., A., H. and Ca, and M-A, all invited back to share the gentle, seven mile stroll along the prom to our destination. Around the table we have a celebratory drink, and pass round our new â€˜we did itâ€™ t-shirts (they carry the WCP logo, copyright unacknowledged).
The weatherâ€™s warm, but overcast and blustery. Outside the pub we pose for a photo, taken by a friendly passer-by, and then set off, past Dylan Thomasâ€™s statue and the Sunday market, along the Marina towards the sea. Someone observes how the Marinaâ€™s never quite flourished in the way it should have: its shops struggle, and the boats mostly lie unattended and seldom set sail. When we reach the Path the facing wind picks up, but weâ€™re in no hurry â€“ weâ€™ve left an absurdly generous three hours to complete the walk â€“ and our pace is leisurely. Past the Civic Centre (fate unknown in the next round of â€˜revivalsâ€™ of the city centre) and the guest houses on Oystermouth Road: black, C. notes, is the â€˜new blackâ€™ in house colours. Beyond the Patti Pavilion, opposite St Helens, we find our first possible rest stop, the 360 Degrees cafÃ©, is abandoned: the partnership that ran it, which inexplicable included Swansea University, closed it last week â€“ a loss to many, and another small nail in Swanseaâ€™s economic coffin.
On we amble, past the Slip Bridge â€“ sadly detached from its supports and laid ignominiously on the ground for us to walk over â€“ and the Universityâ€™s Singleton Campus (last week the Vice-Chancellor announced his retirement â€“ change is afoot there). The stretch between here and Caswell is one I cycled almost every day for the five years I worked on the campus, and today we need to keep a watchful eye open for speeding cyclists racing up behind us. We need to weave our way through the pedestrians too. This must be by far the busiest stage of the Wales Coast Path. At the weekend thousands of locals take part in the passeggiata along the prom, a ritual reflecting the laid-back hedonism thatâ€™s such a characteristic and appealing part of Swansea life.
We reach Blackpill. The sky darkens, and a sudden sharp shower drops on our heads. We deviate into The Junction for a cup of tea and wait for the rain to pass. This handsome building was the electricity sub-station for the Mumbles Railway, and also acted as a passenger station. Sitting here does feel like being in a waiting room. B. and P. join us. We talk about their recent ramblings in Dorset, a very different walking experience from ours. On again, past the madly ostentatious and un-Swansea-like new mansion a second-hand car salesman has been building on the slope above the road for the last two years. We ignore the West Cross Inn but stop for ice-creams in Ripples. Its proprietor, Dennis, greets us personally and admires our feat: heâ€™s a keen cyclist and admires long distances achieved by human muscle power. His ice-creams are made on-site, and we all comment on their excellence.
Off again, and along the home stretch into Mumbles. We pass the house where the artist Glenys Cour lives. The upstairs window is open, a sure sign that Glenys, still painting daily in her nineties, is hard at work. The village is one of the last remaining affluent parts of the city. You could say itâ€™s almost too successful, since the new waterside restaurants and cafÃ©s opened and added to the long queues of cars coming in from Swansea (a Marks & Spencer store will soon open). We resist the temptation to stop in the centre, and at Verdiâ€™s, the finest cafÃ© in the city â€“ as usual at weekends itâ€™s almost full of people â€“ and continue past the parked boats and the inshore lifeboat house, towards the pier and the lighthouse at Southend. Then up the steep steps, past the famous Apple, a circular roadside kiosk, to the view across Bracelet Bay. Ahead of us is Castellamare, where weâ€™ve booked a table for 5:30pm. Our timing is perfect â€“ three hours was a good estimate, even if it was the slowest speed weâ€™ve managed along the whole Path. After the passeggiata, we settle down for pasta, pesce and parmigiana, with views across the bay to the lighthouse and amid the happy din of a big family celebration at the other end of the room.
Itâ€™s the perfect way to round off the walk, and the Wales Coast Path. Hours later we emerge into the gathering dusk, say goodbye and go our separate ways.