Sitting between the fine beaches of the Gower and the rugged Pembrokeshire coast, Carmarthenshire gets a bit of a rough deal. Visitors either stop short of it, or drive straight through on the way to Tenby or St David’s. Yet this often overlooked county has some of the most diverse scenery in Wales. The only thing it lacks, which Pembrokeshire and the Gower have in abundance, is thousands of tourists to share it with.
The 22km Millennium Coastal Path, which links Llanelli with Pembrey Country Park, has transformed 2,000 acres of industrial wasteland and opened up new access
to the windswept coast. Never one to take the easy option, I opted to explore the area on a tandem bicycle, which I hired from the ship-shaped Discovery Centre near Llanelli. To add insult to inevitable injury, I hadn’t ridden a bike in years and I was now about to share two wheels with my accident-prone friend Steph.
In short, we were in for a bumpy ride.
Compared to a conventional bike, a tandem has double the pedalling power but only slightly more wind resistance and not much more weight. In principle, it should be less work.
In reality, a tandem is the bike equivalent of a caravan holiday – it’s the sort of experience that can make or break a relationship. The person at the front (known as the captain) has control over the brakes and steering, while the person at the back (the stoker) simply pedals. I say simply – we soon discovered, in front of a small crowd of onlookers, that getting going was the hardest part.
Hitting the trail
After a few wobbly starts, we were soon gliding along the Llanelli waterfront. To our left lay the ever-moving sandbanks of the Loughor Estuary, which support a thriving cockle-picking industry and offer a rich habitat for shellfish-eating waders such
Across the bay on the Gower, we could make out the humpback shape of Rhossili Downs and, closer still, Whiteford Lighthouse, the only wave-swept cast iron lighthouse in Britain. Despite the beacon, the treacherous waters have caused many a shipwreck – on one night alone in January 1868, 16 coal-laden ships were wrecked on Whiteford Sands.
After Burry Port, the coastline started to stretch its legs as we merrily rode into the Pembrey Country Park, chatting as we went. As the path cut inland through Pembrey Forest however, we hit upon a bumpier trail. This was a tough stretch for team tandem, and Steph and I settled into a sulky silence, slowing down at every call of “pothole!” to cushion the bumps.
On the other side of the forest lay eight-mile Cefn Sidan (meaning ‘silken sands’ in Welsh), the longest stretch of sand in Wales, with fine shifting dunes that whistle in the breeze. Slightly louder, we heard the whir of Pembrey racing circuit to our right.
After startling a few grazing cows, we cut inland to Kidwelly, grateful to reach tarmac. Here we took a quick pit stop and explored the castle, an impressive Norman stronghold that sits on a steep bluff overlooking the River Gwendraeth.
After a mug of tea and a stodgy snack, we picked up quiet country lanes on the way to Ferryside. With a new surge of energy and a smooth road ahead of us, we forgave our tandem all previous hurts, before a thrilling free-wheel ride into Ferryside. Worn out, we sat on the jetty and watched a few pale beams of sunlight illuminate Llansteffan Castle over the Twyi Estuary, before the sun set.
In truth, we hadn’t quite learned to love the tandem, but we certainly thanked it for giving us a chance to explore the pretty middle bit of south Wales that
most people miss.
HOW TO GET THERE
To drive to Llanelli from the east, take the M4 to J48 then follow the A4138. Trains run from Cardiff and Swansea to Llanelli and back again from the end
of the bike ride at Ferryside.
FIND OUT MORE
Millennium Coastal Park Discovery Centre
North Dock, Llanelli SA15 2LF
As well as a tourist information centre, this quirky building boasts a café and exhibition area.
Merlin Bike Hire Millennium Coast Park Discovery Centre
Tandem hire £35 for half day, £60 for full day.
The Ferry Cabin
Ferryside SA17 5SF
Local fish and chips.
Penlan Isaf Farm
Near Kidwelly SA17 5FR
A friendly farmhouse B&B.