Our taxi drops us at Rest Bay, a couple of miles west of Porthcawl, the scene of many a Richards family holiday.
Memories of wet sand, crashing waves and damp cones of dripping Italian ice-cream drift up from the cobbled causeway leading down to the beach. Huge (well they were huge then) cratered rocks where I would test my scrambling skills to investigate rock pools full of tiny slimy creatures. The lifeboat station is new, as are the surfers, but not a lot has changed and despite warnings of rain the weather looks promising.
Heading off left up the cliff we head towards Porthcawl and are soon sitting in the sunshine sipping tea outside a beach cafe on the front. A beautiful young black Labrador tied to the rail in front of us shivers with expectation at every approaching passer by and is intermittently comforted by a young boy whose parents are inside the cafe.
Round the corner the harbour is undergoing renovation, pontoons already in place and a little further on I finally get to see inside Coney Beach funfair – always forbidden territory when I was a child.
It takes a long time to get past the massive sprawl of Trecco Bay holiday park and its acres of mobile homes – all in starched rows, each with its own flavour of plastic ornamentation. I can’t help comparing it to the lucky Danes with their beautiful wooden summer houses sparsely spread through forests and empty coastline.
From here it’s beach walking on soft sand until we hit the Ogmore river and are forced to go inland. At low tide it is possible to cross here but for now we can only wave at the fishermen on the other side of the narrow estuary.
Following the west bank of the river we walk towards Merthyr Mawr Warren – a protected area of sand dunes where it is easy to get lost. We decide to stay on the fringes and follow the river. Trading carefully over the spongy ground we disturb a large flock of squawking seagulls camped on the bank under an ugly concrete bridge that serves the sewage works just behind the trees to our left.
Ignoring the sign on the bridge post, we find ourselves on a narrow path that winds up into a lush green woodland but which unfortunately ends up in someone’s back garden. Holding our breath we tiptoe up the side of the house to join the road that leads down to the pretty hamlet of Merthyr Mawr and its beautiful church.
The Celtic crosses in the graveyard catch my eye, as does the bench in the sunshine, but it’s a little too early for lunch.
Heading down the hill from the church, we cross a footbridge and join a path leading to the ruins of Ogmore Castle we can see in the distance. I’ve been told that to get to the castle there is a choice of stepping stones or a bridge further up the river – no choice at all really.
When we arrive at the river bank a small group of people are anxiously waiting to go across, with an equally enthusiastic bunch on the other side. The passage across has to be single file but with no sign of official protocol the operation has to be negotiated by a shared sense of fair play. Unfortunately for us there seems to be no stopping the steady stream of people crossing from the other side and some of the group are getting restless. Twenty five years of teaching has taught me a few things so to Damian’s horror I raise my voice and start directing operations. “Could you wait a moment please?” I shout across the river and immediately the cheeky response bounces back “Oh we thought you were just admiring the view!” We all chuckle good humouredly and the stones are ours for a short while.
Horses from the nearby stables do not have the same problems, although they do have challenges of their own.
After all this excitement we are now ravenous and although there are plenty of horses around (ha ha) we plump for the pretty cottage teashop with its home cooked ham sandwiches and cream teas. I also manage to squeeze in a slice of Bara Brith in homage to my mother – the bowl of dried fruit soaking in cold tea was a familiar sight when I was a child. Coming out of the tea shop we stop to say hello to a beautiful horse – I give him my apple.
Moving on we follow directions to take us up and over the Southerndown golf course where some joker has placed hundreds of yellow golf balls near the path, each one eminently traceable.
After a while we are faced with a choice of a few different paths and as I have no signal on my phone it is difficult to know which one to take. Luckily we meet a couple out walking who give us directions down through a hamlet called Heol-y-Mynydd and eventually to Southerndown and the magnificent Dunraven Bay. This is where I started my walk to Llantwit Major some months ago.
Sitting above the bay in the mellow evening light I realise that our route from Ogmore has left out a mile or two of coastline. So, with Damian’s encouragement we set off west along the cliffs towards the setting sun and the bus back to Cardiff. It has been a perfect day.