Planet excerpts

A series of pieces responding to the Wales Coast Path

See more from Planet 220 here

footsteps in the sand we do not walk in straight lines

This was where, fifty years ago, we began our expedition at low tide, down the promenade steps onto the drifts of yellow sand, across a coal-flecked damp expanse to what felt like an unreachable shore (Swansea Bay has one of the highest tidal ranges in the world) and headed west, the marram grassed dunes, or ‘tumps’ as we called them, on our right, and all the way to the Ferry Bend.

You won’t find the Ferry Bend on any map – the Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 165 marks the area as ‘Baglan Bay’, ‘Baglan Burrows’ and ‘Witford Point’ – but this is where the land bends north at the mouth of the River Nedd towards the town of Briton Ferry. But maps aren’t only made on paper; they are drawn in our memories too, illuminated by our imaginations. And this was the route I took with my sister and friends, drawn by the allure of The Wreck.

Did we ever make it as far as the river? Did we reach Brunel’s 19th century copper slag training walls? Did we ever find the elusive wreck of childhood chatter? Did it even exist beyond our fantasies and inventions?

Perhaps. There were numerous 18th- and 19th-century shipwrecks around the river mouth and across the sands of Baglan Bay: adverse winds and sandbars delivering ships and crew to death and ruin. Princess Mary, Elizabeth of Topsham, Pieter Cats, Mercurius, Two Friends, the Rynsberg, the Diligent, John of Gloucester, the Hoop, the Magnet, the Lenore. A litany of cargo vessels, sloops and packet boats, their holds packed with a social history of commodities: calves skins, tallow, hogsheads of wine, perfume, almonds, saffron, Castile soap, wheat and oats, silk and lace, sugar, copper ore, jet.