A little bit of local.

On Friday, I was reading a book about childhood experiences in Swansea during the war. This morning, I was sliding and slipping in mud in Dunvant. There’s a link.

I’ve been researching Swansea during WW2 as a result of some of the stories my mum told me of the bombing, the anti-aircraft guns and the Americans stationed here just before D-Day. I found a book in the local library and read with some interest the first mention of anti-invasion defences in Swansea Bay that I’d ever see. The bay would have been an ideal landing place for enemy troops if it wasn’t for the long journey they would have to make down the Bristol Channel. But Swansea had a big port, an airfield near by and a sheltered bay and it may well have been worth the risk. In fact, Swansea Bay was used (along with other beaches on Gower) to practice beach landings prior to the Normandy landings.

My interest has been in finding any evidence of other defensive plans. One of the threats to Britain during the early part of the war was invasion from the west. It was thought that the Germans would make a pact with neutral Eire and come across to West Wales. Lines of fortifications, known as Command Stop Lines were built all over Britain and there is one stretching north from Pembrey to New Quay that would have been used to delay or block any advance eastwards. I had explored parts of this line north of Carmarthen, on one occasion finding myself at the end of a shotgun when I accidentally strayed on to private land. Fortunately, after explaining to the landowner why I was there and pointing out that there were no fences or signs, he let me explore the particular pill box and told me of several more relics of the war hidden from the road.

This stop line reaches the south coast at RAF Pembrey, which is now a bombing range and private airport. There are remains of pillboxes and anti-tank defences near the estuary and they merge into the defences of the airfield itself, and the fortifications and minefields that protected Cefn Sidan and the Pembrey munitions factory.

Swansea had it’s own defences. With the port, bay and airfield in close proximity, and reasonably good transport links, it needed it’s own protection. The beach had several pill boxes and minefields along it’s length and on the low tide mark, iron girders set in concrete were ready to rip the hulls of craft trying to land. There is a suggestion that flame weapons (either oil to be poured on the water or fougasse firebombs) were available, too. Inland, there were anti landing trenches on the hills north of Morriston, anti-aircraft sites on Mumbles Hill and around Kilvey Hill and decoy bombing targets north of the docks.

I found several pillboxes on the Swansea to Llanelli railway line, now disused, that used to run through Clyne Valley. One overlooks the main road through Killay to Gower. Two more protect a bridge over the railway line some 200 yards further south. I would have expected more but I could find none. The book I read said that there were two more pillboxes at the entrance to the Clyne Valley where it meets the sea at Blackpill. Anti Tank blocks also shielded access to the railway and some parts of an old wall made of wartime concrete (with more aggregate as it was cheaper and quicker to make) line the sea front near by. Much of the land between Blackpill and Killay is marshy and undulating and would have needed little extra protection.

Further north at the Loughor Estuary, there is a line of concrete anti-tank blocks stretching out into the water. They are covered by a gun emplacement near the Chinese restaurant, and the estuary also had artillery as it was at one end of a firing range. When you look at a map, the railway cutting (it’s mostly below ground level) makes an ideal obstacle for tanks and runs across Gower. To be most effective, extra fortification at weak points would be necessary. Infantry trenches would be hard to spot after so long as the ground is wet and overgrown. I expected there to be more pillboxes but knew of none between the estuary and Killay.

I went online to see if I could find more about the Clyne pillboxes and found a reference to Dunvant Brickworks. Dunvant lies north of Killay along the same railway line and an archaeological survey had been done in 2009, showing the site of several small scale collieries and a brickworks. The survey also described two more pillboxes and a spigot mortar site in the area and mentioned the ‘Gower Stop Line’. Suddenly it was all making a bit more sense.

And so this morning, I was scrabbling about in the mud in completely the wrong place trying to find one of the pillboxes. I slipped, skidded, squelched and was nearly tripped up by brambles. I climbed, descended and all the while got wet in the drizzle. But it was all worth it (for me, anyway) as I finally came across the pillbox I was looking for. It was high up overlooking the railway line. And even better, it was an unusual design that was used mainly for observation. It was hard to visualise the context as in the nearly 80 years since it was built, trees and bushes have grown around it obscuring it’s original field of fire. It was impossible to enter as bars had been placed in the entrance tunnel. I later found out that it has become a home for bats so I’m glad I didn’t try to disturb it.

For the pillbox geeks, it was a type 22, modified with a longer entrance tunnel and no embrasures or a roof. This one had railway sleepers over the top to provide shelter for the bats.

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In Clyne d

With the weather forecast predicting more thunder and lightning, I was awake early this morning trying to decide where Rufus and I could go for a walk that would offer some shelter if the heavens opened. As we drove towards Gower, I remembered the Clyne cycle path. As a school kid, I used to play there as several friends lived with gardens that backed on to the woods. I’ve walked and cycled the path, and Rufus has been with me many times.

We parked up at the old Railway Inn car park. After a brief stroll along the cycle path, which follows the old railway line, and dodging a cyclist, we left the tarmac and headed in to the woods. I love walking through woods. At this time of year everything is green but there are so many different shades of green that it never feels monochromatic.

I had no idea what the weather was doing but no rain was getting through and there was no sound of thunder. In fact, the only sounds were the birds calling from the tree tops. It was a completely different sound to the dawn chorus we’d been used to. The path skirts three fields in a wide loop away from the cycle path before crossing under it through a waterlogged tunnel. On the other side there are signs of the industry that used to be in this valley. The concrete platforms for old buildings lie moss covered and slowly sinking into the mud. There is a large water basin – it looks like a short stretch of canal that is largely overgrown – and I’m not sure what that was used for, There was a brick works here and many buildings in Swansea are built with bricks marked with ‘Clyne’. The clay to make them was extracted from the nearby quarry.

Further down towards the sea, coal mining was the main activity and this had been going on from Medieval times. Bell pits – shafts dug into the ground and enlarged like an upside down mushroom – formed the first method of extraction. It was a dangerous method. The pits had a tendency to collapse. Several of the shafts are visible on the hillsides, fenced off as they are still pose a risk to the unwary. Not far from Blackpill you can still see the entrance to a more traditional pit. A horizontal shaft leads into the hillside where the coal was extracted along a seam close to the surface.

Closer to our route, two WW2 pillboxes guard a bridge across the old railway track. They are set out in a classic plan. One covers the approach from the fields, and Fairwood Airport. The other covers the first pillbox. As the line is set in a cutting, this bridge would have been the only way to cross south of the main Gower Road, which was also covered by a pillbox hidden in the bushes. It’s likely that both bridges would have been primed with demolition charges, too and the pillboxes would have covered the engineers as they readying the charges in the event of an invasion.

We wandered through the trees and along muddy paths, Rufus charging through and me skirting the worst of the gloop. Every time he hit a deep patch of mud, the squelching and splurting seemed to surprise him. Eventually, the mud got too much for Rufus and we reluctantly turned back. A damp and curly Rufus is resting and drying on the sofa (I managed to get a blanket on it before he settled).

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Floody hell!

Off to a Christmas party near Ewenny. Took the short cut down a country lane. The flood sign should have given us a clue but we are recent 4×4 owners so we thought it would be an adventure. Sure enough, at the low point on the road where it meets a stream, there was a vast expanse of water. But we could see the road markings through the water and we drove slowly. We made it without having to swim.

Then, cresting the narrow hump back bridge, we spotted ahead another vast expanse of water, making the first one look like a small puddle. The river was raging beneath the bridge and beyond, the fields were flooded. It was impossible to tell where the field ended and the road began, apart from the fence and road signs.

Needless to say, we turned around and used the main road.

All day while driving, I’ve seen so much standing water. And I couldn’t help noticing that everywhere the water has been, there have been blocked drains. In the village where my friend lives, the drains are completed silted up, causing a river of run off from the fields all around to flow past her front door. On the roads into the village, so much water is running along the gutters that it was spouting out of the drain covers like small fountains.

And in June, we will have a hosepipe ban again.

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