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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Seeing the light (house)

Back to Whiteford again this morning. Although I love it down there, especially in the lovely weather we’re having at the moment, I’d like to be back on the hills. I think it might be a while before my knee is well enough to risk that, though.

So at 8.30 this morning, we were out in the sunshine and rapidly warming air on the golden sand of Whiteford. It was clear and there was little wind. Lapwings leapt into the air with their strange siren call as we made our way through the long dune grass. I thought we might have the beach to ourselves but a group of people appeared to be making a movie a short distance from the path to Cwm Ivy.  We avoided them and carried on along the beach towards Whiteford Lighthouse.

The tide was out today, in complete contrast to last week. I love the sound of the tide so I missed it’s lapping. I could see that it was out far enough that it would be possible to get to the lighthouse, so that’s where we aimed for. I tried checking my tide times app, but there wasn’t enough signal to get any data. Instead I decided to trust to luck and frequent checking of the tide line. I could hear words from a previous blog post ‘the tide comes in rapidly on this beach’ running through my head as we walked out. Rufus was uninterested in such trivia as tides. He was more interested in the strange maritime smells that assaulted his nose.

We passed the wreck of a small metal hulled boat. Despite many searches, I haven’t been able to find any information about it and I begin to wonder if it was an old boat brought there to use as a target. Eventually, after crossing masses of seashells and small and medium sized pools, we reached the stone and concrete base of the lighthouse. I love this place. It’s so characterful. Barnacles encrust the base and rust engulfs the upper parts of the tower. Whiteford lighthouse is the only surviving wave-washed cast iron lighthouse in the UK and one of only a few in the world. It was built in 1865 and went out of use in the 1920s, although it was briefly restored to working order with a solar powered flashing light in the 80’s. It is now a daylight only navigation aid. It’s also a Grade II listed scheduled monument.

In awe of the historical and engineering magnificence of the lighthouse, Rufus peed on it.

We headed back to shore. I kept a wary eye on the tide but it didn’t seem to be doing much. I also kept a wary eye on the route, as we were in prime artillery range territory and it was unlikely that the tidal part of the beach had been cleared as thoroughly as the dunes. We were both okay, though, and we climbed the tallest dune around to sit and have a snack. Of course, Rufus wanted my snack as well as his own. It wasn’t to be and with a huff, he went looking for adventures.

We made our way back through the dune system, weaving and wandering as the whim took us. I spotted a Kestrel sitting on a dune top, tearing apart some unfortunate prey. It was more interested in Rufus’ movements than mine, so I was able to get quite close before it flew off to a safer dune.

The while the sharp crack of shotguns had started to disturb the quiet. Near to Cwm Ivy tor, a club has built a clay pigeon shooting range. I say built, it’s a small container and some rope fencing off a dip in the dunes. It’s a little too close to places where people walk, the ponies and horses wander and more importantly, the Lapwings have their sanctuary. The coastal path passes behind the gun line but then turns to climb a hill to the left of the range. Be warned if you are in the area.

We trudged up the final path to the car park and I stopped to talk to the lady in the house nearest the gate into the village. She’s been putting a bowl of water out for dogs every day for the last 30 years. It’s certainly been there very time I’ve been there and although Rufus tends not to drink from it, I appreciate the thought. So today, I said thank you. We chatted for a bit about how dogs tend not to like fresh water. Then we completed our trudge to the car.

Today we did 10.3km in about 3.5 hours.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.