The day dawned bright and sunny as a group of 11 walkers – plus dogs Bracken and Biddy -made their way to Kenfig National Nature Reserve to join Naomi and Meryl from Penarth and District Ramblers, at the start of a seven-mile walk.
Leaving the main car park and tramping pavements along Heol Gorllewin to pass the Prince of Wales pub, which features in the tale of the Maid of Sker, the group then entered the southern part of the vast Kenfig Burrows. These burrows were once part of a huge dune system that stretched all the way from the River Ogmore to the Gower peninsula and this area along with Kenfig is classed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
With the dogs racing ahead enjoying their adventure and freedom, the narrow sandy paths adorned in places by the pretty Michaelmas-daisy led them through the burrows before turning southwards towards the coast.
Reaching Kenfig Sands where the tide was on the ebb there were fantastic views south westwards towards Jersey Marine, Swansea Bay, Mumbles and Gower beyond as they settled down utilising washed up tree trunks as seating for morning refreshments in warm sunshine with a welcome breeze.
Returning onto the coast path above the beach the group made their way eastwards to reach Sker Point with its fantastic long-distance views back across Kenfig Sands, spoiled only by the industrial smoke and buildings of Port Talbot Steelworks.
Following the coastline soon the yellow painted Sker House came into view which signalled their lunch stop overlooking Sker Rocks which was the setting on April 23, 1947, when the Samtampa a former Liberty ship was making its way up the Bristol Channel towards Newport in a south westerly gale. Developing an engine fault, the captain dropped anchor so repairs could begin, but the weather worsened to hurricane force winds, the ship slipped its anchor and was driven onto Sker Rocks. Mumbles lifeboat was launched to try to save the crew, but the Samtampa began to break up and all 39 of its crew drowned, along with the eight volunteer crew members of the Mumbles lifeboat which was later found upside down and smashed to pieces.
Continuing along the coast path with views across Rest Bay to Locks Common in Porthcawl and reaching the western perimeter of the Royal Porthcawl Golf Club, they ventured inland following a narrow path between fences, with a field of beautiful Welsh Black cattle as the heat rose, before an open field brought them through a gate into Nottage.
A short journey along the busy and fast-moving West Road brought them to a rough track opposite Parc Newydd Farm, which led them to overlook the impressive, imposing and dramatic Grade One listed Sker House, which was originally founded by the Cistercian monks of Neath as one of five farms or granges to support Neath Abbey. The house was remodelled by the Turberville family in the mid-16th century after which it was tenanted and then sold to the Williams family in the late 18th century.
This was when the romantic, heart rendering story of the ‘Maid of Sker’ began involving Elizabeth Williams, an attractive young lady who loved to dance in the old Town Hall above the Prince of Wales Inn at Kenfig, where the music was supplied by a harpist.
One evening the harpist was Thomas Evans and upon meeting they were smitten and fell in love. For a while he courted her, but her father was against the union as he felt being the daughter of a successful landowner and farmer, Thomas Evans was beneath her as he was a mere carpenter and so he imprisoned her in Sker House.
The couple tried to elope, but their plans were thwarted and until Elizabeth agreed to marry her father’s choice of husband – Thomas Kirkwood of Neath – she was not freed. They married and had four children settling in Briton Ferry, but it was an unhappy liaison and if her true love was playing in the area, Elizabeth would sneak out to hear him play. She died in 1776, it is said of a broken heart, and was buried at Llansamlet, but her unfulfilled and unhappy ghost is said to still walk at Sker.
Following a track and crossing part of the Pyle and Kenfig golf course brought them back to their start point after what had been a delightful scenic and interesting tramp through history in stunning weather for the month of October.
You can follow the group’s exploits at www.penarthramblers.wordpress.com or on Facebook.