11 miles, 1834ft ascent, approx. 5 hours
I haven’t updated in a while! Mulography has actually been offline for a few months because I didn’t renew my hosting, but Ben has stepped in and provided a new place for the blog to live. I’ve lost my original theme and the new publisher is a little weird, so bare with me while I try to set things up again.
Anyway, the reason for my return is that I actually have some things to write about now. Our friend Zoë and her mule Falco moved in with us just over a week ago, and we had our first ‘proper’ day hike together on Wednesday. Zoë is here until the end of June so hopefully we will have many more to come.
Zoë wanted to explore some of the byways over Kidwelly, which is not a direction I’ve actually taken Marty before – it seems crazy, considering the mileage we’ve done, but all those miles have been explored in an increasingly long ‘block’ on this side of the A road. Rights of way round here are a little dodgy and I must admit to some trepidation when it came to trying these byways, even though I had been told online that they were accessible. It was good to have someone to walk with, though it made me very aware of how rag-tag and cobbled together Marty’s gear is in comparison to Falco’s very fine trappings!
After wending our merry way over the mountain and down lanes that were familiar to me, we sought the first of the byways which would take us to the road crossing. This was a very pretty route; it began with a hollow-way lined with hedge and wildflower, down through a twisty-turny patch of woodland, and then over a weir by an idyllic cottage – “The rest of the world” said a signpost outside it, pointing up the hill.
According to my map, the next byway should have been directly opposite where we came out, but we found ourselves looking at nothing but thick hedgerow. However, the map said there was a second access point a hundred yards or so down the road, so after some deliberation we headed towards it.
We’d only gone a few strides when a gap in the hedge suddenly came into view, like a fairy door opening; and, like the foolish mortals who enter fairy rings, we gleefully took it. How pleased we were to have only done a short distance on that road! The path was perfect, green, wildflowered, and steep. It led us up and up until we reached a gate, worryingly chained. The OS map app showed we were on the byway we’d originally aimed for and had every right to be there, so Zoë undid it and we entered the field. Once inside I could see a herd of cattle watching us, and no clear exit in the direction the byway was supposed to go. Not wanting to risk finding ourselves trapped if the herd became curious, we turned around, rechained the gate behind us, and made our way down. This was not an enjoyable walk because as stated it was very steep, rather slippery with recent rain, and the traffic passing on the road below could not see the entrance – or us – until they were upon it. Falco has a tendency to see hills as something to race down, but thankfully both mules were sensible and we continued our trudge safely along the road.
The next byway was the correct choice and we had a very long but pleasant stroll up a paved road to the farm at the top, where the off-road sections would diverge. However, there were no signs to show us the route and the map seemed to suggest that we walked straight through the farmyard. This was when we had a lucky encounter with the landowner, who came out to chat to us about the mules and her own horses and tell us about a permissive route which we’d passed a short distance down the hill. It turned out she’d been born in the same village we live in and thought we’d boxed out – people are often surprised to learn the distances we walk.
The permissive route, which our helpful guide referred to as the Summer Way, was a blessing. After walking down a woodland track towards a standing stone we entered a small, enclosed glade with a walled spring, which was the perfect place to stop for lunch as it meant we could take off the mules’ panniers and leave them loose to graze. We would not have been able to do this a few days prior, as when Falco first arrived in Wales, Marty was greatly displeased and would try to attack him over the fence and when we walked together.
Although I understood that this was Marty looking for guidance, it was potentially very dangerous and last week we had a Conversation with a capital C about what was appropriate behaviour. This changed things for him and a couple of days later we were able to turn the two of them out together for the first time, with no arguments. By the time we went on this hike, Marty could walk with his nose a few inches from Falco’s tail and have absolutely no inclination to bite him. They grazed and explored peacefully together while Zoë and I sat in a patch of sunlight and ate our picnic.
The onwards walk was the most beautiful part of an overall beautiful route, apart from one point early on when we encountered the rotting carcass of a dead sheep, lying supine and broadside across our already narrow path. Fortunately the fields on either side weren’t fenced so we went up the bank and along, ignoring the stench.
This section of the route involved some interesting challenges, as for a while we travelled along a narrow path with a barbed wire fence on one side which Marty kept catching his pannier on. This bothered him – and me, since I didn’t want my panniers damaged – so we worked a little on straightening out and being aware of how wide we were. Spatial awareness was also important when navigating the many gates, which were only just wide enough for a pack mule to walk through without bumping. However, the thick greenery all around us and the bright colours of the wildflowers more than made up for any little problems we faced.
Then it was down into Kidwelly, where we had hoped to glimpse the castle but a row of houses and our low elevation meant that it was out of sight. An unmarked track led us off the road and down a narrow trail towards our second crossing of the A road, this time at a much wider, much faster section. On the map it had looked like an underpass, but what I learned from this trek is that maps can not be trusted.
As the other side was gated, Zoë and Falco crossed first and Marty and I waited where we were. This turned out to be a good call because the gate needed untying and then opened outwards, towards the road, so had there been two of us the one in the rear would have had to stand close to the speeding traffic before juggling ourselves around to open the gate.
From here it was another nice stroll, taking us past Gwenllian’s Pool – a place whose location I had been trying to find – and then back onto familiar lanes.
Overall, a five star walk. Both mules were excellent hiking companions and I think Zoë and I can be justifiably proud of them; there really is nothing like walking with a good mule.