Six wonders of the secret shore
1 The church of St Illtyd in Llantwit Major is known as the ‘Westminster Abbey of Wales’ and was described by John Wesley in 1777 as ‘abundantly the most beautiful parish church in Wales’. It stands just a mile from the coast path on the site of the oldest school in Britain, Cor Tewdws, which was established in 395AD in honour of Roman Emperor Theodosius I.
2 The shifting sands of Merthyr Mawr (right) form one of the largest dune systems in Europe, where the grains stack 200 feet high and fringe the ivy-decked ruins of Candleston Castle. They also provided the desert backdrop for scenes with Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia (1962).
3 ‘Want buy castle in England. St Donat’s perhaps satisfactory at proper price’ read the wire from newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst in 1925. Two months later he owned the fort on the Welsh cliffs and set about gathering architectural treasures from across Europe to redevelop it. Often controversial – particularly when he bought and plundered Bradenstoke Priory in Wiltshire – his visitors included Winston Churchill, JFK, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, and Charlie Chaplin. Collapsing fortunes forced Hearst to sell in 1937 and it’s now an international college.
4 The message said: ‘Are you ready?’ The second one said: ‘Can you hear me?’ It was May 1897 at Lavernock Point near Penarth, and Guglielmo Marconi was attempting to transmit the first radio message across open sea, three miles to Flat Holm Island in the Bristol Channel. Then the beeps of Morse code came through: ‘Yes, loud and clear’. You can walk at the point – it’s now a nature reserve – and see the commemorative plaque in the churchyard of St Lawrence.
5 A few miles inland, just south of the village of St Nicholas, you can walk to the
6000-year old chambered tomb of Tinkinswood which has the largest capstone in Britain. It weighs a quite literally staggering 40 tons, measures 24 by 14 feet, and would have taken 200 people to lift it.
6 Orchid lovers can continue a couple of miles beyond Porthcawl to the national nature reserve at Kenfig to spot a host of species – pyramidal, fragrant, early-purple, early marsh, heath spotted, bee and the rare fen orchid (above). By contrast, Port Talbot’s steelworks sit on the horizon, said to have inspired Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.