Margam Park, 10th December

After some eleventh hour emailed directions, all arrived within minutes of each other at the designated parking place near Margam Park. Seven lovely ladies and one man – as someone remarked “the antithesis of Snow White and the seven dwarves”. Suitably attired against a cold but bright morning we set off along the narrow road, past West Lodge, to the lake, across which the tower of Margam Castle was visible through the winter trees.

The lake itself, a picture in early summer with the rhododendrons in flower, now looked in need of some maintenance work. Pressing on, the track became a little rougher but still good for walking as it proved all the way though care was needed in a few short, icy stretches. Easing through the brobdingnagian kissing gate we turned left and ascended the steep track which encircled Mynydd y Castell before again veering sharply left through a stand of oak and beech to emerge into Cwm Philip, a peaceful wooded valley.

The path was now level and lined in places with rhododendrons. Several mountain bike trails entered or exited the track and the only other people we met on the outward journey were cyclists. A final short climb led us to the half way point and a welcome bench where we halted for coffee and seasonal cakes courtesy of Mags. We then retraced our steps back to the carpark passing a number of families out walking their dogs. Nearing our cars hail began to fall and became heavy as we scrambled to remove boots for the short drive to the Abbey Church.

The western aspect of the building is impressive, rebuilt in 1870 in an Italianate style with towering campaniles at each corner but with the original Norman doorway. On entering one is confronted with the 12th century Norman nave and, looking back, three glorious Burne-Jones windows. The volunteer staff were wonderfully welcoming and the long gift stall proved a magnetic attraction – so much so in fact that Liz had to go before everyone could be persuaded to leave for the team photograph outside.

An exhilarating walk with a lovely, Christmasy finale, thank you all.