The Gower and Beyond

The Gower and Beyond

The Gower and Beyond

The Gower Peninsula was, I learn, the first part of Britain to be designated an 'area of outstanding natural beauty'. It stabs itself out into the sea just to the west of Swansea and is only 5 miles wide by 20 miles long. It is a place set apart and residents regard it as being quite separate from the rest of South Wales. Most visitors hug the attractive coast, and you cannot blame them, but inland are small farms, valleys and villages and there are castles at Oystermouth, Pennard, Oxwich and Weobly and a prehistoric burial chamber at Parc le Breos. The Gower begins at The Mumbles, where one of the country's earliest railways reached its terminus, and where that railway line once ran is now a promenade. From early last century until the 2000s the railway ran right along this coastal strip from Swansea. Langland Bay, beyond the headland, is a very popular beach with sand and rocks and often plenty of surf as well. There are hotels on the cliff-top and for many people this is a little holiday resort on its own, providing deck chairs, cafes, and the like but you have to be very wary of conditions when swimming. Around the Gower coast the scenery changes frequently. A lovely cliff walk takes you from Caswell to Three Cliffs Bay past Deepsdale, Baconhole and Minchin Hole. Oxwich is where picnickers make for because it has sand dunes, and three miles of sandy beach, a nature reserve and nature trails.

Port Eynon has limestone cliffs, dunes and sands, and was once a smugglers' bay. The spectacular bit of Port Eynon is the Culver Hole, a sheer wall of cliff with strange window and door apertures. Rhosili, at the western extremity of the Gower, has to be approached down a steep path from the village at the top of the cliff, but it is worth the climb down if the weather is fine and winds light. Swimming is not advised near the headlands. The ribs of wrecked ships act as a warning. One was The City of Bristol, the other was the Helvetia.

Whiteford Sands, at the north west tip, is backed by dunes and the National Nature Reserve at Whiteford Burrows. The north-facing coast of the Gower is much less frequented, mainly because it is salt marshland, but the name Penclawdd might well strike a chord with cockle lovers everywhere. There have been less rich pickings over the years (the locals blame the oyster catchers) but they still gather, cook and sell them in the village.

If you feel the need to drive even further, Tenby and Pembrokeshire will be open to you. Some take the train out to Carmarthen and then on to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. If you want to follow the coastal path it will need a special journey and a well planned walking holiday as it comprises 170 miles of breathtakingly beautiful coastline. It does have a couple of flaws along the way - the gunnery range at Castlemartin and the oil port of Milford Haven with its oil tankers. However, the wide variety of bays and beaches in this spectacular stretch of the coast more than makes up for both of those blemishes. The National Park covers a number of odd shaped areas, mainly on the coast itself, but there are also some attractive inland landscapes as well. A place for family holidays it is also a wonderful place for walkers. The easier walking is in the south, the north is for the experienced, and the fit, but for almost the whole of its length it provides a country walk with rises and falls of the path up and down the heavily indented coastline.

Religious sites and castles are all over this area of West Wales. The patron saint of Wales, St David, founded his monastery in the sixth century and his shrine is in the Cathedral. Pembroke Castle, a massive fortress, was built over a natural cavern and is still one of those grand castles, in spite of being mainly a ruin inside. Newport Castle stands on the edge of the small town and dates from the thirteenth century; Narbeth castle is but a fragment of the five towered fortress with its deep dungeon; Tenby Castle has had its keep restored but its town walls and the Five Arches of its West Gate are real treasures; and among the smaller castles Manobier, strikingly situated over the red sand-stone of the bay, is as beautifully set as any. Tenby is a popular seaside resort, with four beaches and a glorious harbour.

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