A few oblivious sheep ambled across my path as I reached my seat: a bouncy patch of heather.
Slumping into position beside the bright yellow flowers of a gorse bush in full bloom I remembered why this was a familiar spot: Beyond the cliff my view plunged onto broad sands, as swirls of sunset beamed behind the well-known silhouette of Worms Head.
Gower is an excellent base camp. Several times a year I visit family and friends, reminded that no beaches are better than those on this undulating peninsula. Wales’ famous rolling hills and green pastures drop directly into cool waters in this part of the world. Dotted along the verdant cliffs, white washed, welcoming pubs provide well deserved pit stops for weary, an often-wet hikers.
During my most recent stay, I relived some of my favourite days out, as well as finding some new places to relax near the sea. Here are a few of my favourite activities on Gower…
A few years ago, Wales became the first country in the world to join up separate walking paths to provide over 800 miles of unbroken walking around its coastline. The Gower is one of the Wales Coast Path’s most established stretches (in 1956 the area became the UK’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and hiking is easy, with minimal navigation required. Most sections snake around Swansea’s coves and bays, providing unbroken views of beautiful beaches such as Three Cliffs Bay and the more family oriented Caswell and Langland.
My favourite Gower walk is Rhossili Downs: A short, sharp uphill from the the village delivers you onto a windswept ridge that overlooks the sea to one side and the peninsula’s highest point, Cefn Bryn on the other. The two-hour amble ends in Llangennith – a renowned hot spot for surfers.
Hearty pub lunches
Fresh fish is the order of the day in most local pubs and many have a view over mountain or ocean. The King Arthur that sits below Cefn Bryn is one of my favourites and the sea bass I ordered recently was delicious. A newcomer on the gastro-pub scene is The Plough & Harrow in Murton village. Only ten minutes drive from popular beaches, it’s currently in the running for its first Michelin star. I highly recommend the Sunday Roast menu – particularly enjoyable after some brisk sea air!
A rugby game (or two)
This may not be for everyone, but there’s no better way to get to know the locals. Rugby is at the heart of most Welsh communities and acts as a talking point for complete strangers over a pint. If you’re lucky enough to be there during the Six Nations tournament: order a pint, soak up the atmosphere and prepare to make friends. Regardless of the final result, it won’t disappoint!
A little bit of history
Wales is renowned for its medieval castles and they are wonderfully varied. Visit Oystermouth Castle in the heart of Mumbles for summer plays and a well-preserved history lesson. For views, none compare to the slightly more shabby walls of Pennard Castle. Easily combined with a beautiful walk to Three Cliffs Bay, it’s a ruin with one hell of a view.
The country’s rich industrial past is less talked about but just as interesting. Old coalmines such as Big Pit are now open to the public and nearer to Swansea, the Aberdulais Tin Works and Waterfall makes for a good morning trip. Although a little pricey, all proceeds go to The National Trust and a small museum provides first-hand accounts from the children who worked there during the nineteenth century.
A spot of twitching
Wales is wet and often windy so visiting in winter can have its drawbacks. Of course, the pubs will still be welcoming, but there’s another reward for off-season travellers. The Burry Inlet estuary that separates the peninsula from neighbouring Carmarthen is a haven for over 50,000 species of migratory birds.
Several hides are placed strategically across the area, however a day trip to the Wetlands Centre allows you to get up close and personal with some of the areas most colourful visitors, including flamingos. A perfect place to spend a few hours feeding the birds, the centre has recently added a tower that allows views across the estuary wilderness.
Coffee with a view
Poor old Swansea City (famously called “a pretty, shitty city” by famous Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas) was heavily bombed in the Second World War and regularly comes second best to the beauty of its surrounding landscape. However in recent years, an influx of investment has seen Swansea marina become a hub for business and socialising. Since I moved away, coffee culture has hit the end of the M4 in style, with several eateries making the most of the picturesque boat-scape. I devoured a great breakfast and cappuccino at Coast Café, a new contender, although the established La Parilla and Grape & Olive also draw in the crowds.
The Gower Peninsula is one of the UK’s unsung spaces. Despite its numerous nature awards, it remains underpublicized and berated for its rainy weather, which means that most of the time, it stays gloriously crowd free.
Well worth a weekend, and even just maybe, the Severn Bridge toll fee!