Friday, 22 June 2012

Getting to Grips with Gower

Space below my feet.  One of the wonders of the Gower peninsula.
“Well done everybody.  You’ve made it.  We’re on the Worm!”

These were the words of National Trust Warden, Claire Hannington, and they were shouted triumphantly just as I arrived – along with a group 30 other walkers – on the tidal island of Worm’s Head, just off the tip of the Gower peninsula. 

And we had a good reason to be triumphant.  From our grassy vantage point we were able to look back to the mainland over the half mile of jagged barnacle-encrusted limestone, seaweed and rock pools that form a natural causeway over which the intrepid walker can scramble at low tide.

Time and tide waits for no man...this is not a place to linger.
I’d joined the walk – organised as part of the hugely popular Gower Walking Festival – as part of a long-standing promise I’d made to myself.  After a number of ridiculously brief visits over the years, at last I was going to spend two nights and two days exploring this most intriguingly beautiful part of the Welsh coast.

I was the guest of the small team of dedicated staff and volunteers that looks after the National Trust’s 26 miles of amazingly varied coastline on the peninsula.
The ideal guide: Warden, Claire Hannington in action
Claire, who says she’s more at home when she’s attending to practical tasks, could not have been a better guide for my first morning’s ‘walk to the worm’.  Her explanations were down-to-earth, witty and highly informative and they helped bring the landscape alive to us better than any information panel or leaflet ever would.

Having conquered the worm and marvelled at its amazing diversity of wildlife, I returned to the team’s base at South Pilton Green Farm and - after joining a planning meeting for the Cwm Ivy Wildlife Day on the 30th of June – I was free to explore the peninsula under my own steam.

I headed to the north coast, where I explored Whiteford Burrows National Nature Reserve, the first National Trust property to be purchased through the Neptune Coastline Campaign, back in 1965 and soon found the recently-restored Lodge bunkhouse which is now available for group bookings. 

A visit to the cosy Britannia Inn at Llanmadoc for my evening victuals was followed by an ascent of ‘The Bulwark’, an impressive prehistoric earthwork with a spectacular view of the mighty Loughor estuary to the north and, in the opposite direction, the intricately-embroidered patchwork quilt of farms, hedges and scrubby heaths that makes up the rural heart of the peninsula.

Lengthening shadows.  The view over Whitford Burrows from the Bulwark
An early start the following morning saw me weaving my way through ‘The Vile’, which as I'd learnt on the previous day’s walk, is a rare survival of the medieval open field, still with its strips of arable crops, sinuously curving away from the hamlet of Rhossili towards the coast. 

The next few hours were coastal walking at its very best. Seven miles of dramatic limestone cliffs and flower-filled grassland, enjoyed to the accompaniment of that evocation of happy solitude, the soaring melody of the skylark.  The only thing that detracted from my enjoyment was the fact that this is a walk that rewards the relaxed rambler with time to spare.  Purposefully striding towards my rendezvous at Port Eynon, I spurned opportunities to descend scrubby valleys that invited happy detours to hidden coves.  These included the remarkable fortified cave of Culver Hole and the famous Goats Hole, Paviland, the location for one of the most famous prehistoric burials in Britain.

At Port Eynon, I was met by the Gower team's admin assistant, Roni, who turned out to be a veritable mine of local information as she showed me around the Trust's properties on the south coast.  As Roni met with Megan, our car park attendant at Pennard, I was able to explore the wonderful Three Cliffs Bay.

Picture-postcard Three Cliffs Bay never fails to impress
Have you noticed how famous picture-postcard views sometimes disappoint when you actually visit them?  Well, Three Cliffs Bay is not one of those.  Stepping into the classic view and exploring its delights rewarded me with a succession of wonderful scenes, including sweeping beaches, flower-studded hillsides, dramatic cliffs and a gracefully meandering river.

Wiping the sweat off my brow as I rushed up to meet Roni at the entrance to Penmaen Burrows, I reflected on how lucky I am to have gained a store of memories of this wonderful part of the Welsh coast.

You too can enjoy the delights of Gower...

For an introduction to the National Trust on Gower and to find out about planned events, like the guided walk I joined, click here

To follow my footsteps, here are the links to download walks I did.  Rhossili to Worm's Head, Whiteford Burrows , Port Eynon to Rhossili (and beyond) and Three Cliffs Bay

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