Having filled ourselves with bacon butties, Rob, Ian, Stephen and I drove down to Llanmadoc on the north western corner of the Gower Peninsula. It was a beautiful morning of cloudless skies criss-crossed with many vapour trails.
It was my intention that we should park in the village car park for three days, but I noticed a rather old and faded sign warning that no overnight parking was permitted. I wanted to find out if this was still the case. Enquiries led me to the village community shop/cafe where I found the owner of the field. She was fairly brusque in he response and told me that under no circumstances could I or anybody else park there overnight. If she allowed it the council would be on her back immediately. Before I could ask my next question, another lady, volunteering in the shop, offered me her drive. What a kind and generous lady. I offered to make a donation to a charity of her choice but she said it was not necessary. She asked for my mobile number just in case she needed to contact me so I gave her my card. Arrangements sorted, we parked in the drive of The Old Rectory before returning to the cafe for a coffee. It was 11.30am by the time we set off for our walk.
We immediately climbed out of the village on to the hillside above with a thick layer of fresh, green bracken either side of the path. Horseflies kept making little pin pricks in our arms and legs, which would then swell. Rob was affected most by them and his hands swelled badly, making his wedding ring very tight.
From the trig point at the top of Llanmadoc Hill we looked out over the grassy sand dunes immediately to the west and then nothing but a very placid sea. To the south we looked over the village of Llangennith towards our next hill, Rhossili Down.
We made our way into Llangennith and deliberated briefly as to whether we needed to take some refreshment. Having only been walking for an hour, we decided it was, perhaps a little soon, so we pressed on. It took us a while to pick our way, haphazardly across fields to the foot of Rhossili Down.
The climb up is steep, and it was noticeable that, with about 15kg on my back, it required a little more effort than normal. As we climbed the beauty of Rhossili Beach was gradually revealed. Beautiful, largely deserted, golden sands stretched out all the way up to the headland with Worms Head stretching, monster like, out to sea.
At the top of the first climb we sat enjoying the view. For a long time a kestrel sat on a rock a little below us, unperturbed by our presence. Once it had flown Stephen sent his drone up to do some aerial video. All was going well until a Border Collie joined us and took exception to the drone, so much so, that Stephen guided it home and put it away. The collie belonged to a group who joined us at the summit cairn and, after the peace had been restored, sang gently and rhythmically. It was fascinating to listen to but I did not feel brave enough to enquire of them what they were doing.
Shortly afterwards we left them to their summit singing, passing the remnant foundations of a Second World War radar station, before climbing again to the trig point towards the southern end of the Down. Below the beach was a little busier as this end was accessible via a steep path from the car park. We were in no rush and were enjoying the moment when we were joined, once again, by our singers. This time I engaged them in conversation and learned that they were a group from ‘Dreaming the Land’, www.dreamingtheland.com. They were a non secular group on a pilgrimage, visiting ancient and interesting sites on the Gower Peninsula. Despite it being a bit hippie and alternative, I found their idea interesting and it added a new dimension to walking in beautiful countryside on a glorious summer’s day. They removed themselves from the conversation for a group improvised interlude, which, although being quite bizarre, seemed to be natural. I think I might have felt rather self conscious. We eventually parted company and we headed down to Rhossili where Ian decided he needed a pint. He suggested he would catch up but I insisted we were in this together – ‘all for one and one for all’. So we all had a pint.
Had circumstances been right we would have considered wild camping on Worm’s Head, but, as it was, the tide was in and the rocky causeway giving access was submerged. Even if we waited several hours the tide would be against us in the morning, delaying our progress around the coast. As we sat in front of the Coast Watch lookout post admiring the monster-like features of Worm’s Head, Geoff, one of the Coast Watch volunteers came over for a chat. He was one of the pioneering English surfers, originally from Essex but having lived on the Gower since the 1960s. He guessed that we were wanting to wild camp and suggested a quiet little cove, Ram’s Grove, an hour or so along the coast. “Just make sure you have enough water.” He was full of useful information. For example, if we ever do want to spend a night on the Head, visit the Coast Watch first and tell them. They will then let the Coast Guard know that you are night fishing and we won’t be disturbed. Then, when someone on the mainland dials 999 when they see torches, thinking people are stranded, the appropriate authorities will know that not to be the case. Otherwise they have to investigate, wasting a lot of time and money. He was a really friendly chap, but all the time he was talking to us he was watching, watching where people were going and what they were doing.
Leaving friendly Geoff behind, we worked our way around the coast to Ram’s Grove. It is a deep v-shaped valley dropping steeply to a shingle beach. Just before we dropped down, Ian found an animal water trough with a pipe of fresh water feeding it, so we were able to fill all of our bottles etc.
Ian was quickly in the sea, soon followed by Stephen, cooling off. I went in up to the waist band of my trunks but could not bring myself to take that final plunge. The temperature contrast was too great.
We set up our tents on the four flattest patches of grass we could find, only pegging them down minimally as there was very little soil under the grass. Then we set about supper, a variety of pre-cooked meals that only needed to be heated in their sachets in boiling water for about five minutes. Very tasty and perfectly adequate.
After that there was not much to do. There was no sunset to watch as we were hemmed in by the steep valley sides. Stephen sent his drone up to film it and us in our secret little world.
Sleep was not too bad but I tended to alternate from hot and clammy to cold and clammy. The sheep that had been around us all night ensured that we did not linger in our tents by bleating loudly as soon as it was light. There was no point in lingering, and the more walking we could achieve in the relative cool of the morning, the less we would have to do in the stifling heat of the afternoon.
We climbed out of our valley at 7.00am and headed east to Port Eynon, just in time for the cafe opening, and a welcome coffee.
The walking became much easier from this point. The coast is less indented and the path follows a contour above the rocky coastline. We were able to make much better forward progress. I was walking a little ahead of the others and as I climbed up the path something caught my eye. There, just a couple of feet ahead of me, an adder slithered off the path where it was sunning itself into the undergrowth at the side. It was about a metre long and looked very healthy, with a good set of distinctive markings.
As we rounded the headland towards Oxwich Bay a very large grey seal was luxuriating on a rock at the water’s edge, while another bobbed about in the sea nearby.
Once round the headland we were in lovely woodland, a welcome respite from the sun. There were some steep sections of up and down through the woods but we eventually emerged past the church to the Oxwich Bay Hotel, where we decided to have a long lunch.
After lunch, all we had to do was walk across the expansive bay along the beach to our campsite on the other side. It was a relief to be able to walk barefoot in the warm water lapping gently on the sand. In contrast, the hot, dry sand of the dunes we had to climb in order to reach our site, really burnt our feet.
I now have to make a confession. In my plan for this walk I had intended for us to camp at Three Cliffs Bay, but that campsite is not marked on the map. The only one marked is a little west of Three Cliffs at Nicholaston Farm. We stayed at the wrong site. In all honesty, I don’t think we had enough energy to go much further and the climb up to Three Cliffs Campsite was much steeper and longer. As it was, Nicholaston Farm had excellent facilities but not a great deal of flat land! There wasn’t much for us to choose for supper in the shop. We were restricted to buying the last two chicken curry pasties, a tin of beans and half a dozen eggs. It was a forty minute walk to the nearest pub and none of us fancied that.
After we had set up camp, all, with the exception of Rob, went back down to the beach for a swim in the beautiful evening light. The water felt much warmer and I enjoyed swimming around, although there were a number of purple/blue jelly fish that concerned me. There were also some monster ones washed up at the water’s edge that I couldn’t determine whether they were dead or alive.
Back at camp we ate our mixed bag of food and I boiled the eggs for the next day’s lunch.
After a much better night’s sleep than I was expecting on a sloping pitch, we were again up early. This time it was cawing crows that were our morning call.
We were again away by 7.00am. Unfortunately the tide was in so we could not go down to the beach to enjoy the full splendour of Three Cliffs Bay. We could only enjoy it from above and from the landward side.
The route took us across the golf course at Pennard Burrows just as a tournament was getting underway. Balls were flying everywhere and we had to stop occasionally and watch the action before continuing. This brought us into Southgate where we stopped at the cafe/shop at West Cliff. There we had a coffee, followed by another coffee, followed by a bacon buttie, or other similar delight. Why we needed it, I don’t know. We had had porridge a couple of hours earlier, before we left the campsite.
The remainder of the walk alternated between clifftop walking descending to sandy bays and climbing again. We were seeing more people along this stretch of coast as we got nearer to Mumbles. We also saw aspects of coastal tourism that is so disappointing. Caswell Bay is a beautiful sandy beach. Monstrous flats have been built overlooking it and at the hub of the bay there are kiosks selling nothing but junk food and tat. There were queues of people willing to gorge themselves on this rubbish served in polystyrene containers. Yuk!
From Caswell Bay the path is laid to concrete and unforgiving on the feet, but, at least, progress was quick. Stephen and I went on ahead so that we could organise a taxi to take us back to Llanmadoc to pick up the car before returning to collect Ian and Rob from the pub on the pier later. It was getting hotter and hotter, with heat also radiating off the white concrete and parched verges.
We reached our destination, Mumbles Pier at 2.00pm, rang for a taxi, which arrived within five minutes. Sally, on who’s drive we had parked, asked me if I could promote the St Maddox Centre where her son worked. It caters largely for children but during the winter months it is quiet and would benefit from adult groups using it as well. It is worth a thought. More information can be found on www.stmadoc.co.uk. It might be something to consider and we would certainly see another side of the Gower’s nature in the winter.
We had had three magnificent days, seeing the Gower Peninsula at its very best. The beaches are stunning and some of them are as good as anywhere in the world. I would be tempted to repeat this three day walk, but I know, what we have experienced can probably not be repeated. I am grateful to Ian, Rob and Stephen for their excellent company; we did a lot of laughing. The walk was also enhanced by the friendly and interesting people we met along the way, from Sally who rescued us at the start, to Angharad Wynne and her Dreaming the Land group, and Geoff, who inspired us to fulfil our desire to wild camp. We certainly have some memories to treasure.