Friday, September 14, 2012

Day 7 - Beach Bypass - Rhossili to Three Cliffs Bay

Romance is alive and kicking at Three Cliffs Bay
I knew I’d be complaining about bus fares before long.  Today, our bus driver’s embarrassment was all too apparent. A single fare from The Gower Inn, Parkmill to Rhossili was £4.30 each, he told us, so why not pay the extra 20p for unlimited travel all day? £4.50 per person and we could travel from Swansea to Rhossili all day long if we so wished.

Unfortunately, coast path hiking is a strictly one-way business and a single bus journey is all that is required; we had no choice but to count out the disgraceful £8.60 fare.

Still, not every business is as money-grabbing as First Cymru; the assistant manager at The Gower Inn very kindly allowed us to park at the rear of their car park free of charge. Nice pub, good value food, friendly staff.

More Swiss Alps than Wales Coast Path?
It was still a bit hazy when we arrived at Rhossili but there was a certain amount of excitement in the air. A lone dolphin had been spotted close to the beach and was attracting a lot of attention from visitors. Yesterday, we’d spotted a small, dead porpoise (at least we think it was a porpoise) on the beach so presumably dolphins are regular visitors to these waters.

Thankfully, Rhossili has remained relatively uncommercialised. The hotel, few cafes and shops are generally unobtrusive and, unlike Land’s End in Cornwall, the Welsh headland is blissfully free of highly-priced ‘attractions’. 

I presume this is because Rhossili is owned by the National Trust rather than a private owner who can sell it to whoever he chooses at whim. Long may this state of affairs continue.

It was just as busy this morning as yesterday afternoon but once we’d passed the coastguard hut opposite Worm’s Head the crowds disappeared and we pretty much had the coast to ourselves for the next few hours.

The coast is far more rugged from Rhossili onwards, with high cliffs and lots of rocky inlets, which sometimes involve a steep descent followed by an even steeper ascent (okay, I know that’s unlikely, but the uphills always feel tougher to me).

Culver Hole is well worth a detour
Harri climbed down to Culver Hole sea cave but my footwear – well-worn Brasher sandals – wasn’t really ideal for rock climbing so I was content to wait at the top. Culver Hole is owned and maintained by the National Trust and featured on BBC’s Coast programme a couple of years ago. It’s well worth seeing if your footwear is up to the vertiginous and difficult climb down.

The big beaches on today’s itinerary were the iconic Oxwich and Port Eynon, beaches I’ve visited many times with my children and walked on previous Gower expeditions.

Why wasn't I surprised that the official Wales Coast Path directs walkers around the back of both. So mind-boggling are the constant detours around some of Wales’ best beaches, that I’ve just checked the Countryside Council for Wales website to see what criteria were used to determine the official path.

The website states that the path is as near to the coast as legally and physically practicable, whilst fully taking into account the needs of health and safety, land management and conservation’.

I'm still none the wiser. I understand the need for conservation, but presumably a beach that attracts thousands of holidaymakers, local people and dog walkers every week isn't going to be adversely affected by a small cohort of Wales Coast Path hikers. One thing Harri and I can vouch for, is that with a few notable exceptions (Snowdon, St David's, Cader Idris, Pen y Fan), Wales really isn't in danger of being overrun with hikers any day soon. 

However... Harri is writing the official guide so the official path we followed, even if it mean missing almost the whole length of Oxwich beach in favour of the burrows behind (which are very pleasant but have no sea views). An exciting new addition to the landscape is a smashing little footbridge across the pill between Oxwich and Nicholston Burrows - there's even a sea view at this point though not for long. Soon we were heading inland, on a steep, sandy path running between trees.

A welcome addition to Gower's gorgeous coastline
And here I must raise the question of accessibility. I know, of course I do, that a coast path can never be completely accessible. People with mobility problems, those in wheelchairs, families with pushchairs - I'm sure they understand that, even with the best will in the world, there will be natural landscapes which remain inaccessible to them.  

What I cannot accept is an official footpath that’s almost completely inaccessible to everyone – and I include the super-fit Harri Roberts. 

In the midst of Nicholston Woods, there were several instances where we were literally scrambling up sand dunes with overgrown vegetation, including brambles, attacking us from either side. At one sandy ‘crossroads’ there was no signposting at all and we had no idea which path to take. This lack of signage could, of course, be down to sabotage as we had earlier spotted several official signs with graffiti scribbled on them. Still, it was extremely frustrating, especially as there wasn't a beach or wave anywhere to be seen to lift our flagging spirits.

We had planned to walk to Pennard today but hobbling across Three Cliffs Day, we decided to call it a day and head inland instead, past the spectacular ruins of Pennard Castle. 
Scrambling through the burrows
behind Oxwich

We were descending through more woods into Parkmill at around 7.15pm, when a couple approached us and asked us how long it would take to walk to the beach.  Given the distance, the terrain and the fast-disappearing daylight, we were incredulous. It was clear these two weren't hikers - not feet-aching, armpit-smelling, stomach-rumbling, cider-longing hikers, definitely not official Wales Coast Path hikers like Harri and me.

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