Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Visiting Gower... again and again...

Whiteford Point's unusual cast-iron lighthouse can only be reached at low tide
Our first-ever mini break as a couple was a two-day hike from Rhossili, Gower to Mumbles, with an overnight stay at Oxwich. It therefore seems fitting that, six years later, Harri and I have just completed his third walking guidebook on this beautiful Welsh peninsula.

This latest book was by far the quickest to complete in walking terms. Top Ten Walks: Carmarthen Bay and Gower Peninsula was an absolute pleasure to research and easy to walk (the longest walk is just six and a half miles).

Picturesque Pwlldu Bay on the south Gower coast
The scenery on what Harri describes as ‘a small but priceless gem’ is stunning and astonishingly varied. In the introduction to his first Gower book (awaiting publication by Northern Eye Books), he expands, ‘Here are hidden coves and glorious sandy beaches, high cliffs and windswept downs, dunes, marshland, wooded valleys and picturesque villages. Almost every path on Gower opens up a new and rewarding perspective, a different aspect of the peninsula’s varied landscape.'

And he's absolutely right. In the twenty-first century, Gower remains astonishingly unspoilt, in large due to the long-time commitment and determination of the Gower Societywhose mission statement proclaims (or perhaps warns) it's ‘Guarding Gower for all its worth’.

The registered charity was founded way back in 1947. I won’t list all its aims here, just what I consider the most relevant ones:
  • to encourage an appreciation and love of Gower
  • to preserve its character and antiquities, and to oppose any threat to its amenities.
Harri, deep in thought on Rhossili Downs
No-one could dispute the Society's success in preserving Gower's natural landscape, despite what they claim was an unfair portrayal of members as 'the bad guys' in the 2012 BBC 2 mini series, Gower.

True, there has been substantial house building in villages like Llangennith, but on the whole the peninsula remains as wild and unspoilt as it was back in the 1940s, which is quite amazing when you consider its appeal and proximity to Wales’ third largest city, Swansea.

The Gower Society gets full marks for preserving what makes this little peninsula (the winding roads are deceiving – Gower is barely more than 15 miles (24 km) long and seven miles (11km) wide) so special - its incredible natural beauty. 

On that first weekend back in 2007, Harri and I booked into a small bed and breakfast in Oxwich, where the dour-faced proprietor was clearly a graduate from the Basil Fawlty School of Customer Service (either that or she disapproved of our obvious age difference). Despite its popularity, Oxwich, with its population of under 200, boasts just one eaterie, the Oxwich Bay Hotel.  When we showed up, on a Saturday night in June, without a prior booking, it was bursting at the seams. Seeing the dismay on our faces (surely our rumbling tummies weren't that loud?), a kind-hearted staff member (presumably a protégée of Sybil rather than Basil) said we could eat at a table in reception if we didn't mind. We assured him we didn't!

Since that first weekend, we’ve returned to the Gower many times. One memorable place we stayed was The Slope, in Middleton. This tiny space was originally built as a summer dwelling for the owners to move into during the summer when they let their neighbouring (and much larger) home out to holiday-makers. A local tenant farmer, Jack Gibbs, built The Slope in the early 1900s using cliff limestone, handmade bricks and some beach-combed timber. Sadly, he died in World War 1.

The Slope - small but perfectly formed
The building was converted into self-catering accommodation by the present owners in 1994 and the result is delightful. The ground floor combines a kitchen and diningroom and there's a shower/toilet cubicle concealed in an under-stairs cupboards. Upstairs, the open plan bedroom, with its television and comfy chairs, doubles as a sitting room. The Slope is small but perfectly formed; we stayed for four nights and would happily have moved in permanently. 

On another trip we stayed at Greenbank Cottage, Reynoldston, a B & B where the friendly owners have come up with the most brilliant and practical of ideas. Being hikers themselves, they understand how frustrating it is to have an early start thwarted by a slow-to-arrive cooked breakfast. Their solution? To provide a basketful of warm rolls and croissants outside your private French doors at an agreed time. And in case you get the 'nibbles' in the night, there is an assortment of biscuits and other snacks provided (there's a table and chairs and also a very useful fridge). 

Their simple idea means guests can set off as early as they wish (with some nice fresh rolls for lunch!). Other B & B owners, please take note.

There's something quite magical about a beach at low tide
Of course, not all our overnight stays have been so idyllically located. Soaring fuel costs have forced us to look for cheaper accommodation, like the Swansea Travelodge just off the M4 (there's no breakfast but the rooms are clean and spacious and the reception staff are always wonderfully friendly and helpful (more input from Sybil Fawlty perhaps?).

So with Harri’s third Gower book done and dusted, we no longer have our bona fide, i.e. work-related, reason to wander alongside wild ponies grazing peacefully on the salt marsh and mudflats of the north Gower coast or to get wet feet walking to Whiteford Point at low tide. 

There's no pressing need to climb the long, high ridge of Cefn Bryn, struggle against the wind to reach the 193-metre summit of Rhossili Down or to photograph Gower’s amazing views.

There are no longer any work-related reasons to visit Gower, just spiritual ones. 
A friendly local on Harding's Down

Top Ten Walks: Carmarthen Bay and Gower Peninsula by Harri Roberts will be published by Northern Eye Books later this year.


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