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The Mumbles, Swansea. The term “the Mumbles” has in recent years been popularly extended to include the whole of the limestone peninsula that shelters the village of Oystermouth and dramatically terminates the curve of Swansea Bay on the western side. The Mumbles themselves are the two islands that lie at the very tip of the curve. The derivation of their strange name is uncertain; it may possibly be an Anglicization of the Welsh Mynydd Moel (Bare Mountain). On the outer island is the lighthouse, first built as far back as 1794 and surrounded with a complex of storehouses, signal stations, and fortifications, which are now largely disused since the light has become automatic. Underneath the cliff on which the lighthouse stands is the cavern known as Bobís Cave. In the late 1870s, a popular poem by Clement Scott a favourite at dramatic recitals made famous the heroism of the sisters Ace, the daughters of the lighthouse-keeper, who rescued a drowning sailor. They waded into the boiling surf and pulled him ashore with a rope made from their knotted shawls. Inevitably they became known as the “Grace Darlings of Wales”. The lighthouse is needed, for the shoals of the Nixon Sands extend to the westward, just off the outer island. Both islands can be reached on foot at low tide. The Mumbles lighthouse was also the scene of the early experiments of Wheatstone and Dillwyn Llewelyn, which led to the development of the electric telegraph.

The Mumbles pier runs out from the headland opposite the islets and contains a special slipway for launching the Mumbles lifeboat. Together with the Winter Gardens the pier was built in 1898, at the same time as the celebrated Mumbles Railway was extended from Oystermouth to Mumb1es Head. This railway could claim to be the oldest passenger one in the world. The track round the bay from Swansea to Oystermouth was constructed in 1804, and passengers were first carried in 1807. The carriages were, of course, horse-drawn. In the steam era, from the end of the 19th century, engines drew a string of open-sided carriages, with seats on top. These “Puffing Billies” had an atmosphere all their own, with the passengers clinging like limpets to the outside steps, and little boys turning cartwheels at every stop to earn pennies.

The road cutting now leads back from the pier, under the steep cliffs of the headland. To the left, after you leave the cutting the gabled and turreted Bristol Channel Yacht Club, with two brass cannon at the door, is a connoisseur's piece for anyone interested in Edwardian survivals. The village of Oystermouth now occupies the space between the steep hill-side and the sea. There are some picturesque lanes that climb up between the houses along the front. They are reminders of the day when the popular rhyme had it that:

Mumbles is a funny place.
A church without a steeple,
Houses built of old ships wrecked,
And a most peculiar people.

The great days of Mumbles seafaring are over. The oyster-beds, for which the place was famous since the days of the Romans, are now finished, although remains of the “perches” can sometimes be seen at low tide. Instead, the Mumbles and Oystermouth have become a stronghold of weekend yachting and sailing. Oystermouth started to expand as a dormitory for Swansea at the end of last century, and contains only two monuments of antiquity. The church, which is rather hidden back among the houses near the little open space of the Downs, is dedicated to All Saints. It is an attractive building, some of it modern, but with an ancient core. The square font has the date 251 inscribed on it. There are three 17th century bells on the floor at the West end. The present bells in the tower come from Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The church has, however, acquired fame or perhaps notoriety - from the fact that Dr Thomas Bowdler is buried in the churchyard. Dr Bowdler of Bath published in 1818 his expurgated edition of Shakespeare, from which he had excised all passages “calculated to deprave the youthful mind”. He performed a similar service for Gibbon, and died leaving the verb “to bowdlerize” as an indispensable part of the English language.

The second ancient attraction of Oystermouth is the castle, finely placed on a hill that in recent years has had difficulty in shaking itself free of housing projects. Oystermouth was regarded as one of the “Keys of Gower”.

The earliest castle on the site was burnt by the Welsh in 1285. It was probably built by William de Londres, who seems to have been the first holder of Oystermouth. The present remains all date from the reconstruction after the Welsh Rising of 1287. The castle is somewhat irregular in plan, with a gatehouse, an open courtyard or ward, and a keep, all connected by high curtain walls without towers. The gatehouse did indeed possess two circular towers, but they have been demolished. The keep contains the domestic buildings. To the left were the great hall and the principal apartments. To the right, on the top floor of the three-storeyed building, was the chapel, which still preserves its piscina and a traceried window. The castle is now in the care of Swansea Corporation.

From the castle, but even better from the 250-ft summit of the hill behind the headland, you can enjoy the whole panorama of Swansea Bay. Walter Savage Landor once compared it to the Bay of Naples. The sweep of the bay is memorable, as it curves from the distant point of Porthcawl under the dark mountains of the coalfield, past the terraced houses of Swansea and round to the white isles of Mumbles Head. It is even more impressive at night with the shore lights reflected on the full tide.

Immediately to the West of the headland are two small coves known as Bracelet Bay and Limeslade Bay. Beyond them the cliff-path leads round to Langland Bay. This is the start of the most attractive cliffwalk in Wales - the south coast of the Gower peninsula.

Nearby cities: Swansea

Nearby towns: Gorseinon, Llanelli

Other nearby attractions: Gower

Nearby villages: Aberdulais, Alltwen, Bishopston, Briton Ferry, Bynea, Clydach, Cwnfelin, Dunvant, Felindre, Glais, Gowerton, Hendy, Killay, Knelston, Landore, Llandarcy, Llandyry, Llanelli, Llangennech, Llanmorlais, Llanrhidian, Loughor, Morriston, Neath, Nicholaston, Oxwich, Oystermouth, Penclawdd, Penrice, Port Eynon, Port Talbot, Port Tennant, Reynoldston, Skewen, Swansea, Taibach, Trostre

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