Visit and the surrounding villages and stay in bed & breakfast accommodation:
Gower, Swansea, or Gwyr in Welsh, is the delectable peninsula that runs some 18 miles West from Swansea. Historically, Gower also embraced the country between the lower valleys of the Tawe and the Loughor, and this area is still included in the Parliamentary constituency. The Gower of the tourists, however, is now peninsular Gower: that unique landscape composition of limestone headlands, sandy bays, ruined castles, cromlechs, and downs, that has deservedly been set aside as an area of outstanding natural beauty. In spite of the encroaching suburbs of Swansea in the East, and the caravan parks that have inevitably planted themselves on some parts of the coast, “the Gower” remains basically unexploited, thanks to the vigilance of the admirable Gower Society.
Geologically, Gower is formed by two rocks limestone and Old Red Sandstone. The limestone forms the cliffs and coastline on the South, the Old Red Sandstone heaves up from within the limestone in the humpback downs of Cefn Bryn, Rhosili, and Llanmadog. The limestone plateau lies at a level of 200 ft, cut by the sea about 1,000,000 years ago and then lifted to its present site. In the Ice Age, the whole area was covered by the glaciers that overrode Gower and Pembrokeshire from the Irish Sea. The final melting of the ice, and the corresponding upliftment of the land have left their mark in the raised beaches that ring the coast. As the ice disappeared, early man appeared.
Gower had yielded impressive evidence of early man in the famous bone caves in the limestone of the South coast and on the open site of Burry Holms. Later, somewhere around 3000 B.C., the westward-moving colonists of the megalithic tomb-builders settled in Gower. They left their memorials in the great cromlechs, from Arthur's Stone to Giant's Grave, that lie all over the peninsula. The Copper and Bronze Age folk came later and built the fine mound at Cilibion. Then, by 300 B.C., the warlike overlords of the Celtic tribes were in possession. Now the Iron Age was in full sway. The conquerors thus had superior weapons and a knowledge of fortification. The most impressive Iron Age camp in Gower is at Cil Ifor, about ¾ mile East of Llanrhidian, looking out over Llanrhidian marshes. The Bulwark on Llanmadog Hill is another fine example. There is a whole series of small promontory forts along the headlands between Porteinon and Rhosili.
The arrival of the Romans put an end to the Celtic power, but they may have by-passed the peninsula. There was some sort of Roman building at Oystermouth - a fragment of the mosaic is preserved in the church; but Gower, as a whole, has no important Roman remains. The Celtic Church arrived after the collapse of Rome. The most favoured of the Celtic saints in Gower are Cattwg, Dewi, Teilo, and Madog. Llangynydd was the site of a small monastery.
The Normans came in the 11th century, and henceforth South Gower ceased to be Welsh. in fact, after the Norman invasion, Gower was divided into two: Anglicana and Wallicana. In South Gower, as in South Pembrokeshire, the Welsh were driven out and the place became a miniature “little England beyond Wales”. The place-names and the language changed. Englishmen were settled, mainly from North Devon — the theory of an intensive Flemish settlement after the drowning of the Zuider Zee lands seems to be unfounded. The Gower dialect, which survived until recently, had strong affinities with the West Country, although the speakers had a Welsh lilt. Words like “dumbledory” (cockchafer), “bubback” (scarecrow), “glaster” (buttermilk), “inklemaker” (busy man), “kerning” (ripening), “nip-party” (perky), “z'snow?” (do you know?), and “rying” (fishing) are typically Gowerian.
South Gower folk for centuries felt themselves a race apart, and certainly, in the Middle Ages, they were under constant threat from the Welsh in the back country. Hence the numerous small castles and fortified manor houses that occur all over the peninsula. There is also a protective ring of “commons” — Clyne, Fairwood, Bishopston, and Pengwern that cut South Gower off from the North and East Gower churches tend to have fortified towers, and graveyards filled with Tuckers, Mansels, Groves, and other interrelated settler families.
Apart from Penclawdd and its cockle industry on the North side of the peninsula, Gower is basically an agricultural area. Farming and tourism make the life-blood of the place. Before the arrival of the motor-car, sheep and cattle were driven into Swansea every Saturday throughout the winter. The farmers at the further end of the peninsula would keep their cattle for the night at Penrice Home Farm. The farmers' wives on the coast specialized in producing layer bread — that black, treacle-like substance made by boiling for twelve hours a special seaweed that grows between tides on the limestone rock and laced with oatmeal. Layer bread tastes delicious when fried with bacon fat.
In the l930s Gower joined Pembrokeshire in using its favoured position as a comparatively frost-free area for the production of early potatoes.
But, increasingly, tourism has become an important part of the Gower economy. Gower appeals to those who are in search of a simple holiday — and long may it remain so. The South coast is the main attraction, because of the wealth of bays, with their golden sands. that are dotted along the whole length of the peninsula. On the South side they are safe for bathing. On the West and North West, the strong current from the Loughor estuary imposes caution. It is possible for strong walkers to follow the coastline from Rhosili and Worms Head round to Mumbles by cliff-paths and across the sands. This is one of the most attractive walks in South Wales.
Starting at Mumbles Head, a wide path leads from the road, round Limeslade Bay and Rotherslade Bay and Rotherslade, to Langland. Langland Bay is now almost a suburb of Swansea, with hotels and flat developments, but the sands are still fine and safe. The castellated, mock-Gothic pile that is now a hotel was built by the Crawshays, the Merthyr ironmasters, as a seaside home. The sea-path leads over the golf course to Caswell Bay.
Caswell marks the limits of the borough of Swansea. Again the sands are magnificent. Pine trees fringe the bay in the centre, and the building developments on the fields in the background have not yet intruded on the scene. The great slab on the far side, under the stump of the windmill, is a challenge to rock-climbers; only experts should attempt it. Now the coast shakes itself free from all building exploitation. The path leads round the cliffs for ¼ mile to the tiny inlet of Brandy Cove, with its legend of smugglers. Here the raised beach can be well seen. The path then continues to Pwll-du (Black Pool), where the Bishopston Valley comes down to the sea. A fine storm beach has dammed the stream to form the black pool. Pwll-du is one of those lucky beaches that have to be reached on foot. The impressive headland is seamed by trenches, the relic of l9th century quarrying for limestone.
The coastline beyond Pwll-du Head is rich in caves. The cliffs slope rather than plunge, but a steep path leads down to Bacon Hole. This fine cave yielded an important collection of bones, prehistoric animal remains, and evidence of occupation by early man. There has been much discussion about certain red streaks on the cave wall. It has been suggested that these might be traces of cave paintings, the only ones in Britain. Equally firmly, other experts maintain that they are natural oozings of red oxide. Michin Hole is even more impressive, and has yielded an important collection of remains, including bones of elephant, bison, soft-nosed rhinoceros, and hyena. Take care in scrambling down the steep cliff-face to the entrance.
The fine sweep of Oxwich Bay is now in sight. This is the biggest indent on the South Gower coast. It begins with the sands of Three Cliffs, a jagged headland, by a cave, pierced with the Pennard stream entering the sea around it. One of the cliff-top bungalows was the home of the Welsh poet Vernon Watkins. Above the dunes behind the Three Cliffs is Pennard Castle, a ruin that looks magnificent but when entered proves to be a mere shell. It was built in the 13th century and ruined in the 16th, and had little history in between. The settlement of Pennard is modern, and can boast only a golf links. The old church here was buried by blown sand, and a new one was built about 1 mile back from the sea. The Church of St Mary thus dates from the 15th century; and maybe parts of the old building, including the moulding of the two lancet windows, the font, and the great beam supporting the gallery, were incorporated in the new. The tower has an embattled parapet.
The coastline continues westward from Pennard, past Pobbles Bay under the Great Tot of Tor Bay. Hereabouts, in places best left unspecified, grows the yellow whitlow grass (Draba oides) found in Britain only in Gower. The face of the Great Tor has been climbed, but again a firm warning must be given about climbing on Gower limestone. The handholds look magnificent, but they are most unreliable. Only experts should venture on these plunging rocks.
The wide sweep of sands now leads on past Crawley Woods to Oxwich. Oxwich Point separates this fine bay from that of Porteinon. In between is the small cove of Slade. From Porteinon the coast takes on a new splendour. Some 5½ miles of cliff-walk from Porteirion to Rhosili must be reckoned one of the finest stretches Wales can offer. The cliffs become more precipitous after Overton, and are intersected with small, dry hollows that run down to the sea. The further West you go, the more continuous becomes the cliff-line. At Paviland, under the small hill-fort of Yellow Top, are the famous bone caves. The entrance to them is possible from the East at very low water only; great care must be exercised in climbing down to the caves from the headland. The grass slope is slippery, and the turn round the cliff-edge to the caves involves some rock-climbing.
The first cave, Goat's Hole, is one of the most famous bone caves in Britain. It was first excavated by Dean Buckland in 1823, and is one of the earliest and richest finds of this sort. A headless human skeleton was uncovered and named the Red Lady of Paviland because the bones were dyed with red ochre. Later excavations by Professor Soflas in 1913 proved that the “Red Lady” was a man, of the Cro-Magnon (Old Stone Age) period. The red ochre may have been deliberately placed on the bones as symbolic ritual designed to ensure immortality.
Beyond Paviland the coastline continues to offer splendid cliff scenery to Mewslade Bay. Here a small valley comes down to the sea between high limestone bluffs. Thurba Head encloses the bay to the East. It is 200 ft high, crowned with an Iron Age fort and owned by the National Trust. Mewslade sands are exposed at low tide. The bay is accessible only by foot, and can claim to be the most spectacular in Gower. Westward is Fall Bay, in the shelter of Tears Point. Here the raised beach of the Pleistocene Age is well seen. The sands join those of Mews-lade at low tide. On the bold cliff of Lewes Castle is an Iron Age promontory fort, one of the many that lie on these narrow headlands of the South Gower coast. They enclosed small hamlets, and the banks gave some protection in the warlike age that preceded the coming of the Romans to Celtic Britain.
From Fall Bay the coast sweeps round to the magnificent climax of Gower's southern coastline. Worms Head and Rhosili Bay (see Rhosili). Rhosili faces West, and the broad, open sands receive the full force of the Atlantic gales. After Burry Holms islet, the coast starts to turn North East and changes in character, although there is a final cliff display beyond Burry Holms, with the curious enclosed water of the Blue Pool. This is accessible on foot over the burrows at Llangynydd. The pool is 15 ft across and was once reputed to be bottomless. The natural arch of the Three Chimneys lies West of the little cove of Bluepool Bay. Gold moidores and doubloons have been found here, but it is doubtful whether they came from any Armada galleon. Whiteford Point marks the northernmost point of the peninsula.
The northern shore of Gower differs dramatically from the South coast. The original limestone cliffs can still be traced behind Llanmadog, Cheriton, and Llanrhidian, but they now lie inland. The Burry estuary has slowly silted up over the years, and the North coast of Gower consists of marshland and saltings, with the treacherous sands of the estuary beyond. After the cockle village of Penclawdd, the country changes. The limestone disappears and the coal measures begin. Gower is still the official designation of the countryside, but it is no longer English, peninsular Gower. It belongs in character to the rest of industrial South Wales.
The Gower Society publishes by far the best guide to Gower, which every visitor should obtain.
Nearby cities: Swansea
Nearby towns: Gorseinon, Llanelli, The Mumbles
Nearby villages: Bishopston, Burry Port, Bynea, Cheriton, Cwnfelin, Derwydd, Dunvant, Felindre, Fforest, Gowerton, Hendy, Kidwelly, Killay, Knelston, Llandyry, Llangennech, Llangennith, Llanmadoc, Llanmorlais, Llanrhidian, Loughor, Mumbles, Nicholaston, Oxwich, Pembrey, Penclawdd, Penrice, Pontarddulais, Port Eynon, Reynoldston, Rhossili, Trostre
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