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The Wreck of the Helvetia, Rhossili

The Wreck of the Helvetia

Rhossili Bay is a vast beach. The beach is 3 miles long. Photos do not do it justice.

Rhossili Bay
The 3-mile Rhossili Beach (tide out) 

 

A number of landsmarks are frequently photographed (and painted) along this great expanse – Worms Head the tidal island that stretches along at the Southern end of the bay, the old rectory that looks out from the middle of the shelf above the beach and in the midst of the sand, the Wreck of the Heletiva.  If you look very closely at the photo above you might just be able to make it out. 

Need help? It’s the group of shark-like fins that  are poking out of an impossibly small pool in the midst of the sand. The Helvetia sank into the sand over 130 years ago and only her stubs of her wood ribs remain. 

From on top of the Rhossili cliffs, it looks tiny. I have only been down onto the beach to visit it once. It’s usually surrounded by people photographing it. 

A quick online search will turn up many, many images of this wreck close up; some with shadows, others with reflections, lots with beautiful sunsets, and a few stunners with starry skies. I don’t know how they arrange it when more than one photographer wants to take a photo at sunset? 

Selection of photographs of the Wreck of the Helvetia found online
Selection of photographs of the Wreck of the Helvetia found online

 

She is surprisingly small.  These remains must be just the “nose” of her bow.  I am very taken with how organic she is. She is made of greenish rotting wood. Presumably being underwater for long parts of the day means that she is only rotting very slowly.  Up close, the rotted bow looks dragon-like. The iron nails that protrude from the wood are like the teeth of the beast. The rust from the iron colours the wood orangey-red.  Red and green, the colours of Wales.  

Wreck of the Helvetia (detail)
Wreck of the Helvetia (detail)

 

I wanted to find out more about this ship. What did she look like before she sank? Did anyone die? Why was she called Helvetia?  

I discovered that The Helvetia had been a Norwegian barque, which is a kind of sailing ship. She had been built in 1855 and registered at the port of Bremerhaven (in modern-day Germany).  She had sailed from New Brunswick, on the East coast of Canada in late October 1887. Although the sea around the Gower coast seems tame in comparison with the wild North Atlantic off Donegal, the coastline has seen the demise of many ships over the centuries. The Helvetia was caught in bad weather and hit the dangerous sandbank of Helwick Sands. She was then swept around Worm’s Head and into Rhossili Bay. Her captain decided to drop anchor but the galeforce wind meant her anchor was ripped free from the sand and she was wrecked on the sands of Rhossili beach. Fortunately, no lives were lost.

Three-masted barque
Three-masted barque (image from Wikipeda)

During the following weeks, her cargo of timber was collected from the beach and gathered for auction sale. The wreck itself was sold to a local man, who intended to strip the precious copper keel from the vessel but before he got the chance, the Helvetia sank into the sand. Local legend says that he had to settle for salvaging the ship’s deck boards!

I tried to find a photo of the Helvetia before she sank and I discovered that there are many ships that have born that name in the past and in also in the present day. Here are some examples.

Helvetia is a popular name for ships
Helvetia is a popular name for ships

 

This got me wondering why Helvetia was such a popular name for ships. What did it mean anyway? So I did a bit of research and found out that Helvetia was the personification of Switzerland, like Britannia, is for Britain, Marianne for the French Republic, or Erin is for Ireland. So why were Norwegians naming their ship Helvetia? It seems I was totally on the wrong track here.

I did some research and I found that Hel is also an Old Norse word. It has several meaning. It could mean “Hel” who in Norse mythology was a goddess who ruled the underworld, Helheim, or Hel. Hel-Víti thus means “Hell-torment”. That would be a great name for a Viking ship, I think. Hel, however, also means luck which is possibly a better name for a ship, especially as sailors are incredibly superstitious people. If you made your living on the changeable sea you’d be very superstitious too. On a tangent, it was apparently customary among Vikings to say “hell og lykke” (luck and happiness) when they met. This is supposedly were English speakers get the greeting “hello” from.

Anyway, I had assumed that there was a rule that only one ship at a time could bear a particular name – like the Ark Royal, but it could be reused again and again. No so. There were many other ships in the C19th with the name Helvetia – more than one of these ships were passenger ships that took people who wanted to emigrate to the USA, another Norwegian ship, SS Helvetia spent much of the 1870s & 1880 steaming across the Atlantic from Liverpool to New York.  Conditions must have been poor as there was a cholera outbreak on one of these voyages in 1866 and the ship was forced to return to Liverpool.    

ss helvetia
SS Helvetia

I found another Norwegian ship called Helvetia, operating across the Atlantic in this period. On the “Noway Heritage” website this ship is described as a Bark (Barque) like the Rhossili ship. This ship was also built in Bremerhaven, but in 1858 not 1855, and was wrecked in 1888, not 1887. I don’t know if this is the same ship as the Rhossili wreck. Quite possibly. There is an online passenger list for the Bark Helvetia from her 1861 voyage from Germany to New York here, and you can see the names of the framers and skilled-labourers who were looking for a new life in the United States.   According to the “Norway Heritage” website, the Bark Helvetia also sailed to Quebec, in Canada, on a regular basis.  She also sailed to Swansea twice in 1866. This Canadian link makes me think that it is the same ship. She regularly sailed from Norway taking hundreds of passengers presumably looking for a new life in Canada in the 1860s (you can see the passenger list here). Incredibly, between 1825 and 1925, more than 800,000 Norwegians immigrated to North America—that’s about one-third of Norway’s population! Most of them immigrated to the US, and lesser numbers immigrating to Canada.  Hunger and poverty pushed them to leave their homes. The voyage must have been grim beyond belief. In 1861 a ship called the Helvetia, possibly not the Rhossili ship,  is recorded as carrying 344 passengers in steerage from Drammen (Haagensen) but by the time they arrived in Canada, there had been five deaths. Looking at the other ships that arrived in Canada in that summer, smallpox, and measles were also rife on board the crowded ships. Deaths were not uncommon. 

Later on in the 1870s the Helvetia sailed from London and then Truro, in Cornwall. I am guessing that she took English passengers to North America and brought timber back to Europe. This intrigued me. Distant relatives of mine left Scotland in the 1860s and started a new life in the States, setting up a successful business selling furs in snowy Des Moines, Iowa. Perhaps they traveled on a ship like the Helvetia? Interestingly, many Norwegians settled in Iowa too. 

For a sea-faring nation, Britain has preserved precious few sailing ships from the past. The Helvetia (and her many namesakes) deserves to be remembered as one of the thousands of ships that played a role in the mass migration of peoples from Western Europe to North America in the 19th century. She may have met her end on in the sands of a Welsh beach, but she had been a workhorse of the North Atlantic and it was very fortunate that her final cargo was timber and not people. It seems very fitting that this Scandinavian ship lies on the sands of Rhossili Bay. As behind her off to in the distance another dragon, the Wurm, or  Worms Head stretches across the horizon.  Wurm is a Viking word. It means “dragon”.  

Oil painting of Rhossili Bay with the wreck of the Helvetia

The Wreck Of The Helvetia, Rhossili, Gower 

 

Read more about the Helvetia

https://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/site/273914/details/helvetia

http://www.gowershipwrecks.co.uk/2009/11/gower-shipwreck-helvetia.html

https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/story-behind-helvetia-rhossili-beach-14968494

also

Norwegians and USA

My Walk Along Worms Head 

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Brightening Up Over Three Cliffs Bay

Here’s a footnote to Sunday’s post about waiting for gaps in the clouds. The sun was peeping over the top of the three peaks, illuminating the edges beautifully. I particularly liked the way the sea and the river, Pennard Pill, merge here. It’s not clear where saltwater and freshwater meet.

Painting of Three Cliffs Bay Gower
Brightening up Over Three Cliffs
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A Gap in the Clouds

Great Tor, Gower painting by Emma Cownie

I used to like painting landscapes and cityscapes with clear blue skies. I waited for the bright sunny days of early summer to walk around, taking photos and looking for inspiration. Thus, my series of urban minimal paintings of Swansea, made the town look a bit like a Mediterranean location!

What a joke. It rains a lot in Wales. It has rained incessantly for the past two days. Since my extended visits to Donegal, however, I have become increasing inspired by cloudscapes and the silvery light along the Atlantic coast. With my “new eyes” I have started waiting cloudy days in Wales to go out looking for inspiration. Not overcast days, but days with patches of blue sky and sunshine.

I drove down to Pennard, with the idea that I wanted to paint Pennard Pill, the river that follows into the sea at Three Cliffs Bay. The BBC forecast claimed that it would be sunshine and clouds all morning. When I looked at the Mumbles and Caswell Bay webcam, one showed sun and the other was overcast. I set off, anyway. I would go for a walk, regardless. On my way there the sun came and went. As I drove past Mumbles head, I could see it swathed in a light misty cloud. I wondered whether there would be anything to see when I got to Pennard.

Thankfully, the sun was shinning at Pennard as I made down the path that runs alongside the golf club. The tide was coming in and I could just see Great Tor in the distance, through the peaks of dunes. When got close enough for a clear view the sun promptly went in! I looked up at the sky and looked for blue patches. There were quite a few. So I carried on towards Pennard Castle, which is situated on the top the of the high dunes, further inland. I hoped the sun would reappear by the time I got to Pennard Castle. I tried to work out which way the clouds were traveling. Usually, they move from Oxwich Bay towards Three Cliffs. Today they were going the other way. The sun came out a few times on my walk. Just as I was climbing up the sandy path the castle I came out and lit everything up like a technicolor Hollywood film!

Pennard Castle
Pennard Castle

The sun promptly went in again. I stood in the ruins of the castle and waited. I thought about the fairies who had supposedly destroyed the castle with a sandstorm when the lord of the castle had refused to invite them to his wedding party. Eventually, the sun broke through and lit part of the valley below.

Pennard Pill
Pennard Pill

I watched the light move across the valley and the colours burst into life.

Pennard Pill in sunshine
Pennard Pill in sunshine

I then decided to walk back towards the sea and see if I could photograph the three peaks that give the bay its name. The clouds rolled in.

Clouds over Pennard Golf Course
Clouds over Pennard Golf Course

I would have gone home at this point, as there was a cold wind and it was almost lunchtime but I could see bright light off in the distance. It was on the far side of the Bristol channel. I could see a ship on the horizon lit by this light.

Ship on the Bristol Channel
Ship on the Bristol Channel

How wide was this stretch of water? Miles. How long would it take for that shaft of sunlight to make its way over to the Gower coast? A while. So I waited. I am not very good at standing still so I walked around a bit, watching the dog walkers and small family groups vanish from the landscape.

The clumps of large mushrooms spotted about the grassy parts of the dunes, made me think of the fairies again. 

I climbed dunes, trying to decide good locations for photos for when that shaft of sunshine arrived. It was definitely coming my way. A new set of walkers was arriving on the beach. They were all optimists too!

Cloudy Three Cliffs Bay
Cloudy Three Cliffs Bay

Hunger was starting to make itself known. I slouched down against a dune. Patience. Patience. What was the point of giving up now when I had waited so long? Impatience comes from wanting to be somewhere else. I needed to be here now. I thought of a line I heard Van Morrison sing at his 2015 Live 70th Birthday Concert at Cypress Avenue, Belfast “It has always been now” (52 mins into the clip). He’s a genius. He captures the joy of being truly present in the moment. Just as I was saying that to myself when the sun arrived and the technicolor lights were on!

The three peaks
The three peaks

That doesn’t quite capture it. Here let me show you. My view of the world.

A Gap in the Clouds
A Gap in the Clouds (SOLD)

That’s more like it.

Now I could go home and eat lunch. Paint and listen to Van Morrison.

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Over to Worms Head

Painting of Worms Head

I managed to make it down to Rhossili Bay this week. It has been raining on and off for weeks. I have been painting in my attic studio listening to the rain thundering down and I have got quite tired of that sound.  So when I was greeted by clear skies I decided, on a whim, to drive down to Rhossili to see the autumn colours.

Rhossili has a wonderful windy wildness to it. It’s unlike the rest of the Gower Peninsula. The trees all lean heavily away from sea and the prevailing westerly wind. As I drove into the village I was caught up in a sheep-jam. A herd of sheep was being moved from one field to another. They were packed into the little road and had stopped the traffic (it was three cars actually). I watched the mob of sheep as they swirled in front of my car and past me. They were Welsh Mountain sheep; only a few had horns. Their creamy fleeces were spotted with brightly coloured red and purple “smit” marks. These are marks painted by their farmers that denote ownership. One moment they were packed around me and the next they had moved on.

There was space in the church car park so I parked and put my donation in a slot in the wall. This car park is closer to Rhossili Beach. If I had wanted to walk to Worms Head itself the National Trust Car park with its facilities (loo block and shop) would have been better. From here I walked down a stepped concreted path down towards the beach. It seems strange but I have never walked on this particular path before. I don’t know why. I have always walked parallel to the beach along the cliffs paths (one on the top of the downs and one in front of the rectory). I wrote about the coastal path in several blog posts and in my book, Footnotes: An Artist’s Journey Around the Gower Coast.

Rhossili Bay
Rhossili Bay (View From the Path)

So I followed the path downhill and got a different view of the Worm. The bracken had died back to a wonderful russet colour (one that I associate with wales) and the sea was a beautiful turquoise blue. The tide was out and the tidal island, the Worm (Wurm) rose up above the waves on the horizon. I looked at how the light caught the back of the Dragon and remembered how arduous walking across it was.

Painting of worms Head Rhossili Bay
Over to Worms Head

The walk down to the sea was quite steep but easy. The final descent was down a ramp of gravel.  The vast beach was surprisingly populated for a term-time day in the week.

IMG_7185
Worms Head Rhossili

Of course, I could not pass up the opportunity to visit the remains of the Helvetia on Rhossili Beach. The Helvetia was a Norwegian ship bound for Canada that was wrecked in south-easterly gale on Rhossili Bay over 130 years ago on 1st November 1887.  In the Instagram age, given its picturesque location, its not surprising that it has been photographed and shared countless times.

Oil painting of The Wreck Of The Helvetia
The Wreck Of The Helvetia, Rhossili, Gower

 

I walk across the beach to bottom of the vast 200-foot cliffs, looking at the colours and light. There are seagulls scattered across the beach and when I turn back I can see the Rhossili Downs and the Od Rectory reflected in the outgoing tide.

Rhossili Reflection
Rhossili Reflection

On the far edge of the beach, I was surprised to discover the remains of another shipwreck in the sand. A bit of online research and I discover that this is Vennerne, apparently, it is known locally as the Vernani, and it was dashed to pieces under the Rhossili cliffs in 1894.

Another Wreck on Rhossili Bay

Another Wreck on Rhossili Bay

There is quite a strong breeze. When the clouds roll in it starts to feel cold. The clouds create a softer light. The grays and purples dominate. I am glad I have my woolly scarf on and start to make my way back to my car. The path hill is pretty steep and the climb warms me up.

Cloudy Worms Head
Cloudy Worms Head

The next day, I am tired from walking across the sand but it doesn’t matter as its raining again.

 

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Low Tide at Whiteford Lighthouse

Painting of Gower, Whiteford lighthouse

It was a long walk to the lighthouse at  Whiteford Point on the northern tip of the Gower Peninsula. The last time I walked here, I just looked at the lighthouse from the beach. This time I wanted to get up close. We had left it late and the tide had already turned when we got here. The last stretch to the lighthouse is across lots of slippery, small rocks were surprisingly difficult to walk across. It took a good 20 minutes to make our way across them. 

I was accompanied by Seamas, myy husband, and our loyal dogs, Biddy and Mitzy, who were not keen on the rocks but will follow Seamas anywhere.

Whiteford Lighthouse
Seamas (in hat) and dogs at Whiteford Lighthouse

The iron victorian lighthouse had cormorants perched on it when I got there (ahead of the others) but a motor boat came past and they all flew off!

Whiteford Lighthouse
Birds flying away from Whiteford Lighthouse

Here’s my painting. I love the colour of the rusted iron of the massive thing and the sea-life that clings to the lower half. It was a hazy day so the sky is bluish and the sea has a slight mauve tinge to it. The waves are gentle but advancing.

Painting of Lighthouse at Whiteford Point, Gower
Low Tide at Whiteford Lighthouse (SOLD)

The lighthouse looks quite forlorn in the sand. It has no rock to perch on, just the sea bed. The cormorants, don’t care. They like their iron perch!

 

 

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“Footnotes”: My Gower Walks Book

Paintings of Gower Book

I am delighted to announce the publication of my latest book “Footnotes, An Artist’s Journey Around the Gower Coast” which is based on my walks and blogs of 2018.

Medieval History book Emma Cownie
My book on Medieval History

Many years ago I turned my Ph.D. on Medieval History into an academic book. That was jammed packed with footnotes and had almost no pictures (except for the front cover) but it did have some maps hand-drawn by me. I felt quite odd when that was published. I suffered terribly from imposture syndrome, then as now, and it almost felt like someone else had written it when I looked at the words on the book. Don’t get me wrong, I had written every last bit of it, the text, the footnotes, the index but it didn’t feel like it had much of “me” in it, except maybe in my dedications. I think my parents and Seamas, who was my boyfriend back then, appreciated being thanked for their support.

This book is quite different. Ironically, despite the name, the only “footnote” in it is the title. It’s a bit of a joke, I guess! This book has a lot more of “me” in it. Yes, there still some local history and stories about Gower, but its mostly about the walk and dealing with my anxieties.

I had spent weeks editing it and sort of ran out of steam when I reached the part where I had to upload it to the Kindle website. Thankfully, my husband, Seamas, came to rescue and was midwife to the whole venture. He did the final editing and proof-reading and it uploaded to the website. Which sort of sums up our relationship, he’s always there to help me over the “humps”, not just as a cheerleader but as technical support and he also provides so much inspiration. So thank you, Seamas.

I also want to thank my parents who have always supported whatever I have done. My mother is a fervent “liker” on Facebook. Their house has many of my paintings hanging on their walls, which is a compliment in its self as superfluous objects are either returned to the donor or end up in the local Charity shops. I also want to thank supporters on Instagram who tell me that they have downloaded from Kindle or bought the physical book.

I hope that people enjoy it as much for the walks and stories about Gower, as for my paintings!

UK- See the book on Amazon.co.uk by clicking here

USA – See the book on Amazon.com by clicking here 

Paintings of Gower Book
My Gower Book
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My review of 2018 (part 1)

Emma Cownie's 2018 paintings

Life as an artist is a very insecure one, you never know where your next sale is going to come from. You can plan and prepare for exhibitions and work on your social media, but it’s impossible to know how many people will see and respond to them.

That’s why it’s really important to take stock, and celebrate the success you have achieved and thank all the supporters and collectors who have helped you over the year; whether it’s a positive comment on a blog post, a “like” on facebook or an instagram post, the sale of a mounted print, a greeting card, a commission or the sale of a painting. They all help keep me going! You may not believe it, but artists have fragile egos (this one has, anyway) and they need encouragement, especially if they venture off into new directions, as I so often do.

Here’s a review of some of my sales of paintings and mounted prints from the first part of 2018. Many were sold via the online gallery Artfinder but increasing I have sold direct via my own website. Each painting is a unique work. I don’t paint generic people or landscapes. They are all real people and locations. In April’s collection you can see many of the Gower painting I did as part of the Gower Coastal Path Project. Bloggers’ comments and encouragement really helped me complete that project. Thank you, all.

Paintings by Emma Cownie
January Sales 2018
Paintings by Emma Cownie
February Sales 2018

Paintings by Emma Cownie

March Sales 2018

Paintings by Emma Cownie

April Sales 2018

My next post will  complete the review. Thank you to the brilliant people who have supported me and bought my work this year, I couldn’t do it without you!

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Autumn Light on Three Cliffs Bay

Blog about painting Three Cliffs Bay, Gower by Emma Cownie

We didn’t get an “Indian Summer” in September, which when we usually get one in Wales. What we have had, instead, is a series of sunny days in late October/early November. The sparkling autumn light is stunning. From a painter’s point of view is more interesting than summer light. So last week I drove down to Three Cliffs Bay to enjoy the light. I was surprised by the dark blue of the calm sea. It was  quite a different colour from the summer sea.

Painting of Three Cliffs Bay, Gower, Wales
Three Cliffs Autumn Light

I was hoping that there would be plenty of orange bracken and there was. Not on the slope of the the Three Cliffs, as they are covered in grass, but on the slopes of Cefn Bryn, in distance.

Painting of Pobbles Bay, Gower
Painting of Pobbles Bay, Three cliffs, Gower

These colours sum up the Welsh landscape for me. In fact, I think I like the Welsh landscape in autumn/winter best. The red and the green of the bracken and the grass also put me in mind of the red and the green of the Welsh flag.

welsh_flag_wallpaper_by_magnaen-d36mhaj.jpg
Welsh Flag (an interpretation)
Painting of Great Tor, Three Cliffs Bay Gower
Light on Great Tor (Gower)

 

I find it ironic that there’s less light around but its better quality, from an artists’ point of view. I still have not adjusted to the clocks going back last month, and I am still waking at 5 -5.30am! It does not seem to matter what time I go to bed, I awake in the dark feeling ready to rise. So I get up and here I am tapping away at my computer in the dark waiting for the sun to rise. Soon I will have to get my SAD lamp out to stop the slow slide in winter gloom. Before, you ask, yes, SAD lamps work for me.

Does anyone else suffer from this problem? Does anyone have any tips for sleeping in later?

Update: I sat with my SAD lamp on for 20 minutes around 7 pm last night and it seemed to help me go back to sleep when I awoke at 4.30 am, and I didn’t get that “wake up” surge of hormones til 6.30. A definite improvement.

To buy landscape paintings of Gower click here

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Worms Head: a footnote to the Gower Walks

I did not walk the length of Worms Head at the same time as my other Gower coastal Walks. This was because you cannot walk its full length between the 1st March and the 31st of August – as the last part of the Worm,  the Outer Head, is closed in order to protect nesting seabirds.

So I waited until late October for a sunny morning and a low tide to set off on my adventure. It was certainly an adventure as I travelled alone and there was plenty of scope for “mild peril” and twisted ankles and, at one point, there was definitely outright fear.  More of that later.

The drive down to Rhossili was beautiful. Autumn sunshine lit the russet trees and the long shadows stretched across the road. The forecast was for a fine sunny day but by the time I arrived at Rhossili, it had clouded over. I got of my car and wished I had brought a woolly hat instead of my sunhat jammed at the bottom of my bag underneath my sandwiches, banana, and the compulsory chocolate biscuits.  The biscuits had been lurking down there since my last walk several months ago, but as they were individually wrapped I decided they’d still be very edible. The walk down the National Trust car park to the coast guard station at the end of the headland took longer than I expect it.

Oil painting of Worms Head from Rhossili Downs
Worms Head (from Rhossili Downs)

I think this is because I am usually so mesmerized by the sight of the “Worm” that I don’t really pay attention to how far I am walking. The Worm (“Wurm”) means dragon, and it was given this name by the Vikings who regularly sailed the Bristol Channel over a thousand years ago.

Worms Head
Worms Head

It is a long tidal island that undulates westward like a sea beast. The shape of it changes depending on which angle you approach it. Sometimes it seems coiled, other times in snakes from side to side.

Oil painting of the coast towards Worms Head, Gower
Towards Worms Head (SOLD)

I think I look up the tide times for Gower more often than most people, except for surfers. Every time I go to the coast I like to know if it going to be a low or high tide, depending on whether I want to photograph it or swim in it. If you want to visit Worms Head, a low tide is essential because the causeway over to the islands is only safe to cross 2 and a half hours either side of low tide.

I know that to be caught out ensures an extra long stay on the island (as happened to Dylan Thomas once), because swimming across the short stretch of water is very dangerous and I can remember a man who died attempting in it a few years ago.

Coast Watch Station
Coast Watch Station

Fortunately, if you have forgotten to look up the tide timetable, it is clearly displayed outside the coast watch station and on the path down to the causeway. That is pretty much, the point of the coast watch station, as I have mentioned before. To watch out for fishermen and people who might get trapped by the rising tide.

worms-head-walking-map

Map of Worms Head (Note: High Tide)

When you arrive at the coast guard station at the end of the headland you will see the path in front of you dropping down to the causeway. Now, don’t believe any guide that tells you that this is “easy” as I have seen elsewhere online. It is not. Parts of the island are easy. Most of it and the causeway, in particular, is very very, rocky.

It resembles an assault course rather than a “walk”. There are slightly easier routes than others but they are all energetic to some degree and require a fair bit of climbing, jumping, or in my case sliding down rock faces on my backside. I was better prepared than the time I walked across it on whim one summer with my sister and my 7-year niece. That time I was wearing sandals. This time I was wearing sturdy walking boots. I regretted, however,  wearing my drainpipe jeans. There were many times I could not tell if I was stiff with age or stiff from my sartorial stupidity. Nevertheless, I soldiered on.

Looking across the so-called causeway, I could not see an easy route. I could not even see an obvious way down to the causeway. Hence I ended up sliding down the rocks, hoping that I didn’t twist my ankle. That was a recurring thought throughout the morning. The trick is to stay focus 100% on where you are putting your feet, if you need to look up, then stopping to do so. Walking along and looking around at the same time was out of the question. I decided to follow a mother and her two young sons, hoping that they would find a sensible route across the rocks.

The Causeway
The Causeway

I think they must have been part- mountain goat because they zoomed across the rocks, sure-footed and totally fearless, happily chatting away to each other. I struggled to keep up. I started off feeling a bit chilly but by the time I reach the island 20-25 minutes later I was hot and thinking of taking off my jacket. Again you will read in some guides that it takes “about 15 minutes to cross the jagged and slippery rocks” but I found it took longer. Perhaps I stopped and looked at the view too often.

Worms Head OS Map
Worms Head OS Map (Low Tide)

Arriving at Inner Head, I was greeted by more warning signs, a tide timetable and a bell to ring to gain attention, if you are trapped by the incoming tide. Here, I had a choice of paths. Either to climb the back of the Worm and walk along its spine, or to take the easier lower path to the west. I took the easy path. It was my favourite path of the day. I could trundle along it, looking at the view, without worrying that I was going to trip up!

I quickly reached Low Neck which bends round to Devil’s Bridge.

Devil's Bridge, Worms Head, Rhossili
Devil’s Bridge, Worms Head, Rhossili

Here, I could see I had to cross another assault course of massive fractured rocks to get to Devil’s Bridge.  This is all that remains of a collapsed sea cave. It too will collapse one day, dividing the Middle Head in two. I decided instead follow a long climb over the tooth-like slabs down to the rocky “beach” part of Worms Head, to take some photographs of the Worm’s reflection in the still seawater.

Painting of Worms Head, Rhossili, Gower
Worms Head Reflection

I then had the joy of trying to make it back onto the path. It was a long scramble/climb and at several points I wondered if it was possible but I did eventually make it without injury.

So I finally reached the Outer Head. I was greeted by a warning sign telling people not to visit during nesting season. There were yet more rocks to clamber over before I finally reached the dragon’s head.

Here the path got steep. The grass became much thinner and the rocks were worn smooth with years of walkers’ boots on them.  I scrambled up where I thought the path would flatten out a bit. Then I realise that the final part of the “walk” involved a climb up an almost sheer cliff. The mother and two sons I followed across the causeway earlier, were already fearlessly climbing up the rock face. I noted that the mother wasn’t totally cavalier about letting her boys follow her as she told them in no uncertain terms that they must listen to her instructions and have “three points of contact with the ground at all time”. I bore this advice in mind, for the rest of my trip on the Worm.

I watched, with my heart in my mouth,  as they zoomed up the rock face like sure-footed monkeys. I don’t like heights at the best of times, and I knew this was beyond me. I could not face trying to climb up there, in case I freaked out half-way up. More eager climbers made their way past me. The prospect of an audience decided it for me. I turned around and started my return journey, muttering to myself “I know my limits”.

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Trust me, it’s a long way down.

As I walked back I ponder my long distinguish career as a scaredly-cat. As a child I freaked out in some underground caves, Cheddar or Wooky Hole, I’m not sure which, discovered to my surprise that I was decidedly claustrophobic. As an adult, on a school trip to Disneyland Paris, I was persuaded to go on Space Mountain. I only survived the experience by keeping my eyes tightly closed for the whole trip. Apparently a lot of it happens in the dark but never once opened my eyes to find out. More recently I climbed almost to the top of Mount Snowdon, in North Wales, only to decide I could not make it to the summit. The path was very narrow and there were hoards of people. I was convinced that I’d get pushed off the path to my death. So I sat down with my eyes closed (again) and waited for my brave husband to make the journey to the top and back on his own.  Yet, I enjoy watching films about Mountaineers, like “Touching the Void” and “Everest”, go figure!

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Rock Arch, Worms Head

I stopped and ate some biscuits and sandwiches, drank a lot of water and admired the view along the Worms’ back in both directions, towards its head and in the other direction towards Rhossili Bay and Gower. This time I walked over Devils Bridge and started the scramble over more rocks to Inner Head.

Seal, off Worms Head
Seal, off Worms Head

I paused as I see another walker looking out to sea and I realised there is little head looking up at us out of the water. It was a seal. I could see his whiskers. He reminded me of a dog. I don’t know if he’s a common or grey seal, as they are very hard to tell apart, especially when they are in the water. He disappeared and then popped up again, before finally vanishing for good.

Keeping an eye on time time, and making sure I have more than enough time to cross the causeway, I made my way back to the south-eastern end of the tidal island. I notice a group of people are watching something on the stony beach below the cliffs. More seals! I settled down on the grass to watch. To start with, I could not get a good view, as there were so many people. Eventually after a lot of loud “Oh” and “Ahhhh-ing” (I don’t think the seals liked this as they kept looking up), the people moved on and I had the seals all to myself. I love this.

I watched them, very happily in silence, for quite a while and make some film clips to show my husband later. I am guessing they are the smaller, common seals, but I could be wrong.

I am very tired now and as I start my walk across the causeway, I see people still crossing over from Rhossili. I look at my watch. They still have two hours to cross and back it back again. I start off with confidence, only to have to retrace my steps because the drop from the rocks I am on is too high.

As I am struggling down from a lower crag I am surprised by a strange animal-like snorting sound. It sounded a bit like an alarmed dog. I looked around at what I thought were barren rocks, only to realise that I have a pair of anxious eyes looking at me. It an adolescent seal, stranded all on his own in the rocks. I quickly retreated. I didn’t want to frighten him any more than I already had.

Hidden amongst the rocks
Hidden amongst the rocks

He must have been stuck here ever since the tide went out three hours ago.  I briefly worried about the other walkers finding him, as some of them have dogs with them, but I decided that if I keep quiet, maybe no one else will discover him. I know that the usual advice with wild animals is to retreat and leave them alone. After all, he is so well camouflaged, I would not have seen him if he had stayed silent. In fact I did not seen him when I came across earlier.

Spot the seal!
Spot the seal

Thankfully, crossing the causeway was slightly easier on the return journey. I think the tide was further out so I could walk alone the pebbly edge, although the climb back up the to main path was brutal.

Worms Head, Rhossili, Gower
Worms Head, Rhossili, Gower

I was relieved to be back on the main land, but there is some thing very special about being on an island, even if it’s only a tidal island like Worms Head. I think its because you are surrounded by the sea and that is an exhilarating feeling. The Gower is a bit like a tricorn hat, with a tidal island at each “corner”. This journey around the Gower coastal path started with Mumbles, with its lighthouse built on a tidal island; Burry Holmes is a tiny full stop marking the north end of Llangennith Beach but Worms Head is a comma. Not so much a footnote, but a wiggly tail making off towards the Celtic Sea. The open sea and more adventure.

Map of Gower Peninsula
Map of Gower Peninsula

To see landscape paintings available to buy please click here

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Now available in John Lewis

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I am very delighted to say that we returned from Donegal to the news that you can now buy my work as framed prints at John Lewis! If you are not familiar with John Lewis, they are a British “high end” department store, who also run the Waitrose supermarkets. They have stores in the Republic of Ireland and Australia.

These two images are available from John Lewis stores throughout the UK “Drifting Clouds” and “Great Tor From Tor Bay”. 

Oil painting of Three Cliffs, Gower
Drifting Clouds Over Three Cliffs
Oil painting of Tor Bay , Gower by Emma Cownie
Great Tor from Tor Bay

 

Click here for more details.