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.
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.
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.
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. Here’s my contribution to the vast collection of Helvetia photos.
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.
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
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.
The next day, I am tired from walking across the sand but it doesn’t matter as its raining again.
Rhossili Bay is the most breathtakingly beautiful amongst all the Gower landscapes. The sandy beach is three miles long. This beach regularly features in national newspapers’ lists of top 10 top beaches in the UK, Europe, and even the world. It was voted Wales’ Best Beach 2017 and one of the UK’s Top 10 Beaches for five years running in the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards. The wonderful thing about the beach is that it is so massive that it is never the slightest bit crowded. The National Trust car park at Rhossili might be crowded and the lanes from the village of Llangennith to the beach might be jammed with surfers’ vans, but there is always plenty of room on the beach!
It is quite a challenge painting somewhere as well-known and as beautiful as Rhossili Bay. The sheer size of the bay means that the beach and Rhossili Down, the hill that rises up above it, often seems to “shrink” in pictures. The dunes beyond Llangennith Beach are an interesting feature to paint, as well as the hint of Llanelli in the distance, on the shore opposite the peninsula that peeps round the corner of Hillend Burrows. I usually prefer to paint the bay in the late autumn or in winter when the bracken on the Down has turned a fantastic rusty red. The darker greens of high summer are less interesting to me, so my main focus of interest with this painting was the lines of waves on the beach and the changing colour of the sea. I consciously chose a “flatter” more graphic approach to painting the beach and sea in the landscape. As an artist, I am always exploring different ways to approach a painting a scene. Sometimes I use a looser, painterly style, others a more graphic style. I think that element of exploration and challenge keeps me interested in what I am doing and keeps my work “fresh”.