Rhossili Bay is a vast beach. The beach is 3 miles long. Photos do not do it justice.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
The Wreck Of The Helvetia, Rhossili, Gower
Footnote October 2022
I was contacted by Sam Zhang who had an image of a model that was made of the Helevtia in her hayday It is a cut out from The Illustrated Times news paper in German, dated 6th August 1859. unfortunately the article it is for is cut out and most likely lost. I am very grateful to Sam for sending me this image.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To see landscape paintings available to buy please clickhere
Last summer I started my series of “Urban Minimal” paintings of the streets of Brynmill, Swansea. These paintings were my “Hollowed Community” project which were exhibited in the that year’s Madeinroath Festival. That’s not a typo, by the way. The festival organisers stipulate that you type it as one word Madeinroath, rather than three “made in roath”. Roath is a suburb of Cardiff, by the way. They also stipulate that the “in” in “Madeinroath”has to be in red too. It’s driving my spell checker crazy!
My “rules” for composition and painting this project were:-
2. No People
3. Bright light. There must be shadows – at diagonals if possible.
4. Simplified forms – there must be little detail in the final painting. I want to explore the interplay of the geometry of shadows and man-made structures – the tension between the 3D buildings and the 2D shadows. Simplified blocks of colour.
These rules worked well in an urban setting, especially with the sea light we have in Swansea.
Since then, I have been caught up in my Gower Coastal Walk.
By my calculations, I have three, maybe four more Gower walks to do in order to complete the length of coastline but other commitments are keeping me from finishing. Firstly, I have a pile of exam scripts to mark. I am rusty and I mark slowly these days. Secondly, a summer virus has made me feel under the weather.
I haven’t consciously applied the urban minimal rules in a non-urban setting. What’s the problem? The applying Rule #1. “no cars” and #2 “no people” rules is easy enough. As is #3 “Bright light”. Then there comes the difficulty. The second part of Rule #3 “There must be shadows – at diagonals if possible.” Walking late morning, mid-day day means that there are few long shadows and they are difficult to find on beaches too. Although, there have been a few.
[wpecpp name=”Three Cliffs at High Tide Large Mounted Print” price=”45″]
Finally, Rule #4 “Simplified forms – there must be little detail in the final painting. I want to explore the interplay of the geometry of shadows and man-made structures – the tension between the 3D buildings and the 2D shadows. Simplified blocks of colour.” I never really followed this rule to the letter as I thought details, such as window sills, and reflected light on glass, breathed life in pictures. It was knowing where to add detail and where to simplify that was important.
Limited edition large mounted print (free postage)
[wpecpp name=”Coloured Sands at Three Cliffs Bay Large Print” price=”45″]
Here, I have just been very cautious about going “too far” with this in a rural setting. But I have been edging that way, such as with my treatment of sand. Other aspects of my composition such as clouds and vegetation have not really been “minimal”, not in a conscious way anyway.
I think I need to challenge myself and make myself think about how I am tackling these subjects. I think my recent paintings of rural buildings (that’s cottages to you) has been much more successful.
You may well say are just rural buildings instead of urban buildings. Yes, but they are stepping stones. I am still thinking about how I apply these rules when there isn’t a building in the picture!
[wpecpp name=”Afternoon Port Eynon ” price=”280″ align=”left”]
If you want to buy any of these painting clink on the link below each painting or look through my Buildings and Streetscapes gallery.
Who hasn’t attempted to create a photographic panorama? Back in the 1990s when cameras contained stuff called film, I remember often standing looking at some amazing view, and then slowly pivoting from left to right (and then right to left in case I’d missed something) taking a series of overlapping photographs. The hope was that I would recreate a some stunning vista; such as the Grand Canyon, the London skyline, or even the lovely Alhambra. After a long wait, the photos would come back from the developers and I’d dutifully stick them together. The results were usually underwhelming. Rather wonky. If, you tried really hard you could sum up the awe of the view that had inspired you, sort of. I don’t think the sticky tape added to the overall impact, either. I give you in evidence the example below which I found lurking in one of our crowded cupboards:-
Oh dear. Obviously I wasn’t the only one who was disappointed by their efforts to capture their holiday vistas in this way as companies like Kodac developed special disposable panoramic cameras so you did not have to tape your photos together. I will never know if they were any good because I never had one.
So, forgive me if I have pretty much spurned panoramic compositions until now. In fact, I have had a long phase where I chose portrait orientation for my landscape compositions whether rural or urban. I really liked the sense of piles of houses on houses, or field upon fields. It works well in hilly Swansea and mountainous Wales.
It’s not like I never tried narrow canvases. I did use a couple of small narrow canvases to paint Mumbles, the village at the end of Swansea Bay. The paintings turned out well but I didn’t really enjoy the experience. I didn’t really ask myself why not until now. I think it was partly because I was in a portrait orientation “groove” and partly it was because the canvases were too small, they felt mean and didn’t really convey the essence of Mumbles.
It was a client who got me using panoramic canvases again. He wanted a landscape painting of May Hill in Gloucestershire. We originally discussed using a 80x60cm canvas but then he decided he wanted a narrower canvas; 80×40 cm. This was inspired. This immediately improved the composition because instead of the landscape getting lost against too much sky, it actually balanced the composition. It gave the land in the painting more immediacy and intimacy.
Now, you might say that this is not particularly “panoramic” but it got me thinking. Narrower canvases would suit coastal paintings because too much sky often has the effect of “shrinking” the land/coast in a composition. I’ll give you a photographic example:-
So using a long narrow canvas works really well with compositions for certain scenes, such as the one of Worms Head I have shown above.
All good so far, but what about the frustrations? There are the logistical issues surrounding using longer canvases. It may sound daft, but they are long. I find it hard to store them in my small attic studio. They poke out. When it comes to painting, I found that painting of the far left or right of the canvas quite a challenge. You see, I don’t usually bother with using the clamp at the top of my easel when I am painting as I often like to rotate my paintings and paint a canvas “upside down” or even “sideways up/down”. Oh, no. I have to clamp my painting in place or else it flips away from me when I press on it to paint any part either side of the central part. Rotating the canvas becomes a hassle too. My arms are not quite long enough to adjust the clamp without standing up.
This may all sound very lazy but once I start painting I get into a groove or “flow” and can barely be bothered to move from my central position other than put my brush on my palette and then onto the canvas. This is why I usually end up drinking lukewarm tea even though it’s in a thermos-style travel mug. It’s very rare that I get up to change the station on my radio. This is how I end up listen to sports programs (even football matches) although I am definitely not a sports fan.
The satisfaction of a well-balanced composition and having less sky to paint is worth it.
Then comes the issue of how to show it on my website and social media. There is no problem uploading the image to artfinder.com – it comes up as a complete image on my page.
However, when I uploaded it to my website the thumbnail cropped the image (see below left).
So, I have to go on canva.com and create a new version of the image. I paste the image on a white background so the image will viewed whole. Thus:-
Finally, Instagram. I have the same issue with Instagram as I do with my own website in that it only shows part of the image so I decide to chop the picture into two halves and upload them separately. Only I do it the wrong way around at first and end up with a back to front image. I make a note (I draw a little diagram in fact) the right side has to uploaded first and the left second.
It looks better on my smart phone. But you see the problem, as new images are uploaded it is pushed along the feed and gets split up between the lines of images. I also don’t know if people looking say the left side of the painting will understand that it’s part of a pair. They’ll just think it a painting of a beach and won’t realise that there’s a long mountainous headland to go with it. *sigh*
Never mind, I think that the best way to show off the panoramic paintings is on this blog!
Here’s my most recent and ambitious long landscape painting. If you click on the title you can see a bigger version.
This is the most challenging leg of my journey around the Gower coast, thus far. It is the longest walk I have done so far at 6 and a half miles. For some reason, I keep thinking its much further than that. I had convinced myself that it was 8 miles. It felt like that.
I have been obsessing over the bus timetables and the information I have garnered from Traveline.com which makes sense of the bus connections for me. I have written all the available buses in my note book which I carry in my rucksack as well as on a cheery yellow post-it note which I have in my coat pocket. I have tried very hard not to think of all the things that could go wrong but at 4 am I have persistent visions of twisted ankles and buses not turning up. I pack two plasters although I suspect they won’t be massively useful if I do twist my ankle. Yet, it seems that I have done all my worrying in advance for once I set off everything pretty much goes without a hitch.
It is a warm day. I am wearing my light padded jacket for the first time this year. My rucksack, which is actually my husbands old laptop rucksack, contains the following:- Water bottle; food – sandwiches, banana, biscuits; bus timetables for all Gower buses; tide timetable; two plasters; spare socks; camera; handbag. Somehow I haven’t organised myself enough to leave my stupid handbag behind. I know it has many useful things in it like a tape measure, make-up mirror, phone, fold away shopping bags, but I suspect it adds a fair bit of weight.
I dont have to wait long for the number 118 bus to arrive on Gower Road in Swansea. The bus driver blinks at me slowly when I ask “Change at Scurlage?” This is the first time I have been on a NAT bus. That stands for National Adventure Travel. As a car driver, travelling on a bus has a certain amount of novelty for me and looking out the grimy windows is almost a treat! This bus is OK but not as nice as the city First Cymru buses. Buses seem like things of the city to me (I am a townie born and bred) but once we rattle over the cattle grid at the edge of Fairwood Common and leave Swansea behind, there are great views across the common towards Cefyn Bryn, the long hill that extends across Gower. I enjoy the superior height of the bus which means I can look over walls and into people’s gardens as they flash by.
It is high tide as Three Cliffs Bay as we pass, a sight that gives me a small thrill. We pass the campsite at Nicholston and two walkers, a man and woman, get on. I have company. They both have rucksacks. I wonder why they have one each. They can’t both have handbags in there!
Scurlage. Thankfully the connection is waiting. We climb down from our big bus and into the smaller bus with hard seats and a sunroof.
It takes a long and winding route, pause for 3 minutes in a lay by, and then on to Horton, past a vast caravan park and eventually down a steep hill past the church and into Port Eynon.
Chips at Port Eynon
Port Eynon on a long sandy bay on the South coast of the Gower Peninsula. It is the second largest “indentation” on the coastline. Truth be known, it is my favourite Gower place to visit in summer because it always has plenty of space on the beach, a shallow sea which warms up in the British sun and a wonderful gift shop full of the sort of junk that is absolutely necessary on a beach holiday (kites, snorkels, body boards, flip-flops, rock, postcards), a surf shop, ice cream kiosks and best of all not one but two fish & chip shops. Oh, and there’s a couple of pubs too if you like that sort of thing. Have I made it sound commercial and tacky?
Well, you’d be wrong because almost nothing on the Gower peninsula is allowed to be commercial and tacky. I say almost nothing because I can’t think of anything at the moment that could be desribed as such, but someone may point out somewhere I have forgotten. Much of that is thanks to the wonderful Gower Society. If you have visited Gower you might think that the Gower Society have just put up some markers stones for their “Gower Way” which snakes across the inland sections of the Peninsula but not a lot else.
You would be very wrong. The Society was founded in 1947 by a group of Gower enthusiasts who were originally interested in the Peninsula’s history but soon became involved defending Gower from developers and preserving its natural heritage. I came across a copy of a book about the Gower Society in the excellent Oxfam shop in Swansea town. It’s called “The First Sixty Years” by Ruth Ridge. When I read it I was totally in awe of the tireless work they have done. Here’s a just a few short list of their many achievements
Successfully campaigning for Gower to be recognised as the UK’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1956
Part of the campaign that successfully fought off a Butlin’s-type holiday camp at Rhossili
Limited and monitored the number and size of caravan sites on Gower
Produced lots of excellent and very affordable guide books on Gower walks, plant life, castles and caves.
Prevented the building of a cliff railway and zoo at Rhossili
Prevented the construction of wind turbines on the Peninsula.
Campaigned against sand dredging in the Bristol Channel
Helped preserve and partially restore the iron lighthouse at Whiteford Point.
Raised money to purchase numerous tracts of land and donated them to the National Trust e.g. Worms Head and Pennard Cliffs and also to the Glamorgan Wildlife Trust e.g. Overton Cliffs.
Raised concerns and gave grants to help restore and maintain many important Historical buildings such as Oxwich, Pennard, Oystermouth Castles and the Salt House at Port Eynon.
There is loads more they have done to protect and preserve Gower but I thought I’d just give some highlights.
Port Eynon or Porteynon takes its name from a Welsh prince, Einion, of the 11th century who is meant to have built a “castrum“, a castle or fortified house here. There is no sign of the castle except for its church, St. Cattwg’s, and its dovecot, the extraordinary Culver Hole built into the nearby seacliffs. In Victorian times the village supported itself by Oyster-fishing from September to March and in the summer by limestone quarrying. Ships from Devon crossed the Bristol Channel to pick up the Port Eynon limestone. The trade in Oysters died out in the 1870s, over-fishing seems to have killed it off.
The Church was founded by a missionary saint in the 6th century but the building that stands in the village today is almost all the result of Victorian “restoration”. It is claimed that the church was used as hiding place for smuggled goods around the time of the battle of Trafalgar, kegs of booze being hidden in the altar, and at other times, the goods were buried in the sand-dunes.
In the churchyard is a distinctive looking memorial to three Port Eynon lifeboat men who lost their lives in a terrible storm in the winter of 1916. It may seem odd that the village of about only 500 people felt the need to erect a memorial to the three local men who died at sea when thousands of young men were being killed in far away places like France and Belgium in World War One, but the body of Billy Gibbs, the coxswain was never recovered. This was very much like the experience of families elsewhere in the country who never saw the bodies of their loved ones again. So the local community had a life-sized statute of Billy Gibbs built as a memorial to the sacrifice of all three men.
The Lifeboat House is now the Youth Hostel. Only one of two on the Gower. As it was low tide I walked across the beach to the Youth Hostel.
On the other side of the hostel are the ruins of something called the “Salt House“. Some these walls were part of Victorian oystermen’s cottages. The main building, however, was used for salt production from the 16th to around the mid-17th centuries. The site was chosen for the high salinity of the bay with little fresh water contamination. The sea water would enter the beach chambers at high tide where it would be stored in a reservoir. The water would be pumped into large iron pans and slowly heated and evaporated. As the salt formed it would be scooped off and stored in the northern part of the main building to dry. Salt was a very valuable commodity, shown by the fact the site was enlarged and fortified during the 17th century, with the inclusion of musket loops within the thick walls.
There was plenty of tall stories about a couple of outlaws called John Lucas, who were pirates and smugglers. The first John Lucas supposedly fortified Culver Hole in the 16th century, hid his loot in there and visited it via an underground passage, although there is little evidence of this. Seven generations later another John Lucas fortified the Salt House and started a smuggling empire. Some people have claimed that John was a Welsh Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Sadly, these interesting stories seem to have been totally all made up. This set of nonsense was made up by Rev. Dr. J.H. Spry during the 1830s in a dispute over property. Fake news, we’d call it today. It seems that people have been faking stuff long before the internet was even dreamt of.
The coastal path runs along the nearside of the Youth hostel.
Up a steep path past disused limestone quarries.
There are wonderful views of the bay to the east.
After climbing more steep path there is a great view of the sea to the east. This is Port Eynon Point. It is a nature reserve looked after by The Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales. Part of the cliff top was once ploughed during the Second World War but there is no sign of it now. This area is a nature reserve looked after by The Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales. In fact the whole South Gower Coast from here to Rhossili (Pilton Green) is a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) which is a term or designation given to an area in the UK which is protected for conservation. It is owned by the National Trust and managed by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales.
If you follow the path northwards you come down a steep hill, past more disused limestone quarries towards Overton Mere.
Overton Mere is a wide bay of limestone rocks, rock-pools, shingle and a few tiny patches of sand. On the eastern side of the bay and about 200 yards west of the point, is Culver Hole – mentioned earlier – the dovecot made from a narrow cave sealed off by a 60 foot high wall. I thought about visiting it but after edging my way along the cliff-edge path for 10 minutes I lost my nerve and decided that should save my energy for the long walk to Rhossili.
Although the tide was out, the waves were very high, this morning, 5 or 6 foot high. All along this stretch of coast I was accompanied by the booming waves as they broke on the shore. Every now and then, as a particularly large wave broke, there was a crashing sound that almost sound like something cracking. The air was hazy with surf. It made walking along the path even more thrilling.
I passed a small red pony who was not the slightest bit thrilled by the waves or me walking past.
For most of this walk I only passed a couple of walkers with their dogs. The path was pretty deserted. Although two men were working on one of the usually sturdy stiles at Overton Cliff.
The path was relatively easy although the drop down to sea was quite hair-raising in places.
Then the path got rather steep.
It got so steep that I started to wonder if I had lost the real path and had wandered on to a sheep track as I have done several times. It was so rocky I could not tell whether there were any human footprints or sheep tracks here. I couldn’t see another path so I kept going although it meant that I was scrambling along using my hands as extra support. Not quite on my hands on knees but not far off it.
On the other side of the crest I came across an odd scene. All the gorse had been burnt. You could smell it. I assume that the gorse had been managed. Its seemed too much of an effort for an arsonist to come all the way out here to commit arson. I assume that this is a way of managing the growth of the gorse.
After walking a bit further I realised that off in the distance I could see Worms Head. This was quite exciting. The angle made the long narrow tidal island look like two small islands. It also gave me the idea that Worms Head was not that far away. Now, whilst this was very encouraging and cheered me, by the end the walk I realised that was nonsense. One lesson I learnt from this walk is “just because you can see it, doesn’t mean it’s close”. It has become my mantra. So on I went, buoyed by the mistaken belief that I was half way to Rhossili already.
I think I had not bothered to look at my map in a good while because I was caught by surprise when the path headed up hill and inland. I was the first of many “Where the **** has the path gone” moments. When I walking on my own I chat away to myself (like a nutter). Mostly it’s encouraging stuff like “Come on” and “Let’s do it” when I need to get up a hill but its also less ladylike stuff when I get a bit lost and I can’t find the path. I just hope any near-by sheep are not offended. I also say hello to the sheep and lambs.
I found the path, it had moved inland. It was not at all close to the cliff top so I could no see the sea. Once or twice I tried to sneak a peak at the sea by wandering off the coastal path towards the cliff edge but I decided it was too much effort as I had a long walk to do I didn’t want to waste energy of detours. I also found lots and lots of Gower mud. It was a rather fantastic orangey brown colour.
As I walked along the cliff top I knew I was passing above places with wonderful names like Blackhole Gut, Yellow Top, Foxhole Slade and Paviland Cave. I could not see any of these places from the path. I have always wanted to see Paviland Cave but it is notoriously difficult to get too. It is where the so-called “Red Lady of Paviland” was discovered by the Rev William Buckland in 1823. This was a partial human skeleton dyed in red ochre. The Rev was a man of a times and decided that because there were parts of a necklace made of sea shells and ivory jewelry that this had to be a woman’s skeleton. Today we’d call him “old fashioned”, I think. It turned out that this not a lady at all but a young man and he was buried 33,000 years ago. This was back when woolly rhinoceros and mammoth roamed around what we today call Wales. Incredibly, it is the oldest known ceremonial burial in Western Europe. Sadly, there was no Welsh museums in existence when the “red lady” was discovered so the remains where taken to Oxford, where they still rest despite the fact that we have lots of museums in Wales now.
Eventually, I reached the point where the path crosses with the one from the village of Pitton. I came a across the first people I’d seen in maybe an hour maybe longer. They were having a break. They complained that the path down from Pitton was extremely muddy. I overtook them but I was starting to feel tired. I had been walking for about 2 hours no-stop.
I was just over half way through this walk. So I found a place amongst some rocky outcrops to eat my lunch. I watched some crows flying above the cliffs. For once I ate my banana first. I was really hungry. The cheese and pickle sandwiches and the chocolate biscuits all tasted wonderful. The outcrop called the Knave is nearby and I will continue the second part of my long walk to Rhossili next week.
My exhibition of Gower seascapes and scenes from life in Brynmill, Swansea.
There were some last minute discussions about what should be included. A late addition quickly had “D'” hooks and string attached this morning. The bubble wrap was rolled out and the paintings were carefully rolled into several parcels for the very brief car journey to the venue, Brynmill Coffee House, Langland Terrace, Swansea. When we arrived, the paintings were swiftly arranged around the room. One painting was almost left out, but some rearrangement of paintings and the arrival of an extra hook meant everyone made onto the walls. No one was carried back home. Photos were taken of my husband, Seamas, putting up the paintings, the final arrangement of pictures and then me with the paintings.
It’s great to see my work up on some else’s walls. The dark blue on the cafe walls really complements the paintings well. I can reflect on the themes I have followed over the course of the last 6 months. Whether its a determined shopper at the once-monthly Uplands Market, families outside Singleton Park or the waves on Gower beaches, it’s always about colour and light for me. I can see similar tones of blues and greens that I favour; royal blue, and yellow ochres in particular. It’s satisfying to think these paintings “belong” together. I think cafes and restaurants are a great place to exhibit paintings. White-walled galleries can be so intimidating. They really should have lots of sofas for people to sit on too. In a cafe or restaurant, people can take their time to look at the artwork on the walls in a relaxed environment. I hope that my art will bring people pleasure. I hope that by recognising places they know well, like the cafe they are sitting, in an oil painting, it will give them a small thrill. A shock of recognition. I think oil paintings have the power “elevate” quite ordinary things.
So now my exhibition is up and ready to be visited during the month of August. Pop by and enter the draw for the print of Brynmill Coffee House, worth £45, all proceeds will go the Swansea charity supported by Brynmill Coffee House.
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”.
This is another gem in the Gower landscape – the Worm’s Head Lookout Station at Rhossili. I really enjoyed painting this. This stout and sturdy single story building is made of granite and was built over 120 years ago, around 1896. It sits alone at the top of the high cliffs that look out towards Worms Head and beyond to Lundy Island and to the Celtic Sea. The wind-blasted building has an 8m flagstaff and a 6m wind generator. I was inspired to paint this because of the sharp summer shadows and the isolation of the tiny building. It oozes Hopper.
It is set in a very beautiful but dangerous coastline. Between the cliffs and Worm Head is the Causeway, a scramble of rocks and rock pools, which is open for 2.5 hours either side of low tide. The tidal rise here is the second highest in the world. However, it is fatal to attempt to wade or swim to when the causeway is flooded or partially so. The coastline and waters around Gower are lovely to look at and to paint but they need to be treated with great respect. The waters around the Worm can also be dangerous to small craft, fishing boats and surfers.
This is why I am very glad that a team of local volunteers for National Coastwatch look after the interests of visitors and seafarers, alike. Since 2007, from 10am till 4pm in the winter and 10am till 6pm in the summer the lookout is staffed. If at the end of watch the Causeway has not yet flooded and there are members of the public still out on Worm’s Head, the watch is kept open until everyone is safely back on the mainland. So although the Lookout Station looks somewhat bleak and empty, the front door is, in fact, open and there is someone inside looking out for us all!
We have lived on the doorstep of the Gower Peninsula for almost 18 years now. It’s small enough (19 miles in length) to make day trips from Swansea possible. As a landscape artist, it has given me inspiration for many Gower landscape and seascape paintings over the years. Yet, there is always some part I come across that I don’t remember having seen before. It is 70 square miles in area, so that’s a lot of coastline, hills, valleys, woodlands, streams and fields to explore. I have always wanted to walk along the entire length of the coastal path, to see all the “linking sections” that we miss on the day trips. Perhaps, I will do it this summer.
Rhossili is always popular with visitors. It has an incredible view of the 3-mile beach of Rhossili Bay that arcs northward. In the other direction is Worms Head. This curious dragon-like, tidal island snakes off into the sea. I have seen seals on the leeward side of the island. At low-tide, the causeway can be crossed to the island. When we visited the tide was dropping and the causeway was revealing itself minute, by minute. Yet, the surprise for me was the Old Boathouse at Kitchen Corner. Kitchen Corner is a small bay to the right of the path that leads down to the Worm’s Head causeway. The boathouse was built in the 1920s and was up for sale in 2013. Looking at the real estate details, it doesn’t look like the new owners (if it was sold then) have painted the boathouse since! At low tide, the rocks below are exposed. I painted it when the green heaving sea was still at its feet. I love to capture the deep green that you only see with a summer sky. It’s a distinct colour that is often found off the coast of West Wales, in Pembrokeshire in particular. I use a lot of turquoise and royal blue to try and recreate the tone in my oil painting. There were also fishermen on the ledges opposite the boathouse.
I have recently been spending time with my parents in the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire. On a bright sunny Sunday morning I explored some of the winding tracks of a near by village called Chalford and Chalford Hill. Where is that? In the South West-ish of the English Midlands ( see map below). The Parish of […]
I was absolutely delighted to spot Claire Keegan’s “Foster” (and my painting on the cover) at the BBC’s screen of this year’s British Academy Film Awards, known as the BAFTAs. The Irish language film “The Quiet Girl” was nominated for Best Screenplay (Adapted) catagory. The film’s director Colm Bairead wrote the screenplay, adapted Claire Keegan’s beautiful novella. The moving film was also nominated for the Best Film Not in the English Language.
I am very excited to have an article in today’s Irish Independent on Sunday about me and work by Niall McMonagle. Below is my expanded Q & A interview that was much edited to feature in Niall McMonagle’s What Lies Beneath feature . It’s interesting to see that the online version had a different […]
New Work & Recent Sales
Washing Line, Arranmore _Emma Cownie
Inishcoo (To The Fore of Arranmore) – Emma Cownie
Kinnagoe Bay (Inishowen, Dongal)
Over Glenlough Bay, Donegal-Emma Cownie
Still, On Gola (Donegal)
An Port, Donegal_Emma Cownie
House on Ishcoo, Donegal-Emma Cownie
On Rutland Island, Donegal -Emma Cownie
Spring on THree Cliffs Bay, Gower_Emma Cownie
Sun on the Reeds (Glentornan, Donegal)-Emma Cownie
View from the Pier (Portnoo)-Emma Cownie
From Port to Glenlough (Donegal)
Fishing Boat at Port Donegal-Emma Cownie
Portnoo Pier, Donegal_Emma Cownie
Down to Rossbeg Pier, Donegal
Errigal reflection (Donegal) _Emma Cownie
Errigal from Cruit Island. Donegal _ Emma Cownie
Over to Fanad Lighhouse (Donegal) _Emma Cownie
Errigal painting – A Commission 2022
From Arranmore (Donegal)- Emma Cownie
Abanoned (Glentornan, Donegal) -Emma Cownie
Ferry Home (Arranmore, Donegal) by Emma Cownie
Summer Morning on Pobbles Bay
On the Way to Kinnagoe Bay (Drumaweer, Greencastle)
Down to Doagh Strand (Donegal)-Emma Cownie
Lambing Season at Fanad Head
Fanad Lighthouse (Donegal)
Down to the Rusty Nail
Carrickabraghy Castle, Inishowen
Upper Dreen_Emma Cownie
Portmór Beach, Malin Head, Donegal
Down to the Rusty Nail, Inishowen
The Walls of Derry
Painting of Derry City
Derry Walls by Emma Cownie
Shipquay Gate by Emma Cownie
Over to Owey Island (Keadue) Donegal
Lighting the way to Arranmore
Old Stone Cottage in front of Errigal (Donegal
Boat at the Pier, Gola
House on Inishbofin, with distant Seven Sisters (in studio)