Where we live is very important to us. Where we grow up shapes us for the rest of our lives, for good or bad. When I have an anxiety dream its often about moving house. I put this down to the fact that during my childhood we moved many times; Hereford, Newcastle, Whitley Bay and Gloucester. I had been to 9 difference schools by the time I was 11. I carried on moving for my education, first to Cardiff, then to Peckham and Greenwich in London and finally Swansea.
The house where I spent my teenage years in Gloucester no longer exists. It was knocked down several years ago. It was built in 1976 and was gone 30 years later. I find that odd. I have been past the spot where it used to stand and I find its absence unsettling. I think that’s why I love the solid Edwardian terraces of Brynmill, these houses have been here for over a century. The grand mock Tudor houses of the Uplands, built in the inter-war years of the 20th century will last and will, hopefully, last another century.
David Fry bought a painting of mine, “Proud House”, a while back. Imagine my surprise and delight when he contact me to tell me that it had brought back many childhood memories for him and it inspired him to write a poignant poem about it. I thought I’d share it with you.
WHAT I SEE – A Proud House
Join palette with oils tincture and powder to display
The artist draws down with sight and prodigious emotion
As alchemist hails a canvas sharp lined spare skilled too
An affectionate depiction smoothed fine in occult lotion.
What do I see in authentic rendition so germane
A rare gift in practiced thought and summit won
Is this an ethos for other endeavours by artists told?
No…mesmerised true in a story book I am held by this one.
Maybe I glimpsed what was intuition a fable in the making
To bind a time and way to a journeyman’s remembered sight
But mostly I am filled with a bitter sweet regret
From childhood certainty in family life to lonely night.
A house transcends all purpose and design
And paint surpasses in hindsight the record of focussed light
Imbued with lives lived rich and sheltered in wallpaper defined
Something raised above all description a distillation bright.
School friends gone their paths fade in narrow winded days
Histories will reveal life travels worn their purpose long set
Hope boxed my laughter hard with glass at times half full
But the proud house survives still and is well met.
I am taking a break from my Gower walk until mid-June to work as an exam invigilator for the university.
One thing I will say for Swansea Tourism is that they provide excellent free maps of the Gower. You can pick them up at “Information Points” around the city. I invariably have one folded into my pocket or in the front of my rucksack. They are small enough to be folded and stored easily like that. Not like my massive Ordnance Survey Explorer map of Gower. It’s about 20 years old so I don’t like to get it out unless I really have to. I am not very good at folded maps back into their original shape. Even the free map when is essentially a A2 sheet of paper (42 x 60 cm or 16.5 x 23.4 inches) printed on both sides causes me trouble in a good breeze.
I don’t really need my map today as the path follows the sea in a logical manner. The coast path signs appear at all junctions to make it clear which way I should be going. I do need the map to work out where something called the Knave is. The knave is a triangular slab of rock. I had come across a beautiful photograph of the Knave by Paul Edwards and was quite intrigued by it, as I had never come across it before.
I did not get to see the Knave from the same angle as Paul’s photograph on this particular walk.
From the coast path the Knave looks a bit like a dragon beginning to unfurl itself. I say that because there is a much larger dragon ahead, I am looking forward to seeing close up. I don’t have the time or energy to walk down to the Knave beach, today, I will leave that for another time.
I carry on the path towards Rhossili and my attention is drawn to the houses and farms that lie away back from the cliff edge. You can see them from miles away and I wonder what they are like inside, looking out at the sea.
There is lots of wildlife to observe. I can hear a lark’s rising song and I see black crows. Dylan Thomas probably would described them as “bible- black”. I see a robin. I think on every walk I have been on I have seen robins, whether I am in woodland, by a wooded stream, on heath land or on on the clifftops, they really must be very adaptable little birds. I even see a rabbit; his white tail vanishing into the gorse. Apparently rabbits are a vanishing species in the UK, their numbers have fallen by 80-90% in the past 20 years so I am happy to see one out here today. I also see and manage to photograph a solitary tortoiseshell butterfly. Although, it is one of the most widespread butterflies in Britain, it too has suffered a decline in numbers.
It is lambing season and the path is littered with sparkling white-fleeced lambs, twins and singletons sunning themselves along side their mothers. Maybe it’s my imagination but many of them seems to be smiling as they relax in the sun!
The path passes a series of narrow gullies down to the sea, Foxhole and Butterslade, and then the magnificent Thurba Head, a headland with 200 foot sheer cliffs down to the sea.
Mewslade. Here there is a path down to the sea, there is also a long dry stone wall that trails down to the sea. It is in the process of being repaired. I stop to look at the stones and marvel at the craftspeople that know how to arrange the stones to make a sold wall, all without cement.
If you go down to Mewslade, at low tide there is a beautiful sandy beach but at high tide there no beach at all, just rocky cliffs.
Mewslade – tide’s coming in!
At low tide, you can supposedly walk from Mewslade to Fall Bay around the next headland. I think some rock climbing might be involved. When I tried it from the other direction (Fall Bay to Mewslade) I ended up with wet boots (it’s a long story.)
After Mewslade I am getting excited as I can see Tear Point at the far end of Fall Bay. I have walked this part of the path quite recently and although I am getting very tired, I have a sense that I can do this. This long walk will be completed.
Now onto the climax of this long walk; Worm’s Head. As historian Wynford Vaughan Thomas called it “the Land’s End of Gower”. Its still quite a way until I reach the bus stop in Rhossili but I am now powered on by the sight of the Worm (in Old English “Wurm” means dragon).
This curious dragon-like, tidal island snakes off into the sea. I have seen seals on the leeward side of the island. Between the cliffs and the Worm is the causeway, it is visible this afternoon. It is a rocky mess of rocks and rock pools, which is open for 2.5 hours either side of low tide. At low-tide, the causeway can be crossed to the island. It is usually fatal to attempt to wade or swim to from back from the Worm when the causeway is flooded or partially so. Sadly, people have died tried to do so.
It’s one of the jobs of the little Coastwatch station, perched on the headland, to stop people from risking their lives doing this. It’s a stout and sturdy single story building is made of granite. It has been sitting alone at the top of the high cliffs that look out towards Worms Head and beyond to Lundy Island and to the Celtic Sea for well over a century. It’s also looking out for fishing and leisure craft who might experience difficulties off the rocky shoreline. A team of local volunteers look after from the coastwatch station; from 10am till 4pm in the winter and 10am till 6pm in the summer. 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.
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 is often used as a location for fishermen although there was no one here today.
That little white building in the middle of Rhossili Bay is the old rectory. I will come back to it in my next post on my walk across Rhossili Downs.
I had looked at my watch and discovered that it had just gone 2pm. According to the notes on my post-it note there was a bus back to Swansea at 2.32 pm and then at just before to 4pm. I decided I would try and make the first bus.; It would involve a bit of a speedy march and by now I had a ranging thirst and I knew I would need to refill my lone water bottle somewhere. So I put my head down and forced my limbs to move as fast as I could along the long smooth concrete path from the Worm back up to Rhossili. A classic case of just because you can see it, doesn’t mean it close. It’s actually about a mile in distance.
Even as I am steaming along the path, I still have to pause and take a few photos of the incredible view across Rhossili Bay of Llangennith Beach. I pass people on the way, many different foreign languages floating on the breeze; German, Spanish, Chinese, Hindi. Of all the places on the Gower peninsula, this is the one that draws vistiors from all over the world, everyday, even on a day with bad weather. I love the international aspect of the place. It make me feel like I am citizen of the world.
I finally make it up the long path into Rhossili village. I also had time to stop off at the National Trust Conveniences to refill my water bottle. I am relieved to see that there is someone else waiting for the bus too. Always a good sign. An empty bus stop always has me wondering if I have just missed the bus.
It took me four hours to walk from Port Eynon to Rhossili. Was it 6 or 8 miles? It was probably 6 but it felt like 8, will all those ups and downs. I started the walk thinking about a slight twinge in my right knee – latter on I had forgotten that twinge in favour of my aching upper thighs (from going up and down hills), then it was aching calfs and finally whilst sitting on the long bus journey back to Swansea it is my feet that are throbbing.
So what did I learn today?
1. Remember suntan lotion. I should have put on suntan lotion. My right arm is burnt My left arm is fine. I now have a small tube at the bottom of my rucksack.
2 Water. Bring more water. Two bottles. Bringing enough water is more important than bananas, plaster, handbags and so on. I will bring two bottles on my next walk.
3. Finally, “Just because I can see it, doesn’t mean it’s close”. It’s now my walking mantra. However, it can be encouraging to see the end of your journey even if you are not there yet. This can be metaphorical as well are real – I can see the end of this journey now. I am over half way. I have walked over 18 miles out of the 32 or so I will need to do to complete this coast walk. I am buoyed by this feeling.
I have to pause in my journey around the Gower Peninsula because I have exam invigilation work for the next three weeks.
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.
I realise now that my Gower Coastal Walk may have been easier if I waited until summer to do it. It was probably because my 2016 attempt ran into the sand that I have become a bit obsessed with getting it done. I also have work-related commitments in May and June that mean that I won’t be able to go walking during the weeks and I may be too tired to do much at the weekend. So what? Well, cold weather and wind is fine – lots of layers and a padded coat with a hood see to that (see illustrative photo to the right).
The mud’s quite different. It can be quite a hazard. My first walks from Limeslade to Brandy Cove, were reasonably mud-free. From Pwll Du onwards, however, mud becomes a frequent peril. It’s just as tiring as sand to walk through but offers the excitement of the possibility of a) slipping and falling on my backside or b) slipping and twisting my ankle. Thankfully, neither of these actually happened. I have taken many photos of my muddy boots. Here’s a selection.
I don’t know why I never see other walkers with mega muddy boots like mine, maybe there are more nimble. Anyway, more of mud and other hazards later.
I’ll start with a lovely mud-free church. St Illytd’s church, Oxwich, is in the most beautiful setting. The first painting I ever sold was of St Illtyd’s Oxwich. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep a decent photo of that painting. St Illtyd’s nestles in the woods by the sea, just short walk from the village of Oxwich. At high tide you can hear the waves just the other side of the graveyard wall. The vicar used to live an rectory even closer to the sea (see Thomas Rothwell’s painting below) but it’s gone now, unfortunately, destroyed by the encroaching tide.
Rothwell, Thomas; “The Old Rectory, Oxwich” (1790)
The very first religious building was built here in the sixth century. St. Illtyd, a native of Brittany, is meant to have built a small cell here. Illtyd is a very significant figure in Celtic Christianity. He is also known as “Illtud Farchog” in Welsh meaning, “Illtud the Knight”.
You may not have heard of this Celtic saint but he was very active on the Gower peninsula and elsewhere in South Wales. Legend connects him to the legendary King Arthur, claiming that he was the King’s cousin and served him as a young soldier. Even if this is not true, it was not unheard of for knights to get up their fighting life for spiritual conflict and enter a monastery. The village of Ilston not far from Oxwich is named after him as well its church. There is also a church dedicated to Sts. Illtyd and Rhydian in the village of Llanrhidian in North Gower. There are churches and schools which bear his name all over South Wales and in his homeland of Brittany.
Illtyd later left Gower and founded a very important monastic school known as “Cor Tewdws”, in Llanilltud Fawr (Llantwit Major) which is further east along the Glamorgan coast. His school is believed to be Britain’s earliest centre of learning. At its height, it had over 1000 pupils and educated many of the great saints of the age, including Saint David, later patron saint of Wales, Gildas the Historian, and Samson of Dol, founder of a monastery on Caldey Island.
The church you see today, however, is not Illtyd’s construction, although the font inside apparently is. Most of this building was rebuilt in the thirteenth century. What is so interesting about the design of the “new” church is the battlemented tower, which looks more suited to a castle that a church. Almost all the churches in Gower have these fortified towers. Many Gower churches, nine to be precise, were owned by a crusading order called the “Knights Hospitallers” but the design has nothing to do with crusading in foreign lands and everything to do with homeland security.
In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Severn Estuary was riddled with pirates. In the 12th century Viking raiders – based in Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Scottish Isles – still ravaged the Irish Sea coasts. Lundy Island, far out in the Channel but within easy reach of the Gower by sea, was a pirate lair during the first half of the 13th century. Raiding vessels could easily send crews ashore to take animals and even people for ransom or slavery. Oxwich church tower, with its battlemented roof, could be used as a look out and as it was built of stone, it they could be used as temporary refuge against robbers long enough for help to arrive.
Oxwich church, then, has a very ancient history and setting which is not as peaceful as it first seems. Its graveyard is also reputed to be haunted by a supernatural beasts known as a “ceffyl dwr” or water horse. The water horse is a horse-like creature, which was apparently been seen walking on its hind legs, and then vanishing down the well c.1894. The first written account of a sighting appeared in Rev. J.D. Davies’s “History of West Gower” where he tells of his elder brother and father seeing the beast one night, after they had been fishing in the bay. In a letter published in the Swansea Evening Post in May 1963, Mr David Lewis George of Cardiff wrote, “I recent years a similar white form was seen gliding over the graves in Oxwich churchyard around midnight by an elderly person of unquestionable integrity “, thus making at least three witnesses who claim to have seen the ghostly apparition of Oxwich churchyard.
We did not see any horse-like creatures on our walk. Once again, I am accompanied by Biddy and Mitzy our dogs and Seamas, my husband. Once we passed the church we are presented with a very long flight of steps cut into the earth.
Although tiring to climb, these steps are a godsend to walkers. We follow the path through the wood and then climb a lot of steps back down the hill.
Here among the trees are cliffs. They are not obvious. The trees largely hide them but they are a significant height and there are warning signs. I mentally sniggered at the signs when I first saw them as I thought they were over the top. Turns out they are not. The sun then went in.
Although there are fences along the top of most of the wooded cliffs, not all of them are fenced off. We were passing another family on the path and Biddy, our Collie-cross, walked towards what looked like the continuation of the path downhill. It was no such thing. It was a cliff edge. Idon’t know if was my yelling her name at the top of my lungs, or her natural good sense but Biddy, thank God, paused at the edge.
Not all dogs have sense. A friend’s dog was killed when he fell off a cliff in West Wales. Several years ago our dog, Dottie, the wired haired terrier, was killed on the main road near our house in Swansea when she ran away from me. Actually, she was running towards the beach. She had bolted out of the park, disregarding my calls. I tried running after her but she was too quick, I could not catch her and there was no gate on the entrance. She never got to the beach. There was a busy main road was in the way. The incident broke my heart and cast a long shadow. It is still a very painful subject for us.
So, we peered over the edge and thanked God that Biddy had stopped in time. If she had gone over the edge she would have probably been killed. I have watched her behaviour on walks since, and realise now that she probably paused from natural caution. Dottie was never cautious. So with that near miss playing on my mind and later on that night, I kept replaying that moment when I was shouting at her to stop in my head, we carried on along the path.
The path is very muddy. The colour reminds me of chocolate. It is very slippy. This is the sort of place that I worry I will twist my ankle. I don’t; I just get very muddy boots. For a lot of the path it is so thickly wooded the sea is hardly visible. Occasionally there are gaps in the trees and if you were feeling agile and adventurous you could climb down to the rocks by the sea.
Eventually, after a long slippy walk, we leave the trees behind and we have a clear view of Three Cliffs across the bay.
We can also see Devon across the Bristol channel. The headland is rocky. Very rocky.
I read the warning sign with some trepidation. They seem fair warnings. I did see an adder one summer years ago at the top of Tor Bay. He was crossing the path. I just stood back and let him go on his way. He was not interested in us.
Historically, the main hazard around here was to shipping. If you look at the Thomas Rothwell’s 1790 painting of the old rectory again, you can see how rocky Oxwich Bay is along the east side. The headland is even rockier. It not surprising, then, that the coast of Gower has seen something like 250 shipwrecks. Maybe this is due to the high tidal range in the Bristol Channel. More likely it was due to a rocky shoreline and poor weather. Oxwich Bay and Oxwich Point witnessed the floundering and wrecking of something like 15 ships in just under 50 years from 1822-1866. Wreckage from ships that had sunk further along the coast would also be washed upon the sands of the bay.
The path above the headland is relatively easy to walk along here. It is flat and dry.
We stopped for jam sandwiches and biscuits, looking out towards the one-time-home of pirates, Lundy Island. It’s a slither of blue on the horizon.
The sun is long gone and the sky is covered in clouds. There’s a cold wind. I now regret not bringing my woolly hat but take some satisfaction in the fact that I have my warm padded jacket on. Craggy rocks loom above the path to Horton.
The path to Horton is long but reasonably straight forward.
There are a couple of detours around fields. These detours look like they have been here for years.
The final detour involves a long steep climb up a valley called Slade, just by a sandy slither of beach.
By the time we reach Horton the tide is retreating. My parents tell me we came on a family holiday to Horton when I was two years old. I don’t remember it. It must have been a happy holiday because my younger brother came into the world nine months later!
Horton is separated from Port Eynon by a short stretch of sand dunes. Although they are so close they are two very distinct communities. Horton, I suspect is slightly posher than Port Eynon. At its heart are some grand Victorian villas. There are also a series of very beautiful exclusive houses with long zig-zagging steps down to beach. That said a large detached house in Port Eynon can cost as much as £800,000 – £1.1 million (or US $1m -S1.5m). Not exactly cheap.
Yet, it’s all a bit of façade because behind both Horton and Oxwich are a number of vast large parks, full of static caravans. These static caravans cost upwards of £35,995 to buy and you pay site fees of £2-3000 each year on top of that. (that’s about US $50,000 and annual fees of US $3000-4000). These are a bit like American trailer parks but you are not allowed to live in them all year around, they usually close for 4 months over the winter.
The sun is shinning for my next walk from Port Eynon and get up the courage to get on the bus again and even make a connection.
In my last blog I quoted Welsh Historian and writer Wynford Vaughn Thomas, who called the Gower Peninsula “a secret people hug to themselves”. Brandy Cove may well be the secret that the people of Bishopston “hug to themselves” because it’s a short walk down a lane from the village for them, but the secluded Pwll Du Bay is much bigger secret as it is only accessible to the public on foot, horseback or bike. Yet, its just along the coast from Brandy Cove.
There are two coastal paths you can take here, the one that hugs the coast gets quite difficult in places (so bad you have to use all fours to get up one bit I seem to remember) so I took the path that trails further inland and higher, hoping it would be less arduous.
I checked on my map to make sure that this was a legitimate path, this time. Yes, there are two paths.
I have to retrace my steps back up the path back towards Bishopston and then take the path through a field and up into some woods.
There is no sea in sight but I trust the map (and I have walkers going up this path so must led somewhere good).
Once I cross the field and enter woodland, the lands rises but fortunately there are a series of steps cut into the earth. These steps are a godsend as well used paths easily become quagmires, even in what seem to be relatively dry conditions (as is the case with the woodland path around Oxwich Head) .
The step are like a my very own Gower-workout. I have to pause three quarters of the way up, I pretend to myself its to check the view, but really it’s to catch my breath. At the top there is a wooden stile with a helpful yellow arrow signposting the fact that this is a an official path although not the coastal path. As I come out of the woods and onto the top of headland and I am rewarded with a fantastic view of Brandy Cove and Caswell to the east of me and Pwll Du Cove to the west.
I think about stopping to eat a jam sandwich and a chocolate biscuit but it’s starting to cloud over a bit so I decide to press on to Pwll Du in the hope that it will still be sunny when I get there. Once I cross another stile the path becomes wide enough for 4×4 vehicles. This track is not open to the public.
Once upon a time this track was a lot busier as this was part of the only route between South Gower and Swansea. As I round the corner, Pwll Du Bay comes into sight.
Pwll Du, means “Black Pool” in English. I have puzzled over how to convey how the name it sounds (as I am not a Welsh speaker), you can either go to google translate and type in “Pwll Du” and then click on the little speaker icon or accept my shoddy anglo-approximation of “Poulff-Dee” which does not really do justice to the breathy Welsh pronunciation. I’d welcome other people’s suggestions. I sit down by the river in the sun to eat my “elevenses” which consisted of two jam sandwiches and two chocolate biscuits. The healthy banana was left for later.
Anyway, Pwll Du is a bit of a puzzle. Here’s what looks like a little Brigadoon in the the middle of nowhere that is very difficult to get to. In Pwll Du. There are three houses, and as you walk into the Bay, you pass another house on the right that has been abandoned.
Part of the answer is in the seclusion of the place. Like Brandy cove, this was a good place for smugglers to bring ashore wines, spirits and tobacco. This carried on in the 17th and 18th century until Prime Minister William the Younger slashed the sky high duties on tea, wine, spirits and tobacco and taxed things like bricks and tiles but also things that rich people liked such as gold and silver plate, men’s hats, ladies’ ribbons, perfumes, hair powder, horses and carriages, sporting licences and most famously, light, or rather windows. If you have ever wondered why the Georgians like to brick up window, it was a form a tax avoidance! The other part of the reason why a tiny community grew up here was lies in the the rocks; The limestone.
Pwll Du Bay was ideal, it was made of limestone and had easy access by sea. Limestone was quarried here on a massive scale and up top 30 ships could be moored in the bay at any one time. These thirsty visitors were enough to sustain at least two public houses, “The Ship” and “The Beaufort”. There are suggestions that there may have been as many a 5 pubs in the valley! The abandoned house I passed may have been either ‘The Bull’ or ‘The Star’ and a pub called the ‘New Inn’ apparently lay some way up the valley on the Swansea side of the river . The two pubs on the beach were later converted into tea rooms but are now both private houses. The Ship Cottage can be rented as a holiday cottage.
Pwwl Du’s seclusion also meant that during the Second World War some of the several German submarines that secretly sailed up the Bristol Channel used to surface, under the cover of night, to collect fresh water from Pwll Du. Apparently, but no one actually saw them doing this so it may just be a good story.
Pwll Du Bay is a sand beach smothered in pebbles and is a popular destination for local secondary schools’ Geography field trips. There were two schools here when I visited.
The river that snakes its way down the wooded Bishopston valley seems to be get swallowed up by the pebbles. This is quite odd. I think that this might be what the geography students might be studying. There is a tiny footbridge that crosses the river before it vanishes under the pebbles. I love the wrought iron flourishes that make me wonder if they used to be someone’s garden gate in a former life.
Once I had crossed the little bridge I climbed up another steep path with those Gower-steps cut into the earth.
At the top of the path is a holiday cottage – there is a choice here either carry on the road for a slightly shorter walk or follow the coastal in a large loop around the top of Pwll Du Head, called High Pennard. This used to be an iron age fort and is one of the highest headlands on the Gower. Here the Gower-steps are surrounded by delightful posies of primroses.
The view is well worth stopping for. To the east is Pwll Du Bay (below left) and to the east looks towards Pennard Cliff and Cefn Bryn, which is the name of that russet sandstone ridge off in the distance (below right). Just below you, looking towards Pwll Du, is a cliff known as Graves End. Its called that because its near where a ship called ‘The Caesar’ was wrecked in 1760. Its a very sad story because many of those on board who drowned had not chosen to become sailors but had become “press-ganged” . In other words, they were kidnapped by the navy and forced the serve on the ship. We know that some men from Port Eynon were recruited in this way and “press-ganging” was an occupational hazzard for all young men who lived and worked near the coast. Tragically, when “The Caesar” sank , many of the press-gang men were locked below deck and so died when the ship hit the rocks. They were buried in a mass grave at Graves End.
If you follow the road, you pass this cottage with old fishing nets and buoys in the garden.
On the otherside of High Pennard is Deep Slade, or Hunts Bay. This is a bay I hadn’t visited before this coastal venture. Day trippers are discouraged from driving up this way by “Private Road” signs. Apparently, it was once a sandy beach, but the sand has pretty much gone, leaving a very rocky cove. The loss of sand has been blamed on sand dredging in the Bristol Channel.
It was at this stage in my walk I decided I needed to answer the call of nature. There seemed to absolutely no one around. So leaving my rucksack by the road I clambered over a five-bar gate and got behind a suitable hedge. Of course, it was at this moment I hear the clip clopping of a horse and after a few moment a rider (female, thankfully) comes by. She can see my bag and she’s craning her neck to see what I am doing. Drat. I feel very silly. After a moment’s pause I wave to her and shout out to her that I am answering the call of nature (those were not my actual words but you get the idea). This seems to satisfy her and thankfully, she moves on. I wait awhile before I clamber back over the gate. Fortunately, she’s long gone by then!
It’s a ten minute walk to Pennard Cliffs and the bus but I’ll describe this part of the Gower Coast in my next post.
After my adventures on my first walk along (or rather off) the coastal path from Limeslade to Caswell, I was left with legs that were covered with scratches from the sleeping-beauty-brambles that smothered the path I was stupidly trying follow. I didn’t discover these until later on that day when I was in the bath. I looked down at my legs and marveled at all the scratches that I didn’t realise were there. I had walked just under 3 miles but I was very tired and very stiff the next day. My toes hurt, my legs were stiff and my back ached from carrying my rucksack. The going up and down hills is more arduous that you’d think.
It took a weekend’s rest and a sunny forecast to tempt me out again. It was the spring Equinox. The day when light and dark are balanced before the days lengthen into spring. I got up earlier this time and caught the 9.20am 2C bus on Oystermouth Road to Caswell. The same bus driver from my first bus trip to Limeslade was driving this bus.
Unlike the bus to Limeslade that snaked all around the houses Langland before it reached its destination, the bus to Caswell is pretty direct, travelling through the villages of Mumbles and up a hill into Newton then before the long descent of Caswell Road, past the Summercliffe Chalet park with its very expensive chalets (£150K to buy one, if you are asking). There are some very different chalets nearby, tucked away in the woods and easily missed. These chalet fields are Holtsfield and Owensfield. They started as holiday huts but became permanent homes after families were bombed out of their homes during the second World War.
At the bottom of the hill is the beach. Caswell is a very popular beach with locals and tourists alike. In the summer the car park fills up and if you leave too late in the day, they close the car park and you just cannot get in!
When I arrived at Caswell the tide has just turned. High tides make a big difference to how much beach there is here and all along the Gower coast. This is because the Bristol Channel has the second-highest tidal range in the world. The low tides expose vast stretches of golden sands while the high tides flood the bays create cozy bays of sheltered water. When the tide is out there is more than enough beach for everyone.
This morning, however, the high water meant that Caswell Bay was cut into two small bays.
So why are there two bays at Caswell? Apparently it because there are two neighbouring faults, one along Caswell Valley (beneath the car park) and another directly under that ugly block of apartments behind the western arm of the Bay. At the foot of the western cliff (called Redley Cliff) runs a small brook, which starts at nearby spring. In the past water from this stream was stored in a massive concrete cistern and supplied to the houses of the bay by gravity-feed from a wind-pump situated on the top of the cliff. You can just about make out the windmill on the top left hand-side of the old postcard below.
We have a wonderful insight into what Caswell used to look like in the mid-19th century, thanks to photography pioneer, John Dillwyn Llewelyn. John was what you might call a Victorian playboy scientist. He was very rich did not have a “proper job”. His father Lewis Weston Dillwyn managed the family-owned Cambrian Pottery in Swansea. This meant he was in the very lucky position of being able to pursue his interests in science, botany and astronomy full-time. John’s wife, Emma, was the cousin of pioneer photographer William Henry Fox Talbot and this clearly inspired John to take up this new science. John actually became a one of the most important amateur photographers in the 1850s and he took photographs of the holiday home, Caswell Cottage, he built at Caswell.
He was also an inventor of new techniques. One of his innovations was a camera shutter that allowed him to capture the movement of waves at Caswell at approximately 1/25th of a second.
These photographs of an unspoilt Caswell make me sad because in the 1960s the local planning authority decided that this beautiful bay would be “improved” by the knocking down Caswell Cottage to make a car park and also knocking down Redcliffe House (once home to the family of Dylan Thomas’s poet friend Vernon Watkins) to build the brutalist-style Redcliffe apartment block. As my husband says, “I like 60s’ architecture, but it’s like an office block has been randomly dropped into the countryside”. This makes painting nice paintings of the bay difficult because the 1960s block, in my opinion, is not very pretty. It might be great to live in, with lovely views, but its not great to look at, or paint.
Still, at least we are still left with the handsome Bay House. Three sisters Emma, Agnes and Alice Morgan built and lived in this house in 1877. The sisters also planted many of the bay’s distinctive pine trees.
If you look closely at the photo to the right you may well be able to spot a helicopter. This house is currently owned by the flamboyant boss of the Welsh supermarket chain “CK’s” who is a keen helicopter pilot. He’s got into trouble a few years ago when he flew his helicopter into Heathrow airspace and caused a security alert. In Chris Kiley’s defense he was late for lunch at a nearby country house, and although he’d been given directions he didn’t have coordinates! Its seems that he’s gone off living Caswell because the house is up for sale for £2.5 million (that’s around $3.5 million dollars).
Today, the tide was in, so I had to walk along the road, to find the coastal path. Usually I’d walk across the beach and climb up the cliff path, which is what I did in 2016 (see photos below).
I decided to take the higher path and this time I was determined to follow the map. I find it hard to follow instructions, I don’t know whether its my sense of curiosity, laziness or plain stupidity that makes me think I know a better way. Mind you, looking at my Pathfinder Guide, I realise why I find it so difficult. Although the maps are useful, the rest of the page is pretty much solid text, no gaps, bullet points, paragraphs, so its difficult to follow. No wonder I just look at the maps!
Not today. My coastal path map (picked up for free from one of those information points in Swansea) has no instructions just a big map on both sides of the page. That suits me just fine. The map tells me that the path joins the road further up the hill so I start walking. This road, however, does not have a pavement for pedestrians for much of its length so I have to keep stepping back onto a narrow grass verge when cars pass by.
Eventually, towards the top of the road I find the path and follow it although it did not feel very “coastal”. In fact the path takes a short cut across Redley Cliff and down a long flight of steps cut into the earth to Brandy Cove. I love going down steps like these.
The woods on the way from Bishopston to Brandy Cove inspired an early painting of mine; Brandy Cove Stile (see below).
Writer Wynford Vaughn Thomas called the Gower Peninsula “a secret people hug to themselves”. Brandy Cove is bit of a secret places in Gower because you can only get here on foot. You can walk down narrow lanes and paths from Bishopston village or via the coastal path. It is a little cove that is made of mostly pebbles and rocks at high tide but at low tide looks very different as golden sands stretch out into the Bristol Channel. Its a lovely place to swim in the summer and usually deserted.
I had read somewhere that it used to be known as Hareslade. All the locals call it Brandy Cove, however, thanks to the pirates/smugglers who used to maraud the length of the Bristol Channel and unload their illegal tobacco and alcohol goods here during the eighteenth century. Think Ross Polark with a Welsh accent and you’d be about right.
In the 19th century Brandy Cove was later home to a silver and lead mine, although mining had probably taken place in this area in Roman times.
One of the mine shafts was put to a much darker used in the early part of the 20th century when the dismembered body of Mamie Stuart were dumped by her murderer. Mamie, from Sunderland in the industrial North East of England, was dubbed a “chorus girl” by the local press. She had been used to a life on the stage but she’d given that that up and married Cardiff-born George Shotton in 1918 and moved to Swansea. The marriage was mistake. It was a very unhappy one and Mamie wrote to her parents complaining that her new husband beat her. After these complaints they heard no more from her. She vanished.
Her suitcase turned up in a Swansea hotel. Despite a national serach, she was never heard of again. It turned out that there was already a Mrs Shotton who was living in Cardiff with a daughter. George did 18 months’ “hard labour” in prison for bigamy, but the cad got away with murder because by the time her remains were discovered in Brandy Cove in 1961, he had been dead three years. Poor Mamie.
In my next post I carry on and visit one of Gower “hidden” villages and visit a Gower bay that many people have never heard of.
I love looking at maps. I have been gazing at the map of coastal path around Gower for days now. The Peninsula juts out westwards into the Bristol Chanel. Its about 17 miles in length and 8 miles width at its widest point. I am planning to walk around its coastline, approximately 38 miles in length, maybe a bit less.
I am, however, going to start with a map of Swansea Bay. People who have never been to Swansea make jokes about the place as if its somewhere to avoid. Quite the opposite. The hilly city sits alongside the sparkling sea and beautiful sandy five-mile beach.
I have decided to illustrate this series of post with my paintings and with (mostly) my own photographs. The paintings have been completed in recent years, some as a result of this trek, other are older. The photos are mostly from 2018 but a few are from my 2016 attempt to walk the Gower coast. I started my first attempt at Mumbles in 2016.
The pretty Victorian village of Mumbles sits at the far end of the western arm of Swansea Bay. This is where my journey around the Gower coast begins.
Mumbles was originally a fishing village. It did not catch fish but rather, oysters. It was, for a time, a thriving industry. Part of Mumbles is known as Oystermouth and many people often use the two names interchangeably to mean the same place.
Many people often associate South Wales with coal mining, and coal was certainly vital in locating the copper industry in nearby Swansea. It was the need for limestone, however, that changed Mumbles’ fortunes. Limestone was used as a fertilizer, in steel making, pharmaceuticals, and also as a construction aggregate (in other words, gravel).
Mumbles was made of limestone and that fact brought the modern world to the front door of this tiny fishing village in 1804 when the Oystermouth railway line was built in order to transport limestone from the quarries of Mumbles to Swansea Docks. This track was the world first passenger line, the Swansea and Mumbles Railway, carrying at first horse-drawn carriages, and later steam locomotives.
The trains also brought many day trippers for a time. The railway is now long gone, closed in 1960, but there remains a sturdy promenade that runs along the sea front where the trains used to run. Locals and visitors alike still love to walk its length and admire the spectacular view across the sweep of Swansea Bay.
The promenade runs up to Verdis, a popular ice-cream parlour and thence to the Mumbles Pier. The Victorian pier was built in the last years of the 19th century and was the last stop for the Railway. Here tourists could catch a paddle steamers for a tour along the River Severn and Bristol Channel. The Pier hosts a great cafe (with self-playing piano), an amusement arcade and tiny art gallery.
On the other side of Mumbles Head is Bracelet Bay. Mumbles Head comprises two tidal islands. At low tide those with stout boots can walk out to the islands and look at the much-photographed lighthouse.
The octagonal lighthouse lighthouse was built in 1794 by Swansea architect William Jernegan, who also designed Singleton Abbey which later became part of Swansea University. This was the second attempt to built a lighthouse here. The first one started a few years earlier, designed by someone else, collapsed before it was even finished!
This is where the real Gower coast walk begins! In my next post I puzzle over myriad bus timetables and eventually feel brave enough to leave the car behind!
In the meantime here’s a cool video of a drone flying around Mumbles Head.
I am delighted to have been featured in April’s edition of Welsh Coastal Magazine as part of their ongoing series “Inspirations” on contemporary artists in Wales. I have included some images but you can read the online version here.
If you would like to buy prints from artmajeur.com click here.
One result of developing PTSD over 5 years ago is that for a long time I had limited energy. I honestly cannot tell whether my energy levels have returned to “normal” levels yet, or ever will. I find that it takes me a couple of days to recover from social events (and no, it’s not a hang-over as I don’t drink alcohol) or from traveling/visiting family or another town. Maybe, everyone my age is like, I don’t know.
I used to have ambitions or even a sort of “bucket list” of things I wanted to get round to doing, some time. I don’t much care for the term “bucket list”. If you haven’t heard about the term “bucket list”, it is a list of all the goals you want to achieve, dreams you want to fulfill and life experiences you desire to experience before you die. Here was mine.
Learn to surf
Learn to Meditate
Walk the coastline of Gower
Run a marathon
Walk the pilgrimage route to Santiago del Compostela
I did learn to surf and I was very keen for a while, but I was never terribly good at it. I also once went on a 10-day meditation course. There was no talking for 10 days. Strangely, that was the easy part. I was running 20-25 miles on a weekly basis when my life took a swift left turn and everything ground to a halt in 2012. I am still active but I don’t run very far at all these days. I know I won’t be able to run a marathon unless I gave up everything else and just trained, ate and slept. There would be no energy left over for painting and making a living, so that’s out of the window. I cant afford to travel, not at the moment so it’s going to have to be number 3.Walk the coastline of Gower.
I have a curiosity about exploring the whole coastline of Gower. I know and love certain parts of it very well, such as Three Cliffs Bay. As a painter of the Gower peninsula there are parts that I have visited and painted many times. However, there are also parts I have not visited for years, and a few places I have never visited. I did plan and start to walk the Gower coast in 2016, but it all came to a halt as I tried to cope with the repercussions of being made redundant from my teaching post where I had worked since 1999.
So start again. Here are my rules
Travel in a clockwise direction around the Gower coast
Travel by public transport and by foot.
Walk on sunny days.
Erm, that’s it.
I will document the walk with photos, sketches, and paintings. However, I am nervous about this. The big challenge for me will be in terms of my energy levels. The whole coastline is something like 38 miles long and I know I will have to divide that up into many short walks that will be very tiring for me. I will probably need a week to recover in between walks. I am nervous that I won’t have the determination to finish this, or something will happen to put me off, such as in 2016 when I got part way through in 2016 and gave up. I hate not finishing things.
It will also be challenging for me mentally. When I was younger, I did many brave things on my own. I traveled around the UK and spoke at Academic conferences, I even traveled to Texas very soon after I passed my driving test and drove a hire car. The PTSD has had the result of reducing my life and what I do, either because I get tired or because I am fearful. PTSD means that my brain goes into anxiety mode very easily. My head will worry about the coming back before I have even left the house. I will convince myself that none of the buses will arrive and I will be stranded in the wilds of the Gower and have to sleep under a bush. Yes, it all sounds stupid when I type it, but that’s the sort of thing that keeps me awake at 3am in the morning.
So I will have to prepare well, take a load of bus timetables and set off early and challenge the fear. A few weeks ago I panicked and jumped into the sea, thinking I was about to get washed off some rocks. Bizarrely, the evidence has given me confidence. The boots and I survived. It was uncomfortable but the boots dried out on my radiator. So I will make a start this week, even if it takes months to complete the challenge.
Before I visited Tenby, on the Pembroke coast, I had this vague idea that it was something like Barry Island, on the Glamorgan coast near Cardiff. If you have never heard of Barry Island, it was a Victorian holiday destination for day trippers from Cardiff and the South Wales Valleys. It had a “Pleasure Park” with rides and lots of shops selling rock and candy floss and it also had a Butlins holiday camp but the rides and the holiday camp are long gone now. It has a nice beach but its not as popular as it used to be.
Well, Tenby is nothing like that. It’s tasteful, historic, and enduringly popular. I love Tenby’s real name. That is it’s Welsh name which is “Dinbych-y-pysgod” meaning fortlet of the fish. It still describes the old town well as as it’s solid town walls still survive as well as its harbour. Its a delightful place to visit with pretty Georgian houses and two large beaches.
Tenby has a special place in my heart because in the midst of my PTSD breakdown and recovery I painted a picture of Tenby harbour.
I was very emotionally fragile at the time and I really I enjoyed painting the pastel colours of the harbour buildings. I get a lot of pleasure from colour. Other people got pleasure from it too because it was one of the very first paintings I sold as a semi-professional artist. The collector who bought it later told me that she was going to redecorate her lounge to match the painting! I was so touched by this. I had so little confidence at the time that it meant a great deal to me. I also sold many prints this painting. As you can see I did many paintings of Tenby Harbour but I eventually moved on to other subject matters and different challenges. I particularly focused on people portraits closer to home in Swansea and paintings of Gower peninsula, closer to home.
So last month, I decided that Tenby was overdue a visit. I had been watching the weather forecast for weeks. Eventually the forecast was for a day of wall-to-wall sunshine. The only problem was that it was very cold with a bitter wind. Never mind. I wrapped up well with thermals and two pairs of socks and got up early to catch the 7.50 train from Swansea to Tenby, arriving at 9.30.
I had set off early because I like to catch the morning light with its long shadows. I also wanted to see the harbour at high tide with the boats in the harbour. The only problem was that as soon as arrived at the harbour I could see the the sun was in the “wrong place” and most of the boats had been pulled ashore and covered up! The previous times I had visited Tenby was in the summer, later on in the day.
So, I had to wait. So did. I waited in the way I usually do, by moving. I walked and walked. In the end I walked around Tenby for 6 hours, taking photos of the shadows and the people. Despite it being mid winter it was the school mid term break in England (not in wales) and Tenby was full of families, wrapped up, despite the biting wind, and enjoying the sunshine.
I had chips for lunch watched by three beady-eyed seagulls and a chocolate ice-cream. I had to think about that as it was so cold but in the end I gave in had one – it was delicious. I had intended to catch the 1.40 pm train back to Swansea but i could see that the light was changing and I knew that it was low tide at 4pm so I tried and waited some more. I walked up the habour walked and climbed half way down the steps to take photos of the four or so boats that were in the harbour. It was strange waiting for the tide and light because they eventually changed faster than I thought they would. All of a sudden the tide had retreated far enough for me to walk out into the harbour and take photos of the reflections. Bingo. This was what I was after.
And then, almost miraculously the tide revealed the sandbanks on the far side of the harbour, by the end of the harbour wall and I could gingerly climb down some seaweed-covered steps and see the harbour in it’s full glory. I don’t think I took off my fingerless gloves once in Tenby, and I did appreciate the heating on the little train back home. I just made the 4.40 pm train back to Swansea and get home in daylight.
My day in Tenby was all about patience and waiting for things beyond my control. Looking at this, my most recent painting of Tenby harbour I can see how much my work has changed, and hopefully how much I have recovered from those incredibly difficult times back in 2012-13. The painting is much larger and calmer and more confident than any of those I painted before. Large paintings, almost by definition require confidence. The winter tones are less vivid than the summer ones, despite the bright winter sunshine. I will be back for the summer light.
Our visit to the island of Inishbofin last month was one of those rare “perfect” days in life. The weather was warm and sunny with enough of a sea breeze to blow away any viruses. We have been looking and admiring from afar the tiny, remote island of Inishbofin, off the coast of Donegal, for […]
Someone told me that once we got to Ireland, “it will be like being on holiday everyday!” Hmmm, I have had some pretty eventful holidays in the past. Funny how the disasters are more memorable that the sunny easy holidays. Let me see. Here are three that come to mind; we once got flooded in […]
Bloody Foreland is one of my favourite locations in Donegal. It is one of the wildest, windiest and most beautiful places I have been. The light is sharp and clear. You feel healthier for breathing the air here. The wind is always blowing. It is very remote and feels a bit like the edge of […]
New Work & Recent Sales
Up Bloody Foreland, Donegal
Quay Street, Dungloe (Ireland)
On the Road to Maghera, donegal
The Yellow House, Bunaninver
Not a Cloud in the Sky (Bloody Foreland, Donegal)
View From Dunmore Strand (Work in Progress)
Winding Road, Bunaninver
The Old Shed at Marameelan, Donegal
On the Way to Arphort, Arranmore (Donegal, Ireland)
The Old House at Marameelan
Down to Magheraroarty, Donegal
On the Back Road to Dungloe, Donegal
Approaching Storm on Dunlewy
Three Chimneys Arch, Gower
Main Drag, Gola (Donegal, Ireland)
Up Through Gola, Ireland
Electricity Lines, Marameelan (Donegal)
The Pyramid, Three Cliffs Bay, Gower
Tidies Out, Tullyillion (Ireland)
With a Road Running Through It
Spring Tide, Three Cliffs Bay
The Incoming Tide at Great Tor, Gower
Lanmadoc, North Gower
Ship Cottage Pwll Du (Gower)
Across to Three Cliffs, Gower
Time Was, Gola (Donegal, Ireland)
Sally’s Loch (Donegal, Ireland)
Early Morning Shadows at Low Tide, Three Cliffs (Gower)
Down from Knockfola, Donegal
Down to the Pier, Gola (Donegal, Ireland)
Soft Light, Gola (Donegal, Ireland)
The Polite Houses of Maghery_Emma Cownie
Backlane Basketball (Swansea)
Back Lane, St Thomas (Swansea)(2021)
Side View, Brynmill (Swansea)
Meemacladdy, Donegal, Ireland
The Dusty Road (Gola), Donegal, Ireland
The Traditional House, (Gola)
Tormore Island from Rosbeg, Donegal
Autumn on Poolawaddy (Donegal, Ireland)
Tenby Quay, wales
Out of the Tenby Shadows
Donegal Thatched Cottage (Cruit Island)
Home Farm Penrice
The Day’s End, Ireland
Arranmore Donkey, Ireland
Jimmy’s House (The Rosses, Donegal)
Illion, Arranmore (Private Collection)
Above Aphort (Arranmore, Donegal)_Emma Cownie
Underhill Cottage (Oxwich, Gower)
The White Bridge, Arranmore, Ireland
The Approaching Storm (On Dunlewy Lough), Ireland – In my attic studio