I have been asked to be a curator for Artfinder.com. This means I will put together an art collection for the online gallery http://www.artfinder.com. I am very excited and honoured by this chance. I have been represented by Artfinder since 2013 and I have sold 599 works through them. The site has grown and grown over the years and now represents over 10,000 artists.
It’s not the biggest site out there but for several years its been the best one for independent artists. I’ll explain why.
Each artist is given a lot of control over their own page or “store front”. You can directly upload photos of your paintings to the site without waiting for an administrator to approve it. You can also directly contact collectors through their messaging system, rather than through the administrator. This makes customer care a whole lot easier.
There are many very talented artists on the site but the increase in the sheer number of artists has made it more and more difficult to be “seen”. So being a curator for the day is my chance to bring attention to the many excellent and talented artists on the site.
As a teenager I used to fantasizing about having the chance to do a supermarket sweep. I used to think about where I would direct my trolley and what to sweep into the trolley in less than three minutes. Funny, how that has no appeal to me these days although, I do like to get in and out of the supermarket in a short amount of time as possible! Twenty minutes, in and out and I am happy.
This is going to take a bit longer than that!
So I have my chance to “sweep” about 150 artworks into my basket or collection. I am very excited by this. Over the years I have book marked and pinned artworks that have caught my eye and here’s my chance to show them off to the world. I try not to think too much about it. There are some artists who spring to mind immediately like Jane Kell and Andrew Reid Wildman, whom I know I want to have in the collection and others I have to look in my bookmarked collection to remind myself of their names, and a few who present themselves to me as I look through the new art on the site.
I have largely gone with works that highlight colour and light such as Snehal Page’s vivid oil portraits and Sri Rao’s colorful landscapes.
There many artists’ who skill with the paint brush has me in awe especially people like James Earley and Abi Whitlock.
One hundred and fifty painting may seem like a lot but it isn’t. I want to include as many artists as I can with out the collection becoming too “bity”. So some artists get as many as 4 paintings but other only one. I am hoping that the choices I have made will tempt collectors to click on their names and take note and “follow” them or even better buy their work/s. I believe that art is about a conversation between the artists and the viewer.
I say conversation, but I believe that good art provokes an emotional reaction in the viewer; whether it is joy at the remembrance of a summer’s day at the seaside, or empathy with the humanity in another’s face or posture.
As viewers we invest a lot of energy in choosing our favourites, we follow their progress and want them to do well. I am only the 5th artist (I think) who has been asked to put together a collection but I am hoping this a successful collection and other artists are asked to do the same thing.
If you wish to view the whole collection, you can see it here
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.
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.
I am shattered. My legs are so stiff, I can hardly walk up and down stairs. I have been this way for days. My problem is that I can do activities, running, yoga, walking but often “pay for it”afterward. I don’t really understand how much this is to do with life post-PTSD, if at all because you never fully recover from PTSD, but you learn to manage with what you have. Maybe it’s middle age. Maybe I do too much or just can’t tell when I am doing too much. I am pig-headed. When I see a sunny forecast I am looking at maps and bus timetables and planning my next walk.
OK. A word about bus timetables. The ones for Gower are very confusing. The ones for the Swansea (including Limeslade, Caswell and Pennard Cliffs) are great. I understood them. The buses ran frequently. Once you get past Pennard Cliffs and change bus companies, however, the timetable becomes impenetrable. I have spent hours looking at the little rows of numbers and columns of place names trying work out how they connect or don’t. I have woken up in the night worrying how I am going to complete this coastal walk.
It seems that I can get to several of the places I want to go in the morning OK; Oxwich, Rhossili, Llangennith (if I can get to the bus stop at 7.40am). It’s the coming back that’s a much dodgier affair. There seems to be one bus in the late afternoon. Maybe. If I have downloaded the correct timetable from the internet as there often seem to be several versions and I am not sure when one is the one the bus drivers will be using (see my earlier blog for my rant about lack of tourist or bus information.in Swansea). Part of the problem is that I am trying to get to places outside the main tourist season June-August when there are slightly more buses running. Maybe this wouldn’t matter if I knew that I could walk 20 miles in a day, or 11 miles, but so far I have only done 3 or 4 miles and found them pretty tiring.
So this is a long-winded way of saying that I have broken my rules. Just to remind you. They are:-
1. Travel in a clockwise direction around the Gower coast
2. Travel by public transport and by foot.
3. Walk on sunny days.
So Rule No. 2. I’ll fess up. For some parts of the coastal walk, I got in my car and drove to the places that I was struggling to figure out the public transport links for. That was until Ceri from woman walking blog recommended traveline.com to me.
Rule 1. Clockwise direction? Not always. This particular walk was done in two parts. The first from Tor Bay in a westerly direction (with both human and canine company) on a breezy, sunny day but the second part was done from Oxwich (alone) in an easterly and thus anti-clockwise direction (and looped back to my car). It wasn’t very sunny. So I broke all the rules on that day. It didn’t feel good but nevermind. I’m just doing it badly. It’s a coping strategy. I came across it recently. The thinking goes, if you are paralyzed by anxiety and a fear of failure: “Just Do It, Badly.”Once the summer bus timetable is action, perhaps I’ll be a perfectionist and do it “properly”. We’ll see.
I’ll pick up from last week’s blog about Three Cliffs Bay. The climb up from western side of Three Cliffs Bay itself is pretty tiring as its very sandy but the view at the top is worth every bit of the struggle.
At the top is an Iron Age fort. The Iron Age was a very long time ago – about 2,500 years. It has a fantastic view of Three Cliffs Bay (the ramparts are covered in primroses).
Following the coastal path around the very windy edge of the cliffs, you eventually reach around the top of Great Tor and Tor Bay below.
At low tide Tor Bay can be reached by walking along the beach from Three Cliffs Bay in the east and also from Oxwich Bay in the west, but at high tide the sea cuts off the little bay. It then can only be reached by a path down from the cliffs. This path is very sandy at the bottom end making it considerably easier to walk down than up it! This is a detour and not part of the coastal path walk!
It was a windy day and the clouds and their shadows were racing across the sands. It was really delightful watching the light and colours change on the cliffs tops and beach. We saw only three people and one day on this mid-week walk.
My two canine companions Biddy and Mitzy had a great time, especially when they found something really stinky to roll in, on top of Little Tor. There were streaks of “it” in their coats. Like brown dog-highlights. Urgh! It smelt really bad even out in the fresh air, despite a dip in the sea. It was even worse in close quarters in the car home. Needless to we drove with the windows open and they were bathed as soon as they got through the front door with lots of lovely dog shampoo.
On the path above Tor Bay is a curious stone building with two archways going nowhere. A useful shelter if you are caught out in the rain or in a hail storm was we were a few months back. It’s actually a lime kiln. Gower is dotted with these buildings in which which limestone was burnt or calcined to produce quicklime.
The path then undulates along the headland until it reaches little five bar wooden gate with a wonderful view of Nicholston Burrows (dunes) and Oxwich Bay on the other side.
The path continues until you are given the choice of carrying on down through the woods on the right on down to the sandy beach on the left. I took the long sandy path through the dunes down to the beach, the smell of the sea calling me all the way. If the tide is out you can then loop left round to Tor Bay or right and walk along Oxwich Bay.
Oxwich Bay is a wide expanse of water and sand. It’has a sandy beach which is about 2 1/2 miles long, flanked by sand dunes, patterned by a maze of tracks. Beyond the dunes lie lakes, woodlands, salt and freshwater marshes. Apparently, it’s rare to have so many different habitats in such a relatively small area in the UK. They are all part of the Oxwich nature reserve.
The beach and the dunes are bisected by Nicholaston Pill, a small river that flows out from the marshland and reeds. I’d forgotten that there’s a little wooden bridge over the river, tucked away in the dunes.
There was a middle-aged couple sitting on the sand dunes with their dog. I stopped and we had a long chat, in which we discussed in quick succession; the weather, buses, Cardiff, Swansea’s one-way traffic system, the council, the Slip Bridge and buses again.
Eventually, after a very long walk on soft sand, past much flotsam, I reach the end of the beach. There lies the village of Oxwich. In summer this is a very busy beach. This is the second largest beach on the Gower peninsula after Llangennith. There is a large car park, a flat beach, a cafe, and toilets so it’s rather popular with visitors, apparently, an incredible a quarter of million of them each year!
There are several caravan parks within walking distance too. When we first came to Gower we used to come here and I once attempted to surf here. It didn’t go well as I paddled too far out and got scared.
Set just a step back from the beach is the Oxwich Bay Hotel. It is an imposing building, its steeply pitched tiled roof reminding me of French architecture for some reason.
The tiny village Oxwich lies on a road leading inland from the sea. That because this was not a fishing village. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the woodland areas of Oxwich were quarried for limestone and exported, using Oxwich bay as a small port. So the cottages of Oxwich were once the homes of the local quarrymen. At the start of the Napoleonic Wars, in which Britain declared war on France, the Royal Navy was forcibly “recruiting”, or press-ganging, men from communities situated along the British coast. This included the Gower coastline. Late one Thursday evening in October 1803, the HM Press Gang called at Oxwich and took 5 sailors, one of whom was a ship’s boy, who had happened to come ashore from a merchant vessel.
Once upon a time, all the houses in Oxwich would have been thatched. Now few are except the cottage that has gained fame for being the place the Methodist Minister, John Wesley once stayed in 1764. It was known as the “Nook”. The well-traveled Wesley was impressed by the people of Oxwich as he noted in his diary that “all the people talk English, and are in general, the most plain, loving people in Wales’. There is no pub in Oxwich and it has been suggested that the influence of John Wesley may have had a bearing here!
So I broke the rules (including the staying on the official coastal path one) but I have made it past my “block”. I have had to pay the price as must have walked for about 5 miles on the sand. Hence the very stiff calves. Maybe, next time I will take the woodland walk! I did it badly today but I did it.
Next time I will walk Oxwich Head and experience mild peril.
Three Cliffs Bay never fails to disappoint. It does not matter how many times I see it. The sight of it always causes an involuntary intake of breath; when I see it from the road, or from the slopes of Cefn Bryn (the long hill that stretches across the Gower Peninsula) or from Pennard Cliffs.
It is particularly spectacular at high tide in the morning light. It is probably the one beach I have visited most often and certainly painted most often, on the Gower coast. It is yet another beach that requires a bit of a walk to get there. There many different routes you can use. I am going to talk about the route I took on this journey along Pennard Cliffs. The village of Pennard lies a short distance to the north of High Pennard, rather confusingly, its the well-heeled village of Southgate that actually skirts the limestone cliffs of Three Cliffs Bay. The bus from Swansea stops at West Cliff, next to a coffee shop, restaurant and shop-cum-post-office. There is also a sizable National Trust Car Park. For years I have parked my car in the car park and walked west to Pobbles Bay and the spectacular views of Three Cliffs, never realising that I was missing a gem, just a bit to the left of the car park.
It was only because I was walking along the coastal path, from Hunts Bay, that I came across it. The walk itself was relatively easy as the land was flat although covered in gorse bushes. I had thought this part of my walk would be relatively boring as I could not easily see over the cliff edge but I was accompanied by the wonderful rising song of skylarks. The gorse seemed to be home to many birds and flowers; blackbirds, larks, posies of primroses and the golden stars of the celandine (I think). I loved looking at all the wildlife. It was the presence of a bench that alerted me to the fact that there might be some worth looking at nearby. I hadn’t seen a wooden bench since Brandy Cove (there’s one above the bay). Looking at my map, I realised that I was at High Tor. I approached the cliff edge, with great caution is it very high and I do not like heights as my legs go wobbly. What a view! WOW. It was a wonderful panorama of Oxwich Head, Oxwich Bay, Tor Bay, Three Cliffs Bay, craggy limestone cliffs topped off by Cefn Bryn. I made many exclamations. I sat down to eat some sandwiches and drink in the fabulous view. How had I not seen this before?
I had missed this view because I had always been in a hurry to get to Three Cliffs Bay. What I usually do is hurry along the coastal path along the cliff tops. You pass many beautiful houses set back from the cliff edge on the right, envying their position/view.
There is a gravel road for much of the distance but that ends and then you are faced with a muddy footpath or an even muddier bridle path (path for horses and their riders). The path crosses grassy headland and many gorse bushes, with a golf course to the right.
Then you get your reward. Three Cliffs Bay. It is a wide split in the limestone cliffs, sliced open over thousands of years by the meandering stream, known as Pennard Pill. It takes its name from the three sea cliffs that jut out into the bay. I have painted this view many times over the years and my treatment of the scene has also changed.
The beach to the left of the three limestone peaks is called Pobbles Bay. At high tide, it is separated from the main beach but at low tide, you can reach it by foot along the sand.
This beach is popular with dog walkers, some of whom brave the waters here. I say “brave” because it can be very dangerous to swim at high tide, due to the strong rip currents.There are large warning signs on the other side of Three Cliffs Bay. Sadly, people have died swimming at Three Cliffs Bay; three in the past 4 years. Apparently, it is relatively safe at low and incoming tides. Fortunately, there are full-time lifeguards at the main Three Cliffs beach during the Easter & Summer holidays and weekends in May and June. I am not sure I have ever gone in the sea here. I prefer Brandy Cove or Port Eynon.
The “Burrows” or sand dunes make for tiring walking but its worth the long climb to the ridge behind the three cliffs.
Depending on the condition the tide may be a long way out and you have a view of a vast stretch of pristine beach, and the snaking Pennard Pill stream feeding into the sea.
A High tide you have the excitement of the incoming sea waves.
The path sweeps around the cliffs tops back inland along an undulating path towards Pennard Castle.
Some time back in the Iron Age someone built a hill fort on the western cliffs above Pennard Pill. All there is left of that is a large circle of raised ground and a good view across the bay. When the Normans came here in the 11th, however, the Braose family decided that the east side (that’s the side closest to Southgate and the golf course) was a much better bet. So they invested in a modern stone castle and a new church here, at the end of the 13th century. Unfortunately, they had made an expensive mistake because the surrounding sand dunes rapidly smothered the site, and by 1400 it had been abandoned. Those Iron Age people clearly understood local topography better than the French invaders.
There is a story that this was the result of a fairies’ curse, which summoned a massive sandstorm to destroy the castle and church. The curse was apparently provoked by the shocking failure to allow the local fairies to dance at the lord’s wedding feast. Now, I do like a good fairy story but I cannot track down the source of this story so I suspect that it was shaggy dog story made up to explain why this stone castle was abandoned within a few generations of it being built. How much more convenient to blame the fairy folk, (after all, Fairy Hill is just down the road so the place must be crawling with the little people once upon a time) than poor building judgement!
This is where you can follow either the path along the edge of (another Gower) golf course and through the woods down to Parkmill or plunge down a long sandy path to the valley floor. There you can follow the stream to the sea and then cross it on a series of concrete stepping stones.
The path then climbs up another steep path into the wooded headland on which the aforementioned Iron Age fort lies.
There are great views across the bay here too.
The path continues on to Great Tor and Oxwich Bay but I will rest here a while longer and take in the view!
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.