I did not walk the length of Worms Head at the same time as my other Gower coastal Walks. This was because you cannot walk its full length between the 1st March and the 31st of August – as the last part of the Worm, the Outer Head, is closed in order to protect nesting seabirds.
So I waited until late October for a sunny morning and a low tide to set off on my adventure. It was certainly an adventure as I travelled alone and there was plenty of scope for “mild peril” and twisted ankles and, at one point, there was definitely outright fear. More of that later.
The drive down to Rhossili was beautiful. Autumn sunshine lit the russet trees and the long shadows stretched across the road. The forecast was for a fine sunny day but by the time I arrived at Rhossili, it had clouded over. I got of my car and wished I had brought a woolly hat instead of my sunhat jammed at the bottom of my bag underneath my sandwiches, banana, and the compulsory chocolate biscuits. The biscuits had been lurking down there since my last walk several months ago, but as they were individually wrapped I decided they’d still be very edible. The walk down the National Trust car park to the coast guard station at the end of the headland took longer than I expect it.
I think this is because I am usually so mesmerized by the sight of the “Worm” that I don’t really pay attention to how far I am walking. The Worm (“Wurm”) means dragon, and it was given this name by the Vikings who regularly sailed the Bristol Channel over a thousand years ago.
It is a long tidal island that undulates westward like a sea beast. The shape of it changes depending on which angle you approach it. Sometimes it seems coiled, other times in snakes from side to side.
I think I look up the tide times for Gower more often than most people, except for surfers. Every time I go to the coast I like to know if it going to be a low or high tide, depending on whether I want to photograph it or swim in it. If you want to visit Worms Head, a low tide is essential because the causeway over to the islands is only safe to cross 2 and a half hours either side of low tide.
I know that to be caught out ensures an extra long stay on the island (as happened to Dylan Thomas once), because swimming across the short stretch of water is very dangerous and I can remember a man who died attempting in it a few years ago.
Fortunately, if you have forgotten to look up the tide timetable, it is clearly displayed outside the coast watch station and on the path down to the causeway. That is pretty much, the point of the coast watch station, as I have mentioned before. To watch out for fishermen and people who might get trapped by the rising tide.
Map of Worms Head (Note: High Tide)
When you arrive at the coast guard station at the end of the headland you will see the path in front of you dropping down to the causeway. Now, don’t believe any guide that tells you that this is “easy” as I have seen elsewhere online. It is not. Parts of the island are easy. Most of it and the causeway, in particular, is very very, rocky.
It resembles an assault course rather than a “walk”. There are slightly easier routes than others but they are all energetic to some degree and require a fair bit of climbing, jumping, or in my case sliding down rock faces on my backside. I was better prepared than the time I walked across it on whim one summer with my sister and my 7-year niece. That time I was wearing sandals. This time I was wearing sturdy walking boots. I regretted, however, wearing my drainpipe jeans. There were many times I could not tell if I was stiff with age or stiff from my sartorial stupidity. Nevertheless, I soldiered on.
Looking across the so-called causeway, I could not see an easy route. I could not even see an obvious way down to the causeway. Hence I ended up sliding down the rocks, hoping that I didn’t twist my ankle. That was a recurring thought throughout the morning. The trick is to stay focus 100% on where you are putting your feet, if you need to look up, then stopping to do so. Walking along and looking around at the same time was out of the question. I decided to follow a mother and her two young sons, hoping that they would find a sensible route across the rocks.
I think they must have been part- mountain goat because they zoomed across the rocks, sure-footed and totally fearless, happily chatting away to each other. I struggled to keep up. I started off feeling a bit chilly but by the time I reach the island 20-25 minutes later I was hot and thinking of taking off my jacket. Again you will read in some guides that it takes “about 15 minutes to cross the jagged and slippery rocks” but I found it took longer. Perhaps I stopped and looked at the view too often.
Arriving at Inner Head, I was greeted by more warning signs, a tide timetable and a bell to ring to gain attention, if you are trapped by the incoming tide. Here, I had a choice of paths. Either to climb the back of the Worm and walk along its spine, or to take the easier lower path to the west. I took the easy path. It was my favourite path of the day. I could trundle along it, looking at the view, without worrying that I was going to trip up!
I quickly reached Low Neck which bends round to Devil’s Bridge.
Here, I could see I had to cross another assault course of massive fractured rocks to get to Devil’s Bridge. This is all that remains of a collapsed sea cave. It too will collapse one day, dividing the Middle Head in two. I decided instead follow a long climb over the tooth-like slabs down to the rocky “beach” part of Worms Head, to take some photographs of the Worm’s reflection in the still seawater.
I then had the joy of trying to make it back onto the path. It was a long scramble/climb and at several points I wondered if it was possible but I did eventually make it without injury.
So I finally reached the Outer Head. I was greeted by a warning sign telling people not to visit during nesting season. There were yet more rocks to clamber over before I finally reached the dragon’s head.
Here the path got steep. The grass became much thinner and the rocks were worn smooth with years of walkers’ boots on them. I scrambled up where I thought the path would flatten out a bit. Then I realise that the final part of the “walk” involved a climb up an almost sheer cliff. The mother and two sons I followed across the causeway earlier, were already fearlessly climbing up the rock face. I noted that the mother wasn’t totally cavalier about letting her boys follow her as she told them in no uncertain terms that they must listen to her instructions and have “three points of contact with the ground at all time”. I bore this advice in mind, for the rest of my trip on the Worm.
I watched, with my heart in my mouth, as they zoomed up the rock face like sure-footed monkeys. I don’t like heights at the best of times, and I knew this was beyond me. I could not face trying to climb up there, in case I freaked out half-way up. More eager climbers made their way past me. The prospect of an audience decided it for me. I turned around and started my return journey, muttering to myself “I know my limits”.
As I walked back I ponder my long distinguish career as a scaredly-cat. As a child I freaked out in some underground caves, Cheddar or Wooky Hole, I’m not sure which, discovered to my surprise that I was decidedly claustrophobic. As an adult, on a school trip to Disneyland Paris, I was persuaded to go on Space Mountain. I only survived the experience by keeping my eyes tightly closed for the whole trip. Apparently a lot of it happens in the dark but never once opened my eyes to find out. More recently I climbed almost to the top of Mount Snowdon, in North Wales, only to decide I could not make it to the summit. The path was very narrow and there were hoards of people. I was convinced that I’d get pushed off the path to my death. So I sat down with my eyes closed (again) and waited for my brave husband to make the journey to the top and back on his own. Yet, I enjoy watching films about Mountaineers, like “Touching the Void” and “Everest”, go figure!
I stopped and ate some biscuits and sandwiches, drank a lot of water and admired the view along the Worms’ back in both directions, towards its head and in the other direction towards Rhossili Bay and Gower. This time I walked over Devils Bridge and started the scramble over more rocks to Inner Head.
I paused as I see another walker looking out to sea and I realised there is little head looking up at us out of the water. It was a seal. I could see his whiskers. He reminded me of a dog. I don’t know if he’s a common or grey seal, as they are very hard to tell apart, especially when they are in the water. He disappeared and then popped up again, before finally vanishing for good.
Keeping an eye on time time, and making sure I have more than enough time to cross the causeway, I made my way back to the south-eastern end of the tidal island. I notice a group of people are watching something on the stony beach below the cliffs. More seals! I settled down on the grass to watch. To start with, I could not get a good view, as there were so many people. Eventually after a lot of loud “Oh” and “Ahhhh-ing” (I don’t think the seals liked this as they kept looking up), the people moved on and I had the seals all to myself. I love this.
I watched them, very happily in silence, for quite a while and make some film clips to show my husband later. I am guessing they are the smaller, common seals, but I could be wrong.
I am very tired now and as I start my walk across the causeway, I see people still crossing over from Rhossili. I look at my watch. They still have two hours to cross and back it back again. I start off with confidence, only to have to retrace my steps because the drop from the rocks I am on is too high.
As I am struggling down from a lower crag I am surprised by a strange animal-like snorting sound. It sounded a bit like an alarmed dog. I looked around at what I thought were barren rocks, only to realise that I have a pair of anxious eyes looking at me. It an adolescent seal, stranded all on his own in the rocks. I quickly retreated. I didn’t want to frighten him any more than I already had.
He must have been stuck here ever since the tide went out three hours ago. I briefly worried about the other walkers finding him, as some of them have dogs with them, but I decided that if I keep quiet, maybe no one else will discover him. I know that the usual advice with wild animals is to retreat and leave them alone. After all, he is so well camouflaged, I would not have seen him if he had stayed silent. In fact I did not seen him when I came across earlier.
Thankfully, crossing the causeway was slightly easier on the return journey. I think the tide was further out so I could walk alone the pebbly edge, although the climb back up the to main path was brutal.
I was relieved to be back on the main land, but there is some thing very special about being on an island, even if it’s only a tidal island like Worms Head. I think its because you are surrounded by the sea and that is an exhilarating feeling. The Gower is a bit like a tricorn hat, with a tidal island at each “corner”. This journey around the Gower coastal path started with Mumbles, with its lighthouse built on a tidal island; Burry Holmes is a tiny full stop marking the north end of Llangennith Beach but Worms Head is a comma. Not so much a footnote, but a wiggly tail making off towards the Celtic Sea. The open sea and more adventure.
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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.
A new oil painting “Autumnal Rhossili Bay” –
An expressionist oil painting of the world famous Rhossili Bay at the far end of Gower Peninsula, itself the first designated Area of Outstanding Beauty in Great Britain. Autumn has draped a coppery red blanket on the hillside and the windy waves have etched patterns of light mauve and blue in the sand.