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Hidden Gems (of St Thomas, Swansea)

Hidden Gems by Emma Cownie

Here is a short series of paintings based on the shadows in a backlane in Swansea.  The photographs I used for these paintings were taken a couple of years ago. I came across them in my folder of printed images and decided I wanted revist my “urban minimal” themes.  The light in St Thomas is quite different to that in Brynmill, where I am at the moment.  I don’t know if its because the sea is closer to this part of Swansea, or because Kilvey Hill  has a particular angle of steepness,  but on a sunny day the light is luminescent.

I particularly wanted to used a glazing medium called liquin, to see if I could add depth to my shadows. I first did an under-painting using red ochre and sepia and then used the medium to add colour to shadows.

Back Lane, St Thomas (2021)

Back Lane, St Thomas (Swansea)(2021)

As I grew in confidence I used more liquin medium to paint the drying washing on the line and shadows on the stone wall.

Hung Out to Dry (St Thomas)_Emma Cownie
Hung Out to Dry (St Thomas, Swansea)

I think the darker shadows were more successful than the lighter ones.

Backlane Basketball painting
Backlane Basketball (Swansea) 2021 

I particularly enjoyed the contrast between the neat house with its clean, fresh drying washing and the apparent ugliness of the rough breeze-block wall in the backlane. This painting is very hard to photograph because of the very light and very dark colours. Some part of it end up too light or too dark! I think I got about right but I am still not happy with the final image. Just a reminder that you need to see a painting in real life to really appreciate it.

Too Dark!
Too Light!
A Soft Breeze (St Thoams, Swansea)
Just right? A Soft Breeze (St Thomas, Swansea) 2021

Read more about my Urban Minimal project

My Painting Project: Urban Minimalism

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My Review of 2020

Review of 2020

 We are all glad to see the back of 2020 but I am pausing for a moment to reflect on some of my painting sales over the year. Sadly, my accident and having my leg in a cast meant that I couldn’t get up the steep stairs to my attic studio (or anywhere else) to paint any oil paintings for over three months but things have ticked over during 2020.

I would like to say thank you Rob and David who waited a very long time in the cold with me for the ambulance to come, to the paramedics and firebrigade who got me out of the woods, to NHS staff at Morriston who fixed my very broken leg and looked after me, as well as to the Physical Therapists who gave me lots of advice on exercises over the phone. I still have a way to go! 

I have to say an absolutely massive thank you to my brillant husband, Séamas, who trudged  up and down two flights of stairs with trays of food many times a day (and lost weight doing so) for months. He kept my spirits up when I got frustrated and tearful. It wasn’t that often as I was so glad to be home but it was all hard work for him in the midst of a pandemic! He also kept the show on the road by packing up and arranging the shipping my paintings. He was, and remains, utterly wonderful!

Here’s a selection of some of my sales from 2020

Some of my "people" paintings sold in 2020
Some of my “people” paintings sold in 2020

 

Some of my paintings of Wales sold in 2020
Some of my paintings of Wales sold in 2020

 

Some of my paintings of Ireland sold in 2020
Some of my paintings of Ireland sold in 2020

 

A Selection of Commission from 2020
A Selection of Commissions from 2020

 

My top four personal favourites of 2020
My top four personal favourites of 2020

 

Donegal painting of Owey Island_Emma Cownie
Owey in Late Spring – Top of my personal  favorites of 2020!

 

Here’s to a happier and healthier 2021 to  everyone! 

 

 

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Painting Tenby Harbour

Painting of Tenby Harbour
You may well have noticed, that I like to explore different subject matters. I find it impossible to paint any one thing, be it landscapes, seascapes, animals or streetscapes all the time. I like to pursue a theme for a while and then switch to a different subject or work on small canvases to a large one. They all present different challenges. I sometimes wonder why I like to make myself slightly uncomfortable but again and again, I do. I was ill over Christmas with the cold from hell which developed into a nasty cough that sprang into action with any drop in temperature. Just before I gave up everything and just sat in front of the fire, I painted a painting of Tenby Harbour. I hadn’t planned to, but I was looking through my photos and I came across a photograph I had taken last spring. I was struck by the light on the lobster pots. So I painted it.
Tenby Painting
Early Morning Tenby (SOLD)
I then gave up painting for a while, as the cold air in my studio set off my cough, and coughing and painting don’t go well together. Sitting in front of the fire, I was aware that I wanted to paint a boat. The small boats in the “Early Morning Tenby” painting hadn’t quite satisfied me. So I decided to paint a boat called “Mistress II” moored up at the quay at Tenby Harbour. I was quite nervous before I started the painting. I was concerned that I would get sucked into painting the detail of the building in the distance so I decided to sketch a tonal painting before I added colour. What I mean by a tonal underpainting – is just using thinned red ochre and raw umber to sketch out the light and shade in a composition. In this way, it would help me simplify the buildings in the distance and so focus the viewers’ eye on the boats in the foreground. They also helped me solve the “problem” of the lobster pots on the “Mistress II” which were in shadow.  I think the tonal under-painting helped the final painting.
Tenby Painting
Hazy Tenby
Unfortunately, I was so nervous about this painting I didn’t think to take a photograph of the tonal sketch so I can’t show it to you! I made a point of taking a series of photos to show the work-in-progress of my next Tenby painting. This composition was interesting to me as a third of the town of Tenby and half of the harbour and was in shadow. The harbour wall and half of Castle Hill, however, were in bright sunshine.  #1 Under-painting of Tenby Harbour This painting took most of the week to complete as the light was so poor. I could only work for a few hours at a time. I resisted the urge to push on once the light went. Sometimes, I like the early stages of a painting the best, as it’s still all potential! 
Painting of Tenby Harbour
Finished – Tenby Panorama
Painting of Tenby Harbour Close Up When I looked at the finished painting, I found pleasure in the curves of the harbour wall on the right side of the painting. As it was in shadow, I had not really paid it much attention before. You may recognise the lobster pots on the quayside to the right of the painting that were such a big feature in the first Tenby painting in this series. On the left, there is the tiny turquoise boat alongside the quay. This is the Mistress II, which was in “Hazy Tenby”.  That makes me smile. In a weird way, it reminds me of the many novels of Anthony Trollope in which he created a world in which a  person may be the central character in one book and a minor figure, who only gets a passing reference, in another. Once I have painted an object or person they become quite fixed in my memory, largely because I had studied them so closely. The lobster pots had their moment in “Early Morning Tenby” and tiny turquoise boat in “Hazy Tenby”, and now are supporting characters in “Tenby Panorama”.  
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My Review of 2018 (part 2)

Paintings by Emma Cownie 2018

Here’s part two of my review of 2018, all the paintings, prints and sketches I have sold via www.Artfinder.com or direct via my own website at www. emmacownie.artweb.com. Quite a few were commissions.

It’s funny to notice the colours I favour in my paintings.  When I put together a collage of all the paintings and prints I’d sold in 2019 there some surprises.  The greens, yellow ochres and blues are to expected as I paint a lot of coast and woods. The reds and oranges, however, are a little more unexpected as I have this idea that I hardly ever use red in my paintings, unlike my husband who says it’s his favourite colour in his work.  The oranges don’t just appear in my urban painting where you’d expect brickwork, but also in the russets of the winter bracken on the Welsh mountains.

It’s not all the works sold as I haven’t included the last two months yet. Watch out on facebook/instagram for an update there.  Once, again thank you to all my collectors, supporters, fans, commentators and family who keep me going.

Oil paintings of Wales

Oil paintings of Wales

Oil paintings by Swansea artist

Welsh Woodland paintingsOil paintings by Swansea artist Emma Cownie

Oil paintings of Gower

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Christmas at Clyne

Emma Cownie Art stall Swansea
Emma Cownie Art stall Swansea
Emma Cownie Art at Clyne Christmas Market

Once-upon-a-time I worked full time as a teacher in school of just under 2,000 pupils and I would teach approximately 150 pupils in a day. That’s a lot of faces to put names to every day. I was pretty good at learning all those names too. These days, however, I might only speak to a handful of people in a day; my husband, my neighbour and local shopkeepers. So, when presented with an opportunity to met with and chat with to new people I relish it. Clyne Christmas market gave me a lovely opportunity to talk to all sorts of people.

I am pretty new to running a stall, I did it once about 4 years ago. I really enjoyed it back then but teaching commitments meant that I did not have the energy to keep doing it. That has changed now. I have the energy and the time to pursue this and yesterday I had a stall at the first Clyne Farm Christmas market. I realise that I have a lot to learn.

Clyne Farm sits on top of Clyne Common, high up above Swansea. It has sweeping views towards the sea-side village of Mumbles and across the massive Swansea Bay.

View From Clyne Farm Towards Mumbles
View Towards Mumbles (from the car park)

Once upon a time it was a riding stables but in recent times it has transformed itself into an top-class accommodation and activity centre.

 

Sparkly Bow Stall
Sparkly Bow Stall

Yesterday was their first Christmas Market and we were blessed with sparkling crisp sunshine. The photos above were taken in the first half an hour before it got busy. The crowds ebb and flow. After a quite half an hour, it is quickly jammed with families carrying babies wrapped up to the eyes in jump suits and bobble hats. The little girls are drawn to the “Sparkly Bow” stall further down my aisle. The table covered in glittery objects is exactly the right height to catch a 5-year-old’s attention – at eye-level.

This first onslaught is followed by another wave of families with dogs on leads, and in carried in their arms. There are lots of woolly coated “cockerpoos”  (Cocker Spaniels Crossed with Poodles) and some sharp-eyed border collies. They take in everything. Later as people leave for lunch in the other hall, it becomes calmer. People are clutching bags with their purchases. I recognise some people who came around earlier return to buy. It’s in the post-lunch calm that I make most of my sales. I chat with many of the people in the hall. My cards of Mumbles Pier starts a number of conversations about a controversial development of the Pier Head area that the local community (Mumbles Action Group) are currently fighting.

Clyne Christmas Market (with dog)
Clyne Christmas Market

I manage a quick break and visit some of the animals on the farm. I’d met Ted the collie and Flo the goat and her surrogate daughters, the sheep Brillo and Lucy, yesterday.

 

Ollie at Clyne Farm
Ollie the colt (6 months old)

Along a muddy tack there children’s pony rides on offer. I had to make a special journey along a different muddy path to see Peggy the Pig. She is massive. I give her a pat on her broad back and was surprised that her back was covered in bristles, not wiry hair. Her floppy ears cover her eyes, like nature’s sunshades, but it can’t be easy for her to see. I was told by Sarah who works at Clyne, that Peggy is pretty laid back and is a “morning” pig. She is active in the morning and spends her afternoons sleeping. Someone speculates that she’s a Gloucester Old Spot. I assume that they have only one big spot but looking it up later it seems that they were probably right and she’s an “Old Spot”.

Peggy the Massive Pig
Peggy the Pig at Clyne Farm

The hall is filled with bright sunshine but by the late afternoon, I’m starting to feel the cold. Although there’s carpet in the hall the concrete floor underneath is cold. I run to my car to fetch my woolly hat. As the afternoon wears on I notice that the tip of my nose is numb! After 5 hours in the hall, my feet are starting to feel like blocks of ice. The girl opposite me is wearing thin daps and ends up sitting on her chair with her feet tucked under her. At four o’clock the sun is low in the sky and someone mentions that there’s Christmas Parade in town at 4pm. That seemed to be the signal for the stall-holders to pack up and within minutes the hall is bustling with activity as the stalls are rapidly dismantled. I drive home with the sun setting over Clyne Common.

Emma Cownie at Clyne Christmas Market
Me and my stall at Clyne Market (my bag handles have just snapped!)

What I learnt

  1. Get new cash bag – my beautiful leather cash bag handle snapped as soon as I put it on. Although I tried to tie a knot in it, it kept coming undone.
  2. Thermal socks are needed (possibly 2 pairs).
  3. Clear prices on each rack. We had a price list but it was difficult for people to read it. Bull-dog clips or cardboard luggage labels are good for this.
  4. Paper bags for purchases – brown or white. Environmentally friendly and they look cool
  5. Camping chair – a wooden chair was hard to sit on all day.
  6. Paypal card reader or izettle for mobile payments. Not everyone has enough cash on them and you don’t want to lose sales
  7. Presentation is vital. Rustic chic is cool – I had wooden racks and a table easel but more wooden boxes for cards would be good. I learned a lot from Ed Harrison at Minnow across the hall. His presentation was excellent.

    Minnow at Clyne Market
    Minnow at Clyne Market
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The Power of Pine

My grandfather, Fred Cownie, used to work for the forestry commission, buying up Welsh farmland and planting swaths of conifer forests. Sadly, I never knew my grandfather as he died before I was born, long before my parents were married, in fact. Apparently, he was a sociable man who was popular with the farmers and forestry workers alike and I like to think he enjoyed his work talking and with people and tramping across the Welsh landscape. Sounds like a great job working with trees and people, not stuck in an office.

I love trees. My favourite trees are the elegant beech trees, with their copper autumn leaves. I also love the scotch pines that pepper the Gower peninsula. There’s a woodland at Whiteford point and also near Parkmill, which I have returned to time and again to paint.

Painting of the Wood at Whitford Sands by Emma Cownie
Wood at Whiteford Sands

Scotch pines are the only truly native pines to the UK. They spread across the British Isles after the last ice age but in Wales, the trees became extinct about 300–400 years ago, due to over-exploitation and grazing. I don’t know when they were re-introduced on Gower but this section of woodlands was almost certainly planted by a local landowner, possibly the owners of nearby Kilvrough Manor.  Amazingly,  mature trees grow to 35m and can live for up to 700 years!

Pine Wood, Gower
Pine Wood, Gower

We walked the dogs here last week and took photos. I like this section of woodland as the pine needles on the ground deaden footsteps and although birdsong can be heard, it seems quieter than the surrounding beech wood. Much of the wood falls into the shadow of a the valley side and direct light does not hit the trees until late morning in the winter.

Colourful Gower woodland painting by Emma Cownie
Slender Light (SOLD)

When the light hits the trees it illuminates their scaly orange-brown bark. This bark develops plates and fissures with age. The twigs are green-brown and pretty much hairless until you reach the highest parts of the tree, 20 to 30 metres high. I love to stand looking up at the tops of the trees, swaying with the wind. On the ground the tree trunks appear stock still. I like to think its a good analogy for life, you have to bend with the wind.

Oil painting of Gower woodlands by artist Emma Cownie
Enchanted Wood 

The great thing about Scotch Pines is that they are so quiet and light, unlike conifers forests which can be pretty dark.

The sun went in so whilst I was waiting for it to reappear I filmed this 360 degree shot, I tried to pan very slowly but I don’t think I was slowly enough! There is a stream nearby that has dried up from lack of rain over the summer. It sounds daft but when I am out walking I often ponder their stoic nature. They can’t move, they have to accept where they are in the wood. Some people believe that they communicate with each other through their roots. I’m not sure what my grandfather, Fred, would have made of that!

 

You can but limited edition mounted prints of Gower woodland here

Woods Near Ilston and Parkmill, Gower
Woods Near Ilston and Parkmill, Gower

 

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Painting Cows

I am delighted to have sold “Koei 1509”, a painting of a South African cow, to a collector in Oxfordshire, England. The painting was based on a photograph by talented photographer Herman von Bon, who generously allowed me to use his image. Herman photographs the South African landscape along with its people and animals. I particular like his wildlife photography.

Oil painting of a Cow by Emma Cownie
Koei 1509

I like cows. I love all animals. I come from a family of animal lovers. I get pleasure from just looking at animals. I really enjoy painting them but I find it hard to part with my animal paintings.

Cows are the reason why I stopped eating meat a long time ago. When I was a post-graduate student at Cardiff University in the 1990s I spent a day cycling along the the flat marsh road that lies between Cardiff and Newport. It’s about 10 miles. On my way back, I stopped at a gate for a rest. I group of curious youngsters, Fresians, came up to gate to investigate me. They were cautious but seemed to egg each other on to come closer and stick out their noses to me. They amused me. I thought they were funny and sweet.

I stood for quite a while looking at them. Listening to them breathe. Cows have intelligent eyes. Big brown eyes. They weren’t essentially any different from the many animals my family had kept as pets over the years; cats, dogs and rabbits. Suddenly the thought came to me “I eat you and your friends”. I felt awful. Very guilty.

It felt very unnecessary.  I don’t need to eat meat. So I decided to stop. I’d been thinking about for for some time. People sometimes ask why I am a vegetarian and I could mention things such as the cruelty of factory farming, the environmental cost but I have never felt comfortable eating sentient creatures. I always felt a hypocrite for eating Sunday roast, no matter how tasty it was.

Oil painting of Hereford Cow by Emma Cownie
Hereford Red (Sold)

 

Many of my university friends were veggies but I didn’t like many vegetables (potatoes and peas was about it for many years) and I wasn’t sure what I would eat. To be honest, I was lazy. I had to learn to cook vegetarian meals. I started with a lot of pesto and pasta. A friend of mine recommended a Rose Elliot cook book and I painstakingly read the recipes (there were no photos in the book) and I eventually learnt a few recipes off by heart.  It was a bit of a slog but I felt much better for it, physically and mentally.

 

Although I don’t think that I paint cows all that often, they have added up over the years. I love Hereford cattle in particular. I was born in that English county and I love the russet red of their coats. You don’t see that many of them on Gower.

Colourful Painting of cow
Punk Cow (SOLD)

I seems to have painted Frisians the most – probably because I like the contrast of their black and white coats.

Oil painting of black and white cow in Gower landscape
Gower Cow (SOLD)

Gower Cow

I never paint “generic” cows. These are all real cows. All individuals. I found Gower Cow on the slopes of Cefn Bryn at the Penmaen end. She was chewing the cud with a small group of friends.

Painting of Cow at Pwll Du, Gower
Grazing at Pwll Du

The cow at Pwll Du was also with a group of friends, small herd I suppose, who came out of the undergrowth and started grazing on the grass by the stream at Pwll Du.

 

Writing this post got me thinking about the History of the cow in Art. There’s a lot to it so I have decided to save that for my next post.

 

Painting of black and white cow by Emma Cownie
On the Move

 

To see available animal paintings click here

To see large mounted animal prints click here

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Paintings as Emotional Creations

Paintings as Emotional Creations
Three Cliff Reflections
Three Cliff Reflections

I am delighted to have sold this painting, Three Cliff Reflections, to a collector in Scotland. As is so often the case, the collector has a connection to the location in the painting, having visited it and climbed to the top of the peaks quite recently. I hope that the painting brings back happy memories of the summer.

As a painter, I feel that I have succeeded if I my work can provoke an emotional reaction. I would feel that I had gone wrong somewhere if someone said “that’s interesting” or “it’s technically skillful”  about one of my paintings. Not that there’s anything thing wrong with being skillful, I just don’t want it to be the first thing they say.

They don’t have to be entirely happy emotions, either. I once had a friend who said a painting of mine, “Park Bench in the Snow” made her want to cry.

Park Bench in Snow
Park Bench in Snow

I am not sure why she wanted to cry, I think she said something about it reminded her of  the film “It’s a Wonderful Life”. That film always makes me cry too. Mind you, I was particularly fond of this painting and was pretty sad when I had to part with it. I didn’t cry though. I do have favourites, and this was one.

Quite a few of my people portraits have a bitter-sweet quality to them as I am drawn to the fragility or vulnerability of the sort of people who are frequently overlooked by our instagram obsessed  society.

Brief Encounter
Brief Encounter

Or amusing quality, I hope. I like observing little moments that are easily missed. Like these two children at the Uplands markets examining an old manual typewriter.

What does it do
What does it do?

I also like watching for moments between dogs and their owners, in particular.

Just a Second
Just a Second

Back to Three Cliffs Bay. This painting “Human Concern” (below) was based on a scene I observed at Pobbles Bay,  last summer. Pobbles Bay is right next the Three Cliffs Bay. The little Jack Russsell stood and watched his humans off in the sea, with such intensity. It amused me. I also found it very touching.

Human Concern
Human Concern
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Gower Coastal Walk: Llanmadoc to Crofty

Ivy House, Landimore

Part 1: Llanmadoc to Llanridian

I was feeling very nervous about this walk as I would have to change buses in the middle of nowhere. I very nearly chickened and got in my car after a fellow blogger commented that I “should not bother with rural buses but drive. However, it was a long walk, just over six miles, and I did not want to break it up into two or three circular walks. I wanted to walk the length of the north Gower coast in one go, if I could.  So I got up and packed sandwiches, lots of biscuits, a banana in its strange yellow banana “gimp” case and two bottles of water. I had decided that thirst was the worst torment on my last two solo trips and I was going to be better prepared this time.

Map of North Gower
North Gower Coast

I had caught the same bus to Port Eynon (the number 119 to Rhossili, if you interested) and had changed at Scurlage but this time I had to change at a location called Llanridian Turn. I have studied the map and I think I know where it is. I don’t remember passing it from the previous bus journey and it doesn’t really seem to be “on the way” to Rhossili. So I check with the bus driver as I buy my ticket.

Buses at Llanrhidian Turn
Buses at Llanrhidian Turn

The bus arrives at Llanridian Turn and it pulls in behind another bus, a number 116, but its not the one I want. So I ask the driver about the 115 to Llanmadoc and he says that he’s driving it and walk towards a small bus that has just arrived and he swaps buses with the new driver. He’s a friendly chap, with a sparkly diamante earring in one of his ears. So we set off. I am the only passenger.

St Madoc's, Llanmadoc
St Madoc’s, Llanmadoc

I end up standing at the front of the bus (holding on to the special rail) chatting to the driver for most of the journey. “You couldn’t ask for better weather” he says. He’s right. It’s a sparkling bright spring morning. It’s cold though. Only 7 degrees Centigrade (that’s 44 in Fahrenheit). He fishes out a timetable for me from his rucksack. It’s a timetable that covers all Gower buses. I have not seen this before, it certainly wasn’t to be found in the bus station anyway. “Where do you want to get off?” I have never had a bus driver ask where I want to stop before. This must be one the joys of rural bus services. I eventually get off by Llanmadoc Post Office. I wave at the bus driver as he drives away as if we are old friends.

I find a path, not an official coastal one, but it is sign posted for Whiteford Burrows, which seems the right direction, so I take it. It’s more of a farmers’ track than a path. I walk down a long muddy track, pass cattle, sheep and an old tractor and eventually reach the same point as we did on our detour from Cwm Ivy (to avoid the breached sea wall). I find it more by luck than any thing. It is very muddy.

This is Landimore Marsh. It’s a saltmarsh, an area of coastal grassland that is regularly flooded by seawater. Springs, small rivers called “pills”, flow out into the estuary, in meandering lines that make maze-patterns in the marsh. The main pills crisscrossing the area are Burry Pill and Great Pill.

Pill House, Llanmadoc
Pill House, Llanmadoc

For hundreds of years, the people who lived along its edge have used the marshlands for grazing their animals. They still do today.  The lambs that are raised on the salt marshes are reputed to have a distinctive and special flavour, but I cannot speak from experience as I am a vegetarian. Although the cows and ponies know to move off the marsh with the advancing tides, especially the spring tide that can move with great speed, the sheep for some reason don’t. The local farmers have to bring them in. Although sheep can swim, as all animals can, for a short period of time, if they get cut off by the tide they will drown.

The walk along the marsh path is very muddy indeed. I have visions of me sliding and twisting my ankle or falling flat on my face, but I manage to survive without incident. I take the low tide route, but I spent much of my times sliding around wondering if the high tide route would have been less muddy.

To my right is North Hill Tor, or Nortle Tor, on which are the remains of a partial fortifications, probably dating back to the Iron Age period (c. 800 BC – AD 43). According the the famous Swansea-born historian, Wynford Vaughan Thomas, Nortle Tor was quarried in previous centuries. During the Napoleonic Wars, one of its extensive caves provided useful hiding place for local young men when the press gang was spotted coming across the estuary from Llanelli.

North Hill Tor, Gower
North Hill Tor, Gower
Landimore Marsh, Gower
Landimore Marsh, Gower

There is a wonderful presence about the marsh. It stretches away as flat as a proverbial pancake. No sea, or River Loughor in sight. The marsh is indented by patterns of muddy pools, creeks and channels. It is very peaceful and I get drawn into the atmosphere of the marsh. The grass has a curious white-ish tinge to it which I assume is from the salt. I see a lot of sheep’s footprints but no sheep, although I can see a few ponies far away on the marsh. It turns out that the sheep are in the farmers’ fields with their lambs.

The path eventually passes a couple of houses and leaves the marsh. I see my first fellow walkers of the day.  I only see one other couple on the path today. I see, however, vast numbers of sheep and lambs, marsh ponies, robins, sparrows, a red kite and a large Great White Egret flying over the marsh.

The path reaches Bovehill, where it turns further inland and passes the remains of another fortification, Bovehill Castle, a fortified mansion with walls a metre thick. It was once the seat of the 14th century crusader knight, Sir Hugh Jonys and later Sir Rhys ap Thomas, a support of Henry Tudor (the father of Henry VIII of six wives fame).

Call Box at Landimore
Phone Box at Landimore

 

Ivy Cottage Landimore

Ivy Cottage Landimore

The “coastal” path then turns off the road onto Bovehill Farm. I can’t see the sea and now I can’t really see the marsh, either.  I don’t see the marsh again for a long time, perhaps for about as much as an hour as the path trails inland. In fact, it turns out its about 2 and a half miles to Llanridian. The path instead, runs through the farmland, parallel to the marsh.

This get a bit confusing. I often enter a field and have little idea of where the path goes. So I set off at a 60 degree angle only to adjust my course when I eventually spot the stile in the opposite corner of the field.

Where is the path?
Where is the path?

There have not been enough walkers recently to make tracks for me to follow across the fields.

Landimore
Landimore, North Gower

I see swallows (the first I have seen this year) over the fields by Landimore. Weobley Castle, another fortified manor house, is a dark presence looming on the cliff above me. From the time of the Norman conquest of Gower to the 15th century, Weobley belonged to the de la Bere family.

Weobly Castle, Overlooks Llanridian saltmarsh
Weobley Castle, above the path

Just below Weobley Castle there is a road that leads out into the marsh.

The saltmarsh by Weobly Castle
The salt marsh by Weobley Castle

Where does it go? It doesn’t seem to go anywhere, as such.

Marsh Road by Weobly Castle, North Gower
Marsh Road by Weobley Castle, North Gower

At the end of the track, there is a odd wooden structure out in the estuary. I can see it with my naked eye but my camera is struggling to get a good picture. I think its made of wood. I can’t tell. You can see it from miles around.

What is it? Wooden structure in Burry Estuary, Gower.
What is it? Is it a wooden structure in Burry Estuary, Gower?
LVH0247_Burry_Estuary_Anthrax_Bomb_Test_ar.jpg
What is it?

According to historian Wynford Vaughan Thomas, the American army used the marshes as a firing range during the Second World “War. It turns out that it was the US army that built the causeway out into the marshes. The strange building, is not wooden but made of concrete and brick. It was a look-out built by the Americans. I have to search online for close up photographs.

Photo credit: mylifeoutside.co.uk

There is a very dark tale about the Burry Estuary during the Second World War that Wynford was probably not aware of, as it was kept secret until 1999. There had been rumours about the secret testing of chemical and biological weapons in the estuary during World War II for many years. This story is to do with the British government and experiments in biological warfare, not the American Army.  The wartime government had asked Porton Down, its chemical warfare research installation, to conduct trials of an anthrax bomb. Anthrax, is a lethal bacteria, which was seen as having “enormous potential” for biological warfare. I would like to point out that biological warfare was, and still is, banned under a 1925 Geneva protocol. This is why countries will make a big fuss about its use on civilians in Syria or even Salisbury, England.

Bristol Blenheim
Bristol Blenheim

In 1941 there had been a series of tests of anthrax bombs on the uninhabited Gruinard Island, off the west coast of Scotland. These tests had produced contradictory results, primarily due to the soft, boggy ground at Gruinard, so it was decided at short notice to carry out a single replacement test on the firm sand of the Burry Inlet.

On a Wednesday afternoon, in late October 1942, the scientists carried out an experiment over the north Gower salt marshes,  dropping an anthrax bomb from a Blenheim aircraft. Two lines of 30 sheep were placed downwind of the aiming mark, spread at 10 yard intervals. When the bomb fell it made a crater of about three feet in width and two feet deep. Three days after the trial, two of the sheep died of anthrax septicaemia, and three others were ill for a day or so before recovering entirely. Apparently, the scientists proclaimed the test result ‘very satisfactory’, especially as this was the first time such a bomb had been dropped from a plane flying at operational level.

Warning sign on the marshes
Warning sign on the marshes

According to the report, the site was ‘effectively decontaminated’ by the incoming tide a few hours after the test took place. The carcases of the dead sheep were ‘buried deeply at the seaward edge of the marshland area’. The remaining sheep were observed for seven days after the test, the survivors then being slaughtered and buried.

This all seems a bit of a casual clean up and in marked contrast to the situation at Gruinard island, which had served as the previous test site for anthrax. In that case the entire island was set ablaze and subsequently closed to public access for nearly 50 years. Even today people and animals alike avoid the island, despite efforts to decontaminate the island in the 1980s. All I can assume is that larger quantities of anthrax was used in Scotland.

Update: There’s no need to worry about the dangers of anthrax as it was confirmed in 1987 that “investigations …[after the] trial revealed no evidence of any residual contamination”.

Gruinard Island
Gruinard Island

When the path finally reaches Llanrhidian, it seems like quite a shock after all the open space of the marsh and the fields. I think about walking up to the main road where I could catch a bus home but instead I press on .

My next post will be my final stage of the coastal path, from Llanrhidian along the coastal road to the village of Crofty.

 

 

 

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Gower Coastal Walks: Whiteford Point

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I have a confession to make. This walk was done out of sequence. It was done on March 28th, on the day the clocks went forward. That seems a long time ago. It was a beautiful day but very cold. Back in March when I had only got as far as Pennard and Three Cliffs, I sort of panicked. This was because I could not make head nor tail of the bus timetables and doubted that I could make it around the coastal path by public transport. So my husband, Seamas, suggested that we drive to the most out of the way places in Gower and do circular walks and then I would fill the rest in with public transport. Another blogger has since directed to the invaluable traveline.info which helped me made sense of the bus connections, when the online bus timetables seemed incomprehensible to me.

So we decided to go to Whiteford Point. It is a mini-peninsula off the northern corner of  Gower peninsula. This is seen by many as the wildest and most remote part of Gower. We drove along the narrow lanes to the northern tip of Gower, to the village of Llanmadoc. Llanmadoc Hill is quite imposing as you approach it from the South East. I generally think of Gower as having two big hills (Cefn Bryn and Rhossili Downs) but Llanmadoc Hill at 152m is pretty high too. You get a sense of how it dominates this corner of the peninsula from Cedric Morris’s painting of it in 1928.

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Llanmadoc Hill, Cedric Morris 1928 

If you drive through the ajoining villages of Cheriton and Llanmadoc, you will come to Cwm Ivy Court Farm.

Oil painting of Cheriton Gower by Emma Cownie
Far Hill Above Cheriton, 2016 (SOLD)

On the opposite side of the leafy lane is an open gate to a field, which acts as a temporary but well-used car park. When we arrive after lunch, it is pretty full.  There is an honesty box built into the wall for walkers to put their car park fee of £1. Considering the National Trust charge up to £5 at Worms Head, it seem like a bargain.

 

We then walk down the lane past a small number of houses, the last one has a ice-cream tub of drinking water for passing thirsty dogs. Once you pass through the five-bar gate you are on National Trust land.

In 1953 it was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest as it is an internationally important feeding ground for wading birds and wildfowl. Not long after in 1965, Whiteford Point came up for sale by auction and there was great worry that it might fall into the “wrong hands”. Fortunately, the National Trust was able to buy it. This was the first property to be acquired as a result of something called “Enterprise Neptune”, which was the National Trust’s campaign to protect Britain’s coastal heritage.  So this area is a now a nature reserve owned by the National Trust.

Whiteford Point Map
Whiteford Point

If you follow the lane down hill there there is a choice.

Straight ahead is are the marshes and sands dune and eventually open beach that joins with the wide expanse of Broughton Bay, to the west. If you take a turn right through another wood gate you are then in Whiteford Burrows.

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Pine Trees

Whiteford (pronounced Whit-ford) is apparently derived from the Danish ‘Hvit-Fford’, meaning white ford. The Vikings left their mark on the outward-facing west coast of Gower, in their placenames at least. Look at left side of the map above. Worms Head, Burry Holmes and Whiteford are all derived from Scandinavian words. Perhaps, the Viking who traded and marauded up and down the Bristol Channel as late as the 11th Century, only ever gave names to the landmarks they could see from the water, but they certainly stopped by at Swansea, whose name is also Scandinavian in origin. It means “Swein’s Eye” or Island. There used to be an island at the heart of Swansea until the Victorian diverted the river. The Welsh call it “Abertawe” which means the mouth of the River Tawe.

 

Once into the the nature reserve you pass the very cute Burrows cottage, which used to be a forester’s cottage (you can rent it) and further along the path Cwm Ivy Bunk House (which you can also rent by the night). There  are no other houses on Whiteford Point. It is a very lonely place from a human point of view. It is however, full of undisturbed wildlife.

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Either side of the path are many grand pine trees, smothered with massive pine cones. They are Scots and Corsican pines. I think gives the place a Mediterranean air. They were planted from the 1930s onwards. There are hundreds them, thousands. I have read somewhere that there were 20,000 in the 1970s. They help certainly help stabilise the dunes and stop the sand blowing away.  You can see these trees from miles around.

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The pine trees as Seen from Hills Tor

I get excited when I see what I think are public toilets in a very tasteful wooden chalet on the path ahead. I am always looking for “proper” places to relieve myself instead of the inevitable bushes.

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Not toilets!

Ah, what a fool, I am. As I get closer I realise my mistake. Its not a nice artisan toilet block. It’s a bird hide for watching wildlife on the salt marsh to the right.  The door is open and we can see its empty. So we go in and peer across the flat marsh. We don’t have the patience to wait.

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Oil painting of Wood at Whitford Sands Gower
The Woods at Whiteford Sands Professional Quality Print 50×40 cm (with mount) £45.00

[wpecpp name=”Woods at Whiteford Sands Large Mounted Print” price=”45″ align=”left”]

Once we have passed the bunk houses we follow a sort of path through the pine woods, climb a stile over a wire fence and we are on the burrows.  Whiteford Burrows, or sand dunes, cover an area of three square miles. It’s bigger than it sounds. There is a vast expanse of beach on the other side of the dunes, leading out along the edge of the Loughor Estuary.

It was a long walk along the beach – it a very empty beach. Two miles of it to Whiteford Point. People are small dots off in the distance.

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Whiteford Sands (towards Broughton Bay)

The landscape here is reduced to stripes of colour: Sky-sea-beach-dunes. The tide is out and the sea is very distant.

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Whiteford Sands

I am slightly unnerved by the signs saying informing me that Burry estuary was used as a shelling range by the British army during World War Two and the unexploded bombs are still likely to turn up in the sand dunes. Yikes! I take this seriously, I remember a World War Two bomb that was recently found in the near by Loughor River although I can’t find the story online. In 2015 a family found what they thought was a “buoy” covered in barnacles on the northern side of the estuary, at Burry Port. The kids spent quite a bit of time jumping on the strange object and had their picture taken next to it.  You have probably guessed it by now. It wasn’t a buoy it was an old Second World War bomb. The beach was cleared and the “buoy” was blown up.

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That’s NOT a buoy!

Shells still turn up at Whiteford Point too. In September 2014, for example, some sixty shells were exposed at Whiteford Point, and bomb disposal teams were summoned to deal with them. The firing range was also used on a regular basis for the firing of chemical shells during the Second World War, including ones containing mustard gas.  Earlier this year there were reports of the Ministry of Defense blowing “something” up earlier this year in the Loughor Estuary so I don’t fancy taking my chances and stick to the beaches. I expect most people do the same and the dunes are left undisturbed.

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Beware Unexploded Shells!

 At Whiteford Point there is a curious cast-iron light house. It is the only wave-swept cast-iron tower of this size in Britain.

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Whiteford Lighthouse

It reminds me of a giant bird cage. The local seabirds, gulls and cormorants use it as a convenient perch. It is not close to the beach but it can be reached at low tide, although its a long rocky walk over the seaweed-covered rocks.

Oil painting Whiteford Lighthouse by Emma Cownie
Wave-Swept Iron Tower, 2018  Professional Quality Print 50x40 cm (with mount) £45.00

[wpecpp name=”Wave-Swept Iron Tower Large Mounted Print ” price=”45″ align=”left”]

It reminds me that much of the Gower coast was always hazardous to shipping. This area in particular was very treacherous and a large number of ships were wrecked at both nearby Broughton Bay (where ships used to be able to anchor in the bay until it was silted up in mid-nineteenth century) and here along Whiteford Sands.

Tragically, the lighthouse failed to prevent a one of the biggest shipping disasters in the area, which took place in January 22nd 1868. On this calm winter night 16 ships out of a fleet of 19 sailing out of Llanelli, sunk in a single night and possibly up to 30 or more lives were lost. These ships had been towed out of Llanelli by steam tugs. They had been cast off and rounded Whiteford point, aiming to clear Burry Holmes with the ebb tide. This was in the age of sail and the ship needed a breeze to power them on their way.

Unfortunately, the wind died and a heavy swell tore the ships from their anchors and drove many of the ships onto the rocks at Broughton Bay, or smashed them against each other. As it was such a quiet night, no one on shore had any idea of the disaster that was happening in the estuary. A large buoy and chain and the remains of a wooden hull near Whiteford Point are all that is left of these ships.

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Image from www.mylifeoutside.co.uk

Although the beach seems utterly deserted the air is filled with the high pitched piping sounds of little wading birds.

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They are too far off to identify with any certainly, but I think they might be oyster catchers. We are feeling tired after our long walk along the beach. We sit on the edge of the dunes for a rest and chocolate biscuits, listening to the euphoric trilling of skylark song.

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Around the tip of Whiteford Point the path reappears and winds its way along the edge of the pine woods. The path is very water logged and at many points it resembles a series of small still lakes rather than a path. So we hop from muddy patch to muddy patch.

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Looks like a lake but its the path!

Here there is lots of bird song – blackbirds, ravens, rooks and we saw linnets, larks and tiny robins. On this side of Whiteford Point, it is very flat marshland. The sea is but a distant memory. This is clearly a river estuary and the river is far off beyond clumps of pine trees. The marshes are covered in lush grass and edged by yellow reeds. There are shaggy marsh ponies, who seem very small in comparison to their cousins who graze on Cefyn Bryn and Fairwood Commons.

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Weobley Castle in the distance

As we get closer to Cwm Ivy, our starting point, we can see the village Llanmadoc spread up the hillside. We pass the late Medieval sea wall. There has been a sea wall at Cwm Ivy since the late 17th century when it was used to reclaim the marshland from the sea. The coastal path used to follow the wall round to Llanmadoc. Not any more, not since 2014 when the wall was breached by storms. The Welsh Government Shoreline Management policy stopped the National Trust from repairing the wall and breech.  This ‘No active intervention’ policy of letting nature take its course was a controversial decision at the time. So this fresh water marsh has now returned to being a salt marsh. The breach is too big to jump over, there’s no bridge so you have to take a diversion at Cwm Ivy to reach the rest of old coastal path (which we did on another day).

The walk took us three hours, but as much of it was on sand so it was pretty tiring. We only took 4 biscuits with us, thinking that our lunch would see us through. I decided that I should have taken a couple of bananas and sandwiches too as you always need more food than you think you will need. If you don’t eat them I know of two helpers who will happily finish them off for me.

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Biscuit? Yes please!

Next week: My final very long walk around the Gower Coastal Path.

 

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