Walking on The Gower Peninsula
About Walking on The Gower Peninsula
It is not without justification that Penrhyn Gŵyr, or the Gower Peninsula, has garnered for itself quite a reputation as a laid-back magnet for the trendy set who like their leisure with a touch of class. They’ve long made their way here from Cardiff and Swansea, and that city’s prodigal son – the late poet, playwright and professional drinker Dylan Thomas – was much inspired by the Gower’s magical allure.
But they wend their way here from much further afield these days, attracted by its laid-back ambience, its classy eateries, but more than anything by its inspiring walking and maritime activities. Little wonder that this 188 sq km patch of exquisite beauty to which the city of Abertawe, otherwise known as Swansea, to its immediate north east is an adjunct, was the UK’s first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty when it received the honour in 1956.
Although one of Wales’ flattest regions, its highest point being the Beacon at Rhosili Down at a mere 193m, it offers coastal walking of the highest calibre. Its contribution of 69km of magical hiking, between suave Mumbles and the down-to-earth cockle-pickling capital of Penclawdd, towards the Wales Coast Path’s total of 1,400km is among the whole route’s more breath-taking sections. It hosts stunning beaches popular with surfers, particularly at Llangennith and Rhosili, nature reserves, pristine sand dunes, cosy inns, and a plethora of wildlife. Porth Einion, sometimes Anglicised as Port Eynon, is a popular coastal village that encapsulates the best of what the peninsula has to offer.
There are countless shorter circular routes for those not inclined to follow the Gower coast in its entirety. And should you yearn for solitude away from some of the touristy hubbub, much of the peninsula’s inland areas offer plenty of peaceful villages and swathes of quite deserted common land, marshy in parts, for you to enjoy.
The 13km route between Llanrhidian and Cheriton, for example, showcases some of the north’s ample charms, as does the path between Tregŵyr/Gowerton and Dyfnant/Dunvant. The 8km-long Cefn Bryn red sandstone ridge is known as “the backbone of Gower”. You’ll find it liberally peppered with Neolithic sites and inquisitive wild ponies. Sweeping views are to be had, although it barely scrapes the barnacles off the shallowest of clouds at a maximum altitude of 188m.
Meanwhile, back at the coastline you’ll find it’s riddled with caves carrying colourful names such as Cat Hole Cave, Bacon Hole Cave and the proletarian-sounding Bob’s Cave. The most fascinating are the Paviland Caves at Rhosili, one of Wales’ most important archaeological sites, where in 1823 the red-stained skeleton of a 25-year-old man who’d called the cave his home 24,000 years ago was discovered. You are advised to approach any of these caves with the utmost care.
The caves’ very un-Welsh names reflect on a long-standing, if nowadays friendly, north-south schism going back to Norman times. It has led to place names such as Llanrhidian, Llanmorlais, Llanddewi and Llethryd in the north, counterbalanced by Langland, Scurlage and Newton, among countless others, in the south. Those Norman overlords even referred to their Anglicised south as Anglicana, and the more native north as Wallicana.
Mumbles and Swansea
The peninsula’s only real populous area is the strangely-named resort of Mumbles, a pretty place that is in effect a posh suburb of Swansea. It is an easy walk between Swansea and Mumbles, an 8km stroll along the pleasant crescent-shaped promenade, or along the traffic-free Swansea Bike Path.
If you’re itching for some lively nightlife, serious retail therapy, or a mooch around museums and art galleries, you’d really be best served making your way to Swansea. Visit its trendy Maritime Quarter at one end of the promenade and Bike Path, where you’ll find the National Waterfront Museum and the Dylan Thomas Centre. A short walk away near the ruined castle in the city centre is Wind Street (wind rhyming with kind), where you’ll find most of the pubbing and clubbing action. Swansea also has good railway links with the entire UK network, including to and from Cardiff Airport just 70km away.
Otherwise, Gower has plenty to offer those looking for a more relaxing time. Look out for its speciality seafoods, including cockles and the glutinous-looking laver bread, a boiled seaweed which is much more appetising than it looks. Honestly! The peninsula abounds with all sorts of bars and eateries, from cosy seaside pubs to the Michelin-starred Beach House Restaurant at Oxwich Bay, where patron-chef Hywel Griffith offers a distinctly Welsh-tinged menu.
And on that rainy day when you really can’t be persuaded to pull on those boots, the Gower Heritage Centre near Three Cliffs Bay hosts an eclectic mix of paraphernalia, exhibitions and small animals that should keep the family amused. This is also where you’ll find Wales’ smallest cinema housed in an old railway carriage.