Golf clubs would bracket each end of the Gower for me, but in very different ways. My night at Gowerton Golf Club was very comfortable, whereas the night at Langland Bay Golf Club was a very different affair. Gowerton Club offers rooms in a converted barn, and dinner, bed and breakfast for £85 turned out to be a good deal, with a dining room and chef all to myself for most of the evening. I would have preferred to camp but there was no campsite nearby and, whilst I’ll readily wild camp in remote mountains I’m less keen on stealth camping in lowland fields, with good reason as it turned out.
Although I had enjoyed the variety of industrial heritage, and the profusion of birds and wildflowers in the flat salt marshes, I was looking forwards to the limestone cliffs of the Gower Peninsula. The weather had brightened, the channels between the mudflats glistened and shimmered, and brightly painted boats lay waiting for the tide. There was scant evidence in this peaceful scene of the former industries that would have lined this coast. Boards told of the Pen-Clawdd canal that transported coal from the Gowerton mines, and of the railway that took its place. Both are now long gone, as are the copper works that once produced bronze manilla bracelets for the slave trade.
It was on the narrow Marsh Road that I met my first coast path walkers. There had been plenty of walkers on the Pembrokeshire section, mostly women from Germany and Switzerland enjoying the coastal scenery, but only one young couple carrying camping gear as the majority were using travel companies. Having not met any hikers walking the whole coast, I now met two, firstly a couple where the husband was linking together fragments of coast to complete a circuit, and secondly a woman who was actually slowly walking her way round the whole of the UK. She had set out from London about five years ago and was using holidays and weekends to gradually make progress. Later I would meet an American who was backpacking the whole coast. I was the first fellow traveller that he had met, very different from the busy Santiago de Compostella trail which he had recently completed.
I finally stepped off the tarmac at Llanrhidian – and promptly lost the path! Luckily this unintended diversion took me up through a campsite to Weobley Castle, the romantic ruin of a fortified manor house. I didn’t feel I had enough time to visit, but admired the exterior and bought an ice cream at the little farm shop and campsite reception as it was turning out to be very hot again. That kept me cool as I descended back to the marsh and a path that hugged the foot of low millstone cliffs. Out on the sweet marsh grass sheep grazed, seemingly unconcerned by a healthy looking red fox that wandered amongst them. Below Cheriton a sparrowhawk sat motionless on the muddy bank of the Burry Pil channel, earning its name as a flock of sparrows flew past. I had to cross this channel on square concrete blocks set as stepping stones. These seem to be a feature of the area as I would encounter more the following day. On the other side of the inlet was a tiny hut, a pigsty, constructed totally of limestone like the ‘bories’ found in the Alps Maritimes or high in the Pyrenees.
There was a diversion here as the sea defences, which carried the path, have been breached. I had been warned by the chap I spoke to on the Marsh Road that this was the case and that I ’would find it difficult to follow’. Hmm! I had actually already decided to take the diversion path as it led up to a cafe at Cwm Ivy and I was hungry. Again. Food and shelter take on great importance on trips like this. As does company, and I sat at a table with another solo woman walker, eating a baked potato and chatting. She had based herself at Hillend Burrows campsite, my destination, and was doing day walks to strengthen an ankle that she had recently broken. She had spent her life, up until her early sixties, working or caring for children and parents, and was now making up for lost time by taking as many walking holidays as she could.
If I ever appear to be complaining about tarmac please remind me of the Gower sand dunes. It was easy walking as I set out from Cwm Ivy, but soon I was amongst the extensive dunes of Broughton Bay. I slithered through Delvid Burrows, and up onto the cliffs of Broughton Burrows, expecting the sands to cease as I climbed but the grains had piled up behind the limestone cliffs that jutted out to form one end of Rhossili Bay and every footfall faltered. In places wooden boards had been laid to give a firmer footing but even these could not halt the advance of the sands. Wild flowers thrived in this moving landscape, with rock rose and harebells predominating.
At Spaniard Rocks I sat for a while and sketched the tiny islet of Burry Holms before making the final descent to the beach and Hillend Burrows campsite. School holidays had now started and the area was swarming with people enjoying the hot sunshine. The Gower is close to large conurbations and is consequently very busy in high season. As I slithered down to the beach and tramped the last couple of kilometres beside the waves to the campsite kite surfers pulled stunts against the sun and children played in the shallows. There was little room at the campsite even for a tiny tent but there were phone charging lockers, good showers and food.
I woke early and was away by 7am. It was one of those crystal cool mornings that would become hot well before noon. Worms Head is a dragon shaped archipelago at high tide, although it is possible to scramble along its back when the tide is low. It seemed to be swimming away from the shore through the millpond sea. I reached the village of Rhossili before any of the cafes were open so sat near the coastguard cottages and ate a muesli bar. At the point where the headland fragmented into islands a coastguard lookout point posted the tide times with warnings about being stranded by the incoming tide.
Turning away from Worms Head the path followed the edge of the limestone cliffs, occasionally descending into deep valleys of shattered stone. I reached Port Eynon much earlier than anticipated so elected to continue onwards after a baked potato lunch in one of the beach cafes. When I left I walked along the beach to avoid the dunes but found myself nearing low cliffs with only private access away from the beach. It was a steep rocky scramble to reach the path after the last of the houses. I headed out towards Oxwich Point below soaring cliffs. Three horses stood on the edge, silhouetted against the sun, their manes and tails streaming in a breeze that didn’t reach the lower path. At the tip of the headland a standing stone bore an inscription but I was too hot and tired to read it. Luckily the north western side was tree clad and shady and a welcome relief from the sun, and a hotel near Oxwich beach served me a pint of orange juice and lemonade, a chocolate brownie and a huge pot of tea.
It always amazes me how quickly food and drink, and a rest, can restore the body. I’d been on my last legs but now I was able to stride out across the sands heading for Three Cliffs Bay. The tide was racing in as I crossed the braids of a shallow river near Nicholson Burrows. I only just made it round Little Tor to the next bay before the tide cut off the access, and dashed across the next small bay to avoid the same fate. I had a decision to make here. I had initially intended camping at Port Eynon and was now below the last campsite before Swansea. I needed to get a train home the following day and knew the weather was about to turn to rain. Consulting the map showed possible wild camping spots further on so I continued.
At Three Cliffs Bay my luck with the tide nearly ran out. This is such a beautiful spot and was quiet in the late afternoon. Cows grazed the salty turf and a river idled its way towards the sea. More concrete stepping stones provided a crossing point but as I approached I could see the tide rushing towards them. I hopped from block to block as the water lapped over, dancing past three young guys who had set out towards me I reached the halfway point. As they reached the far shore the crossing had disappeared below the waves.
Have I really been complaining about tarmac? I take it all back. The climb out of the bay was nightmarish. For miles I slithered through the soft slippery sand of Pennard Burrows. A ruined castle lurked on the skyline and a kestrel hunted below the cliffs. I began to look for hidden camping spots but the warm sunny evening was bringing out hordes of people and there was nowhere to hide. At West Cliff a cafe that was still open so I ordered tea and pancakes and used their facilities to wash off the sand and salt and refilled all my water bottles. Now I was fully prepared for a wild night out.
No camping signs on Pwlldu Head and groups of young people settling down for an evening of drinking forced me onwards. Every cove was busy or overlooked and every clifftop was overgrown. I was drawing perilously close to the town of Mumbles. After Caswell Bay the path became a tarmac trail for wheelchairs and buggies and I could feel mild panic beginning to bubble up. I had to find somewhere to sleep. The moon had risen and light was fading as I spied a narrow trod up onto the headland of Newton Cliff, and another golf course. I really didn’t want to be woken by an irate golfer or, worse, a golf ball. But I had run out of land and it would have to do. Before me the full moon cast a silvery path across the sea but it was not a path I could follow. I scouted about and eventually pitched behind a raised green. If I stood up I could see the clubhouse but a little hollow sheltered me from view. It was ten o’clock and I had been walking since seven that morning. I had walked over twenty two miles and climbed nearly 3000 feet: I deserved a good night’s sleep, although this golf course was not quite as luxurious as Gowerton.
I was woken at five the next morning by heavy rain. I was surprised as rain wasn’t forecast until later in the morning but I decided to strike camp early to avoid discovery and get to the station before the rain became worse. As I dismantled the tent I was struck by another sudden shower, and realised that the sprinklers for the greens were obviously on a timer! Annoying as I would have had a dry tent to pack away instead of a soggy one. A line of gold on the horizon showed that dawn had arrived but otherwise the skies were grey. Yesterday I had been able to see the hills of Exmoor across the Bristol Channel but today they had disappeared.
Back on tarmac I passed Langland, Mumbles Head and Mumbles Light. At the tip of the headland the path swung round following the wide sweep of the bay towards Swansea. It was not an unpleasant walk as the path hugged the shore and seabirds called as I passed. I left the coast close to the brutalist Guildhall buildings. Just as I was approaching the station an incontinent gull released its load all down my bare arm and over my rucksack! This was not the farewell I expected as I headed home. I hope my return will be more welcoming.
(I had intended returning a week later but family needs meant that I was not able to do so and the path will not be completed this summer)