Octavia Pollock takes a look at the magnificent Welsh coastal landscape of The Gower Peninsula, whose tales are as eye-opening as its natural beauty.
The term Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was coined for the Gower and it’s easy to see why.
The south Wales peninsula was the first designation, in 1956, and its 73 square miles are still an unspoilt swathe of fields and internationally important lowland heath, bounded by sandy bays and precipitate cliffs.
Half is common land, the first to be officially registered in 1965, which is grazed by wild native ponies, Welsh Black and Hereford cattle and Welsh Mountain and Speckled Face sheep.
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Walkers, riders and cyclists can roam to their hearts’ content.
For all its firsts, the Gower is an ancient landscape, with the oldest formal human burial in the UK, the Red Lady of Goat’s Hole Cave, Neolithic monuments and nine mysterious standing stones. The largest, variously Samson’s Jack, Mansel’s Jack and so on, is said to have the power to answer questions.
At the most westerly tip is Worm’s Head, a serpent-shaped promontory named for the Viking word for dragon, wurm. A natural blowhole at the end spouts in bad weather; a local saying is ‘The old worm’s blowing, time for a boat to be going’. Dylan Thomas once fell asleep here and was cut off by high tide.
Its miles of Bristol Channel coastline mean two things: illicit goods and wrecks. From Brandy Cove to Pwlldu Bay, William Hawkin Arthur, the smuggling king, spread his tentacles. Customs men dubbed his gang ‘very insolent’, but he slipped up in the end: when he was arrested, 420 casks of spirits were uncovered.
The lifeboat at Mumbles Head has set out times uncounted to rescue seamen, but Clement Scott’s poem The Women of Mumbles Head remembers the terrible night of January 27, 1883, when sisters Jessie Ace and Margaret Wright saved two lifeboatmen who had gone to the aid of a stricken German barque.
Did you know?
- Dry-stone walls abound, but one is special. The Great Wall of Mewslade, 12ft high in places, runs the length of the valley behind Mewslade Bay; it’s now being restored by local waller Andy Roberts and volunteers.
- The local tradition of bidding weddings saw a bidder ride a white horse to guests’ houses bearing a decorated staff and reciting the Bidding Prayer. Gifts of currant loaves were sold to male guests, who gave slices to their chosen maids. The girl with the most slices was named ‘Belle of the Ball’.
With its magnificent views, lovely churches and grand country houses, this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has proven an inspiration
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