Tuesday, 21 April 2015


During the 18th and 19th centuries Swansea, the second largest city in Wales, was a major industrial centre, with copper smelting an important economic activity, in fact the city was known as 'Copperopolis' during that time.  A title well-earnt, since 90% of all copper-smelting activity in Britain was based within 20 miles of the city, which was regarded as the world centre for such activities, and for metallurgy in general.  Much of the impetus for all this came from Bristol-based industrialists who financed enterprises such as the White Rock copperworks of 1737. 

Fast forward to 1914, when another event occurred which was to put Swansea on the map: the birth of the infamous Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.  This momentous event took place at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive in the suburb of Uplands, and the house is now open to visitors who can view it fully restored to its 1914 condition.  However, the city's celebration of the life of its most famous son does not stop there: the former Guildhall in the Maritime Quarter houses the Dylan Thomas Centre.   The Centre was opened in 1995 by no less than US President Jimmy Carter and has a permanent exhibition on the life and work of the poet as well as a range of other facilities including a theatre.  Each year in late October/early November the Centre hosts the Dylan Thomas Festival.

Today, the historic docklands that played such an important role during Swansea's industrial years have been turned into a vibrant Maritime Quarter with a mixture of museums, cafes, bars and restaurants.  The NationalWaterfront Museum takes a hi-tech approach to history, with interactive exhibits telling the story of Wales' industrial heritage.  Across the way is Swansea Museum, with a range of exhibits including artifacts from Ancient Egypt and exhibits from the city's 'Copperopolis' days.  Next to the waterside is the city's marina with its bobbing boats.  Then there is the shopping, the highlight of which is Swansea's famous covered market selling local delicacies such as laverbread. 

For a list of events in the city see here.

Map of the area. 

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The Maritime Quarter. Photo by Pam Brophy, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 13 April 2015


Mumbles is more or less a suburb of Swansea, but it has its own seafront, known as the 'Mumbles mile', with a variety of restaurants, pubs and other attractions, making it an ideal base for exploring the Gower Peninsula.  The town's transformation into a resort came with the arrival of the Swansea and Mumbles Railway in 1804.  All that is left of the railway now is the pier, along with its pavilions and a lifeboat station.  The pier used to be visited by the White Funnel paddle steamer that brought daytrippers along the Bristol Channel.  Adjoining the 'Mumbles mile' are quaint little streets with colourful cottages.  On a hill above Mumbles lie the ruins of Oystermouth Castle, where graffiti dating from the 14th century can be seen along with the magnificent views over Swansea Bay.  The lighthouse on Mumbles Head got off to a shaky start in 1792, with the collapse of the structure during the first year of building.  However, it was completed in 1794 and has been guarding the entrance to Swansea Bay ever since.  The present-day lighthouse is unmanned and solar powered.

Map of the area. 

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The seafront.  Photo by Trevor Rickard, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 6 April 2015


The violent storms of winter 2013-2014 had a terrible effect at the time, causing untold damage to buildings and seafronts.  However, some places are still feeling the after-effects now.  Caswell Bay on the Gower Peninsula has lost huge amounts of sand, leaving a stony surface which is difficult and painful to walk over in bare feet, and experts have warned that the beach could take years to recover.  A shame, because it is one of the loveliest bays on this stretch of coast.  A report on this subject in the local press drew an emotive response from those commenting, with some suggesting that dredging activities in the Bristol Channel are more to blame than the storms.  I am no expert on the subject, but I hope the bay recovers sooner rather than later.  Visitors to the bay, which is easily accessible from nearby Mumbles, have the use of beach shops geared up for families and there is a lifeguard on duty during the summer months.  From Caswell Bay, a coastal path one and a half miles in length and offering wonderful views across to North Devon leads to the neighbouring Langland Bay.  There are parking and refreshments within easy reach of the bay.  Dog owners should be warned that dogs are banned from the beach from 1st May to 30th September. 

Streaming webcam view of Caswell Bay (and other Gower webcams).

Map of the area. 

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Langland Bay. Photo by Colin Smith, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 30 March 2015


As its name suggests, this gorgeous bay on the Gower Peninsula is characterised by its limestone cliffs towering over the extensive golden sands.  One of the three cliffs of the name has been eroded by the sea to form a rock arch.  The beach takes some effort to get to, being reachable only on foot from either Parkmill or Southgate, but it is well worth the walk.  Near the bay is the village of Southgate, which is the starting point for a couple of cliff walks.  To the east is a path leading to Pwlldu Head and the sandy Pwlldu Bay, while to the west a more gentle walk leads along the cliffs to the 13th century ruin of Pennard Castle, based on an earlier fortification probably built by first earl of Warwick Henry de Beaumont.  The ruins, made of sandstone and limestone, lie at the edge of the Pennard Pill valley and offers wonderful views over Three Cliffs Bay.  It was abandoned at the end of the 14th century, not due to battle scarring as is so often the case, but because there was a problem with sand encroachment.  A mile to the north of Southgate is the Gower Heritage Centre and craft centre, occupying a restored 17th century water-powered corn and sawmill. 

Map of the area. 

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Photo by Graham Taylor, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 21 March 2015


The pretty village of Oxwich with its thatched cottages lies at the western end of Oxwich Bay, where the sandy beach is a magnet for watersports enthusiasts.  At one end of the village is St Illtyd'sChurch, a site originally dating from the 6th century.  The chancel is believed to be a 6th century cell, while the font is alleged to have been brought there by St Illtyd himself.  According to local legend the churchyard is haunted by a white 'ceffyl dwr' (water  horse), which has been seen disappearing into the well at the top of the churchyard.  The other notable building in the village is Oxwich Castle, built by the Mansel family from Tudor times.  The family's coat of arms can be seen on the gateway.  One of the features of the castle typical of those times is the long gallery, built high up with fabulous sea views.  The property is run by Cadw and is open to visitors.  Last year a prehistoric site was discovered on a headland in Oxwich.  The site was exposed by the uncharacteristically dry weather which had prevailed during the summer, although the experts investigating the site had to take to the air to properly discern the shapes in the ground which indicated that there was something there.  For nature lovers there is a National Nature Reserve with a dune system and cliffs offering habitats for a range of wildlife as well as flora such as orchids.  Birds found there include several varieties of warbler and bittern as well as overwintering teal and gadwall.

Map of the area 

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St Illtyd's Church. Photo by Pip Rolls, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 12 March 2015


With its proximity to Swansea and an abundance of small coves and caves, the Gower Peninsula was once a hotspot of smuggling activity, and the small village of Port Eynon played a major role in these nefarious goings-on.  The ruined 16th century Salt House on Port Eynon Point used to belong to the Lucas family, a dynasty which reigned supreme over the locality's smuggling.  One member of the family, John Lucas, set about building an underground passage between the Salt House and Culver Hole, a stronghold formerly known as Kulverd Hall which he allegedly used as a hiding place for arms and other contraband.  Even the village church was used as a hiding place during the Battle of Trafalgar, with kegs hidden in the altar.  The dunes at the back of the beach also proved to be a handy store.  

Long before the caves attracted the attention of the smugglers, one of them, Longhole Cave, was a place of habitation during prehistoric times.  The cave can be reached via a path overlooking Overton Cliff.  Back in the village, the churchyard of St Cadoc's church has two memorial to three brave local lifeboatmen who lost their lives on New Year's Day in 1916 while going to the rescue of survivors of the SS Dunvegan, which suffered an engine failure and was driven ashore in heavy seas at Oxwich Bay.  One of the memorials is in the churchyard, while the pulpit within the church includes a second memorial to the men.

Map of the area.

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Port Eynon Bay. Photo by Colin Smith, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 5 March 2015


On reaching the far west of the Gower Peninsula, the scene you are met with is, in my opinion, one of the finest sights on the whole of the British coast: the curved sweep of Rhossili Bay, backed by the elevated Rhossili Down, and at the far end the higgledy-piggledy shape of Worms Head stretching out into the Bristol Channel. Towards the northern end of the bay, and nestling in the shadow of the Down, is the surfing village of Llangennith which includes St Cennydd's, the largest church in Gower, originally thought to be a 6th century priory.  The name St Cenydd is the origin of the present-day name of Llangennith. From here, you have the choice of a long walk along the beach or a clamber over the Down. For post-walk refreshments with an amazing view, there is the Worms Head Hotel at the southern end of the bay. Worms Head itself is a major landmark on the South Wales coast, visible from many places for miles around.  It is possible to walk out onto the headland, but care should be taken as the causeway leading out to it is only exposed for two and a half hours before and after low tide. Get it wrong, and you could be spending a windswept few hours trapped on the headland waiting for the tide to recede again, a mistake famously made by Dylan Thomas when he fell asleep on the Inner Head. He was a frequent visitor to Worms Head and wrote of the "monstrous, thick grass there that made us spring-heeled". Back down on the beach, there are the remnants of a shipwreck poking out of the sand. This was the Norwegian barque Helvetia which fell foul of stormy weather in Autumn 1887, but now only a few timbers are still visible.

Webcam from Worms Head Hotel.

Map of the area.

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Rhossili and the Worms Head. Photo by Graham Taylor, via Wikimedia Commons