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The Gower Peninsula (Y Gwyr), located on the south coast of Wales, is one of the last areas that have remained relatively unchanged in the United Kingdom. Much of the 70 square miles (180 square km) that comprise the Gower Peninsula are owned and protected by The National Trust, and the landscape is as varied as it is beautiful. At only 15 miles long and 6 miles wide, it only encompasses a small area, but it truly is a hidden gem.
The Southern coastline features magnificent cliffs and unspoiled beaches, offering breathtaking views out into the Bristol Channel, and on a clear day, a glimpse of the Devonshire coast. Popular beaches include Oxwich, Port Eynon, Caswell, all of which are easily accessible. But there are hidden secrets on the south coast, which, though they are quite difficult to get to, are well worth the trek. Three such beaches are Mewslade, Three Cliffs and Falls Bay.
The west coast of the Gower Peninsula is dominated by the sweeping sands of Llangennith and Rhossili Bay, 4 miles of pristine sands and rolling waves; a mecca for surfers. Partially buried in the sand is the wreck of the Helvetia, which lost its battle with fierce winds and swirling tides in 1881. Backed by the Rhossili downs, the land rises steeply, offering the perfect opportunity for hang gliding and para gliding over the bay. This is the highest point of the Gower at 633 feet (193 meters). At the farthest tip of the Gower Peninsula lies The Worms Head. It was originally named 'Wurm' (dragon) by the Vikings, due to the fact that it appears to rise out of the sea like a mythological sea serpent, striking fear into invaders approaching by ship. Attached to the mainland by a causeway, the Worm's Head is only accessible at low tide. Due to the speed with which the tides come in and out, the causeway only remains exposed for a couple of hours. The promontory actually consists of two 'heads', connected by a natural rock bridge called Devil's Bridge. The outer head is home to a bird sanctuary, where seabirds such as kittiwakes, guillemots, puffins and razor-bills breed. When exploring the coastline, visitors will be amazed at the number of caves in the limestone cliffs, such as Paviland, Culver Hole and Bacon. These caves are the site of a number of archaeological discoveries including The Red Lady human fossil, thought to be 26,000 years old at Paviland, and a bird fossil dating back 125,000 years in Bacon Hole. Culver Hole is only accessible at low tide, and is located just east of Burry Holmes. The cave contains a large Bronze Age burial chamber, an an excavation unearthed the fossils of 40 humans from that era.
The Northern coast is bounded by the Loughor Estuary, which features an incredibly strong tidal flow. At high tide, the estuary is home to fishing boats, whereas low tide reveals an extensive salt marsh, which quickly becomes populated by wild grazing horses. The village of Penclawdd is notable for its cockle industry. Much of the northwestern tip is a series of sweeping sand dunes, and a very popular beach is Broughton Bay. At low tide, you can make a number of interesting discoveries on the beach - a few years ago, someone strolling along the beach discovered the handle from a 17th century sword sticking out of the sand. At the far end of the beach is Spritsail Tor Cave, where an archaeological excavation uncovered the remains of animals from the Ice Age, and the bones of humans dating back to Paleolithic times.
The majority of the Gower peninsula is made up of common land and farms, with a number of small picturesque villages dotted throughout. Particularly charming are the villages of Reynoldston, Rhossili and Port Eynon. You will find everything you would expect in a typical village of yesteryear: stone cottages and walls, winding lanes, tall hedgerows, and best of all - a warm welcome from the locals. The village of Reynoldston is situated at the western foot of Cefn Bryn, the second highest point in the area; a broad sweeping common land that separates North Gower from South Gower. At the top of Cefn Bryn, you will find Arthur's Stone, a Neolithic tomb in the form of a menhir, or standing stone. Weighing at least 25 tons, it is a truly impressive sight, and from this point, you have a 360 degree view of the Gower. Port Eynon is at the southernmost tip of the Gower, notable for two things: salt and smuggling. To the west of the beach sits the remains of an 18th century Salthouse, where salt was extracted from seawater to preserve fish, but it's a long held belief that this was also a cover for the smuggling trade. Located in the cliff face on the western side of Port Eynon beach is a cave known as Culver Hole. Reachable only by a stone staircase that starts on the cliff-top, the interior of this cave contains a series of roughly built rooms and passages, used by smugglers for shelter, and to hide their booty.
The first inhabitants of the Gower are thought to be from the late Stone Age, and evidence of such is dotted around the peninsula. As previously mentioned, the first complete human fossil from this era was discovered in Paviland Cave in 1823. At Parkmill, you will find the Parc le Breos Neolithic burial chamber. During the Roman occupation, a fort was built at the mouth of the River Loughor: its remains are now below the town. There are a number of castles on the Gower, dating from the 1100s, the most notable being Pennard, which overlooks Three Cliffs Bay, Oxwich Castle and Weobley Castle.
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What Makes It Special
The Gower Peninsula, or 'Gower' is an exquisite example of unspoiled land that is surrounded on three sides by the Bristol Channel. Its importance in terms of landscape and historical significance was initially recognized in 1954, when it was the first area in the United Kingdom to be officially designated as an 'Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty' (AONB). This means that the land has remained somewhat untouched over the years, free from developers. It is also listed as a 'Heritage Coast', conserving the pristine quality of the beaches and the 34 miles of coastline. The majority of the area has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, or SSSI, meaning that it is protected for conservation. For people with an interest in archaeology and history, there are a wealth of places to investigate, dating back to the Paleolithic Age. The Gower is home to a spectacular display of unusual plants and flowers, numbering 600 species, such as Rock Samphire, Campion, Celandine and Wood Anemone, but remember that wild flowers are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, and should not be picked. From sandy beaches and limestone cliffs, to woodland, moors, salt marshes and freshwater ponds and rivers - you will find a diverse range of landscape and ecology in a very small area.
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Directions To Destination
The nearest airport to the Gower Peninsula is Cardiff International Airport (CWL), 41 miles (67 km) to the east. Many people fly into Cardiff, then hire a car and drive the rest of the way.
For those flying into Heathrow (LHR) or Gatwick Airport (LGW), it is very simple to get to the Gower. Simply get onto the M4 motorway and drive west for approximately 150 miles (238 km), until you get to the City of Swansea, which is considered the gateway to the Gower. From Swansea, you take the A4118 west (about 5 miles).
National Express coaches run a regular shuttle service from Gatwick, Heathrow or Cardiff Airport, directly to Swansea. These shuttles stop at the Swansea Quadrant Bus Station. From there you can get a local bus to the Gower. Busses run frequently from Swansea Quadrant Bus Station to all areas of the Gower. They run every hour to Rhossili and Port Eynon, and every two hours to Llangennith.
You can reach Swansea by train from any area of the United Kingdom. There are direct trains from London, Manchester, Bristol and Cardiff. Connecting trains run from the West Midlands, The North East, Yorkshire, Portsmouth and Southampton.
Services provided by Traveline Cymru (public transport information service for Wales) and BayTrans (a partnership of transport operators, local authorities and other organizations helping visitors access the countryside of Gower and the Valleys of Neath Port Talbot) can help you in planning your traveling in Wales.
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Best Time To Go
The best time of year to visit the Gower Peninsula is between April and September, as this is when the weather is at its best for outdoor activities. The weather is variable, due to potential south west winds that can blow in from the Atlantic, so it's always advisable to carry an extra layer of clothing and an umbrella. Mean temperatures vary from 46 °F (8 °C) in January to 75 °F (24 °C) in July and August. In the summer, there is an average of 7.5 hours of bright sunshine per day. That being said, it is a great place to visit in the autumn and winter, due to the fact that you will probably have the cliff walks and beaches to yourself. Brisk weather is a fantastic time for an invigorating hike.
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Where To Stay
You can't take in all the sights of the Gower Peninsula in one day, so it's worth checking in to one of the hotels in the area.
Perched on the cliff top, with exquisite views overlooking the Worm's Head and Rhossili Bay, is The Worm's Head Hotel (Rhossili, Gower, Swansea SA3 1PP, United Kingdom). This 2 star family run hotel has 17 affordable rooms available; rates vary from a single room for £70 per night, a double room from £80/90 to a family room for £110/120 (prices here and below 2012). The family rooms can comfortably accommodate 2 adults and 2 children under the age of 13. Use of the privately owned car park opposite the hotel costs £2.50 per day. For cliff walkers and climbers this is the ideal base. Guests have access to the lounge, restaurant and garden patio. There is a ramped entry to both the reception and ground floor bedrooms, allowing ease of accessibility for disabled patrons, and special and group rates are available.
For a central location, consider the North Gower Hotel (Llanridian, North Gower, Swansea SA3 1EE, United Kingdom), located right at the heart of the Gower Peninsula, a 10 minute drive from either coast. This makes it an ideal base for exploring all parts of the peninsula. Sitting on an acre of gardens, this 3 star hotel overlooks the Loughor Estuary. There are 18 rooms available, ranging from single occupancy at £50 per night, double room for £70, family room for £80 (2 adults and 1 child), and an executive room, overlooking the estuary for £90. They have a ground floor room that is specifically equipped for people with disabilities. If you have more than one child traveling with you, the hotel will supply extra beds for the family room, at a charge of £10 per person. It has a large bar, lounge, restaurant, and outdoor seating area. An added bonus is a full laundry and drying service.
Sitting on 8 acres of private ground, just a couple of steps from Oxwich Beach, is the Oxwich Bay Hotel (Oxwich Bay, South Gower, Swansea SA3 1LS). This 3 star hotel is perfect for those that want a secluded, peaceful setting, or for people who wish to take advantage of water sports at the beach, such as sailing and windsurfing. They have 14 rooms in the main hotel, and 3 'cottage' rooms in adjacent buildings. Luxury double rooms range from £95 - 175 for bed and breakfast, to £120 - 200 for half board. Standard Hotel/Cottage Rooms range from £75 - 125 for bed and breakfast, to £100 - 150 half board. These prices are for 2 people sharing a room.
There are also 10 static holiday homes available to let at Beach Walk Parc, a short walk from the Oxwich Bay Hotel, available from March 2nd to October 30th, ranging in price from £195 to £515 per week. Prices are based on 4 people sharing, and include breakfast at the hotel.
Located at the foot of Cefn Bryn in Reynoldston, is the King Arthur Hotel (Higher Green, Reynoldston, Gower, Swansea SA3 1AD, United Kingdom). This is a wonderful 3 star country inn, featuring 5 twin rooms and 13 double rooms, ranging from £70 to £90 per night. These rates are for 2 people sharing, and include a full breakfast. During the week, there is a £5 discount per night for a stay of more than 3 nights. The King Arthur also has a 4 bedroom family home for rent, just a couple of minutes away from the inn. It requires a minimum stay of 7 nights during mid and high season, and 3 nights during low season. There is also an 18th century stone cottage that can accommodate 4 or 5 people comfortably. For rates, contact the King Arthur. As well as accommodation, the King Arthur is renowned for its wonderful home cooked food. It is a very popular destination for both locals and tourists, featuring locally caught fish, seasonal game, Welsh beef, and vegetarian offerings. There is a restaurant, bar and family room, which are all open to the public. On a sunny day, it's a lovely place to sit outside on the green. Bear in mind, the green is populated by local sheep, but they are very tame!
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Activities at the Gower Peninsula are boundless. Whether it's cliff walking, swimming, sunbathing, surfing, hang gliding, beach combing, bird watching, caving, rock climbing, hiking, abseiling, archery, or pony trekking - there's something for everyone.
Pony trekking is the ideal way to see the Gower countryside, whether it's riding on the beach or across the sweeping moorland. Parc-le-Breos pony trekking center offers half day rides for £30 on Wednesdays, and full day rides for £40 on Mondays and Fridays.
A fantastic activity for the whole family is archery. Perriswood farm, overlooking Oxwich bay, offers archery lessons for anyone over the age of 6. As well as archery, Perriswood is home to 38 birds of prey, and you can learn the ancient art of falconry. This is a very rare opportunity to get close to these magnificent birds, and it will be an experience you will never forget! Lessons start at £6 for 15 minutes, to £14 for an hour. An extremely popular activity is 'Arrows Talons & Tea': an archery lesson, meet the birds of prey, and have tea and cakes, all for £12. This particular activity is only available in July and August. Falconry costs £50 for half a day, and £100 for a full day.
Hang gliding and para gliding over Rhossili bay is a perfect sport for the adventurous, but obviously it carries some risks. Anyone who wishes to partake in this activity should contact the South West Wales Soaring Club before hand. They work with The National Trust, who, as landowners, have to give permission for any flying over Rhossili. They are also able to give you all the information you need to organize the ultimate hang gliding adventure.
There are a number of watersport opportunities in the waters surrounding the Gower Peninsula, including canoeing, surfing, kayaking and kite surfing. Bear in mind that you should be an extremely strong swimmer if you are going to take part in any of these activities, as most of the beaches in the area don't have a lifeguard on duty. For surf hire or lessons, a great place to contact is Sam's Surf Shack in Rhossili. They offer BSA level one surf lessons for every age group, costing just £20 per hour.
An ideal way to see the south coast from a different vantage point is via a boat trip. Gower Coast Adventures offers trips lasting up to 3 hours, in a 33 feet (10 m) rigid hulled inflatable boat, which is capable of carrying up to 12 passengers. Prices range between £24 - 24 for children under 13, to £30 - 38 for adults. The crew are extremely knowledgeable, and will be able to point out all the landmarks along the coastline. This is perfect for the entire family, especially children, and will be an experience they won't forget.
The wide open beaches of Rhossili and Llangennith are perfect for flying a kite - it can get quite breezy down there! The Gower Kite Centre sells a variety of Kids, Power and Stunt Kites, guaranteeing a fun afternoon on the beach. They are open all year, from 10AM to 4PM.
Remember to fit in a visit to the Gower Heritage Centre, built around a 12th century working water mill. There is plenty to do for the role family, including craft activities, a small animal farm, adventure playground, museum of farming, woolen mill, and tea room.
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Useful Visitor Information and Tips
The tides of the Bristol Channel are the second highest in the world. Always check the tide times as it is very easy to get cut off, especially if you are exploring caves, or walking from beach to beach. Before swimming or any other type of water based activity, be aware of the weather forecast, and in particular, tidal conditions. If you go to one of the beaches and you notice warning flags - don't ignore them. This means that it isn't safe to go in the water due to extremely strong currents and tides.
If you want to walk over to the Worm's Head, be aware that the causeway is rocky and quite precarious to navigate, so always wear suitable footwear. Before making the journey, always check in at the Gower Visitor Centre. The tide times will be clearly listed, letting you know when it is safe to cross the causeway. Bear in mind that you only have 2.5 hours on either side of low tide to make it there and back safely. If you notice that the tide is starting to come in while you are still on the Worm's Head - stay where you are. On no account should you try to get across the causeway by 'out-running' the tide. The causeway is extremely tricky to navigate, and you won't make it in time. The only thing to do is bide your time on the Worm's Head, waiting for the tide to go back out. On no account should you ever try to swim to shore.
Don't forget that the Worm's Head is owned by the National Trust, and the outer head is home to a bird sanctuary for nesting sea birds. There is no access to the outer head between March 1st and August 15th because that is the breeding season. If you go to the outer head during other times of the year, don't get too close to the birds - it's best to admire them from afar.
Getting down to Rhossili beach is by way of a steep stone footpath. It's a long trek down, and not suitable for certain people, such as the elderly or very young children. Accessing Falls Bay is also quite difficult. There are two ways to get to it. The simplest (but longest) route is by following the coastal path from Rhossili towards the Worm's Head, and then carry on to the left, still following the coastal path. It has a very undulating terrain, and at some points you are quite close to the edge of the cliff, so take care. A quicker route to get to Falls Bay is by following the path past Rhossili village Hall, and walking through the fields until you reach the cliffs. The descent down to Falls Bay is extremely steep and slippery, and should only be attempted by experienced walkers or climbers. Bear in mind though, that Falls Bay is one of the most beautiful beaches on the Gower - it's so remote that it's never crowded, and the scenery is breathtaking, so you really should try to see it if you can make the trek.
Mewslade is another beach that is somewhat off the beaten track, but well worth a visit. When driving towards Rhossili on the B4247, just before you get to Rhossili village, you will see a sign on the left directing you to Mewslade. Once you enter, you are on private farm land, but there is a car park (operated by the farm) on the left. Follow the signs, walking past the farm, through a wooded area, and then through Mewslade Valley, until you reach the beach. The walk itself, though quite long, is very beautiful, and the beach is stunning. Before making the trip to Mewslade, check the tide times, as the beach is entirely covered at high tide. If you get there at high tide, you could spend a little time in Mewslade Valley, or cliff walking, while you wait for the tide to go out. After an hour or so, the beach will once again be visible.
Three Cliffs Bay is a popular beach, named for three impressive cliffs that jut out into the sea, but it is possibly the most dangerous on the Gower, due to the tide. Never go swimming at high tide, or you may get caught up in the incredibly strong rip currents. Also, the tide tends to come in around the sides of the beach, leaving a sandy 'hump' in the middle. If you happen to be sitting on this hump, you could quickly find yourself cut off. It won't be long before the hump is entirely covered in water.
The Gower Peninsula is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. It is illegal to pick plants and wild flowers, destroy birds, nests or eggs, or disturb the bats that live in some of the caves. It is also illegal to damage the cliff top limestone pathways. If you are caught doing any of these things, you will be prosecuted. Don't be under the assumption that you can get away with picking a few flowers - the locals are extremely protective of the area, and tend to look out for people doing something like that! Treat the Gower Peninsula with the respect that it deserves; don't leave litter behind, and always clean up after yourself.
Some of the car parks in the area are privately owned, and operate on an 'honor system', depending on you to pay the necessary parking fee. Please do your best to abide by this system, as for many people, it is their livelihood.
Just like everywhere else in the world - keep your car locked at all times. Just because it's a beautiful area, it doesn't mean there aren't people who will take advantage. This is particularly important if you are leaving the car unattended for a long time. Even if you are in a car park with an attendant, they won't necessarily be keeping an eye on your car.
The country roads that crisscross the Gower Peninsula are narrow and winding, some of them with rather high hedgerows, so remember to drive carefully and slowly. Also there's a good chance that you will run into sheep, cows or wild horses on the road, so it's really important to keep an eye out. Cycling around the Gower is very popular, but there aren't any designated bicycle tracks, so be careful!
Buy a guide book and a detailed map of the area. This is particularly important if you plan on doing a lot of walking. It's quite easy to get lost if you're not familiar with the area.
The Gower Peninsula is one of the few areas of Wales that still speaks Welsh as the primary language. While they are bilingual, you may come across certain signs and notices that are in Welsh only. It's a really good idea to carry a translation book with you, or use a translation app on your phone. You never know when it may come in handy. Another nice idea is to learn the Welsh phrase for 'Thank you' - 'Diolch Yn Fawr'. Thanking someone for help in their native language will be very well received.
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