Thursday, 5 March 2015

RHOSSILI BAY

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.

File:Rhossili and the Worms Head - geograph.org.uk - 1057944.jpg
Rhossili and the Worms Head. Photo by Graham Taylor, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 26 February 2015

THE LOUGHOR ESTUARY AND SALT MARSHES



The north coast of the Gower Peninsula largely consists of an expanse of salt marshes which, while bleak in nature, provides an ideal environment for the production of the highly prized lamb from the sheep grazing here.  There is an abundance of nourishment from the plants growing in the marshes: Samphire, Sorrel, Sea lavender and Thrift.  The salt marshes stretch westwards from Crofty and are fringed by a number of villages.  Penclawdd and Crofty are known for their cockle industry, which dates back to Roman times.  Penclawdd was once a thriving sea port exporting copper goods, coal and seafood, and there used to be coal mines in the area.  Salthouse Point is a man-made area which formerly played a role in the area's shipping history, and later formed part of an army practice range.  Now the Point is an important wildlife habitat.  

Towards the western end of the salt marshes is the village of Llanrhidian, which offers wonderful views over the marshes.  There are similarly impressive views from Llanmadoc further west, while down below is the Whiteford National Nature Reserve where, in addition to a variety of wildlife, there are wildflowers and orchids for botany enthusiasts.  Between Llanrhidian and Llanmadoc is Weobley Castle, a fortified manor house which dates from the 13th century and which belonged to the de la Bere family until the 15th century.  The castle offers one of the best views of the marshlands and mudflats.    

Map of the area. 

File:The salt marshes below Weobley castle - geograph.org.uk - 1311232.jpg
The salt marshes from Weobley Castle. Photo by ceridwen, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 19 February 2015

LLANELLI



Llanelli, the largest town in Carmarthenshire, is an ex-mining town where the economy once thrived not only from mining but also from the steelworks and the tinplate industry.  The latter led to the town being nicknamed 'Tinopolis'.  However, following a familiar pattern, the 1970s saw the start of an economic decline with the closure of the mines coupled with competition from overseas steel producers, although some steel manufacturing still goes on in the area.  Aside from economic activity, the town also has a proud rugby tradition.  A few years ago a new stadium called Parc y Scarlets was built, named after one of the town's two rugby teams the Scarlets, the other one being the Llanelli RFC.

Today one of the main attractions bringing visitors to the area is the National Wetlands Centre on the banks of the River Loughor to the east of the town, where familiar birds such as geese and other waterfowl are joined by the more exotic flamingoes.  Recent sightings include black tailed godwit, goldeneye and lapwing.  Another draw for visitors is the Millenium Coastal Park, including a Coastal Path running for 13 miles from Loughor to Pembrey. There are also cycle paths, beaches, coarse fishing and other leisure activities to be enjoyed in the Park, all accompanied by lovely views of the Gower Peninsula to the east.  Back in the town, Llanelli House is an early Georgian building offering tours which tell the history of the house and the town.  Parc Howard Museum occupies a 19th century Italianate house and houses a range of exhibits including a large collection of Llanelli pottery.  A range of events are held in the town during the course of the year, including the Big Day Out Music Festival, a Beer Festival and a Carnival.  

Map of the area. 

File:The National Wetlands Centre Wales - geograph.org.uk - 88688.jpg
Some of the more exotic inhabitants of the Wetlands Centre. Photo by Nigel Homer, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 13 February 2015

BURRY PORT



In my piece about Pendine I wrote about the ill-fated flight by female aviator Amy Johnson and her husband, who ran out of fuel and were forced to crash-land before arriving in New York, having started out in Pendine.  In 1928 Burry Port witnessed a similar incident involving a female pilot, but this time the pilot, Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, was attempting her flight in the opposite direction bound for Southampton, and it was at Burry Port that she was forced to cut short her flight, also for lack of fuel.  However, she had a more fortunate outcome than the poor Johnsons: A Llanelli-based manager from the Anglo Americal Oil Company came to the rescue, ferrying cans of fuel out to Earhart's Fokker aircraft Friendship, with crowds of onlookers watching the spectacle from the quay.  The event is commemorated by engraved flagstones and a plaque in the harbour.

A harbour was built in this location in 1832 for shipping out the coal being mined in the locality, but the town did not grow up until a couple of decades later.  The canals used to transport the coal to the port gave way to the railway in due course.  Now the mines are closed, and the harbour has been converted to a marina for leisure craft.  The marina forms part of the Millennium Coastal Park.  Nearby Pembrey Burrows is home to a country park and the Saltings Local Nature Reserve.  Many rare plants are to be found here as well as birds such as ringed plovers, skylarks and redwing.  Pembrey Sands is treacherous to shipping, and as such has been the scene of many a shipwreck.  Not all of them, however, were accidents.  Some of the ships were lured onto the sands by local wreckers known as "The Men of Little Hatchets", so called because a type of hatchet was used for ripping open the cargo.

Map of the area.

File:Amelia Earhart memorial, Burry Port harbour - geograph.org.uk - 1025606.jpg
Amelia Earhart Memorial. Photo by Rose and Trev Clough, via Wikimedia Commons


Friday, 6 February 2015

LLANSTEFFAN



Llansteffan lies on the River Tywi, which merges with the River Taf to form a large estuary.  There have been fortifications overlooking the river here since the Iron Age, when a hillfort did the job.  Then the Normans arrived and in the early 12th century erected an earth-and-timber 'ringwork' within the confines of the hillfort.  The transformation into a 'proper' castle came courtesy of the Camville family, who held sway here from the 12th to the 14th centuries, and it later fell into Tudor hands.  The castle, now ruined, is run by Cadw and is free to visit.  

There is a settlement on the opposite side of the river called Ferryside.  There is no ferry from here now, but during the height of the mining industry the mines in the South Wales valleys used to close for two weeks in what was known as 'Miners Fortnight' and the miners used to flock to Ferryside by train and cross over to Llansteffan, filling up the lodgings in the village.  There was much fun and games during the holiday period, including a 'Mock-Mayor-making ceremony', a tradition which continues to this day in August.  There are some lovely old photos of mock mayors of yore on the Llansteffan website.  Dylan Thomas was a frequent visitor to the village, where he  used to get his hair cut by the legendary Octavius Owen, of Occy Owen's Emporium.  On one occasion the poet was due to be best man at the village church, and he was sent away with a flea in his ear by Occy Owen, who accused him of being improperly dressed.

Map of the area.

File:Llansteffan Castle - geograph.org.uk - 24217.jpg
Llansteffan Castle. Photo by Nigel Davies, via Wikimedia Commons



Friday, 30 January 2015

LAUGHARNE



I first visited the estuary town of Laugharne - pronounced Larne - a few years ago on the way home from a weekend in Tenby with my husband.  I must confess I had never heard of it before, but the landlady of our bed and breakfast recommended the town, so we decided to look in on it.  After wandering around the town we decided to go for a walk along the path by the west bank of the estuary of the River Taf, on which the town is situated, and after a short distance we came across a sweet little building, barely more than a hut.  Peering through the window, it became apparent that what we were looking at was the 'Writing Shed' used by Dylan Thomas during his time living in Laugharne.  Thomas and his family spent the last four years of his tragically short life living in the Boathouse on the shore of the estuary, and the shed was perched just above it.  It was a lovely Sunday morning when we visited, and as we gazed out at the stunning views of the estuary and of the majestic Gower Peninsula away in the distance, it was easy to imagine what a source of inspiration this spot must have been for the most famous Welsh poet.  The characters in his most famous work, Under Milk Wood, were inspired by the inhabitants of Laugharne.

Dylan Thomas Boathouse


For visitors who want to follow a 'Dylan trail' there are a number of sites around Laugharne with connections to the poet.  Brown's Hotel was where he would retreat to after a bout of poetry-writing in order to indulge his other great passion in life: drinking.  The sign outside the hotel shows an image of the poet.  There are two former homes which were occupied by the poet and his family before they settled in the Boat House: Eros, a fisherman's cottage on Gosport Street and Sea View behind the castle.  The Boat House is now open to visitors, and contains a number of displays depicting the life of Dylan and Caitlin.  There is also a short film about Dylan's life, starting with his childhood in Swansea.  Refreshments are served from a tearoom with a terrace overlooking the estuary.  The castle, dating from Norman times and now a ruin, was a favourite haunt of Thomas when seeking peace and solitude.  The hillside cemetery of St Martin's Church harbours the graves of both Dylan and Caitlin.  Nature lovers will find plenty of birdlife down at the estuary, with egrets, lapwings, herons, oystercatchers, seals and even the occasional otter making an appearance.

The Taf Estuary
Map of the area

Saturday, 24 January 2015

PENDINE



By the time we reach Pendine, heading east from Amroth, we are no longer in Pembrokeshire, Pendine being at the western end of Carmarthenshire.  However, that does not mean we have seen the last of endless sandy beaches.  The beach at Pendine is 7 miles long, stretching from Gilman Point to Laugharne Sands.  In the 1920s racing enthusiasts made use of the vast expanse of sands in a series of attempts at breaking the land speed record.  Possibly the most famous car to make an appearance was the Blue Bird, a Sunbeam 350HP owned by Malcolm Campbell, father of Donald Campbell.  Campbell broke nine land speed records in the 1920s and 1930s, three of them on Pendine Sands.  A Welshman called J. G. Parry-Thomas sadly lost his life when attempting to beat one of Campbell's records.  Pendine Sands still attracts racing enthusiasts today, and each summer the Vintage Hot Rod Association holds its Hot Rod Races here.  On a slightly different note, it was from Pendine Sands that female aviator Amy Johnson and her husband departed for an ill-fated flight to New York.  The pair ran out of fuel and were forced to crash land just before reaching their target destination, resulting in serious injury to both. 

Today, the sands are popular with families, due to the abundance of shallow water at high tide making for safe paddling.  At low tide the sea can be as much as a mile out.  The area to the east of the village has been commandeered by the Ministry of Defence who use it as a firing range, but the sands are usually open for public use at weekends and on weekday evenings.  The glory days of land speed record attempts are recalled in the Museum of Speed in Pendine village.  During the summer months the museum's displays include the restored Babs, the car used by the unfortunate Parry-Thomas.  The car was buried in sand dunes near the village until 1969 when it was retrieved and lovingly restored.  A report on the rescue of Babs as well as vintage footage of some of the land speed record attempts at Pendine can be seen on the British Pathe website.

Map of the area.

File:Pendine Sands Sunrise 29-09-2008.jpg
Photo by Nogginkj, via Wikimedia Commons