A family outing minus the “hubby”. My daughter, my son and girlfriend and me, all out for the day. This walk is a two car operation. We leave one at Penmaen, the Three Cliffs caravan park and then travel to Caswell Bay. The car park is between the beach and Bishop’s Wood nature reserve. The tide is coming in. We hesitate as to whether to take the low or high road. The beach access at low tide is easier but to be on the safe side we choose the high tide route. We walk on the top of the beach passing the Caswell Bay Court apartments. In 1850 this was a simple Victorian villa , it later was expanded to become the Caswell Bay Hotel but since the 1990’s it has been apartments.
For more than forty years in the 20th century, Caswell Bay played a central role in a murder mystery. Less than 2 years after settling in a house overlooking Caswell Bay, George Shotton and his wife Mamie Stuart mysteriously disappeared before Christmas 1919. When police tracked down Shotton in 1920 they feared he had murdered Mamie Stuart, but were unable to find the evidence. On 5 November 1961 a sack of human bones was found in a disused mine at the nearby Brandy Cove. A coroner’s inquest determined the remains were those of the missing Mamie Stuart. After an extensive manhunt George Shotton was traced to a cemetery in Bristol, having died just 3 years earlier.
At the far end of the bay are some steps which lead to Brandy Cove and Pwlldu; this is the high road. Summer Snowflakes, Ivy, Butterbur, Dog-violets, Ramsoms and Bracken line the steps. At the top is a wood whose paths are straddled by Ramsons; their “perfume” is heavy in the air. This is Radley Cliff nature reserve, a SSSI, run by the Wildlife Trust. We steeply climb up through the wood of Ash, Hazel, Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Holm Oak and Sycamore. It looks like pink, white and blue raindrops on a curtain of green. Ramsom smell is all pervasive but other plants are coursing their way through them and along the stony path. A mosaic of: Bracken, Gorse, Bluebells, Dog’s Mercury, Wood Anemone, Ribwort Plantain, Herb Robert, shoots of Rosebay Willowherb and Great Mullein, Black Medick, Bloody Crane’s-bill and Kidney Vetch. At the top is a good view of the bay and sandy beach; the tide is still a long way out.
The path snakes its way through Gorse covered hills and the gently sloping cliffs. Wood Sage, Yarrow, Ribwort Plantain, Creeping Thistles, Common Rock-rose, Sea Spurge, Bluebells and Bell Heather grow beside the path as it hugs the cliff edge. Soon the cliff edge is protected by hedging of newly sprouting Ash, Blackthorn, Crab Apple and Brambles. Wild Honeysuckle writhes through the branches and Foxgloves and Lords and Ladies grow beneath. Above Brandy cove is a wider stretch of grass; Gorse and Bracken is developing. It is here that Red Campion, Primroses, Dog-violets, Bluebells, Wood Sorrel, Wood Anemone, Ox-eye Daisy, Salad Burnet, Dove’s-foot Crane’s-bill, Kidney Vetch, Creeping Buttercup form a carpet of ever changing colour. Here too are large swathes of Common Spotted Orchids, their basal sword-shaped leaves splashed with black paint drops and the stem topped by a mass of deep pink flowers whose lower lobe has a deeper pink dotted pattern. Looking over the Gorse towards the sea below the cliff, I see colonies of Thrift clinging to the rock face; little oases of pink among the dull grey or sometimes yellow lichen coated rocks. Where the Gorse has started to re-grow swarms of black flies are gathering.
Tales of smuggling and ghosts surround Brandy Cove. Can you imagine elicit booty being brought ashore under the cover of darkness, the perpetrators dodging the excise men? Ghost stories are also known in this area and many people will not go to the cove in the dark. Old Moll is said to have lived in the caves by the beach and wandered the lanes and villages. Grisly screams were heard, emanating from the caves; these were thought to belong to Mamie Stuart who disappeared in 1919 and whose bones were found here in 1961.
Pwlldu Bay and Pwlldu Head can be seen in the distance. A similar planting picture is evident with the addition of Tormentil, Wild Strawberry, Ground Ivy, Common Milkwort and Cowslips.
The gently sloping cliffs seem to reach out to the sand and sea in long, knuckled, rocky fingers.
As we approach Pwlldu Bay much of the path has been cleared and signs of re-growth appear on the path side. A rough road leads us through mixed woodland and into the Bay. The houses nestling at the head of the beach were once four pubs which served the thirsty workers of the lead mines and limestone quarries in the surroundings. They were the Beauford Arms, the Ship Inn, the Bull and the New Inn. As we pass the creek , we are bitten by midges which are amassing over the water. A ford gives access to the houses but we cross via a small bridge. Nettles, Dame’s-violet and Herb Robert line the banks and lichen encrusted branches lean over the water.
We climb away from the Bay through a light and airy woodland; leaf and bud growth is only just beginning. Below the canopy is a tapestry of planting; Navelwort together with … moss cling to the tree trunks; Cow Parsley, Ramsom, Hart’s- tongue and Male fern, Celandine, Broad-leaf Dock, Forget-me-not and Bluebell all vie for space in the clearer patches; Ivy, Bindweed and Honeysuckle weave their way through the dead Brambles. Through the trees are tantalising glimpses of the bay below.
We follow the Coast Path signs to Pwlldu Head. We pass through a small wooded area which has a carpet of gold running through it; the Celandines sparkle in the dappled sunlight. Then we climb a grassy hill, covered in Daises, Dandelions and Dame’s-violet, towards a wooden gate. Lots of flowers are growing in the shade of Blackthorn and Hawthorn hedging as we approach the headland: Cornsalad, Cowslips, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Herb Robert and Greater Stitchwort. At Pwlldu Head, which comprises of a jumble of rocks with Gorse, Brambles and Bracken growing over and between them, there are magnificent views of the coastline that we have just traversed.
I am unsure but there is a “ring” of limestone boulders here that could be what is called Graves End. This is said to be the burial site of the ship Caesar. The Gower press-gangs were a legal method for the government to force men into the navy during times of war. The Caesar was an Admiralty ship on such a mission when she sank on the 28th of November 1760. The communal grave was then marked with a ceremonial circle of rocks.
We rest awhile at the headland, have a drink, something to eat and survey the views, looking east towards Port Talbot and below us to Bantum Bay.
Up until now the paths have been easily navigable but now it becomes narrow, rocky, even boulder strewn and undulating. I am thankful that I am wearing sturdy walking boots and have the services of my walking pole. I start to sing ¯When the going gets tough, the tough get going¯,I am quite enjoying myself. This is not appreciated by the offspring who tell me, ” Stick to the day job Mum”. The gorse on the hills here is not only in full growth but has taken on a golden hue. Common Milkwort, Common Vetch, Common Spotted Orchids, Wild Strawberries, Ox-eye Daisies, Dog-violets and Wood Sage are growing in amongst the boulders. It soon levels out onto heath-land above sheer cliffs. Masses of Bluebells and Cat’s ear grow in the spaces between the stands of Gorse. The cliffs have ledges which play home to plants such as Thrift and also nesting grounds for sea birds.
The path takes us inland towards Hunt’s Farm. The heath-land borders some grazing land and a small pond has been used by cattle; their footprints are all around it. There are a number of pond plants including Lilies in it and masses of Tadpoles are congregating around the edges. Oh my word… birds are all around us. There are Linnets, Stonechats and even a Mistle Thrush cautiously balancing along the fences, graceful as dancers en pointe. Both male and female Blackbirds are scurrying under the Gorse bushes. A Magpie flies past onto bushes close to a shed. As we near Hunt’s Farm, the air is alive with the cries of Swallows. They dodge and dive and weave in and out like Spitfires and Messerschmitt in a dog fight. They are very close, “Watch out , here is another batch heading straight for us.” Fascinating to watch, but difficult to capture on my camera. The sea is out of sight as we cross the heath land. The steep cliffs along here are famous for their bone caves, Bacon Hole and Minchin Hole, although access is restricted. The heath land stretches over Deep Slade and High Tor. All along this area Jackdaws and Magpies are pecking in the grasses among the Bluebells and Common Spotted Orchids, or flying between the Gorse bushes. We also spotted a family of Dunnocks resting and twittering among the bushes.
Wide red streaks of red oxide mineral deposits give Bacon Hole its name. Animal bones from the Pleistocene era and pottery from the iron and medieval ages have been found here. Also Horseshoe Bats over-winter in it. Minchin Hole bone cave is a large gash in the cliff face. Again a number of animal bones have been found: straight tooth elephant, bison, soft nose Rhinoceros, cave bear, reindeer, wolf and hyena all from the Palaeolithic era. Many Dark Age finds of cooking pots, bowls, combs, fine bone spoons, bronze brooches and Roman coins have been discovered.
We keep to the WCP sign posted route, although there are many paths and bridleways which we could explore, many of them leading to the cliffs. We soon arrive at Shire Combe and a hazy view of three curious crags of triangular limestone jutting into the waves catch our attention. Three Cliffs – we are almost there. A little further on and the cliffs and bay are clearly seen. Our earlier impression of the closeness of our destination is shaken. We are overlooking Pobbles Bay a very secluded beach to the east of Three Cliffs Bay, where the ground between the Gorse is littered with white Cross-leaved Heath.
To reach Three Cliffs we will have to traverse Pennard Burrows. Oh no sand dunes! The Burrows border Pennard Golf Course. We trudge up steep slopes of sand and then down and then up again. The dunes, steep and steadfast, gave way beneath our feet, embracing our footprints as we walked. A thousand grains of sand inside my boots find sanctuary in amongst my toes. Marram-grass cover the slopes and in between them are growing: Sweet Violets, Kidney Vetch, Sea Spurge, Common Restharrow and Dewberry plants.
So close now, the bay looks wonderful with people at the furthest end of the bay enjoying the sun and jet-skis riding the calm waters. As we descend to the beach, we see only a small spit of sand. The tide has come in very fast and has covered the stepping stones which would lead us to our car at the caravan park. Our destination is tantalisingly close, just up the hill from the beach.
We try to follow Pennard Pill, the river, to the boardwalks which should take us further up river so we can cross and return back, on boardwalks, to the stepping stones. The water is swirling around our feet; the boardwalks are covered; it is time to make a hasty retreat up the sand dunes. There is nothing for it but to walk on to Pennard Castle and then to Parkmill, where I suggest we call a taxi to take us the further three miles to Penmaen and the Caravan park. Both myself and my son’s girlfriend are by this time quite spent. My son, however, has other ideas. He sprints off in the direction mentioned and shouts back to us that he is going to get the car and will meet us at Parkmill. A very fit young man who has completed a number of half and full marathons. I cannot tell you how grateful I am; I could not have walked much further.
The girls and I rest at the castle, water and food all gone. We are really very tired after the walk and our mad dash up the dunes away from the rising tide. We just watch the paddle boarders as they made their way up the river. I wonder if they have had this opportunity before? I also wondered if they could have given us a lift across the river. I think the sun has got to me; that would be very silly wouldn’t it?
Pennard Castle was built between the 12th and 14th centuries, probably by Henry de Beaumont, the first Earl of Warwick. Other historic features on the cliffs include the remains of High Pennard Camp which was an Iron Age Coastal Fort.
So tired that I don’t take any more photographs after the castle on our way through the woods to Parkmill. It seems just a blur. My son is there with the car. We are not home yet. We still have to retrieve the other car from Caswell Bay before we can head back down the Motorway and home.
Shepherd’s shop is at Parkmill so refreshments should be available. No, it is shut. Oh well another setback. On any other day I would have loved to have visited the Gower Heritage Centre, also located at Parkmill, but not today.
Four things I have learned: take plenty of water to drink, more substantial food to eat, check the tide times carefully and make contingency plans if things go awry.
Having berated myself for not fully planning our walk. We hear on the news the following day that there had been unusually high tides this weekend and that a number of people had been stranded or cut off by the tide. In fact there are cars fully submerged in some places.