My daughter and I took the next step on our walk around Wales in early June. Two car strategies or bus and car trips from home did not seem feasible. The distance from home was too great. So we booked ourselves into an excellent accommodation in Rhossili, Broad Park B & B. When we arrived a bird of prey was perched upon a telegraph pole in front of the B & B. This did look promising , wild life at the start of our walk. The view from the window was also stunning. Worms Head loomed out at us from the mist as we took stock of our surroundings from our bedroom windows. We spent a pleasant evening in the King Arthur Hotel, Reynoldston, where we had a very good meal.
The next morning didn’t look too good on the weather front. It was very misty with low lying cloud cover. We were here now and there was nothing for it but to gird our loins and pull on our wet weather gear. We left the car in the National Trust Car Park at Rhossili. Then we caught the bus to Port Eynon. The bus dropped us off near the Captain’s Table and The Seafarer. We walked through the dunes towards the Salthouse, which I mentioned in the walk Oxwich to Port Eynon. The dunes were covered in vegetation. A myriad of plant species was arrayed before me: Pyramidal and Southern Marsh Orchids, mats of Common Restharrow, Lady’s Bedstraw, Dove’s-foot Crane’s-bill, Clover, Red Valerian, Fennel, Black Mustard covered in snails, Hop Trefoil, Bristly Oxtongue, Bloody Crane’s-bill, Wild Carrot, Herb Robert, Burnet Rose, Common Broomrape, Poppies, Field Bindweed, Red Campion, Prickly Sow-thistle and Bracken. My camera was clicking like there was no tomorrow. I was not distracted from my task even though the heavens had decided to open and the rain was coming down like stair-rods. It did not deter the House Sparrows who were strutting in the sand and pebbles and picking at the Seaweed on the beach.
We soon came to the old wharf and the ruins of the Salthouse, mentioned in a previous walk. A path which climbed steeply in the direction of Port Eynon Point took us past the Youth Hostel. A number of ramblers coming from the Hostel rushed past us and almost sprinted up the hill. Although the rain had eased by now, the hedges were very wet and often sprayed us with showers of water droplets. Pink Sorrel plants sprawled under the hedges; the flowers had closed for protection against the rain; they looked like little pink cigars, and the leaves were dotted with mercury-like globules. Green fruiting bodies of Lords and Ladies poked through them. Further along were Tree Mallows. Underneath the Oaks, Hawthorn, Brambles and Elders, Nettles, Ivy, Black Bryony, ferns, both Male and Hart’s Tongue and Buttercups took shelter. The Elder was in flower and the Hawthorn was shedding its flowers and producing green Haws. I, also, caught a glimpse of rather raggedy Southern Marsh Orchids thrusting their pinkish stalks through the vegetation.
The path became steeper and the hill to the right of us was made up of scree, a consequence of the area being a maze of old quarry workings. This was colonised by a colourful carpet of greens, reds, pinks, blues, purples, whites and yellows: Maidenhair Spleenwort, Shrubby Sea-blight, White Stonecrop, Sea Spurge, Common Field-speedwell, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Silky Wall Feather Moss, Ground Ivy, Bloody Crane’s-bill, Eyebright, Wild Thyme, Wood Sage, Common Rock Roses, prostrate Cotoneaster, Wild Mignonette, Yellow-wort, Ivy-leaved Toadflax and Greater Knapweed. To our left Gorse, Wild Honeysuckle and Bracken softly flowed down to the sea.
This was Salthouse Mere, a mainly pebbly cove with lots of rocks which have been likened to a lunar landscape. The sea was rough and it swirled around the rocks , the waves crashing upon them sending spray into the air.
We gained the top of the climb to be rewarded with a flat heath-land. Port Eynon Point was in front of us. The rain had now stopped but it was very breezy as we made our way to the Monument dedicated to the Gower Society Founders. Here were the ramblers who passed us earlier. They were having a very animated group photograph.
Plants were growing precariously on the cliff edge: Thrift, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Greater Knapweed, Common Rock Roses and Shrubby Sea-blight. From the point we could view the Salthouse Mere on one side and Overton Mere, much further away, to the other side.
On the plateau were all sorts of plants including Cowslips, Daisies, Pink Clover, Wild Clary, Creeping Thistle, Oxeye Daisies, Seaside Centaury and a few Common Puffball mushrooms. Culver Hole, an unusual cave, between two rock faces with a masonry wall, should be below us. It has a staircase inside that leads up to four floors. It is often frequented by climbers as its access point can only be reached by rope from the beach below. However, with the mist and rain we were unable to see it today.
We followed the Coast Path which steadily descended to Overton Mere, a small cove surrounded by hills on three sides. On the way down we encountered Gorse, Bracken, Brambles, Hemp Agrimony and Burnet Roses. Clambering through everything was Bittersweet or Woody Nightshade. The flowers dripped from the writhing branches, its swept back purple petals revealing the bright yellow cone-shaped anthers, a very pretty contrast to its vibrant green arrow-shaped leaves. Pretty but deadly poisonous.
Overton Mere has been designated a Nature Reserve; its flat terrain above the beach and below the cliffs is awash with countless plants which attract a plethora of fauna. Grasses, Ferns, Great Horsetails, Nettles, Thistles, Plantains, Clovers, Hogweeds, Campions, Willowherbs, Docks, Comphrey, Cow Parsley, Wild Carrot, Creeping Cinquefoil, Bindweed, Cat’s-ear, Yarrow, Sheep Sorrel, Silverweed, Rock Roses and Scarlet Pimpernel all vying for space. Oh my! I’m was getting plant overload. The walk had miles to go with lots of different ecosystems. The good thing was the sky was lightening.
At the end of the cove Overton Cliff came into sight and the ground became more rocky, sustaining yet another set of plants. The Giant Knapweed was still with us and so was the Wood Sage. Sea Plantain with its narrow strap-like leaves and slender spiky flowers covered with tiny yellow stamens seemed to be growing everywhere.
We sat down on the rocks to fortify ourselves with a little food and drink. Kidney Vetch, Thrift, Rock Samphire, Golden Samphire, Seaside Centaury and Dragon’s Teeth were all growing amongst the rocks and boulders. The sea whipped itself into a frenzy causing mats of froth to sway back and forth, to and from the shore.
We set off again along a narrow gravelly path that hugged the cliffs with the rugged undulating rocks below us, colourful maritime flora on either side. We also encountered the occasional Pyramidal Orchid. The cliffs rose to the right of us; prickly Gorse embracing them. Bell Heathers, Sea Spurge, Cat’s-ear and Wood Sage nestled amongst them. Loose stones and boulders had been piled into interesting structures, almost like grave markers. High in the grey sky a lone Raptor circled. It was very eerie.
At Long Hole Cliff the path following the coast was too dangerous to follow and a diversion inland was required. The valley started off with a wide flat area of grasses with ribbons of pink and red running through it: Red Campion, Sheep’s Sorrel and Foxgloves. The grasses consisted of Cock’s-foot, Common Couch, Common Bent , Yorkshire Fog, Timothy , Sheep’s Fescue and Ribwort Plantain.
We trudged up the valley as the rain returned but did manage to spy out some more of the flora and fauna. Ground Ivy, Hemp Agrimony, Brambles, Thistles, Foxgloves, Nettles, Gorse, Elder, Bracken, Hart’s Tongue Ferns, Southern Marsh Orchids, Mullein, Wood Sage were arrayed in the hedges. Some areas of scree presented itself and here we found Shrubby Sea-blight, Field Scabious, Rock Roses and Dove’s-foot Crane’s-bill growing among the stones. Hedge Sparrows tweeted in the bushes and a Green-veined White fluttered past us. Too quick for me to take a photograph. We met a woman with her dog who enquired if there were any sheep further down the valley. If there were she would have taken a different route.
We climbed out of the valley with the rain beating on our faces and our packs dripping wet. Wide grass paths through fields of heath-land encompassed by dry-stone walls awaited us. Sometimes we found ourselves enclosed by Bracken, Brambles and Gorse. Spires of purple Foxgloves often thrust into the air and garlands of Sheep’s Sorrel relieved the monotony of green.
The rain eased and birds came out to greet us; Stonechats and Blackbirds perched on the Gorse, Brambles and barbed wire fences. The grass was sometimes quite high and our feet and lower legs were getting fairly damp. Walking boots, gaiters and waterproofs helped the wetness from sinking too deep into our under clothes.
High up above the cliffs and glimpses of the sea could be seen. Valleys ran down to small coves and the sea. Other than the lady with the dog we had seen no-one until now, when whole families of people and their dogs appeared. We were warming up now and it was time to strip off some of the layers and shake some of the drops off our waterproofs. The sky was still overcast and a slight breeze was blowing off the cliffs.
We spent , so it seemed, a long time walking through the fields, some just grassland with some flowers: Heath Bedstraw and Broad-leaf Willowherb, and others of Bracken and Gorse with Sea Rocket and Foxgloves dotted through it. We often saw Sheep poking their heads up over the Gorse and fences, eying us with suspicion.
We stopped again for refreshments at the top of one of the valleys and noticed that they seemed to have dry-stone walls or fences running down the middle of them. The reasons for this we are unsure of but the coves would be ideal for smugglers. Perhaps the farmers on either side of the wall had rights to the smuggled goods, but this is all supposition. As we sat on the rocky Lichen covered outcrops Jackdaws circled over head. We were still quite damp and made the most of the rest , a toffee crisp and (some water. In crevices around us grew Kidney Vetch, Common Centaury, Wild Thyme, White Stonecrop, Rock Roses, Salad Burnet and Mouse-ear Hawkweed.
Down rough paths to the valley floor, then up muddy slopes we progressed closer to our destination. We passed Burnet Saxifrage and Salad Burnet and the usual hedge planting. A sign at the bottom of one of the valleys read – Port Eynon 3 ¼miles pointing east and Rhossili 4 miles pointing west. We were almost half way. A path to Foxhole Slade ran perpendicular to our path but we did not venture to see the cove and sea. Over a stile and then up the other side and onto a sheep filled grass land. We could not see the sea now and grey skies were all around us.
After walking through a number of fields we trudged up a muddy incline through an avenue of hedges on to a promontory. Below us is Deborah’s Hole another one of those bone caves that are so common in the area.
Further along the path we looked back to see a large triangular cliff jutting out into the sea. I think this is called the Knave. Oh! hang on a minute. Further along the coast again was another triangular rock which looked like the continuation of a line of uplifted cliffs. Could this have been the Knave? Oh! surely the triangular rock out in the sea, with what looked like a Cormorant perched on it, isn’t the Knave? Does anybody know what the Knave looks like in all this mist and sea spray?
Anyway the views of precarious slopes and steep cliffs were spectacular, while the other side of the coast path looked over uninspiring farmland. Sea birds, Jackdaws and Swallows took to the air or perched on the cliff edge. Crevices in the cliffs sported Knapweed, Thrift, Wild Carrot and Oxeye daisies. The vista before us showed a wild sea with waves crashing against the rocks and through the haze we thought we could see Worm’ s Head. Was it wishful thinking?
Some Common Mallow, Burnet Saxifrage and Lady’s Bedstraws graced our path together with other plants like Rock roses which have been a constant feature on this walk. In amongst them we saw spiders’ webs glistening with raindrops. Somewhere in the cliffs below us was Goat’s Hole or the Paviland Cave. This is one of the most famous caves in the world, first excavated in 1880. An archaeological find of great importance was found: human remains, initially misinterpreted both by date and sex. It was called “The Red Lady of Paviland.” Many artefacts found in the cave now rest in Swansea Museum but “The Lady” is in Oxford, where scientific tests are still revealing much unknown evidence about the existence of early man.
It seems that the remains of promontory forts line this coast and we passed evidence of these on our walk. With the sky brightening all the time we carried on and eventually walked through a wooded area where Hawthorn flowers had been shaken from the trees onto nettles growing beneath. They looked like someone had spotted them with little dabs of white paint. Black Bryony tendrils reached out to us as we passed underneath avoiding the inevitable drips..
Below us we saw a path leading to Rams Grove. We exchanged walking boots, as my daughter was suffering with her new boots and my boots were well “walked” in, before we made our descent on a very rough path, then up another hill, where we met some more walkers. Flowering Brambles, Field Speedwell and Creeping Cinquefoil peeped out from the grass which sparkled with raindrops as we slowly pulled ourselves to the top. The other walkers travelled at a greater pace than us, due in part to the state of my daughter’s feet and to my advancing years.
We crossed another headland and came across some weird rock formations and small caves. Mingled with the sound of swishing waves on the rocks below was a screeching, kreeling sound of a Kestrel flying above us.
To the west in the hazy distance was Worm’s Head, still awhile off. We followed the undulating coast path, which was not exactly on the edge of the cliff but some way inland. Stonechats were “chattering” in and on the bushes as the sky became decidedly lighter. One valley running down to a small cove was Butterslade.
We reach Thurba Head and its Iron Age Promontory fort where the ramparts and ditches could clearly be seen.
Sheep were roaming everywhere. Down again to Mewslade Valley, which leads to Mewslade Bay, then up again. The path was edged with Bracken, Field Roses and Blackthorn.
People were walking out to the end of the cliffs. Paths only fit for the Blackface horned sheep which had replaced the white Welsh Mountain and Welsh Hill Speckled Face sheep that we had seen earlier.The sun was definitely coming out and more layers of clothing disappeared into our packs. More walkers and sheep greeted us, including a cute little black lamb.
Between Mewslade Bay and Falls Bay we rested again. We left the path and carefully crossed the rocky outcrops to the edge of the cliff. Well not the very edge but somewhere safe from where we could ogle the surroundings and partake of sustenance. Thurba Head was to the East of Mewslade Bay and Tears Point was to the west of Falls Bay.
The sun was out. The sheep were out. People were out. Where did these crowds come from? A Painted Lady was dipping in and out of the Wild Thyme and Thrift. It’s a butterfly folks! Rooks, Jackdaws, Herring Gulls, Common Gulls, one with a chick rested on ledges. These ledges also supported plants such as Golden and Rock Samphire, Common Mallow, Sea Beet, Sheep’s Fescue and pockets of Wild Thyme and Thrift; they looked like hanging gardens.
We were reluctant to leave but we still needed to reach Rhossili. So we continued along cliff top to Falls Bay, a long, shallow beach nestled in the coastline. Here we had a choice whether to follow the path just above the beach or the one higher on the cliff.
We chose the high ground. Common Stork’s-bill, White Horehound, Dwarf Mallows, Brambles , encased in spiders’ webs and bees, buzzing on Musk Thistles, were our companions along the route. Of course together with the other ramblers who had emerged with the sunshine. Oh! We also attracted some Meadow Pipits which hopped from bush to bush, post to post and bramble to bramble as we walked. Glorious views back along the coast just begged to be photographed, so I obliged .
Sheep were still about in droves. We headed for Tears Point. Inland were a number of long ,thin fields each enclosed by dry-stone walls. These were the Medieval field system of the Viel; the narrow fields are still communally farmed. The cliffs around Tear’s Point are popular with climbers but there were none to be seen today.
At Tears Point we had our first glimpse of Worm’s Head. From here we crossed the flat grass, thistle and bracken covered platform above the cliffs. Meadow Pipits were still in evidence hiding in and on the Bracken. A Lookout station, which was once a Victorian coastguard base and is now run by Coastwatch, stood perfectly placed to scrutinise the causeway to the Head. When we arrived at the Station we could see that the tide was in and the causeway was partially covered.
We had no time to wait and explore Worm’s Head today. We would have had to wait until 15:00 hours before it was safe to cross over to the island. It was 13.30 hours now and I was starving. We still had a little way to go before we reached Rhossili village. We will return and cross to the Head one day to see the seabirds on the island.
Although called Worm’s Head it looks more like a dragon than a worm. In fact, historically the area of the “Wurm” meaning “limbless dragon” was named by invading Vikings. The island is a haven for seabirds such as Herring Gulls, Guillemots, Razorbills and Kittiwakes. The rocky causeway that joins the headland to the mainland is only exposed for two and a half hours before and after low tide. Inexperienced walkers could spend both an inconvenient and desolate half day waiting for the tide to change. Even the young Dylan Thomas made the mistake of falling asleep on the Head and missing the tide. He was a frequent visitor to the area and wrote about it in “Who do you wish was with us.”
Here are a few quotes:
” Laughing on the cliff above the very long golden beach, we pointed out to each other, as though the other were blind, the great rock of the worms head. The sea was out. We crossed over on slipping stones and stood, at last, triumphantly on the windy top. There was monstrous, thick grass there that made us spring- heeled and we laughed and bounced on it, scaring the sheep who ran up and down the battered sides like goats. Even on this calmest day a wind blew on the Worm.”
“At the end of the humped and serpentine body, more gulls than I had ever seen before cried over their new dead and the droppings of ages.”
” I stayed on that Worm from dusk to midnight, sitting on that top grass, frightened to go further in because of the rats and because of things I am ashamed to be frightened of. Then the tips of the reef began to poke out of the water and, perilously, I climbed along them to the shore.”
In August 2009 the Royal Mint released a silver £5 coin depicting Worm’s Head to commemorate the London 2012 Olympics and the places, people and history of Britain. Released again in 2012 as a 6 piece set representing the “body” of Britain, capturing the land’s natural wonders and beauty.
We turned the corner and headed towards the car park, which was still some distance away. Rhossili Bay languidly stretched away in the distance. We watched some climbers on the cliffs, Mermaid Wall, for a while then proceeded up the gravel path and rough road to the car park. We passed National Trust centre the quickly found a seat on the veranda of the Bay Bistro.
As we waited for our food to be prepared we sipped slowly on ice cold soft drinks and took in the view of the pristine, golden, sandy Rhossili beach below us. The beach just went on and on and on…Robins perched on telephone wires above us. House Sparrows, adult and young, scratched for tit-bits around and on the tables. They were ever present in the Ivy, Cotoneaster, white and red Valerian and Escallonia. Bluetits were making use of a homemade bird box and Swallows were flying around a nearby house. A perfect end to a long, sometimes wet walk. However we still had to drive the 50 miles home.
The National Trust together with Glamorgan Wildlife Trust and Countryside Council for Wales oversee and manage the South Gower Nature Reserves which are all along this coastline. The dramatic stretch of limestone coast between Port Eynon and Rhossili gives rise to a distinctive range of plants and animals.
With its unspoilt beauty and tranquillity, Rhossili is the most photographed part of Gower. It receives thousands of visitors throughout the year both to its beaches and village. The whole area is steeped in history, from the wreck of the Helvetia, 1887, its smuggling enterprises in the 18th and 19th centuries, its farming on the Medieval field system of the Viel, its rich pasture grounds and sheep farming, its Iron Age promontory forts, its bone caves especially Paviland Cave, to its industrial quarries.