Mumbles (Mwmbwls in Welsh) is a small fishing village situated at the Western end of Swansea Bay, at the entrance to The Gower Peninsula. Currently well known as the birthplace of Catherine Zeta Jones and Ian Hislop, it was previously a frequent haunt of Dylan Thomas and his friends. Mumbles has an unusual place name. It is named after the headland which is thought by some to have been named by French sailors, after the shape of the two anthropomorphic islands comprising it. Another possible source of the name is from the word Mamucium which is thought to derive from the Celtic language meaning breast-shaped hill.
Starting out from Knab Rock and Verdi’s ice-cream parlour, but forgoing the ice-creams on this occasion, I walk towards the pier. The tide is out and the seagulls are patrolling the sands looking for tasty morsels to eat. Boats are high and dry and tilting in the mud. There are a number of men digging in the mud and sand looking for lugworms, I think. Other men are searching for mussels or crabs among the seaweed strewn rocks. Looking back towards Swansea the Meridian Tower is easily discernible. In front of me are the original Life-boat station the old station and the very new station, which is situated at the end of the pier. Plaques and posters on the history of the Mumbles life-boat station – ordinary people doing extraordinary things – are arrayed on one of the first stations in the Mumbles.
The Mumbles Lifeboat Station has a remarkable history of bravery for over 180 years and its crews have been presented with 33 awards for gallantry. The station has also witnessed tragedy with 18 lifeboat crew losing their lives saving others at sea. The Mumbles Lifeboat Station opened in 1835 with a lifeboat that was funded and managed by Swansea Harbour Trustees and was known as Swansea Lifeboat Station; this is the stone building next to the promenade. The station was taken over by the RNLI in 1863 and moved to Mumbles in 1866. The station only officially became The Mumbles Lifeboat Station in 1904. In 1947 the lifeboat Edward, Prince of Wales and her crew of 8 were lost while assisting the SS Samtampa which had run aground on Sker Point. Mumbles Lifeboat Station is the third busiest station in Wales. The existing station is located on the north side of the pier and was constructed in 1914, the white and red building obstructing the view of the pier. The life-boat Babs and Agnes Robertson is launched from here. With the delivery of a new larger, faster Tamar class life-boat, this boat-station was not suitable, so the Tamar life-boat was launched from the in-shore station which was built in 1994. A new life-boat station has now been built at the end of the pier and it is from here that the larger life-boat is launched. Both life-boat station and the pier are listed so great care and planning was required in building the new station. The pier is a classical Victorian structure built in 1898 and stands as a tribute to Victorian architecture. It is 225 metres long and affords a fine view of Swansea Bay. The White Funnel Steamers once docked on the end of the pier and passengers would then travel to Swansea on the Swansea and Mumbles railway. (Mentioned in Swansea Marina to Mumbles walk).
At the end of the pier are souvenir shops, cafes and amusement arcades. The WCP climbs away, up steps, from here and on to the road and parking areas. From here I can see the old pier Victorian clock; the time is 1:55. The clock reminds me of one I saw in Grand Central Station, New York, only that one was golden not black, rusted and covered in bird droppings. Bergenia, Alexanders, Cottoneasters and Butterburs line the steps. At the top is the Big Apple. This was here when I was young and my grand-parents often bought me ice-cream or barbers pole rock.
Mumbles is the gateway to the Gower an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, designated in 1956 as Britain’s first AONB. The path runs parallel to the Mumbles Road with Bracelet Bay to the right and across the road to the left is Mumbles Hill, a local nature reserve. Planting along the route is very mixed: Brambles, Alexanders, Ferns, Gorse, Escallonia, Forsythia, Ribwort Plantain and Broadleaf Docks are growing here allowing glimpses of the bay below. I round the corner and I am walking above Bracelet Bay. Once I have reached the Castellamare Ristorante , the planting changes around the car park: Field Penny-cress, Daisies, Forget-me-nots, Red Valerian, Celandines, Monbretia, Cat’s Ear, Flowering currants, Gorse. Pine trees, Yucca, Herb Robert, Hogweed and Bell Heather. At low tide Bracelet Bay seems to comprise of fingers of rocky outcrops . Shingle or sandy patches insinuate themselves between the fingers and lovely blue rock pools glisten with emerald green seaweed. At the end of the bay, I look back and see Mumbles Head and the Light-house perched upon the rocks overseeing the craggy, pebble beach.
The light-house was built during the 1790’s and was converted to solar power in 1995. Like many light-houses around the Welsh coast it is therefore unmanned.
Just over Tutt Hill is the smaller Limeslade Bay, which is of a similar make-up to Bracelet Bay. Again the rock pools look enticing, but I have no time to tarry as I have only begun my walk and have some ways to go before the end of the day. My willpower is being sorely tested today as another ice-cream parlour slips into view, the famous Forte’s, and I have not even walked a mile yet. This was established much earlier than Verdi’s, as again I remember my grand-parents taking me here in the 1960’s. The cliff top has Common Cornsalad, Fool’s Water-cress and Honeysuckle scrambling over it.
I leave the road and briskly step on to the coastal path. which soon crawls along the cliff top with lots of flowers poking through the grasses and dead Bracken. There are sheer drops to the calm waters below and hillsides covered with Gorse on the other side of the path. Tiny purple and yellow jewels first catch my eye, These beautiful glimpses are to stay with me all along this walk. The purple gems are the Common Dog-violets and the yellow dazzlers are the Tormentil. Other plants include: Ground Ivy, Bluebells past their best, Foxgloves not yet in flower, Wood Sage, Dandelions, Alexanders covered in insects, Hemp Agrimony newly sprouted and miniature Gorse plants.
I slowly climb a steep incline up to Ram’s Tor; there are magnificent views of the coastline from here. To the east are all the bays from Port Talbot and Tata Steel and to the west is Langland Bay.
Below me are moonscape rocks whose craters fill and empty with the tides. Other rocks below look like giant hands; the waves come crashing in through the finger crevices.
From Ram’s Tor to Langland Bay the path has a large variety of plants. There are large splashes of white Common Scurvey-grass, Greater Stitchwort and yellow Celandines running through the other coastal grasses and ferns. The Bracken are unfurling their leaves with interesting gnarled shapes, while Dog’s Mercury, just coming into flower, Corn Spurrey and Greater Plantain worm their way under the newly sprouting Gorse bushes. Hedge Bindweed curls and twists between everything. Pink Thrift grows on the path edge, on overhanging ledges and in the cracks between the rocks. There are mats of Sea Campion with their delicate white corolla flowers and green/pink veined calyx, perched on the cliff edge. According to folklore, Sea Campion or Dead Man’s Bells, should never be picked for fear of tempting death. Given its habit of growing on the edge of cliff-tops, this was probably apt advice. Where the path has been cleared the Rosebay Willowherb are developing, there are no flowers yet but their distinctive red stems are evident. There are also a few Common Mullein poking through the Brambles. The hillside is covered with brown gorse bushes but patches of green and yellow are emerging. On it and above it, perching or flying, are Magpies and Blue Tits.
I descend towards Langland Bay with its beautiful sandy beach backed by a row of green and white Edwardian beach huts. It is a popular surfing beach which regularly achieves Blue Flag status. A succession of Lords and Ladies, Hart’s Tongue ferns, Wood Sage, Summer Snowflake, Red Valerian, Spanish Bluebells, Dead Daffodils and Pink Sorrel are arrayed along Rothers Tor. As I reach the bay an imposing turreted building on the right catches my eye, Langland Bay Manor, once the summer residence of the Crawshay family, the Merthyr Tydfil ironmasters. Early in the 20th century it was the Langland Bay Hotel, and later it became a convalescent home for retired coal miners. It has now been converted to luxury apartments.
I have to make a choice here, whether to walk on the path past the Edwardian beach huts or to get sand in between my toes and even get my feet wet in the sea. I’ll stick to the path, though the cooling sea on my hot feet is very tempting. The coastal planting continues: Viburnum, Hebe, Cineraria, Bergenia, Beach Vitex , Berberis darwinii, Pines and Cordylines. There are a lot of people enjoying the beach, a stroll, the eateries and souvenir shop. The Seagulls are doing the same, some from an advantageous position upon the beach huts.
Onward and upward to Staples Point with the waft of Ramsoms in my nostrils. The Blackthorn is flowering and Herb Robert is congregating underneath them. Beyond the golf course almost at the Point, a large swathe of ground has been cleared but Lesser Pond Sedge, Bindweed and Japanese Knotweed are emerging and re-colonising the area. There are benches at Staples Point and a number of people are taking the opportunity to rest and take in the views of the Bay and beyond.
The route teeters above the rocky shore line with the Gorse and limestone outcrops of Newton Cliffs looming above me. Black Bryony snakes its way through the old Bracken and Brambles, both of which will soon be growing along the path. The water swirls around the rocks below and the clouds start to gather in the blue sky above; it is starting to get cooler now. As I climb towards Whiteshell Point, the cliffs become more scrub like with a different ecosystem; Early Sand-grass, Kidney Vetch, Salad Burnet, Prostrate Cotoneaster, Rock Samphire and Sea Spurge grow in the thin soils which has built up in the cracks of the rocks. Long thin fissures in the cliff, created by rainwater dissolving the limestone, play host to sea birds; Seagulls can be seen swirling around them; Pigeons rest upon the edges; white and yellow lichen adorn them.
At Whiteshell Point, I get my first glimpse of Caswell Bay and beyond. The tide is out exposing the lovely sandy beach. From here it is down-hill all the way to the car park where my daughter is supposed to pick me up. The hillside is now Gorse covered again and a whole new range of flora emerges along this stretch. Back are the purple jewels of Common Dog Violets, although now that the sun has gone behind the clouds, they are not as bright as they were earlier in the day. Roses are sprouting where the path sides have been cleared. Around them are Wild Strawberry plants, Common Restharrow, Rosebay Willowherb, Traveler’s Joy, Hart’s Tongue and Shield ferns, Sea Beet, Common Scurvey-grass and Ramsoms. In among the branches is a little Robin, singing its heart out.
I am here in Caswell Bay, a much smaller bay than Langland and without the imposing beach front, a cafe, a take-away, a beach shop and a car park. It is one of the most popular surfing beaches in the Gower and regularly achieves Blue Flag status. I partake of an Earl Grey tea and a toasted teacake in the Surfside cafe as I wait for my daughter. She has texted me to say she will be with me presently, so I relax and enjoy my tea and watch the people on the beach.