Leaving the cars at each end of the walk, my daughter and I then pick up some tasty snacks at the shop on the Three Cliffs Caravan park, Penmaen. We take the road towards the beach and past Nott Hill, a National Trust area. Bluebells, Sheep Sorrel, Red Campion, Nettles, Brambles and ferns line the road. Just before descending on the beach path, there is a stand of Teasel with Common Mouse-ear in the fore-ground and pink Rhododendrons in the back-ground. The downward slope is quite rough. The views over Three Cliffs Bay are spectacular. The Pennard Pill winds itself in a deep arching curve through the beach separating it into two. Access to the left-hand side of the beach is over stepping stones. You may have read my account of reaching this furthest end of the beach on my last walk and finding the tide was in and the path across the beach barred. A view of the dunes, which we crossed, and Pennard castle, where we rested are distinguishable in the glorious sunshine.
Honeysuckle and Black Bryony tangle themselves in the hedges of Oak, Hawthorn, Hazel and Blackthorn which are under planted with Rosebay Willowherb, Bluebells, Greater Plantain, Wood Sage, Clevers, Lords and Ladies, Primroses, Mullein and ferns both Male and Hart’s-tongue align our route. Soon we reach the bottom of the path where we are faced with a salt-marsh reed bed, sand dunes and stream, which is forded via a small wooden bridge. We are now at Three Cliffs as stated by the National Trust sign. The stream is full of small brown fish, Minnows, Small Restharrow, Sea and the dunes are covered with a myriad of plants: Dewberries, Dove’s-foot Crane’s-bill, Small Plantain, Buttercups and Daisies.
We walk over a dune and onto a steeply ascending sandy path. Here the planting on either side has me clicking the camera button nineteen to the dozen. I do not notice the incline and my daughter is delighted as she is able to rest frequently as we trudge upward. Plants of all descriptions: white flowered Common Mouse-ear and Wood Sorrel, green fleshy Prickly Saltwort and Shrubby Sea-blight, purple beautifully patterned Ground Ivy, pink Common Vetch whose tendrils snake through everything, Bluebells, Bracken, Bilberry bushes and coppiced Hazels.
As we reach the Gorse covered top, the views of Three Cliffs Bay are still stunning. The singer Kathryn Jenkins is noted as saying that this bay is the most beautiful she has seen. She may be biased because she comes from this area. She is not the only one to express how spectacular this bay is. In June 2006 the BBC Holidays at Home programme declared Three Cliffs Bay to be Britain’s best beach and in a recent programme broadcast in the UK the view over Three Cliffs Bay was nominated for “Britain’s Best View”. The Bay has also appeared in a number of TV dramas.
Following the path above steep cliffs, the sea can be seen swirling around rocky outcrops in the bay. New green growth is peeping through the dead Bracken and Brambles. These are accompanied by patches of colour supplied by the blues of Common Field Speedwell and Common Milkwort, the yellows of Tormentil, Black Medick and Bird’s-foot Trefoil, and the pinks of Sheep’s Sorrel and Clover. From Little Tor, where the Common Rock Roses are growing in profusion, vertiginous panoramas of the cliff face and Great Tor are seen. The cliffs play host to Thrift, Common Rock Roses and Kidney Vetch, while the heath above the cliff has a variety of plants growing through and around the Bracken and Brambles: Heather, Bluebells and Red Campion. There are also sporadic patches of Gorse, stunted Sycamores and a Crab Apple tree.
Views from Great Tor towards Three Cliffs
We pass Great Tor where there are lovely views of our recent passage and a fabulous view of the Three Cliffs. There are more people walking in the area above Tor Bay; a couple with a Golden Retriever are ambling along.
The dog surprises a Pheasant in the under-growth which I miraculously catch on camera, a little hazy but definitely there. A family are playing on the beach at Tor Bay; it must have been quite a walk down the cliff path to reach their destination. I do not envy them their return trip. A double kayak is also traversing the bay; the sea looks quite calm.
Great Tor crag is extremely popular amongst rock climbers. We didn’t see any scrambling up the vertical rock walls today. There is another prehistoric bone cave, Leather’s Hole, on Great Tor which is only accessible by the climbers. Only a very small passage is visible on the surface of the rock which leads into the heart of the Tor. As in other bone caves in the Gower many animal remains from the Pleistocene epoch have been found but there is no evidence of human occupancy.
We stop for a rest above the horseshoe shaped Tor Bay, then continue up a rough slope which has been carefully cleared of vegetation, although, Ivy , Brambles, Male and Hart’s Tongue ferns have started to colonise the banks of the path underneath the Blackthorn bushes. The peace is disturbed by the flight of a succession of jet-skis and motor boats passing quite close to the steeply sloping cliffs. Kidney Vetch is evident here again, accompanied by Ox-eye Daisies and Rock Roses. We pass through a gate and the whole splendour of Oxwich Bay and Nicholaston Burrows assaults our eyes.
We enter a small wooded area, a precursor to Nicholaston Wood. Sandy paths meander through a mixed wood of Elder, Ash, Beech, Sycamore and Oak. A veritable cornucopia of plants are arrayed along the path or under the leafy canopy: Common Field Speedwell, Ground Ivy, Bluebells, Bracken, Herb Robert, Red Campion, Garlic Mustard, Lesser and Greater Celandines, Cow Parsley, Ramsons, Traveller’s Joy, and Wood Sage. The sandy path digs deeper into the banks of dunes as it slopes down further into the wood.
Roots of trees have been laid bare by the erosion of the sand and a majestic Sycamore doubles as a support for a rope swing. Too tempting, I must have a go. Yeahhh… great fun.
The wood is alive with bird song. A cheeky Robin pays us a visit, hopping upon the sand and from branch to branch and bush to bush. So very close. I bet he is after the caterpillar we saw earlier on the path. We emerge into the dunes but the path skirts them and wood land on our right keeps us in the shade. Some of the path has subsided and we pick our way precariously through, brushing past Common Milkwort, Burnet Roses, Nettles, Broadleaf Dock, Dove’s-foot Crane’s-bill, Polyploidy ferns and Black Medick. Broadleaf Dock growing very near the Nettles is handy; I have found the Dock to be an antidote to the Nettles when I have been stung by them.
Out of the wood and into the dunes. We soon encounter a limestone outcrop on our right where many plants have found purchase in the sandy soil in the crevices. It is mostly greenery but splashes of pink Red Valerian and yellow Bird’s-foot Trefoil and Celandines are scattered about. We sit for a while and take a drink and some food, watching the outcrop above us. We sit comfortably upon a mossy hillock with small flowers within it: purple and pink Milkwort, Restharrow and Dove’s-foot Crane’s-bill. Poking through this tight knit carpet is the occasional Spotted Orchid, Mouse-ear Hawkweed and Spring Vetch. Flitting past us and into the distance is a large yellow Butterfly. It could be a Brimstone, but it never stays still long enough for me to photograph it. High above us slowly circling is a Raptor, a Kestrel. I catch a photo of its shadow against the outcrop. It reminds me of a prehistoric Pterodactyl.
We move on towards the marshes but before we get there we see a number of blue butterflies nestling amongst the Bird’s-foot Trefoils, these are Little Blues. They are darkish brown with a dusting of blue. Their undersides are a silvery-grey with a line of dots or dashes just inside from its almost furry edges.
The Nicholaston Burrows marshland looks dull, beige or brown with Saltmarsh Rush, Common Reeds, Sharp Rush, and sedges. On its margins, however, where the sand has insinuated itself there is a variety of colour: purple and pink Milkwort, Prickly Sow-thistle, Common Ragwort, Burnet Rose, Sea Holly, Sea Sandwort, Sea Spurge, Sheep’s Sorrel, Marram-grass and dried Polyploidy ferns. We cross the area without incident passing a few walkers, some on the same route as us and others taking the path through the marsh towards Nicholaston Wood. Up above us in the clear blue sky a couple of Buzzards are soaring in the thermals; it looks like aerial dancing.
A clear blue stream lies across our path, but fortunately there is a wooden bridge, so we can avoid getting our feet wet. The tide is out so we could choose to follow the stream towards Oxwich beach or follow the WCP path; we decide to carry on with the WCP. Carpets of Sea Sandwort hug the area around the bridge while other coastal plants line our way: Thrift, Marram-grass, Cat’s-ear, Ragwort, Black Mustard and Sweet Violet. Away to the left is a stand of Holly bushes with Mosses, Wild Strawberries, Polyploidy ferns and masses of Orchids, both Common Spotted and Southern Marsh
We enter Oxwich National Nature Reserve and a similar planting theme continues, together with the addition of Daisies, Milkwort, Ribwort Plantain, Black Medick and Marsh-bedstraw. We follow tunnel like paths into a wooded area, thankful for some shade after the heat and blazing sunshine we encountered walking through the marsh and dunes. The sun is piercing the leafy canopy of Birch, Sycamore, Oak and Willow. All is well and we are enjoying the ambience and our quiet conversation. Unheeded by us our soft footfalls become a little laboured. No pedestrian traffic has been encountered for some time. The path has become rutted and boggy. Is this caused by the recent rain storms? No, the whole area is bog with its typical bog planting: Willows towering above moss covered ground, Horsetails, Flag Irises and patches of standing water. I can see the grassland a few hundred feet in front and I try to press on, leaving my daughter, while I test the ground. Boots are stuck and taking in water, so there is no point in pursuing. I extradite myself from the mud, rejoin my daughter and we look for an alternative path around the bog.
We find a likely route but it seems to be blocked by a fallen branch which is entwined with Ivy. Nothing for it but to either limbo underneath or scramble over it. Neither of which am I adept at. Daughter is over in a trice. I follow with a pull and a push from her, unceremoniously landing on the other side of the obstacle.
Eventually we reach the dune system again and pick up the WCP route. The dunes are covered in short stubby grasses,pink Clover, Milkwort with white flowers, Dove’s-foot Crane’s-bill, Wild Strawberries and Dewberries. Patches of Cowslips and Daisies straddle a narrow chalky path; the path is made up of thousands of broken shells.
A dip leads us into a shaded area where ferns and bluebells are growing in profusion. Soon another choice presents itself: to follow the chalky path which looks like it is heading towards the beach or cross the stile and go further into the nature reserve. Chalk path it is! Sporadic Crab Apple trees and Wild Privet in amongst other spindly trees of Sycamore provide shade over a sandy path which in fact leads to the car park at Oxwich and not the beach. We walk through the car park to the beach. Pebbles and dried Seaweed litter the top of the beach with acres of soft sand curving around the Bay. Lots of people are enjoying themselves, playing or resting, and some are swimming in the calm aquamarine sea. Oh! and there are the obligatory jet-skis further out in the bay. To the right, the whole of our route from Three Cliff to Oxwich is arrayed before us. To the left, is Oxwich Point where we hope to pass on our next walk. A cold drink and a snack is called for, so we purchase them in the small village shop.
Oxwich Bay has so many different habitats that it is one of the most diverse coastal areas in Britain: beach, dunes, marshes and woodland. The village which we pass through on our way from the beach and car park boasts a number of thatched cottages, two castles, the nature reserve – which we partly traversed . Oxwich has a close connection with the start of Methodism in the Gower Peninsula, as John Wesley stayed here when he came to the Gower between 1762 and 1773.
The Caterpillar mentioned has been identified as a Glow Worm larva.