As part of our series on the eight Welsh Protected Landscapes, Sian Lewis walks along the glorious coastal path of Gower Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in South Wales
The Welsh Coastal Path is a glorious achievement. A huge ribbon of 870 miles of trails across some of Britain's most epic coastline, the path was completed in 2014 and now gives walkers the chance to lace up their hiking boots and tramp over green cliffs, through peaceful villages, past wild ponies and above the incoming waves.
And there's nowhere better to sample a bite size piece of the path than in Gower Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There are over 38 miles of walking routes on the peninsula, beginning in the bustling city of Swansea and ending in the wild marshes of Crofty in North Gower. The peninsula may be small but it is a land of great natural beauty and historical gems, all inextricably linked to the sea that encircles it, and just a few days of walking will give you a taste of life in this unique corner of South Wales.
Start in Swansea and take a stroll along the promenade. Then pass Mumbles' ice cream shops and pretty pastel houses - soon you'll escape into the empty open spaces of Gower itself. The coastal route meanders through astonishing places - 32 Sites of Special Scientific Interest, 24 Wildlife Trust reserves, 10 nature reserves and five Special Areas of Conservation. For the walker this translates into stumbling across prehistoric burial sites, spotting seals at play in the swell and walking through nature reserves teeming with life. It's no wonder Gower was named Britain's first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1956 for its natural diversity and the beauty of its limestone coast, sparking the creation of Britain’s other 46 AONBs.
There are many gems along the the route, but one of my favourite places is Whiteford Burrows Nature Reserve. This peaceful spot couldn't be further from the bucket-and-spade beaches by Swansea - here are only wild birds and grazing ponies. Follow footpaths from Cwm Ivy Woods and see if you can spot the rare fen orchids sometimes found here. Lonely in the landscape is Whiteford Point Lighthouse (above), a Victorian cast-iron creation built in 1865 that is half-swallowed by the sea at every high tide. As you head towards Crofty and the end of the road, you'll pass the cockle beds where local women once picked the bounty of the sea barefoot, a reminder of how elemental and tough life once was for those who tried to eek out a self-sufficient existence here.
For those that aren't looking to take on all 38 epic miles of the Gower Coastal Path at once, there are many stretches that are well suited to smaller explorers or for gentle afternoon strolls. For a family-friendly walk head from Langland Bay up and over the cliffs. After a few hours of easy walking with bright yellow gorse on your right and the booming ocean on your left you'll arrive in gorgeous Caswell Bay, where you can have a well-deserved cuppa in the Surfside Cafe and watch wetsuit-clad paddle boarders ride the waves.
For views to take your breath away there's nowhere like Three Cliffs Bay. Start from Penmaen church and soon you'll have your destination in sight, the three green peaks that give this beach its name looming above the far-off sand. If you can resist running out onto the beach as soon as you get there turn back to the dunes and climb up to the ruins of Pennard Castle overlooking the sea. Built in the 12th century by Henry de Beaumont, first Earl of Warwick who obviously had a thing for a nice vista, the castle is now a romantic ruin. I love to stand in one of the remaining archways and look down at the bay; on a clear day you can see all the way to the Devon coast.
If you only have time to visit one part of this unchanged coastline, make it iconic Worm's Head. Dictated to by tides and weather, the landscape here is never the same - at low tide there's a causeway to follow and at high tide the Head becomes an enigmatic island, the one that so entranced the Vikings they named it after a sea serpent, or 'Wurm'. Stride past the hardy sheep grazing here and you can look across at the miles of empty sand of Rhossili Bay, broken only by the wooden skeleton of a shipwreck - the Helvetia, lost here in 1887 and now being slowly reclaimed by the ocean. Before you leave have a well-deserved pint in Worm's Head Hotel terrace and watch the waves breaking on the beach below.
Find more information on Gower section of the Wales Coast Path.
Visit Swansea Bay lists walks along Gower path, graded by length and difficulty.