First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A sunny spring afternoon over South Wales, with a blustery wind gusting along the coast of the Gower Peninsula. Horned cattle stood contentedly munching the grass of the cliff-tops where the vivid blue of bluebells and the acid yellow of gorse vied to overload my eyeballs.
A deep sighing of sea advancing on rocks came up on the wind. The view opening westward over Three Cliffs Bay had me stopped and stunned on the brink – cliffs black in shadow, mirror-grey in sunlight, with the big squared foot of Great Tor planted solidly at the water’s edge, dividing a three-mile curve of creamy, pristine sand. The strata of the cliffs stood tilted almost vertically, as rough as the coarsest sandpaper with their coating of uncountable millions of barnacles.
Down in Pobbles Bay I crept through a wave-cut arch in the promontory, and followed the sinuous curves of Pennard Pill to teeter across its precarious line of stepping stones. Sandy paths led me on round the summit plateau of the promontory – almost an island – of Penmaen Burrows, where the chambered cairn of Pen-y-Crug still crouched, as it has done for 5,500 years, under a monstrous capstone of dully shining quartzite.
Back on the mainland I followed field lanes that wound inland and back towards the coast among forget-me-nots, milkmaids, violets and stitchwort, wild garlic and bluebells, the last of the year’s celandines and the first wild strawberry flowers. I climbed the steep sandy face of Penmaen Burrows and came to haunted, enchanted Pennard Castle looking out over Three Cliffs Bay. History says this was a poorly designed, badly sited stronghold, smothered by blown sand shortly after it was rebuilt in stone around 1300AD. Legend tells how a beautiful princess came to Pennard Castle to be married, and found herself at the mercy of its drunken garrison. These brutes attacked a party of fairies who were coming to the wedding, and the little people caused them and their castle to be buried in a great sandstorm.
I walked the homeward path along the cliffs, looking across the Severn Sea at the blue spine of Exmoor and picturing the princess and the bullies entombed in the dunes. Or did the maiden escape, as some tales tell, to live happily ever after with the fairies? It would be nice to think so.
Start & Finish: West Cliff car park, Southgate, Gower (OS ref SS 554874)
Getting there: M4 (Jct 47); A483, A4216, A4118; before Parkmill, left on B4436 (‘Pennard’); follow ‘Southgate’ to West Cliff car park.
Walk (7 miles, moderate with steep parts, OS Explorer 164).
This is a low-tide walk. Set off shortly after low water (tide times: www.gowerlive.co.uk/tidetimes.php ). If Pobbles Beach covered by sea, follow cliffs to Pennard Castle and return.
West along cliffs for 1 mile, descend to Pobbles Beach (540878). Through cliff arch; follow Pennard Pill to cross stepping stones (538883). Left up path. Near top, left (534884 – ‘Penmaen Burrows’ fingerpost) downhill, then uphill; clockwise round Penmaen Burrows; back to fingerpost. Left to T-junction (534887); right past North Hills Farm, along path to cross A4118 (542891). Up lane opposite, in 200 yards, right to re-cross A4118. Go left of Maes-yr-hâf Restaurant (545892 – ‘Threecliff Bay’); cross stream, right (blue arrow) through woods for ½ mile. Climb steeply to Pennard Castle (544885). Right along cliffs to car park.
Refreshments: North Hill Farm shop, Gower Heritage Centre tearooms, Maes-yr-hâf Restaurant.
Accommodation: King Arthur Hotel, Reynoldston, Swansea SA3 1AD (01792-390775, www.kingarthurhotel.co.uk) – £80 dble B&B.
Gower Walks Festival 2009: 6-21 June