Sun, surf and salty air: exploring Gower

Gower was the first place in Britain to be named an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. With cliffs and woodlands ringed by sparkling beaches, this tongue of land is so adored by walkers, birdwatchers, sunbathers and surfers, it’s been scooping awards ever since.

Reflections of the sand at Rhossili Bay, Gower

Rhossili Beach, Gower Peninsula

 by Jo Evans1

When, in early 2013, a travellers’ survey named Rhossili Bay Europe’s third best beach (after Sicily’s Rabbit Beach and Playa de las Catedrales in Galicia, Spain), we were delighted, of course. But we weren’t particularly surprised. Rhossili, a three-mile stretch of gleaming white sand, is the pride of the Gower Peninsula. Down in this corner of South Wales, the beaches are so gorgeous, they win accolades and awards all the time.

Gower has many high profile admirers. The team behind the BBC’s recent history series, The Story of Wales, chose it as the location for Huw Edwards’ opening sequence. Wildlife presenter Kate Humble loves Gower for its wild walking and birdwatching, and Joanna Page, whose family home is in the pretty seaside town of Mumbles, likes to hit the beach in summer to chill out, go crabbing and watch people surfing.

Within easy reach of the busy urban areas around Llanelli, Swansea and Port Talbot, Gower is a favourite weekend escape for thousands of regular visitors. But there’s so much space here that it’s only in the height of summer that the locals’ favourite beaches – Rhossili Bay, Port Eynon, Langland Bay and Caswell Bay – feel at all crowded.

Naturally beautiful

Ben's Rock, Three Cliffs Bay, Gower

Ben's Rock at Three Cliffs Bay, Gower

 by Claire_Sambrook

In 1956, Gower was designated Britain’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It was singled out for its geology and its outstanding coastal habitats. They’re surprisingly varied. Within these 70 square miles are cliffs, beaches and dunes, salt and freshwater marshes, wooded valleys and farmland. At the westerly tip is a slim, rocky promontory, Worms Head, its name derived from the Viking word for dragon.

New initiatives designed to help to conserve the peninsula’s unique qualities without compromising the interests and needs of residents and visitors come up on a regular basis. At the moment, it’s all about reducing light pollution, to enhance Gower’s famously dark, starry skies.

Great care is taken to keep Gower’s beaches pristine, too. In 2012, Bracelet Bay, Langland Bay, Caswell Bay and Port Eynon were all awarded Blue Flags and Rhossili Bay and Limeslade each received a Keep Wales Tidy Green Coast Award.

More coastline attractions in Swansea.

Historic Gower

Shipwrecked anchor from the ship Samuel from 1884 on Rhossili Beach, Gower

Shipwrecked anchor at Rhossili, Gower Peninsula

 by Crowbuster

There’s a lot of history crammed into a small space on Gower. It’s home to over 80 scheduled ancient monuments and sites including Upper Palaeolithic caves, Bronze Age burial sites, Iron Age hill forts and Mumbles’ romantic 13th century ruin, Oystermouth Castle. Most remarkable of all is Paviland Cave, which is normally hidden by the tide. Here, in 1823, archaeologists discovered ochre-stained bones, honoured with beautiful objects made of ivory. Dating back around 33,000 years, this Western Europe’s earliest known human burial site. You can find out more at the Swansea Museum.

More history and heritage attractions in Swansea.

Discover Gower’s wild side

Gower’s network of lanes, cycle routes and footpaths lead you through breezy coastal landscapes, scented with bracken, sea salt and wild garlic. The woodlands ring with the calls of blackcaps, warblers and goldcrests, and there are always seabirds wheeling over the cliffs. In spring, guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes nest on Worms Head’s furthest ledges and puffins occasionally make a guest appearance. For news of recent bird sightings, visit the Gower Ornithological Society website, where local birdwatchers post their field notes.

Surfers walking along the beach heading home at sunset, Llangenith, Gower

Surfers on Llangenith beach, Gower

 by Jo Evans1

When conditions are right, you’ll find some of the best surf in Wales off Gower’s beaches and bays. If you’re a beginner or you just want to hone your technique, Gower’s expert surf instructors will show you the ropes. For up-to-the minute forecasts and webcams, visit Gower Live.