Top Ten Walks: Carmarthen Bay and Gower

Sand and trees combine at Berges Island, Gower
A lovely place to wander: Berges Island, Gower

In August 2012, Harri and I braved heavy rain and the thickest mud on the planet to walk from Amroth to Swansea marina… our section of the Wales Coast Path.

Perhaps I should explain. Harri was commissioned by Northern Eye Books to write one of the official guides to the 870-mile path. We held our breath, knowing we’d be allocated either the Carmarthenshire/Gower stretch of coastline or the final section, Swansea to Chepstow, which passes through the docklands of Cardiff and Newport and probably qualifies as the one of the least attractive stretches of coastline in Wales.

You can imagine the shrieks of delight (from me, Harri has more self-control) when we learned that we were heading to West Wales.

A year on, that first coast path book is yet to be published; however, Harri’s companion book of short circular walks in Carmarthen Bay and Gower is due from the printers any day now and is already being advertised for sale on Amazon.


Pennard Castle where you'll find boardwalks aplenty the dunes
Pennard Castle where you’ll find boardwalks aplenty the dunes

The Top Ten series is a nifty little idea from Northern Eye. The books are pocket-sized, really pocket-sized, and are priced at £4.99. The idea is that none of the walks is too onerous for the casual walker (all are between four and seven miles), though of course, good sturdy shoes and waterproofs are always a good idea in our changeable British climate.

Harri’s book features four walks in Carmarthen Bay and six in Gower. Much of the walking is on the Wales Coast Path; however, as the routes are circular in nature, they give people an opportunity to explore inland areas and nearby villages too.


Even Penclawdds's mudflats look stunning at sunset
Even Penclawdds’s mudflats look stunning at sunset

Our first day’s walking back in late January was memorable because it was the first time we’d ever walked a coastal path covered in snow (and yes, the snow does settle on sand). It was a beautiful day, bitterly cold but sunny; we passed few hikers as we slithered and slipped along the path high above Pendine, which had all but disappeared under recent snow. Sadly, Northern Eye chose not to use my stunning snowscapes for the book, presumably because they didn’t want to suggest that the weather in Wales might be anything other than perfect.


It's not often you get to walk the Wales Coast Path in snow
It’s not often you get to walk the Wales Coast Path in snow

One thing you can rely on in Wales is that the weather never remains the same for long; the very next morning we were greeted with grey skies and rain. I’ve yet to get any decent photographs of Laugharne as it rains every single time I go there. That said, this little estuary town that’s famous for its association with the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas is still well worth visiting… no matter what the weather.

There’s the castle, the famous Boathouse where Thomas lived for the last four years of his life, his writing shed and various other buildings associated with the poet, including his favourite watering hole, Brown’s Hotel. Our route followed the Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk for a while before heading inland. One of the highlights of the day was seeing the graves of Dylan and his wife, Caitlin, at St Martin’s Church. I’d imagined some grand memorial would mark the grave of Wales’s most celebrated poet but his final resting place was marked with just a simple wooden cross.


The simple cross that marks a great Welsh poet's grave
The simple cross that marks a great Welsh poet’s grave

The following week we were back, this time walking routes around Llansteffan and Kidwelly. I’m afraid that it was very much like a re-run of last summer in terms of the weather… cows and mud everywhere although the slugs were noticeably absent.

It was mid February by the time we were ready to start on the Gower routes. Gower, of course, is absolutely stunning in any weather but thankfully we had better luck with the weather and even had some warm sunshine. On February 19, I actually posted a gorgeous photograph on my Facebook page with the comment ‘We didn’t think we’d be having lunch on the beach in February’.


It's not often you get to walk the Wales Coast Path in snow
Harri looks down at Bury Holms

What never fails to amaze me is the astonishingly varied natural beauty. There are glorious sandy beaches (where the majority of visitors flock), high cliffs and windswept downs, hidden coves, dunes, marshland, wooded valleys and picturesque villages.

The development of the Wales Coast Path means that access to the coast has been dramatically improved, e.g. the new stepping stones at Burry Pill mean that hikers no longer has to trek inland to cross the pill (although Harri warns that they do get covered at high tide!).


Trying out the new stepping stones at Bury Pill
Trying out the new stepping stones at Bury Pill

I absolutely love the stretch of boardwalks above Broughton Bay; I really don’t know why I love boardwalks so much but maybe it’s because I always associate them (bizarrely, given that I live in the notoriously wet UK!) with hot summer days spent on white sand beaches. The beaches at the far end of the northern Gower coast are far less crowded than those on the south coast but equally beautiful.


Three Cliffs Bay is much less crowded than some of Gower's more southerly beaches
Three Cliffs Bay is much less crowded than some of Gower’s more southerly beaches

But Gower was chosen as Britain’s first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) for many reasons other than its beaches.  Rhosilli, Oxwich and Port Eynon may well attract thousands of tourists and day visitors every year but the miles of white sand are not all Gower has to offer. There’s more… so much more and much of it will appeal to serious hikers as well as weekend walkers.

As a student, Harri lived in Swansea for four years and spent most of his (considerable) free time cycling and walking on Gower. Since then, as a couple we’ve spent around 30 days hiking on Gower and we hope to visit again this summer.


Humans aren't the only ones who enjoy walking the Wales Coast Path
Humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy walking the Wales Coast Path

Will we ever tire of Gower? Grow bored of the landscape set within the dimensions of this diminutive Welsh peninsula (Gower measures just 15 miles long and 7 miles wide at its widest point)?

Our answer to that is easy – it’s a resounding NO!


Whiteford Point Lighthouse is accessible at low tide
Whiteford Point Lighthouse is accessible at low tide