The Gower Peninsula in Wales is a stunning region that is well worth a visit whether you are from the UK on a short weekend break or you are visiting the UK on a longer trip and want to explore further afield than the London hub, but a recent boat trip around the coast uncovered more than I could ever imagine and should firmly cement the regions status as a must see on any bucket list.
The Gower Peninsula in South Wales is a stunning part of the world that well deserves the title of Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty that it has maintained for almost 70 years. With large parts of the coast considered as areas of scientific interest or as a natural nature reserve, and with award winning beaches that are consistently in many world top ten lists, ancient iron age forts, medieval castles and long swathes of countryside it certainly is a beautiful stretch of coast to discover. It would be easy to just say that it is worth visiting on that basis alone, but delving deeper into the Gower’s history and culture was more rewarding than I could have anticipated and truly makes this stunning part of the Welsh coast really special.
I always want to discover more about the culture and history of the places I visit no matter where I am, and that is true of weekend breaks in the UK as it is on extended gap years anywhere else.
In an attempt to see more of the Gower coast, I headed down to the picturesque Swansea Marina to meet up with Gower Coast Adventures, who offer various tours around the coastline on their 10 meter, jet propelled RHIB boat. After a friendly and thorough safety talk where everyone on board and getting kitted up in our waterproof jackets and live vests, the boat set off to explore the ruggedly beautiful coast.
The trip started off quite sedately, with a slow meander past the Mumbles lighthouse and the picture postcard bays of Langland and Caswell, and we were encouraged to just sit back and enjoy the views.
But if there were any illusions of this being a simple sightseeing trip, they were shattered when the crew began to regale us with the history and folklore of this spectacular coastline, tales that are not only fascinating to historians and archaeologists, but are filled with stories of Viking invaders, wreckers, pirates and prehistoric settlers.
This part of the coastline has seen human activity since at least the paleolithic era, evidenced by the discovery of upper paleolithic era male skeleton at Goats Hole Cave, buried with decorative ornaments and jewelry formed from mammoth tusk, that was erroneously named the Red Lady Of Paviland, due to a mistaken gender diagnosis and the distinctive red ocher staining of the bones.
It is easy to imagine why this coastline has been the inspiration behind some great literary classics, including those of Dylan Thomas, and you could easily harken back to childhood memories of reading Famous Five and Secret Seven books as you come across hidden caves and smugglers coves.
Like large parts of the UK, Wales was rife with smugglers and free traders in the mid to late 18th Century A.C.E, with the romanticism involved dependent on your own ideological leanings, but with a vast array of small inlets, hidden beaches and secluded bays, the Gower coastline was particularly handy for those who didn’t fancy paying extortionate taxes on their goods.
Brandy Cove was named as such precisely for that reason, with the popular but then very expensive drink being unloaded here by the barrel full, and the spectacular Culver Hole is rife with tales of smuggling and daring do against the authorities, not to mention the fact that it is also one of the many sites along the coast designated a site of scientific interest and is a scheduled ancient monument, giving a fascinating insights into the lives of medieval Welshmen.
But the Gower coast has a more sinister history too, with Oxwich in particular being popular with wreckers for hundreds of years, if not more. These lazy pirates aren’t what you would imagine from the movies, boarding vessels and hoisting the Skull And Crossbones, instead they would lure unsuspecting ships onto the jagged rocks during stormy nights by signalling that it was a safe harbour, and then simply killing survivors and looting the ships when they had ran aground.
With such a rocky, dramatic landscape, it’s hardly surprising that there is so much history hidden in the rich and varied geology, but it doesn’t stop at wreckers and smugglers. Viking landing parties sailed to this part of the coast in around 980 A.C.E, and were so taken with the awe inspiring geology that they gave it the name Wyrm, meaning dragon, because of the jagged coastline’s resemblance to the mythical beast. A romantic metaphor that is compounded by a natural blowhole not dissimilar to a whales, and a jagged ‘neck’ known as the Devil’s Bridge.
A smooth cruise around Worms Head gave us a glimpse of much more than the dramatic landscape, with enough wildlife present to please the most fervent lover of natural history, but that is a whole other story and for now, the history and folklore that is ingrained within the rocks and the beaches of the Gower Coast gave me a whole new appreciation for some of the coves and beaches I had been walking past just a day earlier, and certainly gave me a deeper connection to a place I was only fleetingly visiting in a short weekend. That is why I appreciate good tours that not only allow you to appreciate the landscape, but have qualified staff who are from and know the area well.
If you do manage to get to this stunning part of Wales on your travels, I strongly urge you to get to know it a little deeper than just enjoying the scenery and the adventure activities that are on offer. Taking a boat tour to see the Gower coastline is an experience in and of itself, but getting to know the history and culture is a vital part of what travel is all about.
The Gower Coast has so much to offer so many different travellers, and is so dramatic and awe inspiring that it is unbelievable that it isn’t higher up on most travellers bucket lists. But it certainly should be! If you are visiting the UK from abroad, then you definitely need to add Swansea and the Gower to your list, and if you are from here and are simply in between gap years or saving up for your big backpacking adventure around the world, then sate some of that wanderlust with a short visit here.
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This article was written in partnership with Visit Swansea Bay and with the tour provided by Gower Coast Adventures. The views and opinions expressed are entirely the authors own based on personal experiences when travelling and are honest and factual without any bias.