Everyone has a favourite destination that tops all others.
The attraction is usually predictable:
- the glamour and romance of Italy’s Amalfi Coast; the Greek Islands; Catalonia; Spain; or the South of France.
- the majesty of the Alps and Scandinavia.
- the grandeur of London, Rome and New York.
- the romance of Paris, Scotland and the English villages
- the pulsing excitement of Asia, India and the Americas
- the natural wonderland of Australasia, the Maldives, Pacific Islands, Caribbean and the Arctic
- the animals and ancient wonders of Africa
Each of these has its own special lure which appeals to people for different and often intensely personal reasons.
Others prefer the road less travelled; enjoying isolated communities and sights free of crowds.
Most people are surprised, for example, to hear that one of our favourite destinations is the Gower peninsula of South Wales.
Gower peninsula: a special place
Some fellow travellers have never heard of the place.
But, to us, there is something special about Gower. On our only visit, we had a particular feeling of exhilaration and astonishment at both the natural beauty of the area and the sense of history and heritage that surrounds.
Protruding into the Bristol channel, the peninsula has glorious beaches, secluded coves, limestone cliffs, and a hinterland richly carpeted with colourful bracken, woods and lush grass. Gower was the first part of the United Kingdom to be officially declared an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
But there’s more than just attractive scenery. If you are enthralled by Stonehedge, you’ll love this place.
Beauty and mystery
Gower is entwined with an enormous amount of Celtic mythology and legends – so much that many people who study such things consider the peninsula to be almost sacred ground.
For example, Gower contains;
- remains of Bronze Age and Iron age sites
- Iron Age hill forts
- megalithic monuments
- sites where 6th Century saints established the first Celtic cells
- neolithic burial tombs and stone rings
- remains of early Celtic churches
- ruins of a medieval chapel
- remains of a medieval village
Gower is also reputedly the burial place of lestyn ap Gwrgant, the last ruler of the Welsh kingdom of Morgannwg.
One of the highest points on the peninsula is an ancient ridge known as Cefn Bryn. Just north of the ridge summit, there is a neolithic burial ground known as Maen Ceti – or Arthur’s Stone.
Locals believe that during the Bronze Age, Cefn Bryn was used for a lot of ceremonies and rituals. Beneath the bracken on the hill, more than 60 burial cairns have been discovered, one of which is known as the Great Cairn.
The term ‘Arthur’s Stone’ cames from a legend that the Maen Ceti was thrown into its position by the ancient British King Arthur.
At Goats Hole Cave, Gower, in 1823, archaeologists uncovered a fairly complete Upper Paleolithic-era human male skelton, dyed in red ochre. Initially, the remains were believe to be those of a woman from Roman Britain, so they became known as the ‘Red Lady’.
However, later analysis showed the remains were actually those of a young man, dating back as far as 34,000 years.
We love Great Britain and have been fortunate enough to explore most of island.
However, we knew little of Gower’s natural beauty nor its Celtic mythology when we drove from Bath one day in late Autumn.
It was an eye-opener.
An amazing introduction
As we skirted Swansea and headed onto the peninsula, a thick fog started to roll in early in the afternoon.
As anyone who knows British country roads will attest, they can be extremely narrow with poor visibility in even good weather.
In thick fog, driving becomes nail-biting. Poking through the gloom into north-west Gower, we passed fewer and fewer towns and villages and seemed to be getting further and further from civilisation.
Then, out of nowhere, a smattering of houses and the outline of a church emerged from the fog and the car’s GPS system announced that we had reached our destination – the coastal village of Llangennith.
By this stage, the fog was so thick it was almost eerie and we happily headed indoors without seeing much except the ground below our feet.
Now that’s Wow Factor
You can imagine our amazement the following morning when we found that we were actually perched almost directly above a stunning beach, with pristine sand and long, evenly-rolling waves.
Llangennith may have only two roads, but it is a real slice of heaven that apparently draws surfers from around the world.
As well as the scenic bay, the village clusters around a Village Green and the church of St Cenydd, which was apparently destroyed by raiding Vikings in about 986 and now dates from about the 12th Century.
Not far from the church are the remains of the medieval village of Coety Green.
A sea serpent
A highlight of the picturesque coastline is a promontory known as the’Worm’s Head.
Said to be have been called ‘Wurm’ (dragon) by Vikings, the attraction is shaped like a giant sea-serpent, with an island at the tip joined to the rest by a rocky causeway.
At high tide the island is apparently cut off from the causeway and many walkers – including the famous Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas – have made the mistake of staying on the island too long and being cut off by the rising tide.
The beauty of Gower, however, lies not merely in its coastline.
A hinterland to remember
Immediately behind Llangennith are reddish bracken covered woodlands and grasslands of rich green.
Our cousins, who are lucky enough to live at Llangennith, spoke with obvious pride of the Gower’s astonishing heritage. Gower, they said, was home to ruined castles and manor houses which would really capture the imagination during foggy afternoons. We immediately thought of Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
Sadly, we left the peninsula all too soon, but determined to return and describe more of this remarkable place.
If you have the opportunity, pay a visit to Gower. It is certainly something to be both seen and experienced.