The treasured Gower Peninsula in southwest Wales holds some of the best beaches you’ll find in the UK and beyond. But there’s more to this gorgeous and welcoming region than just showstopping coastal excursions, as Tristan Parker discovers
There’s much to say about the Gower Peninsula, enough to fill a book, in fact (many have been written celebrating its beauty), but perhaps all you really need to know to tempt you is that it was designated Britain’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1956.
Extending west from Swansea (although still part of the wider county of Swansea), the Gower, as it’s known, covers just under 190 sq km and boasts a mighty 19-mile stretch of coastline – its defining feature. As such, it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that beaches and related activities make up a big part of most people’s Gower itinerary, as they did for Welsh literary icon Dylan Thomas, who visited the area multiple times in his younger years and found much to love.
The jewel in the sandy crown is undoubtedly Rhossili Bay, a world-class offering that holds its own against Caribbean gems, even if the weather can’t quite match that of Barbados – because the Gower feels like it was built for all conditions, as almost year-round surfing, stand-up paddleboarding and other watersports demonstrate. It’s a stunning visit in any season and any weather, so don’t feel like you need sunshine to appreciate the beaches or anything else in the region.
If you do want to retreat from coastal conditions – or if you just need some respite after a hike – the Gower is a generous host, boasting countless cosy eateries and pubs that invite long lingering, and there’s even Michelin Star dining available at the Beach House in Oxwich.
Another part of what makes a holiday to the Gower so special is the sense of history and heritage that runs through pretty much everywhere in the area, allowing visitors a brief but fascinating – and often tangible – connection to the past of this storied land.
It’s yet another reason to embark on a Gower adventure, because that’s what any trip here ultimately feels like. And it’s not an adventure you’ll be forgetting in a hurry, and probably one you’ll end up on again and again in years to come.
GOWER COAST PATH
Clocking in at 38 miles, this section of the Wales Coast Path (870 miles) runs from Mumbles to the village of Crofty, covering the whole Gower Peninsula and effectively providing a self-guided tour of the area’s greatest hits. If you’re walking the whole thing, allow four to five days to really soak everything up and enjoy some beautiful pit stops. Passing through nature reserves means you’ll spot wildlife and gorgeous flora alongside the coastal scenery, and there’s history to be uncovered at the 19th-century Whiteford Point Lighthouse (Britain’s only remaining cast-iron lighthouse) and several castles.
You can’t help but feel that beer produced in an area this beautiful has to be good. Luckily, it is. At least when it comes from this brewery, which makes craft beer with a classic feel. Learn about its brewing journey on a tour, with a tasting of the big-hitters (including signature ale, Gower Gold), or just stop in at the on-site bar. If you prefer drinks with ice and a slice, the Gower Gin Company distils excellent gins (and a vodka) at pretty Port Eynon, and offers tours and tastings in its leafy, all-weather gin garden.
Legend has it that when King Arthur threw aside a stone from his shoe in Carmarthenshire, it ended up around 30 miles away on a ridge in the Gower, Cefn Bryn, as a huge boulder, such was the might of his kingly lob. Wherever it came from, this 25-tonne boulder (Maen Ceti in Welsh), held aloft by other rocks to create a Neolithic burial chamber, has been attracting tourists for hundreds of years; King Henry VII is said to have come to see it on his way to the Battle of Bosworth in the 15th century.
It’s impossible not to be charmed by this colourful and characteristic village that marks the start of many visitors’ Gower journey. Blessed with a fine slice of Gower’s coastal beauty, it’s also full to the brim with independent shops and boutiques, arty cafes, restaurants and a plethora of enticing pubs, as well as all the ice cream you could need for a seaside holiday. But before settling in to a seaside watering hole, take a stroll along the Victorian pier and pay a visit to Oystermouth Castle. Dating back to the 12th century and holding a battle-strewn history, Oystermouth’s hilltop location offers wonderful views over Mumbles and across Swansea Bay.
Three blissful beaches
Gower’s superstar regularly makes it into lists of the best beaches in the UK, Europe and indeed the world. Three miles of golden sand, backed by dunes, provide ample space for visitors. Look out for the remains of the Helvetia, shipwrecked in 1887 and now protruding eerily from the sand at low tide, and be sure to stop in at the Worm’s Head Hotel, a traditional boozer with great views.
THREE CLIFFS BAY
Another of Gower’s big-draw coastal regions, this spot is named after the three limestone cliffs that line its sands. This beach has more types of terrain than you can keep track of, giving it a refreshingly wild feel. Take time to explore from different viewpoints, as each angle reveals something new. Just remember to take care if you’re swimming here, as tides and currents can be strong.
Do the 400m walk to Mewslade Bay from the nearest car park and see the towering limestone cliffs sweeping out from both sides of the valley. This is unspoilt, rugged Welsh coastal scenery at its finest. Visit at low tide when all that incredible scenery is visible.
Climate: As you’ll likely be spending a fair bit of time on exposed coastlines, be prepared for erratic weather most times of year. But don’t let this put you off! The Gower is beautiful and perfectly visitable at any time of year.
Where to stay: There’s no shortage of accommodation to suit every budget, from campsites to shepherds’ huts to converted stone barns to holiday homes with jaw-dropping ocean views. You can’t go far wrong by picking one of the numerous homely B&Bs available (plus you’ll be supporting a local business), but do book ahead in summer or other peak holiday times.
Getting around: Having a car will make things easier, but a surprisingly extensive bus network runs through much of the Gower, so you can reach main sites like Rhossili and Mumbles by bus from Swansea.
Visit: visitswanseabay.com for more information.