Adder, sparrowhawk and royalty on Gower, Wales
by Leo Green
Monday, October 8, 2018
Since 2012 it’s been possible to walk all of Wales’s 870 mile/ 1400km dramatic and varied coastline. The route passes the edge of cities such as Cardiff, Newport and Swansea, but also some wild clifftop scenery where the only sign of humanity could be an ancient standing stone.
I live in Swansea, a former seaport on the Bristol Channel in the Southwest UK. Its geography makes it a rainy sort of place, but it is surrounded by glorious coastline, so on a sunny day – or even one when it isn’t pouring with rain – an afternoon at the beach is an obvious choice. The only question is, which beach? Even for a non-driver, there are a dozen I could choose from, all within a short walk from a bus stop. There are tiny rocky coves with caves and blowholes which are swallowed by the sea at high tide, accessible only by scrambling down steep paths, but also vast sandy bays where you and your group can claim an area the size of a tennis court even on a ‘busy’ day. There are even some disabled -friendly beaches such as Caswell, with its adjacent car park and cafes which are great for watching hardcore surfers over a mug of hot chocolate in winter.
Most recently I spent a few hours at Pobbles Bay, a sandy, south facing beach backed with limestone cliffs which are great for a bit of rock scrambling. The limestone provides lots of caves and rockpools too. I first visited Gower as a 6-year-old, and decades later I still enjoy finding fossils in the rocks and starfish in the pools. The rock pools are refilled by the sea twice a day and contain fascinating tiny creatures, but the waters of the Bristol Channel contain much bigger sealife, including dolphins, basking sharks, and whales. A humpback whale washed up on nearby Aberafan beach in 2008, and as the Bristol channel is an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean, there’s no telling what really lives beneath the waves.
Pobbles is the easternmost of a chain of bays. At low tide you can walk several miles barefoot through the shallow sea through Threecliffs Bay, Tor Bay and Oxwich Bay, maybe disturbing flat fish as you go. It’s thalassotherapy free of charge, but be aware that the Bristol Channel has the second highest tidal range in the world, which causes some dangerous conditions for swimmers. It also means you have to keep moving your towel when the tide is incoming, but the view changes from moment to moment as the tide ebbs and flows.
Encountering an adder and a sparrowhawk
I spent a couple of hours reading, taking photos, rescuing a starfish, and paddling in the sea, which was beginning to warm after a particularly cold winter then packed up and began the walk back to the bus stop. Having hiked to the top of the cliffs, I was walking across the grassy clifftop, scattered with a few spring flowers, and affording a fantastic view of the sparkling sea, beaches to left and right, and the low hills of southwest England across the water. As I approached a gap between two patches of brambles, a sparrowhawk glided silently through the gap, low to the ground, lifeless prey in its talons. Tilting its tail, it changed direction and dipped beyond the cliffs. Such a subtle bird, I think I was the only one who noticed it and that was just because it crossed my path. A few minutes later, as I joined the narrow lane which leads to Southgate, another predator crossed my path. An adder, the only venomous snake in the UK, but unlikely to attack unprovoked. I had much more time to observe this pretty gold and black serpent as it slipped across the tarmac, the grass verge before disappearing beneath the brambles, but decide to enjoy the ‘real life’ experience rather than reaching for my phone to take a photo. My life was more at risk from the small herd of bullocks blocking the lane just ahead, but they moved aside when I approached them assertively. Urban legend has it that several people a year are killed by cows, whereas the last fatality from an adder bite was 40 years ago. Maybe cows just have a bigger grudge against humans
Pennard village and its environs
Temperatures rarely rise over 25⁰C, and there are no resorts in South Wales, so you may need to adjust your expectations of a day at the beach. It’s a stunning coastline but Wales’s low population density means that many areas are unspoilt and undeveloped, and I like it that way. It does mean you have to plan your coffee and comfort breaks, so it’s good to know that Pennard Village has a coffee shop near the bus stop about 25 minutes walk from Pobbles. As well as refreshments and local souvenirs it has clean toilets. It’s also a Post Office, which sells stamps as well as postcards, which is great if you love this old school form of communication.
Photos of royal visitors
The Little Gem bead shop nearby sells jewellery findings and runs classes. It’s a nice place to spend some time and money, and has photos of a visit by Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall a few years ago.
Wales as a tourist
Wales doesn’t throw itself at the tourist market, but it is friendly, civilised and modern. Encounters with adders and sparrowhawks are rare, but if you search a few rock pools you’ll find some interesting sealife.
Our ancient delights include stone age monuments, Roman remains and more castles per square kilometre than anywhere else in Europe. There are very few dangers in terms of violent crime, dangerous wildlife or extreme weather, and we have many 21st century adaptations for disabled travellers.
It’s best to do some research to get the most out of a visit, but pack a raincoat and a positive attitude and you’ll have a great time.