IAN BATEMAN RETURNS THIS MONTH WITH A WALK TO CLEAR THE POST-PRANDIAL CHRISTMAS COBWEBS
This month my mission, should I choose to accept it, is to plan a traditional blow–away-the-cobwebs-and- generally-get-outdoors-and-sober-up Boxing Day walk for all the family. After readily accepting the challenge in October, I suddenly realised that this must be the earliest that I’ve ever voluntarily had to think about Christmas.
The run up to the festive season seems to start earlier every year and no doubt there will come a time in early November, when it will start taking on a life of its own, with the momentum of a runaway truck careering down Constitution Hill. In my world, however, I have usually been able to banish such thoughts to the periphery of my mind at least until December
This certainly seemed to be the case when I was a child growing up in the 60s. I genuinely seem to remember that Christmas started in December and the serious excitement only kicked in when Val, Peter and John lit the first candle on the Blue Peter Advent Calendar, four episodes and two weeks before the big day. And the more I thought about it this seems to be borne out by the memory of a story my primary school teacher told me many years ago. He recalled that as soon as December arrived, there was a sense of excitement in the classroom, and it became increasingly difficult to get the children to concentrate on their work, such was the mounting excitement. His tactic was simple yet ingenious. Do you remember that they’d start a lesson by writing the date on the board? Well Mr Phillips attempted to “delay” the onset of December by chalking up the dates each day as November 30th, November 31st, November the 32nd and so on until some smart Alec would chime out, “But, sir!!” Brilliant.
I digress. My general intention for this column was to plan walks a little further afield, but as this is intended for Boxing Day, or at least over the Christmas holiday, it makes a lot of sense to stay local, so where else but Gower? The only difficulty is choosing a walk from the seemingly endless choices. To illustrate this, I have a friend, of shall we say advancing years, who every Wednesday for the past 12 summers along with his similar aged chums, has done a Gower based walk and maintains they’ve not walked the same route twice. Frankly, I’m not convinced. I tease him saying that he probably does the same walk every week it’s just he simply forgets that he’s already done it!
So the route I’m suggesting is an 8 mile Millwood/Cefn Bryn/Nicholaston Woods/Penrice circular walk, which offers a bit of everything from woodland, to hills with superb views and a bit of coastline thrown in. If at all possible save this for a clear day because the views from Cefn Bryn are superb. It’s child and pet friendly. There’s a shorter 6 mile version for those with really bad hangovers or younger children. Or maybe you just want to get back home sooner to watch the Great Escape.
The walk starts in Millwood on the edge of the Penrice estate. I guess there’s room for about a dozen cars in the car park and you should look out for a gate that leads into the wood. Enter through this gate and almost immediately to your left you will see a curious circular and quartered stone built structure below. This is the remains of the Millwood fish pond used by the previous occupants of the estate to store and raise fish for their dining tables. Very Downton Abbey.
Continue the walk through this ancient woodland and bear right when you encounter a junction. The path will take you steadily uphill until you exit the wood when you will be surrounded by open farmland on both sides. Views of Rhossili Down can be seen to the left.
You are now on the steady but not too testing ascent towards Cefn Bryn. You will eventually come to the main south Gower road which you need to cross carefully leading you onto the road to Reynoldston. As the road bears to the left, you will see a well defined path to your right which snakes through the ferns until it reaches the ridge. Follow this until you reach the top and then take a right when you come to a junction of paths. You’re now on the ridge of Cefn Bryn. There is another path which runs parallel with this one but they soon merge further on. That path incidentally is called Talbot’s Road and was constructed by the Talbot family of Penrice estate in the 19th Century.
Cefn Bryn comprises of old red sandstone, formed from river deposits and the like in the Devonian period some 350,000,000 years ago, when Gower was lying close to the equator. As a result of earth movements, these rocks were forcibly folded into hills and valleys. In subsequent geological periods, layers of carboniferous limestone (the stuff that help shape the landscape in last month’s waterfall walk – if you were paying attention) was formed by the deposition of shells and skeletons of sea life and lay on top of the undulating sandstone. Where it lay over the raised areas of sandstone, the rock developed fault lines and was prone to erosion, thus in time exposing the more resistant sandstone beneath. This is how all the highest points of the Gower such as Rhossili Down, Ryers Down and Cefn Bryn were formed and remain until this day. Lesson over, now back to playtime.
From here you get a glorious panoramic view. To the north is the Loughor Estuary separating us from Llanelli and Burry Port. Scanning around left to right in the near distance you can see Gorseinon, Pontardulais and then the wind turbines on Mynydd y Gwair. Just around here you can just pick out that marvel of modern design and architecture and the tallest building in Clase, the DVLA. In the furthest distance from left to right, you can make out the rolling hills of Carmarthenshire to the more elevated Carmarthen Fans, Fan Gyhrich at the top of Swansea valley (the angular looking peak),then to the Neath Valley and the hills behind Port Talbot. All around in the near distance are all the familiar features of Gower that you are used to seeing from the car, such as Broad Pool, Parc Le Breos and most impressively Oxwich Bay sitting there in all its glory. As you progress along the path more of Swansea Bay comes into view including Kilvey Hill, Port Talbot with its steel works to Nash Point to the east. Behind you in the near distance are Rhossili and Hardings Down.
Ok, you’ve now got a choice. Stay on the path for the 8 mile walk or bail out to do the shorter 6 miler. If it’s the latter, then you should turn right at the Gower Way marker (number 11). I must point out that by so doing you will miss the sight of Three Cliffs. Follow this descending path to re-join the main road, crossing it towards Beynon’s farm and down the lane until you come to the edge of Nicholaston Wood and a signpost directing you to the beach. Take this and go down the steep steps until another path appears on your right taking you on another steep descent. The two route options now merge a little further down.
If you’re staying on the 8 miler, then carry on, passing an unusual looking flat top feature, which is a reservoir and then you’ll see a rocky outcrop on your right. This will be a good place to have a rest and admire the view and in particular Three Cliffs.
You’ll then descend into Penmaen village and you cross the road and turn right down another road which is signposted No Through Road. Notthill, a National Trust piece of land is on your left and you go through the gate at the bottom of the lane next to the cottage Swn y Mor. After a very short distance you’ll see a signpost directing you to the right and you begin the steep descent down to Three Cliffs Bay, passing those little holiday chalets on the way.
Cross the stream at the bottom and now you have the option to make a short detour to take in the beauty of the bay itself. Shame not to I suppose. If not, then you follow the path up through the sand dunes signposted Coast Path. You return to this path if you’ve diverted to the beach. The path is steep and as it is a sand dune, it’s naturally going to be hard going. But persevere and think of the pleasure you’ll get in literally feeling those Christmas calories being burnt as you climb.
Hopefully you’ll reach the top (it’s not that far actually) and turn right at the path junction. Carry on for a little while and before the path disappears into an avenue of trees, take the path to the left as if you’re heading to Tor Bay. Stay on this path where you pass a lime kiln and through a gate and before long, Oxwich Bay majestically opens up to your left. Stop, look and marvel.
So, you carry on this undulating path through woodland until you come to a rope swing dangling from the bough of a tree which is a handy reminder that you have to ‘swing’ a left here taking you down a sand dune and left again at the junction of the two paths where you see a sign welcoming you to Oxwich Bay. This is pretty much where our two routes merge.
You are now walking towards the beach that I knew as a child as Crawley Woods. As you emerge from the woodland you take the sandy path immediately to the right. Follow this well defined path until you come to a junction where you turn right. It can get slightly confusing along here as you cross the burrows but if you remember to follow the signposts marked Coast Path you should be ok. You are now walking parallel with the beach and beneath the cliffs.
After a short while you will come to Nicholaston Pill, a stream running towards the sea and be faced with a wooden bridge. I understand this was built by the Swansea Ramblers as part of the Welsh Coast path, so big up to them. Cross the bridge and head for a signpost straight ahead but don’t follow its direction because you turn right here so that the stream is also to your right. You’ll come to another wooden bridge taking you to the opposite bank and follow the path to the left. Then believe it or not, you hit another bridge, although it looks more like some sort of dam, which you cross. Pause here for a while and check out the view of Great Tor in the distance, rising out of the flat marsh land in the foreground. This has always struck me as a lovely view and one that you don’t often see in the Gower guidebooks.
Ok, we’re on the last leg of the walk now. Over this bridge/dam structure and turn left which takes you into Nicholaston woods. The track winds its way through the woods until you eventually hit the main road into Oxwich. I must admit, this next bit isn’t great. You have to walk up the road to join the main south Gower road and in absence of pavements this can be dangerous, so the trick is to see and be seen. Keep your pets on a lead.
Once on the main road turn left, again on the main road. This is likely to be busy so again be very careful. A few hundred yards further along you’ll see a signpost directing you over a wall and into the Penrice estate where at last you’ll have refuge from the traffic. You feel that you are slightly imposing when you enter the estate as if you shouldn’t be allowed here, but relax; it is a public right of way. The owners guide your route through the estate by means of yellow markers which you should follow.
Bearing in mind the grand idea of the fish pool, you’ll be interested to see the cottage on your right hand side is called Laundry Cottage. Now, I have not researched the reason for its name, but as I walked along I thought wouldn’t it be be funny if it was a whole house given over to the handling of the estate’s laundry back in the good old days. Well, it’s no big deal really, because I’ve got a laundry cottage too which fulfils exactly the same purpose. Oh, hang on. No. It’s a laundry basket. Yes a laundry basket, not a cottage. Sorry.
Follow the yellow marker which leads you past some stables and the ruins of Penrice Castle sited on an elevated position to your right. The sense that you’re trespassing now increases as you walk along-side the imposing 18th Century mansion house, literally past the front door. You half expect the Lord of the Manor to chase you off the estate in his tweeds and plus fours helped by a gnarling pack of hounds, brandishing a shotgun and screaming at you to “Clear orf”. But you’re quite safe. (I hope!)
That’s it. Job done. You exit the estate over a stile in the wall just to the left of the gate and you’re back in the car park, remembering to take care crossing the road.
So hopefully, those cobwebs have well and truly been blown away and you’re left with the feeling of having achieved something. Now I don’t know about you but there’s nothing I like better at the end of a long walk, when my legs are aching and feet swollen, than to take off my boots replace my socks with a fresh pair and slip into a pair of Crocs. Those little dimples in the sole seem to give your weary feet a massage, a perfect way to reward them for all the hard effort and it’s just what you need. However, you really must remember to take them off before anyone sees you.
Starting Point: MILLWOOD CAR PARK
Map: OS EXPLORER 164
Grid ref: SS493882
Length: 8 MILES OR 6 MILES
Child and Pet Friendly: YES