If like me you were brought up in the 60s, then the superb music of that decade served as a magical soundtrack to our lives – the Beatles, Stones, Mary Hopkin, Amen Corner, the Hollies to name but a few. But a song came on the radio the other day which brought back a specific and very fond memory of those innocent days. It was The Carnival is Over by The Seekers, a very staid 4 piece Australian vocal band who were popular in the mid-late 60s comprising of 3 blokes and fronted by the girl lead singer, Judith Durham. Hey, but you knew that didn’t you? It reminded me that the bloke with the black horn rimmed glasses playing the double bass was amusingly named Athol. Now, as you can imagine, to a 7 year old with two slightly older sisters this was hysterically funny, prompting us to talk with a lisp for the rest of the day.
So, just to satisfy myself that my memory wasn’t playing tricks, I Googled them enabling me to confirm that his name was indeed Athol. Athol Guy to be precise. Out of curiosity I also thought I’d check out Judith Durham, only to discover to my absolute unbridled and unashamed joy that her real name wasn’t Durham at all. No, the name the poor bugger was born with was Judith Cock. JUDITH COCK!!!!! Whaaaa!! Brilliant!! This was fantastic news to a 57 year old, let alone a 7 year old. Why didn’t we know this in 1967??!! Naturally, I can completely understand why she changed her name, if for no other reason that you can’t have an Athol and a Cock in the same band. A certain shoe-in if you’re looking for a name of a firm of plumbers for a Carry On film but definitely a no no for a clean cut vocal group, whose lead singer resembled a Sunday school teacher. It’s rule #1 in the Band Naming handbook. No, you simply can’t have an Athol and a Cock in the same group. Hey, but I know what you’re thinking – it hasn’t done U2 any harm.
By a happy coincidence, this month’s walk also has a male appendage reference to it as, initially, we trace the route of the stream known locally as Killy Willy through Ilston Cwm, as it snakes up the valley in a north easterly direction just behind the Gower Inn. This walk would be perfect for a beautiful summer’s day, where you’ll have the contrast between the lush green wooded valley, a picturesque and quaint village and ending with one the finest coastal views in the whole of the UK.
Exit the car park in the top left corner and enter the woods. (It’s a pay and display, refundable if you spend something in the pub). You will find that there are several path options but it’s safe to take any one of them as they get you to the same destination. The rule is to stay close to the stream and if you find yourself drifting uphill then you’ve taken the wrong one. There are few things of note as you go along, the first one being historically very significant and important. The ruins you see just a couple of hundred yards into the walk is thought to be the site of the very first Baptist Church in Wales, a religious movement which originated during the Civil War in the mid 17th Century, taking advantage of the religious freedom that resulted from the conflict. There does seem to be some doubt as to the accuracy of this claim, but what’s not in dispute is that the Baptist’s certainly took hold further up the valley at St Illtyd’s church in Ilston, which we’ll pass a little further on. Who’d have thought eh, as you slurp on your pint of Stella in the pub’s beer garden?
The second interesting feature is that you will note that the stream seems to disappear in a couple of places as if Killy Willy is losing its ardour (I know how you feel son) limping along listlessly and seemingly content to down tools. It’s easily explained, however. It’s the nature of the rock over which it flows, our old friend Carboniferous Limestone, which allows the slow moving stream to disappear underground down what geologists call a sinkhole, re-emerging further downstream leaving the river bed dry and abandoned. It’s characteristically a summer event as it’s usually in full flow in the winter. A similar scenario occurs in the Bishopston Valley for the same reason.
Emerge from the woods and into the graveyard of Illtyd’s church, pausing awhile, and then into the village itself. It’s an incredibly pretty scene this, just a couple of dozen houses, both old and new with the church being its focal point. Turn right along the main road and temporarily leaving the village behind you’ll come across a shallow ford on the left which you can’t really miss. Be careful when crossing here as it may be slippery, but once safely negotiated you’ll come to the entrance of the former Ilston Quarry, now known as the Elizabeth and Rowe Harding Nature Reserve.
Take the path immediately to the right after the gate, passing the towering red brick kiln on the left and follow it until you come into the man made amphitheatre formed by the quarry itself. It was still working as recently as the 60s but once abandoned, it was bequeathed to the Wildlife Trust for South and West Wales by its owners the famous judge and his wife and is now an important nature reserve with nesting kestrels and also a site of great geo-logical importance. The sheer wall of the quarry exposes the varying layers of rock laid down when the area was once part of the sea bed. Access to the rim can apparently be gained via a nearby path but I decided to leave that for another day. If you are similarly inclined, then exit the quarry via the track directly behind you as you look at the wall.
Retrace your steps through the village and look out for a lane just before a whitewashed stone barn wall on your right. It’s a little bit of a climb from here but it’s not too far. Once at the top go left and onto the road carrying on for a mile or so, all the while glancing to your left where Penmaen village on the eastern edge of Cefn Bryn comes into view with the ridge itself stretching to the west in front of you, offering a different perspective of familiar surroundings. Come to the road junction and turn left towards the village of Lunnon passing a lime kiln on the right. Then by a 30mph road sign there’s a path signposted to the right, directing you into what looks like someone’s drive. Well it is, but it is a right of way and it gives access to the path leading down into Green Cwm. It’s slightly overgrown here so look out for nettles and brambles but it’s reasonably well defined so it should be ok.
Green Cwm or Parc Le Breos is a beautiful lush dry valley once part of the estate belonging to the notorious medieval Le Breos family, a right bunch of ne’er do wells by all accounts. Your option here is to jib out and return to the Gower Inn (you would have done about 5 ½ miles by now – Wimp factor 10. If you do, see later for the safe route back to the pub), and if so turn left. But you don’t want to be doing that now do you? No, good, so turn right, then left at the first available track a couple of hundred yards along. En-route as you stroll through the beautiful wooded valley you’ll see a pile of rocks known as Giants Grave, a 5000 year old burial site, and a little further on on your right and through the trees, Cathole Cave located about 50 ft or so up in the cliff face, in which has been found bone fragments of mammoths and all sorts of beasts together with 12,500 year old cave art. It’s hugely significant in the archaeological world.
Take the track that gently ascends through the woods until you emerge at the eastern edge of Cefn Bryn. (That section goes on a bit, but don’t fret, it’ll be worth it.) Turn left until you come to the village of Penmaen, carefully crossing the main road toward the camp site, then take the road to the right, signposted as a no through road which takes you down towards Three Cliffs Bay. I did a short little diversion here by climbing up to Notthill which gives you a beautiful and uninterrupted bird’s eye view of this world famous bay. I know Three Cliffs is a bit ‘cliched’ inasmuch that we’ve all probably done it a million times – but it never ever ceases to leave me awestruck as you drink in this dazzling and stunning location. Phew! Retrace your steps and rejoin the road back towards the bay taking the leisurely descending track to the bottom. Skip over the stepping stones (be careful though) and then follow the valley as it returns you to Parkmill, passing the ruins of Pennard Castle high up on your right.
As you approach the village, ignore the bridge over the stream which heads towards Shepherds and instead carry straight on keeping the stream to your left as this gets you a bit closer to the pub and avoids the busy and dangerous main road.
So there you go. A relatively short walk but packed with some serious geological, historical and archaeological interest. Serious to the extent that I almost feel bad about making the Athol & Cock joke now. Well, almost.
Footnote: There’s insufficient room in this article to cover the varied history of this particular area and the Gower as a whole and so if you are interested in reading more then I highly recommend Real Gower, a book lovingly and beautifully written by the late Nigel Jenkins.
Start: Gower Inn Car Park (Pay and display)
Map: Gower Explorer 164
Length: Short version: 6 miles (approx). Long version via Penmaen 9 miles (approx)
Difficulty: Short Version: Easy. Longer version: Moderate
Time: Between 3 and 4 hours depending on your chosen route
Child friendly: Yes
Dog friendly: Yes but on a lead. There are a few stiles
Child friendly: Ditto!
Mudometer: 1 (A few muddy puddles – but nothing major – in the summer at least)
Refreshments: Shops and cafes at Shepherds, Gower Heritage Centre and of course the Gower Inn.
The Seekers –The Carnival is Over
U2 – Beautiful Day
Jellyfish – My Best Friend
Mary Hopkin – Those Were the Days
Amen Corner – Bend Me Shape Me
The Beatles – Penny Lane
Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter
The Hollies – Bus Stop
Mamas and Papas – California Dreaming
The Beach Boys – Do it Again
Cliff Richard – Summer Holiday
Percy Faith Orchestra – Theme from Summer Place
The Kinks – Sunny Afternoon
Fifth Dimension – Stoned Soul Picnic