Promotion leading up to the official launch of the Gower Pilgrimage Way continues to be ramped up, as by the time you read this, David Pope, the founder and driving force behind this marvelous and exciting concept, will have already been featured on ITV Wales News and recorded a piece for an episode of Country Focus on BBC Radio Wales, set for broadcast towards the end of May.
But, more excitingly, you may recall that he was actively looking for a high profile individual to become patron to elevate it to another level and I mistakenly and idiotically thought he said he was considering asking Robbie Williams (he actually said Rowan Williams, the ex-Archbishop of Canterbury) Well, he’s gone one better than Robbie and managed to secure the patronage of the well-known broadcaster and journalist and massive fan of Gower (and West Brom), the legend who is Adrian Chiles. Which is an inspired choice given his love of the area and having recently reconnected with his religious beliefs. Ha! So, Take That, Robbie Williams!!
But all of this high-profile stuff has got me wondering whether there is a bit of sibling rivalry going on here? Is David trying to edge his brother out from the limelight, steal his thunder or replace him in the affections of the nation? Mal’s a hard act to follow mind. Consider the evidence; a teenage musical prodigy, rubbing shoulders with the great and the good of the pop music world (Elton John and John Peel to name but two), then blossoming into a supremely talented and respected broadcaster, musician, composer and Welsh cultural legend. Not forgetting of course that he sang the theme tune to Fireman Sam!! Whilst David is coming up fast on the inside, making his mark by establishing this soon to be iconic pilgrimage walk, raising the profile of the area in the process and to be enjoyed by generations to come. Mm… interesting. Word on the street is that there’s a race between the two to see who gets invited onto Strictly first. I think Dave has a bit more work to do if I’m being honest, so my money’s on Mal to be the first Pope to be swung around the dance floor by Oti!
Anyway, exciting times ahead so let’s get cracking on this, the 4th section of the walk, the longest at just a tad under 13 miles. If that’s a bit too long for you, then there are natural baling out points at Oxwich, which probably isn’t far enough at approx 5 miles and Reynoldston at 8 miles, so it’s your shout. To stay loyal to David’s plan however, I decided to go the whole hog. It starts in the village of Port Eynon and more specifically from St Cattwg’s Church. Built largely in the 13th & 14th century, it was associated with the Knight Hospitallers in mediaeval times (see previous articles) and I was lucky enough to find the church open on the day of my walk. I was delighted to see that it’s being regularly used for a variety of community functions, including hosting a steel band (I know, bonkers!!), as well as holding traditional church services. Buried in the churchyard are lifeboatmen William Eynon and George Harry. They and their coxswain drowned in 1916 when the Port Eynon lifeboat capsized twice. All three are commemorated by a sculpture of a lifeboatman at the south-eastern corner of the churchyard.
Leaving the churchyard, turn left and follow the road around to the sea front, then turn left in front of the shops and follow the coast path, which is mainly on a board-walk, to Horton past the lifeboat station and past the houses on the left which then opens out onto the coast path. Ignore the path to your left and continue along the coast path to Slade, where there is a short diversion inland due to coastal erosion. On regaining the coast path, continue past Holy’s Wash and around Oxwich Point. The path then leads through the woods, with a steep climb to the top to avoid old quarry workings. At a 4-way signposted junction, take the right-hand path marked Oxwich Beach (not the path straight on, marked Oxwich) down steep steps through the woods to reach the church. Along the way you’ll have tantalising views of the grand sweep of the bay through the trees.
St Illtyd’s stands on ground said to have been sacred since the 6th century and is one of three Gower churches dedicated to the Celtic saint who had founded the monastic settlement at Llantwit Major in the Vale of Glamorgan. On the slopes of a wooded headland, the church has a very unique and special location.
Leaving the churchyard, take the path into Oxwich village and go straight on at the crossroads; after around 300 yards, towards the end of the village, turn right at the public footpath sign. Follow the narrow path between two properties, which leads into a field (via a footbridge with a gate on either side). Continue straight across this field and the next, following the hedgerow on the right-hand side. In the third field, head for a stile in the far corner. Cross the stile and go straight on through the woods for about 30 yards, until the path turns sharp left. Follow this path
uphill through the woods until you reach a stile on the right. Cross over the stile and follow the public footpath sign through the field, which can be very muddy. At the top left-hand corner of the field, cross over the stile and follow the lane uphill, with a hedgerow on the left and a wire fence on the right. At the top of the lane, follow the sign left along the lane to reach St Andrew’s church, Penrice. I think this might be my favourite location thus far. Perched delicately on a ridge in this peaceful village with commanding views over the bay it’s quite a glorious sight. If the weather allows, I’d strongly recommend you have a little break here just to appreciate the beauty and serenity of this lovely location. The church itself is cruciform in shape, and dates from the 12th & 13th centuries.
The porch is unusually large and is thought to have been used for transacting civil business in mediaeval times when Penrice village held as many as four annual fairs and twice weekly markets. It was also used as a school in the 17th century. Also, check out the magnificent yew tree right alongside which almost overshadows the tower. Leaving the churchyard at Penrice, turn right across the green and then follow the road right and down the hill. At the first right hand bend, take the sign posted public footpath on the left, through a kissing gate. Follow the path down through the woods. At the junction with the forestry track, turn right. (There is a post with public footpath signs at this point.) Take the second track on the left, just after crossing a stream. Follow this track uphill and through a gate, where there is a ‘Natural Resources Wales – Mill Wood’ sign.
Continue following the track to the main South Gower road (A4118) and cross with care. Follow the minor road around to Reynoldston. There is a walkable grass verge on the right hand side for most of the way. At the T-junction, just after the bus shelter on the right, turn left and then almost immediately right (signposted Llangennith, Burry Green and Fairyhill). Take care crossing the road here, as it can be busy. At Reynoldston Post Office, turn left. Reynoldston Methodist Chapel is on the opposite corner. Walk down the hill and turn right at the T-junction.
St George’s Church is on the right hand side. The dedication to St George is a reminder of the Anglo/Norman influence in this part of Gower: the figure of St George slaying the dragon is carved in relief on the stone pulpit. Gower was divided into two broad areas after the Norman conquest, Gower Anglicana to the south predominantly English/Norman in nature and Gower Wallicana to the north where Welsh traditions were maintained and evidence of this split is reflected in the place names.
A church has stood on this site since the early 13th century. The present building dates from the mid-1860s and is a fine example of Victorian Gothic architecture. Leaving the churchyard at Reynoldston, turn left, then take the first left and follow the road uphill to the junction, with Reynoldston Methodist Chapel on the left and the Post Office on the right. Carefully cross the road and follow the footpath uphill, past a Gower Way marker stone towards Cefn Bryn. At the junction with a broad track towards the top of the hill, follow the track to the right until you reach the road. (You can do a little detour here to take in Arthur’s Stone to the left). Cross this road with care – it can be very busy, particularly in summer. You’ll have a splendid 360 degree vista as you walk along this path, the spine of Gower.
Continue along this track, passing another Gower Way marker stone, and go straight on at a cross road. At the next Gower Way marker stone (number 11 is carved on the right hand sid
e), turn right and follow the wide track down the hill. At the road, turn right. After the last house on the left, continue on the path, past a yellow publicfootpathsign on the left. Continue on this path veering slightly to the left, which can be muddy and overgrown in parts, until you reach the gate leading into Parsonage Farm. Go through the gate and turn left after the farm house. Continue down the farm drive to a kissing gate which leads directly on to the busy South Gower Road (A4118).
Turn right, walk carefully along the road for around 50 yards, and then cross the road to enter the churchyard of St Nicholas Church, Nicholaston. The earlier church was nearer the sea, and the present one built in the 14th century. A mediaeval tombstone stands in the porch, and the font is probably the original Norman one from the first church. In 1894, the Talbot family had the church rebuilt and refurbished so that it appears almost entirely late Victorian.
Leaving the churchyard at Nicholaston, retrace your steps back up through the farm turning right around the farmhouse and through the gate. Follow the path to the metalled road, and continue along the road. As the road starts to descend downhill to the right, follow instead the grassy track straight on. (At this point, there is a yellow ‘danger’ sign on the telegraph pole on the right hand side of the road.) On your right, you will also see a newly opened cafe in Nicholaston House Christian Centre, which will be a good place to have a cuppa as there is nothing in Penmaen at the end of the walk.
Be sure to introduce yourselves as, thanks to David, they’ll be expecting you! Where other paths join, continue straight on, heading for the metalled road that can be seen ahead at Penmaen. At the road turn left, and continue along the road to reach St John the Baptist Church on the right at the walks end.
I can’t do justice here to the wealth of information contained within the dedicated website lovingly compiled by David, so for much more on the walk please visit http://gowerma.org/gower-pilgrimage-way. I really don’t know where he finds the time to do all this, what with all the secret dance lessons he’s having.
Getting there and back: Bus to Port Eynon and then one back to town at around 16.30 from Penmaen, but check timetables.
Distance: 13 miles (Alternative routes, Oxwich 5 miles, Reynoldston 8 miles)
Start: St Cattwg’s Church Port Eynon
Finish: Penmaen, Church of St John the Baptist
Map: OS 164
Level: Moderate (but a long way)
Time: 4 – 5 hours
Refreshments: Port Eynon, Oxwich, Reynoldston and Nicholaston
The Beatles: Eleanor Rigby
Judee Sill: Jesus was a Crossmaker
Beach Boys: God Only Knows
Aretha Franklin: Say a Little Prayer
Hank Williams: I Saw the Light
Sam Cooke: Touch the Hem of his Garment
Blind Boys of Alabama: Soldier
Judy Collins: Amazing Grace
Led Zeppelin: Stairway to Heaven
Blind Faith: Presence of the Lord