Mark Rowe's walk in the Gower: Day two
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Mark Rowe, travel journalist, takes on the super challenge walk on the Gower penninsula in South Wales as part of the National Trust walking festival. Read on to find out how Mark got on during day one of this two-day challenge.
Day Two - Rhossili to Bishopston
Rhossili marks a natural break in the coastal circuit, but the second day’s walk to Bishopston is almost as long, but tougher on the legs. The sea draws back to allow you to cross the dramatic causeway to Worms Head for two and a half hours either side of low tide. You pick your way through serrated edges of seabed to reach the island, where a narrow trail circuits the outcrop.
What really strikes me about this walk is the marked difference between the three separate landscapes: softer, wooded north coastal scenery, followed by a stirring beach walk on day one, then this stretch along the south coast. Each leg is entirely hidden from view until you’ve completed the previous one.
Heading east from Rhossili this shifting coastline is immediately apparent. The southern cliffs and bays would not look out of place if you shunted them south-west across the Bristol Channel to North Cornwall. The exposed rocks make for extraordinary features, and you’ll pass stone gables fronting air high above bays such as Mewslade Bay and the Red Chamber, where you wouldn’t be surprised to encounter a just-landed pirate.
Port Eynon and Oxwich
After bouncing along the broad, grassy headlands, the path swept downhill through a valley to the sea at Overton Cliff. A climb up to Port Eynon Point (and a monument erected by the Gower Society) opened up the bay in front. The tide was out so I was able again to walk across the beach and through Horton before more glorious cliff and coastal scenery. Sticking to the coastpath, I made my way around the solid lump of Oxwich Point and through its woods. The climbing here can be arduous – not least the 250-odd steps back down to Oxwich Bay. Among the many gems here is St Illtyd’s Church, a tiny, narrow, yellow church mottled with moss that dates to the 6th Century. Time your walk to cross Oxwich Bay at low tide if you can – it’s a glorious exposed beach that leads you to the triangular stone outcrops known as Little Tor and Great Tor.
Tough but rewarding
I had lunch here, mistakenly thinking that, with only six or seven miles to go, I’d broken the back of Gower. Think again: the walk through Three Cliffs bay was glorious but also exhausting. There’s no single route through and you’ll find yourself hopping across stepping stones and stretching aching calf muscles on steep sandy burrows. It’s worthwhile: with its delicate grassy, fractured headlands, the bay looks a picture postcard advert for a South Pacific island.
The walking became easier as I approached Pwlldu Head, where the skies cleared sufficiently to finally see across to Exmoor, and, closer by, the beckoning lights of Port Talbot steelworks. A muddy path dropped to the head of Pwlldu Bay and its huddled community of houses – a legacy of trading and smuggling.
The muddy path up the Bishopston Valley, hugging the side of the limestone cliffs, is utterly enchanting. Trees nod their branches in the stream, the woodland seems painted in every shade of green, and isolated hazel or ash trees stand marooned in the reedbeds. Cattle graze here too and there is a prehistoric feel to the place. The most extraordinary stretch of this glorious walk is saved for last. Halfway up the path, the river disappears beneath the limestone. Suddenly, you’re walking on a dry river bed, slithering over mossy and shiny, slippery stones. As you approach some disused quarries on the left, the river re-emerges and the last 400m of the walk are completed by walking through the water. This is fine if the water is only around your ankles, but it can be knee-deep. Unless you’ve carried Wellington boots for 40 miles, it’s best to do this barefoot. Your steaming feet will appreciate it, but it can all be very tiring, especially with so many miles on the clock. Haul yourself out by the bridge over the ford and head for one of Bishopston’s many pubs for a well-earned pint.
Download the trail for day two of the Gower Super Challenge walk