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History of Rhosili and South Gower Coast

Visitors walking along a path on the Gower Peninsula, alongside a dry stone wall with sheep in the distance. It's a misty day and the hills in the distance are in fog.
Visitors walking at Rhosili Bay on the Gower Peninsula | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Rhosili and South Gower Coast include areas known locally as The Worm and The Vile. Historically, these names have been used for many years. Learn more about where the names came from and what else is known about this rugged and historic coastline.

The Worm at Rhosili and South Gower Coast

The area we call ‘The Worm’ comes from the Norse word 'Wurme'. This means dragon or serpent. Vikings believed the island was a sleeping dragon, because of its shape, rising from the sea like a mythical beast.

The headland of The Worm marks the most westerly point on the Gower peninsula. The tip or small island is known as The Worm’s head. It comprises of a small island and a rock causeway. At high tide the Worm’s head is completely cut off from the mainland.

Good grazing

The Worm’s Head was once used for grazing sheep. The meat from this area was very popular, it was said to be tender due to eating so much salty grass.

A dangerous route

A challenging walk to The Worm takes planning around local tide times to avoid being cut off. In the past many people have lost their lives trying to swim back to land. A blow hole to the end of the walk can often be seen from the village during stormy weather.

Iron Age fort

Here you can also see an Iron Age fort by the cliff edge. Look out for many seabirds soaring towards the natural rock arch known as Devil’s Bridge.

An aerial view of The Vile, a medieval strip field system below Rhosili village, Gower, Wales. In the foreground the rooftops of the houses of Rhossili village can be seen and the cliff edge and sea beyond can just be seen in the distance.
The Vile, a medieval strip field system below Rhosili village | © National Trust Images/John Miller

The Vile at Rhosili and South Gower Coast

Part of the headland at the south end of the beach includes ‘The Vile’. The name derives from an old Gower term for ‘field’. It is a complex agricultural landscape divided into strips and separated by low boundaries rather than hedgerows.

The Normans introduced this system of farming across the country in the 12th century. For hundreds of years, the landscape on the Vile had remained unchanged.

Restoring historic boundaries

Following the end of the Second World War farming techniques changed significantly, becoming more sophisticated. Modern agricultural practices favoured larger parcels of land; boundaries were removed, leading to visual changes within the landscape.

It is our ambition to restore the historic boundaries to protect the Vile from being lost like many other similar strip field systems.

Archeological investigation

During surface archaeological surveys and walks we have found prehistoric flint flakes and medieval lead pot mends. Perhaps one of the most emotive finds being a silver love token.

We’ll continue this archaeological investigation by taking pollen cores to understand which crops were grown and learn more about the historic natural environment.

Oak posts protrude from the beach at Rhosili Bay, Gower, Wales. They are the remains of the carcass of the Helvetia shipwreck.
The ocean-stripped oak carcass of the Helvetia shipwreck, Rhosili Bay | © National Trust Images/John Miller


The powerful tides and shifting sands caused many shipwrecks in the area. The remains of the Helvetia can still be seen on Rhosili beach at low tide.

This Nordic ship had sailed from Horten in Norway. The cargo of timber was destined for Swansea harbour. Storms had pushed the ship towards Rhosili bay in 1887. Luckily the captain and crew survived but the cargo was distributed across the sands.

Coastguard cottages at Rhosili

Rhosili Shop and Visitor Centre is based in one of the former coastguard cottages overlooking the bay. One Coastguard Cottage is a former Station Officer’s house and was built in 1928. It is now a holiday cottage and enjoyed throughout the year.

The coastguard lookout, at the end of The Vile, was built in Victorian times and is now manned by volunteers.

Visitors walking among sunflowers with the sea behind at Rhosili and South Gower Coast


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