The wonderful and varied landscape of the Gower Peninsula was, in 1956, the first place in the UK to be designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and is one of only five within Wales, the others being Isle of Anglesey, Wye Valley, Llŷn Peninsula and the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley. There are now almost 50 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Gower Peninsula is an easily identifiable piece of land jutting out into the Bristol Channel from South Wales. I visited a few years ago and so have had the opportunity to see at first hand the awe-inspiring, natural backdrop of hills, valleys, beaches, clifftops, commons, woodland, dunes and marshes.
One of the more famous locations is Three Cliffs Bay. Three Cliffs is a remote, difficult to access bay. The three linked and pointed cliff faces that jut into the bay is very popular with climbers and give the beach its name. Their limestone strata are punctured by a fully formed natural archway that leads to the quiet Pobbles Beach. Dividing the bay is the snake-like Pennard Pill and nearby sand dunes.
Worm’s Head is the signature landscape feature of Gower. The word is a corruption of the Old English “wurm”, or serpent and at high tide, the island looks like a Welsh version of the Loch Ness Monster. It is at the most westerly tip of the whole of Gower and at low tide, a rocky causeway out to The Worm can be seen, but be warned that the sea only allows access to the causeway for a few hours each tide cycle, to keep The Worm to itself.
Next to Worm’s Head is Rhossili Bay. When you witness its majesty it is little wonder that it has received such acclaim. Voted the best beach in Britain in recent years, Rhossili Bay has been the location of some notable recent events. The cliff tops and beach were used during the filming of Doctor Who in 2005 and Torchwood in 2011.
More recently the famed beach and Worm’s Head were beamed around the world during Danny Boyle’s extravaganza, the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics.
Rhossili was also sympathetically chosen to be the location for new world skinny dipping record because of its relative seclusion! The record-breaking event raised £12,000 for Marie Curie Cancer Care and the National Trust in 2011. Positioned on an ancient raised shoreline plateau from the beach you can just see the Old Rectory, an isolated cottage complete with many tales of smuggling and mysterious ghostly apparitions.
Finally, we call at Whiteford Sands, pronounced Witford, its name being corrupted from the Viking word Hvit Fford, a large expanse of sand, dune, forest and estuary.
The two-mile stretch of sand curves gently from the cliffs of Broughton Bay towards the isolated Whiteford Lighthouse and is one of the quietest spots on the Gower Peninsula. Even during the height of summer, as you can see from my photo, very few take the hour-plus walk required to reach this lonely beach. However, for those of us intrepid enough to endure the long trek, lies the reward of a wild and virtually empty expanse of glittering sand, enclosed from the rest of the world by the tide and the high dune systems of Whiteford Burrows.
Sadly that is the end of our visit to the UK’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and hopefully, you will agree that its accolades are well deserved.
You can see more images of Gower in the Brecon Beacons, Carmarthenshire and South Wales gallery