A hidden gem without the razzmatazz - Swansea Bay
We’re not exactly spoiled for beautiful beaches and stunning coastline here in the North East.
Up and down the coast, from Seahouses to South Shields, Seaham to Saltburn, beautiful scenery and majestic views have made the region a magnet for visitors.
Not many compare.
Down on the south coast of Wales, however, there is a contender.
Tucked away, Swansea Bay has all the beauty of other more high-profile tourist destinations but without the razzmatazz.
Quiet, unassuming. Mumbles? This place should be shouted about clear and concisely for all to hear.
Our varied trip took in a haunted castle, sandy strolls, a Victorian pier, Dylan Thomas and the enchanting, if not strangely named, Worm’s Head. All with as much fantastic food and Welsh hospitality that you could want.
The car journey from the North East of England may have been long, but it was certainly worthwhile.
Before the trip, the name Gower had only stirred emotions of a silky left-handed batsman in his England pomp, but the Gower in Swansea Bay more than matched the elegance of the ex-England cricketer. It also has its spooky, dark side too, however. While we steered clear of Pennard Castle, rumoured to have had a spell cast on it by a vicious band of fairies, we did brave Oystermouth Castle, once the home of the Lords of Gower but now solely inhabited, it is said, by the White Lady.
Perched up on a small hill just off the main shopping street, it looks a picture, but deep inside the atmospheric, shadowy ruins and staircases had our nerve ends trembling and heart pumping.
There were many surprises in store around every corner but fortunately, no weeping woman in a white robe.
Oystermouth Castle has flung its huge doors open to those looking for a Halloween haunting – just make sure you have a strong constitution!
Fortunately, our stomachs had settled by the time we landed at our base for the trip, the King Arthur Hotel, in Renolydston. Sat underneath Cefn Bryn, with stunning views across the Gower countryside, it is just a stone’s throw away – ironically – from the famous Arthur’s Stone and has earned itself a reputation as one of the premier wedding venues in the whole of Wales.
The room was superb and spacious, situated by an old barn converted into a cottage, but inside the inn the best was yet to come.
We’d been warned about the quality of food on offer, and the King Arthur didn’t disappoint. Home cooked, with a great range of menu, there were so many dishes which left the mouth salivating but the Welsh steak pie was a particular delight and the laverbread on the breakfast the following morning hit the spot.
Don’t be fooled by laverbread’s name. Traditionally served with a Welsh breakfast, it is a seaweed dish rather than anything with a crust on it but made a great accompaniment to the sausages, bacon and fried potatoes.
Stuffed full from the night before and the morning fare, a spot of retail therapy was what was needed and the character-filled streets of Mumbles provide an eclectic mix of traditional shops and cosmopolitan, local ventures.
Few fit the latter description better than the Lovespoon Gallery. Tucked away in a quiet corner on Mumbles Road, it is smaller than first expected, but houses some 300 unique designs of the hand carved spoons, the giving of which has been a tradition in Wales since the 16th century.
Starting off as a courting gift between lovers, similar to flowers or love letters, their appeal has broadened out along with the range. Expert carvers take their wares to the gallery to sell, and it has become a renowned tourist attraction in Swansea Bay, as the dozens of day trippers who piled off coaches testified.
Another tradition in this part of the world is ice cream, thanks in large part to the strong Italian community that descended on south Wales in the 19th century and no trip to Mumbles should be made without a visit to Verdi’s, a family-run cafe and ice cream parlour.
With panoramic views of Swansea Bay and more than 30 flavours of their award-winning ice cream, it’s an absolute stunning place to watch the world go by while tucking into a delicious dessert. The Artist’s Palette caught the eye immediately and didn’t disappoint.
By this time, the stomach was well and truly full and the best plan of action was a brisk walk to try and lose a few of the pounds undoubtedly put on over the last 24 hours. And what a selection of possible routes there is.
We settled on a short drive to Rhossili Bay, situated on Gower’s most westerly point. It had recently been voted the Best in Wales and third Best Beach in the UK, according to the recent TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice Awards the sixth year that Rhossili Bay has been in the top ten. It was easy to see why. Miles of golden sand stretched out before us, beautifully clean and simple without any real commercial interlude spoiling the atmosphere.
Next to it is Worm’s Head, a bizarre-looking formation of rocks snaking out to sea which we reached by taking another lengthy walk across the Rhossili Downs, taking in the breathtaking views, though by the time we reached the causeway we had ran out of time to make the crossing to Worm’s Head itself.
We had to make do with a venture to Worm’s Head Hotel instead for a spot of food and a drink while we watched the last rays of the sun slip slowly into the sea.
The scenery, the gorgeous views, the bracing walks, the myth and history – it’s enough to instill a poetic feel among visitors so it’s no surprise that one of Swansea’s favourite sons is Dylan Thomas. Our last visit before heading home was to the exhibition set up to honour the Welsh poet, whose beguiling personality and colourful life was ended too soon.
How the great man would have taken to the changes seen in Swansea Bay over the last 20 years, from an area reliant on heavy industry to a popular tourist spot containing a vibrant city, areas of outstanding natural beauty and several stylish villages, we’ll never know, but he would surely have found the words to describe it in a manner this still somewhat hidden gem deserves.