A sober view of Swansea

Highmindedly rejecting the option of a popular local pub crawl, Simon Calder took Swansea's Mumbles Walk, for superior views and ice-cream.
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The Independent Online
The Mumbles Run is an exercise beloved of university students in Swansea. It involves drinking in each of 11 pubs stretched out along the Mumbles, the ridge marking the western end of Swansea Bay.

The Mumbles Walk is in fact much more rewarding. You get to see things far more extraordinary than the inside of 11 pubs - and enjoy many more varied refreshment opportunities. But both exercises start at the same place: the White Rose.

This pub occupies the principal corner in the village of Oystermouth, with the bus stop and tourism information booth just across the road. Nearby is the Lovespoon Gallery, displaying (and selling) intricately carved symbolic spoons.

From the White Rose, the students start swaggering along the shore. Instead, take the road heading inland from the mini-roundabout, a gentle uphill rise flanked by shops ranging from traditional to twee. Almost at once, the gaunt skeleton of Oystermouth Castle - the Mumbles Ruin - rises up to the right. From Norman origins, the castle was embellished over four centuries, before crumbling in the elegant manner of so many castles in Wales.

After a few hundred yards, a signpost on the left to Langland and Caswell Bay directs you along Langland Road. This busy road makes the least attractive part of the walk, but passes some Victorian villas bearing handsome wrought- iron balconies.

After a couple of swerves, the road reaches a large and complicated junction. To locate your track, look sharp left for a terrace of stout walls decorated with an ambitious range of flags. Behind this fortification is the Hillcrest House Hotel; were you to spend the night here, you could choose between a series of themed rooms, including Welsh, English, Safari and Navaho.

The path you need to find is the gravel track leading uphill to the left of the hotel. It emerges into a small housing estate. Your reward for all that climbing should, on a clear day, be a view across the Bristol Channel to the coast of north Devon.

Walk down Somerset Road; at the end, turn left then right and you will descend to a point where a track forks to the left. Take this, and soon you leave the houses behind and find yourself among fields. Head towards the ridge, where you find a relatively easy path. Continue east, towards Swansea Bay.

A hundred feet below, the lower track along the shore is part of the coastal path that wraps much of the Gower Peninsula. You can afford to feel superior, since the views as you begin to skirt Rams Tor are splendid: a broad arc from the steelworks at Port Talbot, right around the Bristol Channel to Langland Bay - just beneath you to the west, populated mainly by beach huts.

The terrain around you is soft grassland clinging to dramatic cliffs, and serves as front lawn to a few fortunate cottages. After a cliff walk of just half a mile - though it feels longer - you descend to Limeslade Bay. A flight of steps at the end of the descent deposits you adjacent to Forte's Ice Cream Parlour, the first of many refreshment opportunities.

Join the main road here. You pass Neptune's nightclub, which marks the end of the Mumbles Run for those who make it this far. Carry on around to the Big Apple; nothing to do with New York, but a concrete refreshment stand in the shape of a giant Golden Delicious. A driveway drops from here to the huddle of buildings around the end of Mumbles Pier. Most intriguing of these is the heavily castellated public conveniences, whose turrets sprout from the rocks.

Mumbles Pier celebrates its centenary next year. It protrudes for 246 yards, and boasts an extension added in the Twenties for a lifeboat station. From the end, anglers fish for sea bass and plaice, while enjoying fine views around the bay. At low tide, it is tempting to scamper across the rocks from the foot of the pier to the Mumbles Head lighthouse; signs warn against this, but plenty of people do it.

The Mumbles' great claim to fame is neither the pier nor the lighthouse, but the fact that the world's first passenger-carrying railway began from here in 1807. Predating steam locomotives by a couple of decades, these horse-drawn trains wound around the shore to Swansea. Electric trams eventually took over, but in one of the more extreme examples of post-war transport madness, the track was ripped up in 1960.

Start following the former railway line, and soon you reach a coffee shop called Verdi's; an ice-cream parlour, seemingly de rigueur hereabouts, is attached. I enjoyed a cappuccino from the pavilion overlooking the bay. As for the ices, an in-depth survey concluded that the best were to be had a little further north, at Joe's Ice Cream Parlour; the mango sorbet is magical.

The going gets positively metropolitan now, passing the Art Deco former Tivoli Cinema and a smart powder-blue Post Office, before reaching the White Rose. You could continue for four more miles around the bay; the old railway line is now a bike- and footpath. Or you could always begin the Mumbles Run.

FACT FILE Length: four miles, including some climbing and descent.

Directions: buses 2, 2a and 3 run every few minutes between Swansea bus station and Oystermouth, fare pounds 2.15 return. They stop next to the tourist information centre, opposite the White Rose. Most interesting place to stay in the area is the Hillcrest House Hotel (01792 363700).

Maps: Ordnance Survey Landranger 159 (1:50,000); the 1:25,000 Pathfinder map is more detailed, but does not show the centre of Swansea.