Walk Of The Month: The Gower

Fifty years ago this month, the Gower was named the UK's first area of outstanding natural beauty. Walk along this stretch of the south Wales coast to see why, writes Mark Rowe
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The Independent Travel

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the designation of the Gower in south Wales as the UK's first area of outstanding natural beauty. And this walk along the north coast of the peninsula shows why it was among the first wave of areas to be so classified.

Flora and fauna are found in abundance; rarities include yellow whitlowgrass, silky wave moth, fen orchids and the Gower money spider, a species new to science when it was found near Rhosili in 1964. There is a huge variety of scenery, and cultural diversity, too. Cefn Bryn, a ridge of old red sandstone, splits the peninsula into broadly "English" and "Welsh" sections. The southern half is Anglicised, in part a legacy of the exports of limestone to North Devon and Somerset. The northern half has a much stronger Welsh flavour - you hear the language there.

The coastline, says Sian Musgrave, head warden for the National Trust on the Gower, has lots of "uppy-downy bits" - and ends in tiny little villages. "Even though a lot of people work in Swansea, all these villages have very strong communities," she says. "It's like living on an island."

Llanmadoc, where this walk begins, is typical: you will find it in the north-west corner of the peninsula. From the car park by the tiny Norman church of St Madoc, turn right downhill to the minuscule village of Cwm Ivy and bear right over a stile by a small Welsh Water outlet to enter Cwm Ivy woods, an ancient deciduous limestone woodland, full of birdsong and wild flowers. The path is shaded but, looking over your shoulder, you will see Cwm Ivy Tor, while ahead stands the rugged outline of North Hill Tor. Ignore a path up to the right and continue ahead, the wood on the right and heathland to the left.

Cross a stile to leave the wood and turn left through a gate to walk across the Groose, the western end of Llanrhidian marsh. The linear, elevated grassy path, striking out from the mainland, creates an ethereal atmosphere which many walkers compare to that of Lindisfarne. You are now entering Whiteford National Nature Reserve; strange pools lie to your right and you may well see white horses and ponies on the tidal flats or among the huge dunes. Where the Groose ends, bear right along the clear track.

You are aiming for Whiteford Point: several tracks lead there, either along the eastern edge of the spit, or through the pine forests. To reach Whiteford Point you can either walk around the beach at the headland or scamper up the dunes.

Out among the waves is the UK's only cast-iron lighthouse surrounded by sea. To your left the sweep of Whiteford Sands awaits. You will have few companions on this magnificent two-mile beach though these may include the occasional naturist.

Keep walking past Cwm Ivy Tor and Hills Tor to reach Prissen's Tor. According to the OS map, you should usually be able to pass around the tor, even at high tide, but, having squeezed between sea and tor an hour after high tide, I am not so sure: best to check tides before you go.

Continue along Broughton Bay, pass the stream that runs on to the beach and, where the higher part of the beach becomes pebbly, climb up over the dunes to pick up a sandy track running parallel to the beach. Look for a grassy track running at right angles that leads to a stile. It is a little fiddly, but clear enough if you look at the map: you need the path that runs though the cluster of houses that make up Delvid. The track goes right past a house, where you bear right through a gate with a yellow waymarker sign and uphill along a track to another gate. Then bear left uphill at a junction of paths, on what becomes a paved road.

The views to the right are wonderful, with Worm's Head, the signature landscape feature of the Gower, in the distance (the word is a corruption of the Old English "wurm", or serpent - at high tide the island looks like a Welsh version of the Loch Ness Monster), the huge expanse of Rhosili Downs a little nearer, and, closer to the sea, the concave dips and folds of Broughton Burrows. The road rises to a modest brow in the hamlet of Cockstreet, where you take the grassy track uphill to the left just by the 20mph sign. Keep climbing for a good half a mile, crossing one junction of paths and forking uphill at a second. Before long you come to a clear bridleway cutting across the path. Follow this, climbing uphill to the left as it winds up to the trig point on Llanmadoc Hill. At 186m it is among the highest points on the Gower and the views in all directions are truly outstanding: you can pretty much map out the walk you have just done.

From here, it is a gentle, brief descent back to Llanmadoc, either dropping down immediately, or extending the delight of this walk by heading along the ridge for the stone remains of the Bulwark.

TIME: Four hours.

DISTANCE: Eight miles. FURTHER INFORMATION: the nearest tourist information office is at The Methodist Church, Mumbles (01792 361302; swansea.gov.uk /aonb) which can provide advice, maps and walking leaflets. Useful websites include enjoygower.com and the website of the National Association for AONBs, aonb.org.uk. For tide times on the Gower, visit geography.swan.ac.uk /surf/tides.php

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