The UK’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is a stunning landscape – a place to let your mind be free and adopt the pace of nature.
Swansea Bay and the Gower Peninsula in South West Wales are absolute havens for those seeking a peaceful escape to connect with nature. From the rugged moors and striking limestone cliffs, to the secluded coves and expansive stretches of sandy beaches, you’re surrounded by an incredible wealth of wildlife. Expect to encounter an array of birds, butterflies, wildflowers and waterfalls, as you explore this wonderful region steeped in rich history and culture. There are numerous charming towns, quaint villages, fascinating castles and excellent restaurants using local and organic produce nearby that are definitely worth exploring.
We stayed at The King’s Head, Llangennith, a charming traditional inn with stone walls and wooden beams. It’s nestled within the slopes of three Welsh valleys, Llanmadoc Hill, Rhossili Down, and Hardingsdown. The inn is set in the heart of the village, right across from a lovely medieval church and village green. It’s a rustic and charming place to stay, and its location makes it easy to take a stroll to the coast on the western tip of the Gower.
Across the road, there’s a surf shop, and just a short drive away, there’s a post office and community shop. Whether you’re interested in surfing or just soaking up the serene surroundings, this is an ideal location to unwind and appreciate the beauty of the Gower.
Our morning at The King’s Head Inn began with a delicious breakfast with our four-legged furry friend, Poppy. While Pops indulged in some scrumptious woof-woof sausages, we savoured some freshly brewed Gower coffee and a delightful plate of smashed avocado with poached eggs.
After fuelling up, we embarked on a picturesque hike over the After fuelling up, we embarked on a picturesque hike over the Rhossili Downs. Along the way, we were greeted by wild ponies grazing on the hilltops as we followed the coast path towards Rhossili. The panoramic views across the bay and out to the Bristol Channel are absolutely breathtaking, and on a clear day you can see as far as the Pembrokeshire Coast and Caldey Island.
Halfway along the Down, we stumbled upon the remains of a Second World War radar station and decided to take a tea break and indulge in some delicious Welsh cakes while soaking in the beautiful scenery. Continuing on the path a little further, you pass the remains of Stone Age burial chambers, Sweynes Howes, constructed around 6,000 years ago, closely followed by the beacon marking the highest point in the Gower and the site of a Bronze Age cairn.
Rhossili Bay is vast, stretching 3 miles from Burry Holms at the northern end to one of the Gower’s most famous landmarks, Worm’s Head and the village of Rhossili at the southern end. Rhossili is a very pretty, tranquil and quaint village with laid-back locals – a place to truly escape from the hustle and bustle. There’s an art gallery, several coffee shops and independent boutiques, a hotel and bar, and a church which dates back to the 12th Century – take a peek inside the chancel and admire the original 14th Century window. When the tide is out, visitors are able to catch a glimpse of the 1887 Helvetia shipwreck – a timber ruin belonging to a bygone era and once a proud ship that has become a famous landmark for Rhossili Bay.
We stopped for an alfresco lunch at The Bay Bistro, with views of Rhossili Bay as our backdrop. Inside the pretty white and mint green painted cottage are rustic shabby chic interiors – wood panelling, comfy leather armchairs and a cosy log burner.
We sat outside on the large terrace where we indulged in a mouthwatering Korean Loaded Fries with roasted chicken thighs and vegetables in a gochujang sauce. We chatted with a fun group of rock climbers from York who were in Gower for the annual BMC Climbing Festival. Poppy was well catered for too with locally-made dog-friendly ice cream and natural dog biscuits from Gwen’s Pantry.
Next door to the restaurant, there’s The Bay Shop selling a range of locally made ice cream (the human-kind) and mementos from local craftspeople, including hand-painted wooden earrings, locally distilled gin, artisan candles, Gower honey, local maps, books and postcards.
Opposite the restaurant is the National Trust carpark and access to the gravel footpath along the cliff top of Worm’s Head – derived from an Old English word ‘wurm,’ meaning ‘dragon’ or ‘sea serpent’, as the peninsula was said to resemble a sleeping ‘wurm’. This dramatic tidal island comprises three parts, the Inner Head, the Middle Head (which features a collapsed sea cave and is known as the Devil’s Bridge), and the Outer Head which you can only reach safely during low tide.
To scramble your way to the island along the rocky path and back, there’s a 5-hour window of opportunity (2.5 hours each side of low tide), so it is important to plan ahead and to check the crossing times board which is updated daily. Once across, you will find a peaceful haven where seals are often basking on the rocks, and there’s a fantastic view looking back towards Rhossili.
We walked to the old Coastguard Lookout at the end of the headland before heading back along the beach back towards Llangennith. Poppy was in her element, with the beach being dog-friendly all year round. When we got back to the Inn, we sat in the courtyard with a drink admiring the views and listening to the birds singing. It was so peaceful, and we even had a herd of cows saunter past us – a great reminder that taking life in the slow lane can be so rewarding.
We spent the afternoon exploring Cwm Ivy and Whiteford on the north coast. From the Cwm Ivy car park it’s a short stroll down the lane through the Cwm Ivy Wood National Trust gate. I was glad that I had brought some cash with me because there was an honesty box for donations.
The pathway led us through a dreamy picture-book setting that felt lost in time. The Monterey pine trees were so beautiful, and if you looked to your left, you could see the Cwm Ivy salt marsh and ancient sea wall. There were two bird hides and plenty of opportunities for wildlife spotting – otters, kingfishers, and wading birds can often be seen here and if you are lucky you might catch a glimpse of a marsh harrier, one of the UK’s rarest birds.
One of our highlights was stopping at Cwm Ivy Arts and Crafts for a slice of their delicious homemade cake. The gardens are an oasis of tranquillity and birdsong, and the seating along the decking has been designed for visitors to relax peacefully and make the most of the panorama before them.
After a long day of exploring, we were grateful to return to The King’s Head, our home from home, for a hearty meal and a chance to reset and unwind.
The atmosphere at the Inn is very friendly. As an overnight guest (there are three purpose-built blocks, the townhouse next door, and two additional stone barn conversions behind the pub) you are made very welcome by the locals, and the menu is excellent too. There’s a daily specials board featuring locally sourced produce including Welsh lamb, pork, and venison. We enjoyed a delicious home-cooked curry and steak and ale pie, and settled in under the cozy beams by the burning stove.
The bar boasts an impressive collection of malt whiskeys, with over 100 varieties available. The landlady collected most of them herself from Scotland, where she used to travel for her previous role as president of the Shetland pony society. There’s also a large selection of Welsh Real Ales and Penderyn Whisky distilled in Wales. It was the perfect end to an incredible day.
Following another delicious breakfast and feeling a little more adventurous, we decided to explore further afield and drove to the Victorian fishing village of Mumbles on the south-east corner of the Gower Peninsula – the birthplace of Dylan Thomas and a village steeped in history and traditional seaside charm.
We visited the Victorian Pier and Bracelet Bay, iconic landmarks on the Gower coastline with views across to the lighthouse built in 1794. Don’t miss an ice-cream from the fun retro Welsh landmark, originally built in the early 1930s to promote a cider brand. Swansea’s famous Big Apple, known as the giant concrete Pac-Man is such a rare and unusual example of a seaside refreshment kiosk that a few years ago it was graded as a listed building for its special architectural interest.
It is easy to beach crawl your way along the Gower coast path with lots to see and do at neighbouring Bracelet Bay, Langland Bay and Caswell Bay where there’s a surf school. For a bout of Welsh culture, the picturesque village doesn’t disappoint either, from the worlds’ first gallery devoted to hand carved Welsh Lovespoons and local artists to laverbread and cockles brunches at The Darkhorse. You could easily spend a few hours here exploring the independent boutiques and quirky galleries. We had fun spotting some of the celebrated locations we had just visited including Langland, Caswell and Rhossili Bay within the paintings of local artists in the Gower Gallery.
From Oystermouth, you can pick up a Santander Cycle and take a scenic cycle ride along Swansea’s Promenade with beautiful views across the 5-mile sweep of Swansea Bay. We cycled a leisurely mile to Knab Rock (where there is another Santander pick up/drop off point) with Poppy in tow for a home-cooked italian lunch by the sea at Verdi’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlour.
There’s plenty of pasta and pizza to choose from and the ice-cream sundaes are legendary – with up to 30 different ice cream flavours to choose from.
In the afternoon we visited Oystermouth Castle which is just a short walk from Mumbles’ shops and restaurants. Sitting majestically on the hill, the castle boasts spectacular views overlooking Swansea Bay. Don’t miss Alina’s Chapel with its remarkable Gothic windows – and history buffs will marvel at the 14th century ancient graffiti art and medieval maze of deep vaults and secret staircases.
Mumble’s newest hotel, The Oyster House is a great option for lunch, cocktails or an evening meal. We sat under a clear blue sky, and with heaters, sea-views, and ambient music, it felt like the perfect holiday spot to unwind following an active day. The menu was impressive, featuring plenty of seasonal meat from The Gower Butcher and ‘fresh off the boat’ fish from Coakley’s Fishmongers, including some delicious oysters that I simply couldn’t resist.
During our time in Rhossili the day before, we had the pleasure of meeting Key, a friendly local who gave us some valuable recommendations. After taking a dip in the sea, she told us stories of the limestone cliffs, caves and mammoths and pointed out where we could spot “the face in the mountain” and even mentioned a tree inside one of the caves. It was fascinating to hear about the area’s history and local legends. Key insisted that Mewslade Bay, a beautiful spot just north of Worm’s Head, was her all-time favourite beach, so we went to check it out.
The best place to park is in Lower Pitton where there is a carpark opposite a pretty farmhouse. From there it’s a five-ten minute walk through unspoilt countryside to Mewslade Bay. The coastal path meanders down a narrow valley to the sea, through wooded and open countryside.
It is such a beautiful spot, so picturesque, rich in flora and fauna, and secluded with just the occasional hiker passing by. The sea was calm and crystal-clear and it is fun exploring the caves and hidden coves. It’s definitely one of the prettiest sections of the Gower Peninsula coast path, and I’d highly recommend taking a hike here, either towards Port Eynon or towards Fall Bay and Rhossili.
About halfway from Mewslade Bay to Mumbles on the south coast, we stopped at the golf clubhouse in the charming village of Pennard for coffee and cake.
The real adventure began as we explored the landscape along the coastal trails and pathways. We walked along the grassy cliff tops behind the golf course to the awe-inspiring Three Cliffs Bay and stumbled upon the remains of Pennard Castle, a well-preserved Grade II listed medieval ruin which beautifully frames the coastal view. The northern side of the castle offers stunning views of Pennard Burrows, a wooded valley, and a sheer drop below.
Our journey from one magical place to another took us next to Penllergare Valley Woods. This Victorian estate was once the home of John Dillwyn Llewelyn, who was a pioneering photographer, horticulturist, and astronomer. There are numerous reasons to visit this forgotten paradise filled with waterfalls, lakes, and rivers. In addition to the stunning panoramic views, there are 250 acres of ancient woodlands and exotic trees, not to mention a coffee shop that serves freshly baked scones and homemade cakes. The estate is also home to a giant monkey puzzle tree and has a brand new visitor centre.
Our next stop was a 20 minute drive away, The Secret Bar and Kitchen in Swansea, located right on the beach, making it the perfect spot for a delicious meal and some relaxing downtime. I devoured a delicious Chicken Parmigiana and my furry friend Poppy also enjoyed her first-ever Puppachino.
As our final evening in Swansea, we decided to head up to Cyfn Bryn to take in the panoramic views of the Gower’s dark skies. It was truly a magical experience watching the constellations track along the inky black sky in perfect peace. I had an unforgettable experience exploring the Gower. Whether you seek a peaceful beach holiday or an exhilarating outdoor adventure break, the Gower has it all and I highly recommend visiting this remarkable part of Wales to fully experience everything it has to offer. It’s a journey that will leave a lasting mark on your memory.
Text by Jessica Way