Aunty and I have now completed a major section of the Coastal path this weekend after finishing off another missing bit between Oxwich Bay and Rhossili. This now means we have completed the Gwent, Glamorgan and Gower sections of the path. Our intention was to do this stretch all in one go, but the ‘best laid plans of mice and men’ drop not always pan out. The plan was to get a bus from Pitton Cross to Oxwich, but this was on how the bus service wanted. According to the bus time tables it was possible, but only if we went all the way into Swansea and then back out again to Oxwich, or if we changed at Scurlage (what a great name for a place) and waited an hour in the middle of nowhere for a connection. Both options would have turned a 20 minute car journey into a 2 hour bus journey. Now this didn’t appeal too much so “Plan B” was out into action. This meant a quick set up of the caravan, and a dash in the car to Oxwich and a 5 mile circular walk to Horton. I’m not going to claim that our execution of Plan B was meticulous by any means. We got to Oxwich no problem, but then realised we hadn’t changed into our walking gear. Not deterred we set off from the beach and climbed quickly into the woods and up the steep path.
Spring now has a firm grip and the woods were full of one of my favourites, the Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa). The small, nodding bright white flowers glimmered like jewels underneath the tree canopy. The are was full of the aroma of garlic with the Ransomes (Allium ursinum) covered the woodland floor with a carpet of green leaves. This will soon be a wave of white flowers in a few weeks time when it comes into bloom. I love this time of year, it offers so much promise to reincorporated growth and the chances to discover new things on every walk. Though Aunty does get a little impatient with me as I stick my head in another bush muttering “I wonder what that is?”
This part of Gower is very different from the North Gower Coast that we walked the other week. Instead of salt marsh and flat wide open vistas we were delighted by the limestone sea cliffs, small secret little coves and wide expansive stretches of sand. It’s very difficult to appreciate that the two coasts are separated by less than 10 miles. But this beauty belies the dangers that shipped once faced before modern navigation aids and satellites. Along this stretch of coast there are ship wreaks scattered along the shorelines. None are visible now, but their names have been written onto the local coast line with the names as reminders of past tragedies. We followed the path for a few miles but as evening was coming we turned inland before the village of Horton and took a short cut back to the car by cross over the headland.
The next morning showed promising weather despite the forecast. In fact the sun shone almost all day, though the wind still had a bite to it when we left the shelter. Being the intrepid explores we are meant catch the local bus to Horton. Not the busiest of bus routes, we were the only passengers. Horton is a pretty little village, very similar to so many small seaside villages in the UK with the houses running down to the beach following a narrow little valley. Once we had reached the beach we turned east to retrace our steps to where we had turned off the path the evening before. Aunty is determined to complete the whole path. Then that don’t we turned around and walked along the wide sandy beach towards Port Eynon. Although on the beach side Horton and Port Eynon are less than a mile distance form each other, it took the bus more than almost 10 minutes to follow the narrow roads inland and then back down again. This only emphasis that it used to be much easier to travel along the coastal regions of the the UK by boat rather than land once upon a time.
It is thought that Port Eynon is named after after Prince Einion of Deheubarth, or maybe another 11th-century Welsh Prince named Eynon. Whichever it is there are plenty of locals with the name Eynon are buried in the church yard. It didn’t take us long to find at least 8 gravestones with the name. Like any other part of this coast ship wrecks are not unknown. And on such a calm day as this, looking over the benign sands it is difficult to image int e terror and fear that that sea and engender in those caught up in a storm. The helplessness and trepidation as the winds and current drive you towards the rocks is unimaginable to me. In January 1883 villagers had looked on helplessly when the steamer Agnes Jack ran aground at Port Eynon Point and all 18 crew drowned. Just a week later, another seven lives were lost in another wreck. Because of this loss of life a lifeboat station was opened in Port Eynon in 1884. However, this did not prevent further tragedies, and in one case it was the rescuers themselves who were in danger. The church yard houses a memorial to members of the Royal National Lifeboat whop lost their lives one night during a rescue attempt on the 1st of January 1916.
At about 11:45 on the 1st of January a rocket was launched from the life boat station alerting the crew to an emergency, and the life boat was launched in aid of the SS Dunvegan, a cargo ship, which had got into trouble after. It;s engine had failed as it steamed off Oxwich Bay. Even though it had dropped its anchor, the storm was so strong, it was being pulled out to sea. The Life Boat station at Mumbles was closer but it was decided to send a boat from Port Eynon as the direction of the wind meant the men would not be fighting against it. By the time the Port Eynon Life Boat had reached the SS Dunvegan the crew member had devised to stay on board, and were eventually pulled to land by rope from a nearby cliff. No longer needed the crew turned around at made their way back to Port Eynon. Now you have to remember life boats then did not have engines, but relied upon oar and sail power. These were tough and extremely brave men. No modern life jackets, no powerful engines, no self-righting boats in the event of capsize. Just sheer human power and determination. And bloody hell what grit! I can’t imagine it! on the struggle back against the wind the boat capsized after the mast broke, pitching everyone into the water. After struggling to get the life boat upright they found 3 men were missing, Builly Gibbs, William Eynon and George Harry. The remaining crew found Gibbs, but the boat capsized again, but this time Gibbs was lost. Eventually the bodies of Eynon and Harry were found,Gibbs was never recovered, though a unidentified body was seen floating way to the east off Porthcawl.
Port Eynon was once a hot bed of smuggling activity, so much so that at one point there were 8 customs men stationed in the area. Local legends point to the now ruined salt house on the beach as the centre point for these nefarious activities. Originally built by David Lucas in the 16th century, for his son John, it started out as a legitimate business producing salt from the sea. Apparently the bay is a good site because of the salinity of the water in bay is not diluted by too much freshwater. John later fortified the salt house, surely a clear indication that something unusual was happening, and commenced a career in smuggling and piracy. You never know your neighbours do you? Once the authorities had managed to suppress smuggling at Port Eynon the illicit activities moved After the end of smuggling in the area the Salthouse was developed during the mid sixteenth century into the 3 unit industrial structure and processed salt water until the late seventeenth century. It seems that Wales was at the forefront at one point in the salt producing business. Seven generations later another John Lucas found a rich vein of paint mineral and exported if from his base at the Salt House but shortly after his death the building was ruined in a storm.
After Port Eynon the path climbs once more up the cliffs and then follows the cliff edge to our eventual destination at Rhossili. Along the way you are treated to sea views and plunging depths from the cliff top, and because this was a fairly short walk we could take our time and sit to admire the views along the coast towards Worm’s Head. This also meant I was able to find a few interesting beasties, perhaps the most fascinating it the Black Oil Beetle, which really has a fascinating life cycle (I written more here on this intriguing beetle). We eventually need up with a drink at what must be the best pub garden in the UK. What better way to finish the day than a well earned pint over looking 4 miles of sand at Rhossili. Well I cant think of any at the moment.