An ideal location for a family holiday, with sports and activities that will appeal to all ages, this stunning South Wales peninsula is a real gem. Words: Alex Fisher
Photos: CCSPKB/Visit Swansea Bay/Visit Wales Crown Copyright
The beauty of Gower takes your breath away. It’s not surprising that it was the UK’s first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty back in 1956. This protected status helped restrict urban sprawl, preserving the rolling green hills, moorland and limestone cliffs that tumble down to sweeping, sandy beaches. Atlantic swell makes it a great destination for surfers, but the appeal doesn’t stop there. The three-mile long sandy beach at Rhossili Bay constantly tops Best Beach in Britain lists, and the well-maintained Wales Coast Path winds through the myriad of inlets, bays and beaches, offering everything from beach huts, cafés and lighthouses to stunning sand dunes and wilderness.
Put simply, Gower is 70 square miles of pleasure. There is so much to do here that once you arrive on the peninsula, there’s really no reason to leave. Whether you are looking for an action-packed weekend of watersports, or gentle scenic strolls with delicious stop-offs for fresh seafood and local delicacies such as cockles, cawl (a traditional Welsh lamb broth) and laverbread, there’s something here for all ages, making it the perfect holiday playground.
7PM A WARM WELCOME
After our long drive from Brighton, I’m happy to discover our accommodation adjoins one of Gower’s most popular family pubs, renowned for home cooking and a lively atmosphere. After taking our luggage up to our pretty apartment, decorated with traditional Welsh fabrics and furnishings, we head next door to the King Arthur and examine the extensive menu. A keen supporter of local produce, it offers Welsh ales and even a selection of Welsh liqueurs in addition to spirits, along with local game, fish and meat. We opt for cockles, laverbread and bacon topped with Welsh farmhouse cheddar to start, followed by two buttery, tender steaks. The friendly, welcoming staff make sure that we are well looked after and it’s late by the time we roll back to our apartment, ready for bed. Generously portioned starters are priced from £4.95 and mains from £9.25 (kingarthurhotel.co.uk).
9AM RIDING HIGH
The sun is shining and we head to Clyne Farm Centre, which sits on the hills above Mumbles, for a horse-riding lesson and a cycle. The farm also offers camping and accommodation, along with what they claim is the ‘muddiest assault course in the world’. Not something I plan to try, but I imagine teenagers would love it!
It’s been a while since I’ve been horse-riding and when the tallest horse in the stables is brought out, I am a little taken aback. ‘She’s a gentle giant,’ they reassure me. And they are right. We take a stroll out into fields overlooking Swansea Bay, and after a few moments it’s clear I’m in safe hands. Riding in such a scenic location is a delicious pleasure, a real treat. After a short hack we head to the outdoor school for a lesson. I am over the moon to discover that my body still remembers how to do rising-trot, and I even have a little canter. I feel inspired to start lessons again once I return home (clynefarm.com).
After our riding lesson, we swap the horses for bikes – which the farm also hires – and cycle down through beautiful Clyne Gardens to the Swansea Bike Path, which runs around the entire sweep of Swansea Bay. After popping into the amusements at the pier just beyond Mumbles, we cycle into Swansea, then stop for a coffee in the excellent Junction Café at Blackpill Lido. This extensive – and free – outdoor paddling pool and playground is open throughout the summer and some school holidays, but the café is open all year round ([email protected]).
1PM LUNCH WITH A VIEW
After returning our bikes to the farm we head to scenic Oxwich Bay for a light lunch. Sited in the most westerly corner of seven miles of sandy beach, the pretty and traditional Oxwich Bay Hotel serves a huge bowl of steamed mussels in a white wine, garlic, leek and cream sauce for just £8.95. Alternatively, there are plenty of tables in the garden where you can enjoy a leisurely pint or a glass of wine overlooking the sea (oxwichbayhotel.co.uk).
Oxwich Bay is popular for watersports. You can hire stand-up paddle-boards from SUP Gower right here on the beach, or book a lesson (supgower.com). Alternatively, hop on a boat with Gower Coast Adventures and get a view of the coast from the sea, you are almost guaranteed to see seals and you might see dolphins, as well as a wide range of seabirds. A two-hour trip costs £42 per adult and £24 for children (gowercoastadventures.co.uk)
8PM FINE DINING
Tonight we head to one of the newest restaurants in Gower. The Beach House opened in Oxwich Bay in 2016 and quickly gained a reputation for excellent food. This stylish restaurant sits right on the beach and the floor-to-ceiling windows and blue, Scandi-style interiors add to the coastal ambience. We are in for a treat. Homemade bread comes piping hot and is served in its own box, which, when opened, fills the restaurant with a delicious, dough-scented steam. The accompanying pea soup is divine. We follow our starters with lemon sole with roasted almonds, and pork belly with black pudding and chard. The desserts look so beautiful that it’s hard to refuse one, and the pineapple served with pink pepper, lime and yuzu sorbet is a perfect combination of sweetness with a subtle, sour tang. Starters and desserts are priced from around £10, with mains from £20 (beachhouseoxwich.co.uk).
10AM ALL-WEATHER ENTERTAINMENT
We wake up to a forecast of rain, so we head to Swansea’s water-park for an indoor surf lesson. The LC offers board-riding, a wave machine and a 30ft climbing wall; perfect for entertaining the kids when the weather forces you indoors (thelcswansea.com).
After our swim we head to another all-weather venue, The Gower Heritage Centre by Parkmill village (gowerheritagecentre.co.uk). Here, children can enjoy animal petting, a puppet theatre, the smallest cinema in Wales, and have a go at a wide range of arts and crafts. There is also a friendly café, where little ones can disappear into the soft play area while parents enjoy an excellent bowl of cawl. Don’t miss the Little Valley Bakery on the way out, for some of the best bread and cakes in the whole of Gower (littlevalleybakery.com).
2PM LEARNING BUSHCRAFT
With so many beautiful beaches, it’s easy to forget that the countryside is also worth exploring. I head to the hills with my son to learn forest skills with Dryad Bushcraft and Wilderness Courses. Facilitator Andrew Price meets us in the Heritage Centre and leads us up into the surrounding woodland. Here, to my son’s delight, we light fires. There is a real art to making fire by rubbing sticks together. My son picks it up quickly, I don’t. He’s thrilled when little wisps of smoke appear beneath his hands and a few sparks, added to dry straw, are turned into flames. Flint, fire, and saws in the forest; entertainment that will appeal even to seemingly screen-addicted teenagers (dryadbushcraft.co.uk).
7PM SECLUDED SANCTUARY
We pack our bags and head over to the Fairyhill hotel for our final evening meal. This Grade II-listed building, set in 24 acres of gardens and woodland, offers a secluded sanctuary even in high summer. The 2 AA rosette restaurant serves local meat and fish and plenty of produce from the extensive kitchen gardens. With more than 100 different gins and a renowned wine cellar, the bar is probably the best stocked in the area. Our evening meal, in the elegant dining room, was superb, starting with excellent scallops and lamb rillettes, followed by tender beef Wellington, and finished with a splendid cheese board and a glass of Sauternes. A truly decadent way to finish off a fantastic weekend (fairyhill.co.uk).
For more information go to visitswanseabay.com.
KING ARTHUR COTTAGES
We stayed in the King Arthur Cottages and the Fairyhill Hotel. The cottages are next to the King Arthur Hotel, which has an excellent, family-friendly restaurant. These one or two-bedroom apartments with lovely countryside views are priced from £475 for a week (kingarthurhotel.co.uk).
HOW TO GET THERE
The Gower Peninsula is accessed from the M4, which connects to the M25 near London, and the M5, which runs from Exeter to Birmingham. Swansea railway station is well serviced by trains from London Paddington (about 3 hours) and Manchester (4½ hours).
For more information go to visitswanseabay.com.