Coast editor Alex Fisher visits Mumbles in Wales for a weekend getaway and discovers historic attractions, scenic coastal walks and a thriving community
As you wander down the bustling high street, complete with fishmongers, butchers and grocers, along with art galleries and a thriving café culture, it’s easy to picture this pretty seaside village as the flourishing Victorian resort it once was. The five-mile long promenade stretches all the way to Swansea’s maritime quarter. In the summer, visitors can take the land train to the well-preserved pier, where they can enjoy the same stunning views across the bay that attracted hordes of Victorian holiday-makers at the end of the 19th century.
Before the Victorian passion for seaside holidays
, Mumbles was famous for its oysters, and although the oysters are no longer here and the fishermen long gone, an area of the town still retains the mantle Oystermouth, as does Oystermouth Castle, the impressive Norman fort which overlooks the town. Recently adopted by the local council and the community in an admirable move to preserve this precious monument, the castle has been renovated and now offers a unique and fascinating insight into the history of these lands.
Today Mumbles is better known for being one of Dylan Thomas’s many drinking haunts; the poet and writer was born just along the coast in the Uplands area of Swansea and even mentioned Mumbles in Under Milk Wood: ‘Alfred Pomeroy Jones, sea lawyer, born in Mumbles, sung like a linnet, crowned you with a flagon, tattooed with mermaids…’ More recently Catherine Zeta-Jones chose Mumbles for her Welsh residence, her gated home sitting in a very normal-looking street of semi-detached bungalows and houses. Fellow actor Michael Sheen is also a frequent visitor, yet there is no whiff of Hollywood pretensions in this down-to-earth town. You get the feeling that this thriving, friendly community would give these Hollywood stars exactly the same welcome it extends to all of its visitors.
10AM – OYSTERMOUTH CASTLE
You can’t visit Mumbles without visiting its castle. The recent restoration has revealed previously hidden stairs that run between the walls of the castle, and added a visitor centre and a 30-foot high glass bridge that leads you to the stunning Lady Alina’s chapel window looking out to sea. Keep an eye out also for the ghost, a white lady, who many locals have reported seeing on the battlements. The castle is currently closed due to conservation work but can be seen from various points in town (swansea.gov.uk/oystermouthcastle
2PM – LOVESPOONS
Mumbles, I am told, is home to the only gallery dedicated to the Welsh lovespoon. These traditional Welsh courting gifts date back to medieval times. The ornately carved handles carry individual messages of love and often held a proposal of marriage: a key represents a home, a bell a wedding, and a knot the promise of everlasting love. Catherine Zeta-Jones gave her wedding guests a lovespoon, and now visitors can take one home as a unique souvenir of their visit to Wales (01792 360132, lovespoons.co.uk
6PM – FINE DINING
The family-run restaurant at Patricks with Rooms is a real treat. Locals are passionate about the great food and visitors return every year, supporting the business for the past 20 years. The service is welcoming and informative, and diners are often offered surprising little treats between courses. I order rack of Welsh lamb (of course), which is served with parsnip purée and a rosemary and red wine jus. The lamb is tender and perfectly cooked. I have never eaten better. This is followed by a delicious coconut crème brûlée, which is served with spiced pineapple compote. Mains start at around £16, with starters and desserts priced at around £7 (01792 360199, patrickswithrooms.com
10AM – COASTAL WALKS
After a wonderful breakfast of fresh fruit served with yogurt, honey and nuts at Patricks, I head off for a walk by the sea. The coastal paths between Caswell Bay, Langland Bay and Bracelet Bay offer stunning views, and have a concrete path that you can push a buggy along, making them very family-friendly. There are plenty of cafés en route too, meaning that you can take a short stroll or a longer trek.
1PM – VERDI’S ICE CREAM
This self-service café and ice-cream parlour is something of a local institution. It’s always busy, even mid-week, even mid-winter. The people of this small town enjoy their coastal location come rain or shine, and this glass-fronted café positioned on the promenade to the west of the bay has wonderful views of the sea. It serves pizzas, but with a cycle ride planned for the afternoon I stick to a lighter salad with prosciutto and avocado. However, I can’t resist a scoop of Verdi’s tempting array of homemade ice creams, and leave with delicious cherry flavour in a chocolate wafer cone (01792 369135, verdis-cafe.co.uk
3PM – SEASIDE CYCLE
It’s not hard to be active in Gower. There are so many accessible cycle and walking paths that it’s no problem to find a beautiful coastal trail to suit all ages and abilities. Mumbles is no exception and a family-friendly cycle route runs around Swansea Bay. This car-free route is flat, offers stunning views, and a selection of great pit-stop cafés, making it a perfect – and free – activity with children. Patricks with Rooms offers free use of bikes, as well as various beach toys and sports equipment, to its guests and so I borrow a bike and do the five-mile route into Swansea.
6PM – SEA VIEW DINING
Try to book a table by the window if you can – or, weather permitting, eat outside – at Castellamare, because the views over Bracelet Bay towards Mumbles Lighthouse are glorious. This family-friendly Italian restaurant sits just to the west of the town and has ample parking, plus an outdoor children’s play area. On my visit I try the scallops with pancetta and a pea and mint purée, which is delicious, followed by monkfish in a white wine sauce. The portions are large here, so you certainly won’t leave hungry, but be careful not to over order (01792 369408, castellamare.co.uk
). As I watch the sunset over the rolling waves, I decide that this is a part of Wales I will definitely be revisiting.
NEED TO KNOW
PATRICKS WITH ROOMS
This spacious boutique hotel offers individually decorated rooms that overlook the bay. The hotel has a great restaurant and a friendly lounge bar where you can enjoy a coffee during the day, or a cocktail in the evening. There are additional rooms in the Boathouse, behind the main building, some of which have superb views out to sea. Prices start at £115 for a double patrickswithrooms.com
HOW TO GET THERE
There are direct trains to Swansea Bay from London Paddington, Bristol Parkway, Cardiff, Newport, Hereford, Shrewsbury, Crewe and Manchester. From Swansea you can get a bus to Mumbles. By car, it is approximately a four-hour drive from London on the M4, and a three-hour drive from Birmingham.
For more information go to visitswanseabay.com