It was February, it was cold and threatening snow in Bristol but we were off to Wales to spend a weekend on the Gower and celebrate my husband’s birthday with the family. My oldest son has just started university at Swansea which is the gateway to the Gower peninsula in South Wales (the bit that looks like the lower jaw of the Welsh wolf’s head on the map) and he was keen for a bit of surfing although I was somewhat doubtful – Brrrr! The Gower is blessed with numerous wide sandy beaches and it’s a well known fact in these here parts that Swansea University is the closest university in the world to the beach (which is just across the road), the other contenders being in sunny California.
Driving down on the Friday night we make it in surprisingly quick-sharp time across the Severn Bridge, along the motorway and through Swansea to Mumbles – the attractive village where Swansea stops and the Gower proper begins. We pick up the keys to our holiday house from Home from Home who are specialists in cottages in the Gower and have friendly staff who know the area inside-out and can advise you on which of their properties would be best for you. On through the windy roads to Langland and following the detailed instructions we turn into a narrow private road (plenty of potholes) and into the drive of Maryland, where we will be spending the weekend.
I hope you enjoy my video of our winter weekend on the Gower near Langland and Caswell
We find a house that is newer than I’d expected from a holiday cottage, but what it lacks in roses-round-the-door character Maryland more than makes up in stylish interiors with bags of space for an extended family gathering. The French doors at the front lead into an open-plan downstairs with sitting area, kitchen and a dining area with a large round table where, in a welcoming touch, we find a vase of brightly coloured tulips to remind us that spring is just around the corner. The French doors off the dining area look onto an enclosed garden with garden furniture on the patio where children could play safely in summer.
The house is well placed behind the Langland Golf course which is set on the cliff-top overlooking both Langland and Caswell Bays (both popular surfing beaches). You can walk down the lane and through the golf course and in 5 minutes you reach the clifftop where the coastal path winds around the headland. From here you overlook Caswell Bay and walk along the path and down onto the wide beach with sandy expanses and rock-pools. Turning the other way out of the house and the muddy footpath skirts the golf course taking us down to Langland Bay with a promenade backed by spiky tropical palms and peeling, green-and-white painted beach huts that give it a retro air.
The house is almost indecently spacious, with four good sized bedrooms, three upstairs and one on the ground floor as well as another cosy upstairs sitting area which becomes our favourite place to curl up and read on the squashy sofas with the gas fire on. Each of the bedrooms has a modern en suite bathroom so our teenagers think they’re in heaven (no impatient siblings banging on the bathroom door) and the downstairs bedroom, which is ideal for anyone who doesn’t do stairs, also has an adjoining bathroom. My parents who have joined us for the weekend find it blissful to be in a house where everything works and the place is constantly warm – one of the benefits of modern living rather than the draughty 100 year old house where we live. Downstairs we also find an enclosed TV room tucked under the stairs which proves the ideal place to watch the rugby on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
From the visitors book we discover that the house was built in 2005 and that since then has hosted families from the USA and New Zealand as well as various parts of the UK – many of whom seemed to have been back more than once. The house has seen landmark birthdays and 60th wedding anniversaries, golf and tennis holidays and has even been rented for a local wedding with the bride leaving for the church from this house. Other visitors have returned to discover the beaches they had known as children (tough choice between Langland and Caswell) and there is talk of a ghost which we hope is someone’s idea of a joke!
Our Saturday dawns and snow is forecast for Bristol but luckily with the warming influence of the sea it only proves to be rain on the Gower. At first the shower is light and so we optimistically venture across the golf course and onto the headland, but in the rain my parents find the steep cliff path a bit too slippery and so we return to the house and cheat by driving the short distance down to Langland Bay. With the rain setting in we decided that the best place for us is the Langland Brasserie right by the car park where we settle into a table by the window with a view over the beach.
In summer I would gladly sit on the terrace watching beach life pass by on the promenade below, but it’s not at all bad in winter either, with a coffees being served one side and a restaurant area on the other. We sit poring over the weekend paper, watching the rain drip down the windows, taking in the black and white photos of Langland beach in days gone by and observing the family running the place who all seemed to be Italian. As the closest beach to Swansea, I can imagine that this beach has been popular for years and seen generation after generation taking the bus from Swansea or the coalfields of South Wales or walking around from the Mumbles to spend a day beside the sea.
I’ve been researching local pubs serving good food for our evening meal and have been recommended several such as the King Arthur Hotel at Reynoldston, the Brittania Inn at Llanmadoc or even the local option of the Langland Brasserie. But as the rain continues heavy through the afternoon we don’t much feel like setting out again in the dark, so instead we pop into Mumbles to stock up on food and have a look around. While the family shop I have a quick whizz round, dodging in and out of smart boutiques and gift shops, photographing the ruined Oystermouth Castle which overlooks the town and clocking the famous Joe’s Italian Ice cream parlour on the seafront run by another Italian family who came to South Wales in the 19th Century. I also drop into the Love Spoon Gallery to hear stories of love messages carved into wood by which a young Welshman might woo his lady and realise that we have been here before during a holiday at Oxwich bay and had bought our own love spoon which still hangs in our bedroom.
On Sunday the weather clears and so after breakfast we set out for the bracing walk that I had been longing for, down the cliff path to Caswell where we pass a group of tiddlers training for tag rugby (they start them young in Wales) and kick around with our Wellington boots in the surf watching the waves break onto the beach. I absolutely love being on the beach in winter when the fresh air and sea winds clear your head and blow the cobwebs of city life away.
We turn back past the Surfside Cafe and back up the coast path, but instead of turning up towards the house we continue on around a well paved path with joggers and other walkers with the sea crashing on the rocks below. Around the headland and we approach the broad sweep of Langland bay where there are benches on the cliff top that made an ideal vantage point to watch the surfers in the water below. There are many black rubber covered heads bobbing in the water, most on paddle-boards rather than traditional surfboards which are like a cross between a canoe and a surfboard, enabling the surfer to paddle around standing up while waiting for the wave.
My son has decided against giving it a try on that day and returned to the warmth of Maryland. He assures me that his wetsuit keeps him toasty warm in the water and the surf club at Swansea organises regular outings – he has been known to be in the water before breakfast and back in time for his morning lectures! We continue around to the green and white beach huts of Langland beach which I could see would come in very handy if you need somewhere to change and leave your gear while heading out for a swim or a surf.
Roll-on summer and the family picnics, the sandcastles and ice creams on the beach, but with the July and August sunshine (or not) also come the crowds and the traffic jams. I say, enjoy the beaches of the Gower in winter too with the bracing air and wide horizons and then perhaps come back for your surf lesson at Langland or Caswell when you can feel the sun on your face.
Visitor Information for the Gower Peninsula in Wales
– We rented our holiday home – Maryland at Caswell through Home from Home who specialise in Gower Cottages and other accommodation in the Gower. Follow them on Twitter @Gowercottages and on their Facebook Page. Click the image (right) to view the Home from Home brochure
– Plan your break on the Gower with information from the Visit Swansea Bay website with information on Swansea Bay, Mumbles and the Gower Peninsula or follow them on Twitter @VisitSwanseaBay and on their Visit Swansea Bay Facebook Page
More things to enjoy in Wales
Thanks to Home from Home for offering us our holiday accommodation at a discounted rate.