Way back in January I drew up a list of certain things I’d like to achieve over the coming twelve months. Several of these were generic in nature and would most likely have appeared in your own new years resolutions as well, but others were very specific to me and focused on gaining new experiences, typically in the great outdoors. Chief of these was to tackle a long distance walk, something I’ve been wanting to do ever since I got back into proper hiking a couple of years ago. Here in Britain we are somewhat spoilt for choice in this regard with over 1,300 paths covering some 75,000 miles according to the LDWA (Long Distance Walkers Association). Many of these would be on the ambitious side for a first timer like me but I’m fortunate to live within a mile of the more achievable Gower Way. Stretching for 33.6 miles across the ancient lordship of Gower it offered me the perfect opportunity to break my long distance cherry, plus I’d get to spend each night in my own bed. With a route decided all that was left to do was pick a free weekend where the weather looked halfway decent and get going. That combination finally arrived in September and with a sense of trepidation and excitement, I was off.
A nice feature of the Gower Way is that its entire length is marked by fifty (plus a few extra) numbered stones, each baring the Gower Society crest. It therefore seemed only logical to find and photograph every one along the way both to document my journey and to slowly count down the miles as I went. As I was travelling light I had to make do with my small point and shoot camera but those photos will serve as a perfect accompaniment to this account.
So where to begin? At the end of course! Stone number 50 sits a short distance from Penlle’r Castell on the high, open moorland to the north of Swansea. This is a place I’ve visited frequently over the years as it puts me in mind of the Mull landscape and offers commanding views across the surrounding area. The addition of a wind farm recently has slightly removed that sense of remoteness this location once held but it hasn’t interrupted the line of sight down to the Gower peninsula and my ultimate destination. Let me assure you that at that moment the outline of Rhossili Down looked a very long way away indeed and for the briefest of moments I started to question what I was about to undertake. Realising that perhaps smaller targets would be better to concentrate on I looked closer to home and set off for the Lliw reservoirs. Stones 49 and 48 were found in quick succession as I started to descend before somehow losing my way and ending up on the wrong side of a small valley. A quick check of the map showed the error of my ways (a vital turn was actually outside the limits of the map I was using – doh) which was soon corrected and in no time the Brynllefrith plantation hove into view along with stone number 46.
With the first couple of miles out of the way I was feeling remarkably fresh and took my time passing through the trees. Brynllefrith has in the past delivered some excellent birds with this visits highlight being a huge mixed flock of Chaffinches, Blue Tits and Great Tits that seemed to follow my progress towards the upper reservoir. I didn’t have my binoculars with me but they appeared to be family groups from this years breeding season though their close association across species is not something I’ve witnessed before. Stone 45 greeted me at the first dam along with a Grey Wagtail and several Red Kites. By now the rain showers that had dogged my journey thus far seemed to be a thing of the past and the sun was baking down necessitating a short stop to take on fluids. First lesson learnt that for these long walks a platypus really is a must to avoid becoming dehydrated for want of not stopping.
My arrival at the lower reservoir was greeted with another rain shower (famous last words and all that) but the sun was soon back as I dropped into Felindre village and spotted stone 40 hiding up against a house. Considering I’ve driven past here every day for the past couple of years I find it remarkable that I’d never noticed it previously. This point in the walk also marked a change in terrain from grassy footpaths and open moorland to tarmac road walking, unfortunately something that this route suffers from greatly. Though steep thankfully this section was relatively short but worse was to come further down the road.
Stone 39 was a welcome relief as I was able to turn off onto a farm track for the next stage of the journey down to Pontlliw. I’ve walked this section in isolation a couple of times previously so was prepared for the complete loss of signage at the farm you are forced to pass through, though perhaps not the three small dogs that seemed intent on attacking my ankles. This probably could have been forgiven should the farmer have apologised after finally calling them back but no, not even a simple acknowledgement of my presence. Next time boot may be forced to connect with animal.
With pace considerably quickened I soon reached safer territory and what was to be the largest section of road/tarmac walking of the day. Stretching almost unbroken from stone 38 on the outskirts of Pontlliw to stone 34 at Gorseinon my legs really started to take a battering and I guess I hit “the wall” of which we hear so much. It wasn’t that the distance covered so far was particularly excessive at about eleven miles or so, but I find the constant repetitive motion of walking on tarmac more tiring that climbing mountains. Part of this is the sense that you can go faster than your body really wants to which results in strained muscles and sore feet. Thankfully a couple of brief rests managed to push me on though I was far from comfortable as I hobbled onto the high street.
From Gorseinon to Gowerton the Gower Way follows an old railway line which still manages to hold onto some interesting historical details. Best of these was an old factory just north of Gowerton which still has rails running across its main car park. A great insight into the industrial heritage of this area that has now been almost completely wiped out. I also met a friendly drunk who seemed baffled that I was photographing seemingly meaningless lumps of rock. Needless to say my explanation just seemed to confuse him even further..
After Gowerton the route finally returned to more natural surroundings as I wound my way in the direction of Dunvant along an ancient track. These little lost corners of Gower are the very reason this path was created in the first place and for that I am grateful as it was truly a beautiful location. Thankfully my legs had also loosened up considerably and I was once again back to something like my best as stones 28 and 27 were passed in quick succession. The narrow wooded valley I found myself in was full of yet more industrial remnants including a large spoil heap and ponds that I presume are part of the old brickworks that once stood nearby. Again I had no idea that these were here so it was an interesting insight into the past of what today is classed as an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Unfortunately things took a turn for the worse a short while later, just shy of the seventeen mile point I’d been aiming for to call it a day. Having greeted a field of friendly pigs I found myself with another farmyard to cross just to the east of Three Crosses. However the only stile into it was surrounded on the other side by a large herd of particularly boisterous cows. Now cows aren’t exactly my favourite animal to share any sort of time with but I think anyone would have baulked at the prospect of having to physically push them out of the way. With no alternative on the horizon I was forced to retrace my steps back to Dunvant where I met Emma for the trip home. Not perhaps the end I’d wished for but that couldn’t dent my sense of satisfaction at having covered the distance I’d aimed for. The question was, would my legs be working again next morning for the second leg?