Power of the Gower
SOUTH Wales is known for its beaches, rugged coastline and watersports – but alongside the country lanes and scenic viewpoints of the Gower Peninsula there are more unusual ways to get wet.
On a sunny, warm Wednesday afternoon I find myself zipped into a wetsuit to try out something I confess I had to Google to find out what it was – coasteering.
Add a helmet, buoyancy vest, shorts and old trainers and I am in the capable hands of Sam and Ceri from Oxwich Watersports in a boat heading out across Oxwich Bay to the cliffs on the western edge.
Once they are towering up high above us, it’s time to get into the water and swim.
It takes me a minute to get used to swimming with shoes on and by that time we’re at the cliff face being told what to do next.
Basically, that is climbing up from the water, timing it so the waves help me up onto the rock face. I get it wrong first time and have to hold on until the next wave comes and gives me some momentum and then suddenly I’m clear of the water.
Next we are shown how to jump in, with arms folded, and get a feel for rock climbing at a low level.
That done, it’s time for more of a climb and we clamber out at another spot and work our way up the rock and out onto a ledge to take it in turns to jump.
This is our first proper jump and I don’t know what to expect but stepping off isn’t too bad and in seemingly the blink of an eye I’m submerged and bobbing back up to the surface.
That safely done, we spend a bit of time in the water exploring the nearby rocks and it’s time for one last jump – and it’s a biggie.
We scramble up onto a flat area – the highest we’ve been so far – and down slightly to a ridge where there is a choice of jump points. I choose one. This feels seriously high and I have to tell myself I will regret it if I back out.
Instead of looking down, I stare straight ahead and it takes me a few moments to work myself up to jumping off.
In mid air and waiting for the impact, it felt like forever and it was a relief to hit the surface and feel the rush of water around my face.
Then it was all over apart from a short swim to the waiting boat for the ride back to the beach.
If you think about the basics of coasteering – climbing up cliffs and throwing yourself off – it sounds, well, crazy. But actually it’s strangely rather fun.
The next day I was getting wet again, this time to take part in an even more unusual pastime – coracling.
I had heard of the primitive circular boats but never thought I would set foot in one.
When the task said ‘river walk’ I did at first think we might be walking alongside it – but no.
Another day, another wetsuit, and a meeting with bearded and friendly Barney from social enterprise Down To Earth.
From Gower Heritage Centre, he took us a short distance through woodland to the river, which flows lazily down to the sea at Three Cliffs Bay and provides a totally different environment to the exertions and adrenaline rush of coasteering.
Swimmable in places and only knee deep in others, we paddled and swam our way to a wide bend in the river and Barney set down the coracle before giving us a quick demo.
Sitting on a bench in the centre of the craft, the idea is to keep the single-bladed paddle upright in the water ahead of you and use a figure-ofeight movement to propel you along.
The unusual stroke is because coracles are traditionally used by fishermen and it allows them to paddle onehanded while holding a net in the other.
Taking the paddle, I found steering difficult but once I got used to the figure-of-eight action I could move forward quite well, albeit slowly.
We then continued downriver to the beautiful deserted beach at Three Cliffs Bay to swim in the surf before scrambling up to the ruins of Pennard Castle for breathtaking views of where we’d been.
Totally different to anything else I had ever done, I found it a relaxing way to spend a couple of hours exploring outdoors. WHERE to stay We stayed in the Secret Garden at The Oxwich Bay Hotel, which occupies a peaceful corner of Oxwich Bay overlooking the beach. The Secret Garden consists of six modern accommodation ‘pods’ with a double bed that converts into a sofa during the day and private patio.
It was small but comfortable and functional, and it was fun to stay in something different to a conventional hotel room.
As well as breakfast, the hotel also offers a lunchtime bar menu and evening meals, and it is also a short stroll across the road to the beach, where Oxwich Watersports is based, and also the Beach House restaurant.
Come here to get away from it all, though, as I found the mobile phone reception very patchy. WHERE to eat For contemporary food in relaxed surroundings, head for the Beach House, Oxwich, which uses local produce and a Welsh head chef to conjure up creations such as roe deer with parsley, candied beetroot, blueberry and nasturtium, and lobster with crispy sweetbread, fondant potato and grapefruit butter sauce.
There’s a comprehensive selection of wines and they also have a cocktail menu.
A five-minute drive inland to Reynoldston will take you to the King Arthur Hotel, a traditional country inn serving traditional ales and home cooked food, with a focus on local ingredients. There’s pub favourites as well as vegetarian specials and salads. Outside are landscaped gardens complete with waterfall and lily pond.
Or if you fancy going further afield, try the Grape and Olive in nearby Swansea, which is housed at the top of Wales’s tallest building with magnificent views across Swansea Bay. WALK your heart out Walking is one of the big things to do in the area, thanks to the Gower Coast Path and numerous other footpaths. Among the highlights are Rhossili Bay – voted among the top four of Britain’s best beaches – and the adjacent tidal island of Worms Head, with spectacular views across to the Atlantic.
We also took the short walk from the King Arthur Hotel to the ancient burial chamber of Arthur’s Stone at sunset to enjoy the views from the moorland high above the village.
The Gower coastline and, below, Oxwich Bay Hotel