|Gower (or perhaps more correctly, but less used, Gŵyr) is without doubt one of Wales’ finest landscapes, taking the form of a broad peninsula that projects westward out into the Bristol Channel. This landscape has long been deemed worthy of protection and in 1956, Gower became the UK's first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It's a maritime environment, forming part of the great limestone coast of South Wales, which has long been an attraction to climbers. It is for this reason that Gower merits its place on Summitpost.|
Along with Pembroke, Gogarth and the Llŷn Peninsula, Gower is one of Wales’ most important sea cliff climbing areas. This isn’t to say that there aren’t important sea cliffs elsewhere, it’s just that they aren’t quite as expansive as the aforementioned four. Of the four, Gower is probably the least visited, perhaps lacking the reputation for ferocious and adventurous routes, which often characterise of the other three. This is perhaps an unfair critique, because as many local climbers will know, there’s no shortage of difficult routes on to be found here. What Gower does have, which perhaps the others lack, is an expansive range of non-committing easier routes, which are not only easy to reach but sit among some magnificent surroundings.
Between them, not only are venues such as Fall Bay, Tor Bay and Three Cliffs Bay exceptionally beautiful, they also offer something for climbers of all abilities and are ideal objectives for those visiting the area for the first time. This does mean however that these more popular crags can get quite busy and one may find themselves having to queue for the routes they want to climb. On a more positive note, climbing on Gower is relatively free of restrictions, such as those that affect Pembroke's Castlemartin Range, and therefore it makes a superb alternative to this venue when access there is denied. Furthermore, while most routes are traditional in nature, unlike Pembroke, bolting is a allowed on some of Gower's crags and consequently, the peninsula is home to a good number of challenging sport venues, which include both natural and quarried rock faces.
Of course, rock climbers were not the first individuals to express in interest in Gower's cliffs. During the Palaeolithic it's caves were the seasonal homes of hunter-gatherers, who would not have had the sea to look out upon, but a wide grassy plain stretching as far as what is now the north Devon coast. These caves have therefore long been a treasure trove for archaeologists, anthropologists and paleoclimatologists, who have found both human and animal remains within them. Certainly, the most famous of these is the Red Lady of Paviland who at 33,000 years old represents one of the oldest ceremonial burials of a modern human discovered anywhere in Western Europe. The Red Lady is not in fact a lady, but a young male; the mistake being made by Professor William Buckland, who fist examined the skeleton in 1823. A creationist, he also believed that no human remains could have been older than the Biblical Great Flood, and so also mistook the bones to date from the Roman occupation of Britain. Climber's may still find in situ prehistoric bones and shells as they explore Gower's crags and are asked to leave anything that might be significant in place. Finds may be reported to Swansea University.
Those not interested in climbing Gower's cliffs will also find plenty of other activities to occupy their time. For example, the Wales Coast Path runs along its margins and provides almost uninterrupted access to the area's coastline. The path is extremely popular and takes walkers and visits most of Gower's best landscapes. As you would expect, countless other outdoor activities are practised in the area too, including surfing, sea kayaking, sailing, and scuba diving. However, as Summitpost isn’t really concerned with these sports, they shall receive only limited attention here.
|A busy day at Three Cliffs Bay (Photo by Nanuls)|
Rock climbing is thought to have first arrived in Gower in the years between the world wars, with the first confirmed first ascent being the East Ridge (S) on Great Tor. It is generally attributed to Vaughan-Thomas in the 1930s, though there is evidence to suggest that it was actually first climbed by unknown individuals in the 1920s. New routing did not really take off until the post war years however, with initial exploration concentrated on Boiler Slab, Three Cliffs Bay, Caswell and Pobbles. Activity peaked in the 1980s and 1990s with climbers such as Pat Littlejohn, Andy Sharp, Gary Gibson, Adrien Berry and Goi Ashmore putting up ever harder routes. New routing continues to this day with a newly agreed policy on bolting enabling new sport venues, such as Rams Tor and Bowen's Parlour, to be established.
With the exception of the Tor Gro, the Blue Pool, Burry Holms and Barland Quarry, all of Gower’s crags are located on its southern coast, running almost continually from Rhossili in the west to Mumbles in the east. For sea cliffs, access is unusually straightforward for the most part; only a handful require an abseil to reach and the rest can either be approached straight from the beach or from higher level gassy terraces. For the most part, the climbing is a traditional affair, but there are a growing number of crags, both natural and quarried, where bolts have been installed or allow for new or retro bolting to occur. In the past, there has been some controversy concerning the bolting of crags on Gower, which has in part resulted in a loss of access to certain areas. The establishment of sport crags has therefore been considerably restricted and anyone intending to do so should contact South Wales Mountaineering Club, the British Mountaineering Council, Natural Resources Wales or, if relevant, the National Trust, before embarking on any new projects.
There are currently two climbing guidebook available for the area. The first and most comprehensive of these is Gower and S.E. Wales (2004), which was written and produced by members of South Wales Mountaineering Club and covers Gower and its neighbouring areas in South East Wales. Though essential if you plan to do a lot of climbing in South Wales, it is looking a little dated these days. The Club also maintains a Guidebook Wiki, which is designed to compliment their paper guide. Taken together, these provide a very powerful resource.
The second and more lavish is a selected guide, Gower Rock: Selected Rock, produced by local activists Stuart Llewellyn and Matt Woodfield. It's an excellent book which covers the best Gower has to offer and an excellent choice for those who infrequently visit the area.
There is also a downloadable sport climbing miniguide available from Rockfax in the form of Gower Sport Climbing. Gower has some great sport routes so it's well worth picking up if that's what you're in to.|
Additionally, there is also a dedicated bouldering website covering the area, namely South Wales Bouldering Guide. The South Wales Mountaineering Club Wiki also has details of bouldering problems in the area.
What follows is a whistle-stop tour around Gower’s main crags, providing what I hope is a helpful overview of what the area has to offer and a good introduction for anyone unfamiliar with the area. It is not intended that this guide include every crag or venue, but it does attempt to describe the best and most popular ones. Those who who want more comprehensive information should counsult the South Wales Mountaineering Club's Wiki. The best place to start is the interactive map below; the descriptions that follow begin in the north and then follow the coast in an anticlockwise direction.
The most northerly crags on Gower are the north facing Tor Gro and North Hill Tor. Tor Gro strikes an impressive profile above the Landimore and Llanrhidian Mashes. It would be completely non-tidal if it weren't for the fact that the access track floods on the occasional spring tide. The routes are located on a number of long slabs, which in places reach up to 45 metres. The climbing suffers from a distinct lack of lines, although Marsh Dance (HS 4b) is well worth a look. |
North Hill Tor is also home to some reasonable routes, unfortunately you're no longer aloud to climb any of them thanks to the landowner threatening violence towards those who venture onto his property. The BMC has advised no one climb there until matters are resolved.
The Llangennith area is better known for its surfing than it's climbing, but the northern end of Rhossili Bay does have a small number of crags with routes recorded upon them. The Blue Pool Area and Burry Holms' crags are more local venues than anything else and this is partially down to their geographical isolation and partly down to the difficulty of access. Burry Holms for example is a tidal island that can only be accessed for two and a half hours either side of low water. The routes are also average at best, which means they have a difficult time competing with the crags on the southern side of the peninsula.
Located on the southern side of Rhossili Bay are a collection of crags of both natural and quarried variety. The natural sea level cliffs, namely the Sheepbone Wall and Shipwreck Cove, are home to a number of generally easy trad routes of indifferent quality and sport routes of better quality. It is however the upper, mostly quarried faces that hold the greatest interest. Trial Wall is the first to be encountered on the approach from the village of Rhossili and is home to a number of excellent hard trad and sport routes, including the superb Skull Attack (F7c). Further along Retribution Wall is home to some great mid grade trad and sport lines and Wedge Wall is ideal for the sport climbing beginner.
To the south of Rhossili is the majestic golden sanded Fall Bay, which is not only a fantastic bathing beach, but is also home to two of the Gower's best crags. At beach level one will find the tidal King Wall which is home to some superb steep single pitch routes in the low to moderate grades. Ragnarok (HS 4a) is a Gower classic, while Freya (HS 4a), Fafnir (HS 4b) and Needle Crack (VS 4b) are also all great routes in their own right.
The King Wall's routes terminate on a broad rocky ledge known as The Great Terrace, the most obvious feature of which is a large earthy cave that was once home to Palaeolithic hunter gatherers and is now used by climbers as a temporary shelter from whatever inclament weather happens to be blasting the crags at the time. Towering above this one will find the imposing and conveniently non-tidal Lewes Castle, which is seperated into East and West Buttresses by a large gulley. Of the two, the West Buttress is probably the best, holding a number of excellent climbs, mostly in the VS and HVS grades. Isis (HVS 5a) and Osiris (VS 4c) are both classic and hugely photogenic routes and should be on the tick list of all Gower climbers. The East Buttress also has some nice routes, noteably the low grade favorite Gethsemane (S 4a) and the moderatly graded South West Diedre (HVS 5a). Both buttersses sport gridles, with the West Buttress' Fall Bay Girdle (HVS 5a) being the best.
Those looking for something a bit harder will find what they want just to the east of King Wall in the form of the enourmous Giant's Cave. The cave and the walls around it are home to a number of Gower's hardest and most spectacular ttad routes, including Masterpiece (E6 6b), Napalm In The Morning (E7 6c), The Divine Guiding Light (E6,6b), The Sistine Ceiling (E6 6c) and Jesus Wept (E6 6b). In fact there are so many starred routes on this crag it would be easy to list them all.
There are a number of crags to the east of Giant's Cave, including Great Boulder Cove and Devil's Truck, but the next really imnportant attraction is the huge and often overhanging Yellow Wall. It is home to a number of excellent and mostly rather hard single and multipitch routes with both tidal and non-tidal starts. It difficult to select a best route as there are so many vieing for the position, but serious contenders include Yellow Wall (E3 5c), Yellow Regeneration (E6 6b) and Man Of The Earth (E6 6b). The crag is also home to one of Gower's most serious trad routes in the form of the two pitch Ardian Berry testpiece, Chasing the Dragon (E8 6c).
Mewslade Bay is another of Gower's finest beaches and another of it's finest climbing venues. It is flanked by a complex series of crags and buttresses, starting with Jacky's Tor in the west and ending in Thurba Head in the east. Jacky's Tor is probably it's most popular crag and has both tidal and non-tidal sections. It's home to a great variety of fun routes that span the grading spectrum, making it an ideal venue for mixed ability groups. Cod Piece (HS 4a) and All There (VS 4c) are both superb mid grade climbs, while for those climbing at a higher level, Shock and Awe (E6 6c), which ascends steeply through the mouth of a cave, is great value.
Further east, Block Buttress has some interesting routes, including Southwest Edge (M), a low grade classic, and Cima (E1 5b), which climbs a striking crackline up the back of an impressive gully. The bay's other good routes can be found in Catacomb Gully, which houses a mixture of low to high end routes; The Jewel (VS 4c) probably being the best.
|Mewslade from Jacky's Tor; the rockface with the large orange scar is Block Buttress and the headland beyond is Thurba Head (Photo by Nanuls)|
Located just to the east of Mewslade, the infrequently visited crags of Thurba Head, which are home to routes which span the grading spectrum, but with the quality reserved for those of the harder variety. Highly tidal in nature, many of the routes are difficult to reach but doing so will yield great returns and a fine adventure. The Thurba Pillar (E5 6b) and Earthly Powers (E5 6a) are blindingly good lines, while routes such as Barnacle Bill (E1 5b) and Junior Jaws (E1 5b) offer superb pitches for those who lack the god like ability the crag’s other routes demand.|
Further east Paviland and Juniper Wall are home to some of Gower’s best mid-grade climbs, so for those climbing between HS and HVS this area is a veritable paradise. The main crags here are all non-tidal, adding bonus points for being easily accessible. Furthermore, Juniper Wall faces south-east and gets the morning sun, whilst Paviland faces south to south-west getting the evening sun, thus making an ideal double-venue if you fancy spending all day in the sun or all day in the shade, which will probably depend on the volume of sweat you are likely to produce while climbing.
In route terms, Paviland’s Shelob (HS 4b) offers you the opportunity to get stuck in one of Gower’s many small caves, while its neighbor East Gully Groove (HVS 5a) just offers good, sustained and well protected climbing. The crag is also home to a great high level girdle in the form of Fellowship Of The Ring (E1 5c). Juniper Wall’s Assassin (HVS 5a) is probably the route of the area, taking an inviting rightward-slanting groove up the centre of the cliff.
The length of coast running from Hollow Top to Port Eynon changes considerably in character to that to its west. Here the landscape is characterised by a series of small dry valleys that are guarded on their seaward flanks by a number of short, broken crags. Most of these crags are non-tidal and where they are long enough and free enough of loose rock, yield a number of good routes. Perhaps the area’s most popular crag is the non-tidal Boiler Slab, so called from a nearby ship wreck, which can be seen from the crag at low tide. Routes are generally at the easier end of the grading spectrum making it an excellent place to take beginners. Classic (VD) and Dulfer (S 4a) are particularly worthwhile. Also in this area are the excellent Easter Buttress and White Pillar, the former being tidal and the latter non-tidal. Their routes are mostly in the low to mid grades with Easter Buttress' two pitch Midwife Crisis (VS 5a) perhaps offering most interest.
The next major crags arn't encountered until Oxwich Bay, which is best know for its expansive golden sanded beach. Hidden in its western woods however, one will find one of Gower's most interesting sport venues. Oxwich Bay Quarry is home to some fantastic routes, mostly F7a or harder in difficulty; Bitchin' (F7b+) being the crag's classic.
Tor Bay is one Gower's most picturesque venues, with it's Three Tors rising dramatically from the sandy beach below. The tors, namely Great Tor, Little Tor and West Tor, offer some superb low to mid grade routes of both single and multi pitch variety. This, combined with the fantastic beach, make it an ideal choice for an all round great day, no matter what grade you usually climb. Of particular note is the superb 4 pitch East Ridge (S or HS with variations) of Great Tor which takes the climber from the beach to the cliff top against a panoramic backdrop of staggering quality. Little Tor is also well worth your attention as it holds some great little single pitch routes, especially Scout Crack (S 4a), Twinkle (S), Superdirect (E1 5c) and Superdirect II (E2,5c).
Three Cliffs Bay forms the focal point for what is perhaps one of Wales’ most iconic and best loved landscapes. The climbing, which more often than not matches the sublimity of the landscape in which it sits, takes place on the bay’s tri-pinnacled centrepiece and provides some of Gower’s most sought-after routes. By far the best of these is to the superb Scavenger (VS 4c), which takes the slab on the right side of the crag’s distinctive sea cave. Once this is ticked off turn your hand to the crag’s other little gems including a Traverse of the Three Pinnacles (M), Arch Slab (VS 4c), and the voyage of speleological lunacy that is Under Milk Wood (VS 4a). Just around the corner is the diminutive Pobbles Bay. It doesn’t have anything that will really excite, but isn’t a bad place to spend a few hours if Three Cliffs happens to be particularily busy.
Protruding out from the eastern edge of Pobbles Bay and running easterly to West Cliff Bay is the headland of Shire Combe, which is home to a series of complex and often slabby crags of a mostly tidal nature. Routes span the grading spectrum, with Bel Camino (HVS 5a), Anemone Wall (VS 4c) and Eve (D) being well worth a look. Watch House Crag, which is on its far eastern side, is also home to a handful of sport routes, which although not spectacular in themselves, could be visited at the same time as the nearby Foxhole Cove.|
The aforementioned Foxhole Cove is in fact one of Gower's most popular sport climbing venues, with grades starting at F3 and reaching F8b. Pioneers of the Hypnotic Groove (F7b), which takes a striking line up a large cave like hollow, is well worth checking out. On it's eastern side the crag of Deep Cut, which is also known as Dark Side of the Moon Zawn, is also home to a handful of trad routes, though they do not match the quality of the bay's sport climbs.
The headland to the east of Foxhole Cove is home to one of Gower's most intriguing and dramatic features, the deep fissure of Minchin Hole. For years climbing was banned here but in 2010 access was negotiated for some of the routes, which are all of the sport variety. And what routes they are! The Raven (F7a+) and Jump The Sun (F7a+) are bona fide classics. A little further east is another sport climbing venue, the recently developed Bowen's Parlour, which is home to a number of excellent routes. Check out When I'm 64 (F7a).
Bantam Bay is located on Pennard's eastern side and like its name suggests, it's a small bay with some fierce climbs. Few people bother to climb here, largely because the routes are mostly dirty and have atrocious run outs. Nevertheless, some of the routes are quite good and might be worth a look if you've exhausted Gower's other crags. Routes such as Ruffled Feathers (E2 6b), Alarm Race (E4 5c) and Hip 'Op (E6 6b) are well worth seeking out if you're climbing in the higher grades.
Pwll Du offers a mixture of trad and sport routes, all of which could either be described as quite hard or rock solid (if you'll pardon the pun). Most of the climbing takes place in the quarry situated on the west side of Pwll Du Bay, while a smaller number of routes have been recorded on Pwll Du Buttress, which for some reason was formally known as Goonland Rocks, just to its right. The quarry is home to some of South Wales' best sport routes, including Senser, which can either be climbed on bolts at F7c+ or on trad gear at E6 6b and The Flight of Icarus (F6c).
Further east Caswell Bay has a great beach and some great crags, making it a popular destination with both tourists and climbers and to climb here requiers you to be comforable with lots of spectators. Routes are mostly on the easy side making it a great destination for beginners or for those simply looking for an easy time. The route of the crag is Nat Not (VS 4c), a fun and devious line up the side of Caswell's Great Slab, while the Great Slab itself also gives a decent pitch at HS 4a.
Situated on the east side of Caswell Bay is Whiteshell Point, which is home to a short leaning wall situated on the east side of the point's headwall. The routes are short, difficult and probably not worth the trip alone.
Despite having a good compliment of high quality routes, Rams Tor has not traditionally been a popular destination with climbers. This is largely because despite their quality, the trad routes were poorly protected and the sport routes sparsely protected by dubious rusty old bolts. In fact, it is probable that most of the routes here were never repeated. That was until 2008, when a major effort was made to replace all the old bolts with stainless glue-in anchors. Bolts were also added to the previously traditionally unprotected routes, effectively retro-bolting the entire crag. It is now one of Gower's best sport venues and offers a number of interesting routes through a series of overhangs. Despite its close proximity to the sea it is barely tidal and therefore a good option in all but the highest of seas. Be sure to check out The Cool Crux Clan (F7a) for a bit of Gower history; it was the fist intended sport route to be bolted on the peninsula.
Mumbles or The Mumbles, or even Y Mwmbwls if you speak Welsh, is perhaps better known as a destination for getting drunk than for climbing (the pub crawl known as the Mumbles Mile is a popular endeavour among those with no respect for their liver). Nevertheless, the crag around the lighthouse does offer a handful of good routes, despite its highly tidal nature. Magra Thea (E6 6b) is the cream of the crop.
Nearby, the cliff behind the Conservative Club was once home to a number of good routes, but alas no more, these days it is covered by netting and has become part of a residential development. Just another reason to dislike the Tory Party.
Finally, and diverging from the anti-clockwise pattern of description, the inland crag of Barland Quarry is one of Gower's best sport venues. At first glance the quarry appears to be horrible, scrappy, broken and loose, however on closer inspection one will find a superb, 60 metre high slab that is home to some great little routes. Routes range from F4+ to F7b+, the best of which is Geef Onze Fietsen Terug! (F6c+), which is Dutch for Give Us Our Bicycles Back, apparently.
Wales has an essentially maritime climate, and given that Gower is a peninsula that juts out into the Bristol Channel, it’s difficult to get anymore maritime without seperating from the mainland. In general therefore, the climate is characterised by weather that is often cloudy, wet and windy but mild. However, the shape of its coastline and the alignment of its high ground means that Wales is subject to many localised differences and whilst some upland areas can experience harsh weather coastal areas often enjoy more favourable conditions.|
Gower generally experiences a comparatively warm climate and extremes in temperature are rare. Average maximum August temperatures are around 19°C while the average minimum temperature for this period is only 14°C. Winter temperatures are also relatively mild, with average maximum January temperatures around 8°C and the minimum around 4°C. In summer temperatures do occasionally reach 30°C and these have usually occured during prolonged anticyclonic episodes when sea-breeze cooling has been inhibited by an easterly component wind. Frosts are rare with an annual average of only 9.7 days, much lower than the Welsh average of nearly 50.
As the meteorologist Graham Sumner once wrote, “Wales is wet, and to many its very name is synonymous with rainfall” (1977) and it is true that with over 1200mm of average annual rainfall, Gower receives a greater average rainfall than the UK as a whole . In fact with annual rainfall usually between 1150 and 1400mm, Swansea can claim to be the wettest city in the Britain.
This rainfall largely falls as part of frontal systems in the winter half-year; this is characteristic of most western locations in the British Isles. October to January are therefore the wettest months and on average suffer some 15 days of rainfall each. Shower activity is also greatest in the autumn and winter months, a response to thermal instability over the relatively warm sea.
Snowfall is infrequent and rarely lies for long. Between 1971 and 2000 the average annual number of days with snow lying was only 3.2 and sleet or snow fell on average just 10 days a year. It should be noted that these statistics are greatly distorted by a small number of exceptionally cold winters, namely those of 1978 and 1982. The blizzard of January 1982 winter was in fact exceptional. At Penmaen, a village near the centre of Gower, 44 hours of continuous snow resulted in a ‘level’ depth of 60cm on both 10 and 11 January and drifts exceeded 2m on seven consecutive mornings. Since then snow depth there has never again exceed 10cm.
Gower averages around 1,500 hours of sunshine a year, which compared to the Welsh average of around 1,400, makes it one of the sunnier parts of the country. In general, the maritime airmasses that usually affect the peninsula are usually rather cloudy, while the less frequent polar and arctic airmasses tend to be clear and sunny.
Being exposed to the Atlantic Ocean and the westerly winds that blow from it, wind is a significant force on the landscape of Gower. Gusts have been recorded as high as 90kn, while mean annual wind speed is around 8kn. Sea-breezes are common and have a major effect on the local climate. This largely takes the form of suppressing the daily rise in air temperature. Evidence of the landward movement of these breezes can be seen in the form of cumulus cloud over inland hills while the peninsula experiences often unbroken sunshine.
Taken together, these factors mean that Gower’s local climate is an exceptionally dynamic one in which the weather can change quickly from hour to hour. Consequently, it is advised that when visiting climbers come prepared equipped with clothes suitable for a range of conditions, in particular wet ones.
Further information can be gained from the following sources:
Mayes, J. and Powell, J. (2003) The climate of Gower, South Wales: A 40-year perspective, Weather, Volume 58, Issue 8, 303-309.
The nature of Gower’s geology owes its existence to the events that produced much of South Wales’ landforms and in particular those that took place over the Carboniferous period. South Wales is dominated by a massive syncline, which preserves in its core rocks of the Upper Carboniferous; these are rich in beds of coal, and they have given the name to the period in which they were deposited. Gower sits on the southern limb of this syncline, so the rocks therefore, dip to the north. As is the case with synclines, the older rocks crop out around the edges, and thus Gower rocks are those which are emerging from beneath the Coal Measures on this southerly limb.|
To complicate things, Gower sits on a series of tight folds which begins on the peninsula and continues right under the Bristol Channel, as far as Devon. The hinges of these folds lie roughly east-west, just like the hinge of the coalfield itself, and this shows that the pressure during the mountain-building phase was coming from the south. So Gower displays a transition-zone between the broad and open style of folding in the coalfield and the tight, narrow folds of the Bristol Channel.
So far, we have been concerned with the structures that have been imposed upon the originally flat-lying rock-layers. Now we come to the interpretation of the sedimentary pile itself, which means deciding what sort of sediment each rock-type one was, and deducing from this the nature of the environment in which they were deposited. Conditions of deposition change through time, and this is what produces the characteristic sequence of rock types that we see in the peninsula.
The oldest rocks on Gower, only occur in the cores of major anticlines, represent the latter part of the Devonian period (416-359 mya). At this time, Gower lay in a region of sediment-laden rivers crossing a wide plain between mountains to the north and the sea, which at that time lay over Devon. These mountains were the result of an intense period of mountain building known as the Caledonian Orogeny, which culminated in the closure of the closure of the Iapatus Ocean and the and the resultant continent-continent collision. The climate at this time was tropical, possibly monsoonal, and the choked streams carried sediment from the intense erosion taking place in the hills. Much coarse material was dropped en route, on the riverbanks and in the islands that split the streams into many minor channels. In Gower, we see pebbly rocks (conglomerates) at the top of the sequence overlying coarse sandstones.
The sea at this time began to rise relative to the land, and, as the Carboniferous Period began (359-299 mya), the wide coastal plains of the Devonian were drowned. The marine transgression in this period covered most of Wales with only the highest mountains probably remaining unsubmerged as islands. During the early part of the period warm equatorial seas occupied a broad gulf with abundant corals, crinoids (sea lily) and orthocones (squid-like creature with elongated conical shell). Marine shales (dark, fine-grained friable rocks) were laid down over the continental conglomerates and over time, the amount of detritus reaching the area from the land was drastically reduced. It was in these conditions that Gower’s limestones began to form.
|Fall Bay (Photo by Nanuls)|
The Carboniferous Limestone in Gower is about 800 metres thick, but traced northward, it can be seen to grow progressively thinner. Each individual unit becomes narrower, and there may also be some units missing. This suggests that the sea further north, being nearer to the land, was shallower and subsiding less quickly. Also, minor fluctuations of sea level could mean that in these shoreward areas, sedimentation could be interrupted more frequently, so resulting in omitted units.|
There are many different units making up the Carboniferous Limestone, each with differing texture, thickness, fossil-assemblage, and so on. These differences were the result of subtle environmental changes, which we will touch on when we visit the localities. Not one of these little changes, however, was as severe as that which marked the complete end of limestone deposition in this part of the world.
The stage was now set for the deposition of the Coal Measures, which are the sediments of a widespread system of river-deltas close to sea level, upon which grew the lush forests of giant mosses, horsetails and ferns which eventually became coal. The Coal Measures therefore consist of sandstones, shales and coals arranged in repeated sequence, which tells of how forests grew, were buried by shales as the land subsided and then by sands as the rivers built out. On top of the river-sand, soil developed and eventually the forest became established all over again.
Save for one small patch of Triassic sediment in Port Eynon, the rocks of the succeeding periods - Permian, Triassic and Jurassic (290-142 mya) - have since been weathered, eroded and removed from Gower area and no marine influence is evident in the area, but marine fossils (including ammonites, reptiles and sea mammals) can be found elsewhere in South Wales. During the Cretaceous Period (142-65 mya) globally high sea levels caused the inundation of much of the area.
During the Tertiary Period (65-2 mya), Gower was situated at the edge of a landmass which was undergoing uplift in relation to the development of the North Atlantic Ocean. This uplift of the landmass bought about the development of the scenery which we see today. The main processes that have shaped this landscape are marine erosion, which lead to the development of the area’s spectacular coastline; weathering, and erosion by streams and rivers, which lead to the development of the area’s drainage pattern.
The Quaternary Period (2 mya to present day) saw the onset of oscillating phases of cold and warm conditions (stadial and interstadial conditions). During stadial conditions ice sheets developed over much of Britain, however relatively few were severe enough to affect Gower. That said, conditions were severe enough during the Anglian Glaciation (450,000 and 30,0000 years ago) when ice crossed Gower and reached the coast of north Devon. During the most recent glaciation, the Late Devensian (maximum extent c. 18,500 years ago) it is thought that only the northern part of the peninsula was covered by ice, though evidence for its exact rumination is scarce. Further east, a Piedmont type glacier formed in Swansea Bay, fed by ice channelled down the Tawe and its contributory valleys. During interstitial periods there is evidence of relative sea levels higher than those of today, and those with a good eye will be able to spot Ipswichian era deposits containing marine shells high up on some of the cliffs.
For more information, see the Royal Geological Society’s Field Guide to Gower.
WildlifeDespite its small size Gower is home to a remarkable variety of habitats, including salt marshes, limestone cliffs, woodland, scrub and open moorland. The area’s mild climate is a major influence, allowing vegetation to thrive throughout the year. In fact in places, palm trees are not an uncommon site, although they are of course, not a native to the peninsula. These factors combined with the proximity of the sea, creates a set of habitats unique to this part of Wales, if not Britain.
The clefts and fissures present on the Gower's southern cliffs often collect soil and rainwater and are themselves habitats for specialist plant species that can tolerate salty spray. These include thrift (Armeria maritime), rock sapphire (Crithmum maritimum) and sea beet (Beta vulgaris). Hardier salt-tolerant plants also occupy the lower reaches of the area's cliffs, including spring squill (Scilla verna), rock sea-lavender (Limonium binervosum), buck's horn plantain (Plantago coronopus), sea campion (Silene uniflora), common scurvygrass (Cochlearia officinalis) and sea spleenwort (Asplenium marinum).
Species of fauna are heavily influenced by this environment with one of the most important features of the coast being its many caves. These provide roosting and hibernation sites for bats, and in particular the greater horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum). The greater horseshoe bat is one of Britain’s largest bat species and when roosting hangs free with the wings more or less enfolding the body. It’s distribution is confined to South-west England and South Wales making the Gower’s bat sites particularly important.
The bird life on Gower’s cliffs isn’t quite as diverse as that of southern Pembrokeshire, but species such as Great black-backed gull (Larus marinus), Lesser black-backed gull (Larus fuscus), Herring gull (Larus argentatus) and Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) are common throughout the area, and are as at home on the cliffs and beaches as they are around the area’s parks and fish and chip shops.
One of the area’s most distinctive birds is the Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), a member of the crow family, which is distinguishable from its bright red legs and curved red beak. Although rare, breeding pairs are resident in southern Gower and in the winter months they can be found on the clifftops probing and digging for food.
Among the birds of prey present are the Buzzard (Bueto bueto), Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) and Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus). The Buzzard and Kestral are common throughout the area, the former is a common site inland, while the latter is often seen in an aerial perch along the cliff tops of the southern peninsula, but it is the Peregrine that holds most interest. The area is lucky to retain an indigenous population of peregrines as in the first half of the twentieth century their numbers were severely reduced, caused by the use of poisonous seed dressings in agricultural practice. The tainted seeds were picked up by grain-eating birds, which were in turn, preyed on and consumed by the peregrines. Eventually the peregrines accumulated enough poison in their bodies to kill or render them infertile. Fortunately the practice of using poisons on the land was banned in the 1950s and the peregrines have been allowed a revival, although their numbers are nothing compared to what they used to be. Kestrels and buzzards did not suffer in the same way as the peregrines, as their feeding habits differ to those of the falcons, mostly consisting of small rodents and carrion.
Inland, Gower’s narrow wooded valleys and ravines are home to a great diversity of trees and shrubs, including ash (Fraxinus excelsior), sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), pedunculate oak (Quercus robur), small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata), field-maple (Acer campestre), dogwood (Cornus sanguinea and spindle (Euonymus europaeus). The ground flora is also rich, with dramatic vernal displays of ramsons (Allium ursinum), bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and hart’s-tongue (Phyllitis scolopendrium). Rare species include purple gromwell (Lithospermum purpureocaeruleum) and butcher’s-broom (Ruscus aculeatus).
These woods are also home to innumerable species of mammals and birds. European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), European gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) and red fox (Vulpes vulpes) are common throughout, while in the wetter, more vegetated areas, can be found such species as water vole (Arvicola terrestris), bank vole (Clethrionomys glareolus), common shrew (Sorex araneus), pygmy shrew (Sorex minutus) and Eurasian water shrew (Neomys fodiens).
European badger (meles meles) can also be found in woodlands where the earth is deep enough to permit their extensive burrowing; on occasion however, they can be found to occupy burrows higher up on hillsides, although never beyond the bracken line. Although a member of the weasel family, in Wales the badger has been traditionally thought of as a type of wild pig, their name in Welsh being ‘mochyn ddaear’ which literally means ‘earth pig’. During the early Middle Ages, the Welsh hunted them for their meat, their hind quarters being made into hams and served up on ceremonial occasions.
European Otter (Lutra lutra) are rather scarce and although they can have expansive territories, their distribution on Gower is confined to the deeper, lowland rivers, estuaries and coast as it is hear that fish are most readily available. They are more often heard than seen, but if you’re lucky you might spot them swimming off the coast around Rhossili.
The common land which encompasses hills such as Rhossili Down and Cefn Bryn is also home to their own important habitats. Here a mixture of wet (Scirpus cespitosus – Erica tetralix) and dry (Ulex gallii – Agrostis curtisii) heaths can be found. The wet heath includes strong populations of a number of western heath species, including whorled caraway (Carum verticillatum), which in turn support the nationally rare butterfly, Marsh fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia). The dry heath occurs as part of a mosaic with wet heath, acidic mire, bracken (Pteridium aquilinum), acid grassland and purple moor-grass (Molinia caerulea) pasture. It is also home to Bristle bent (Agrostis curtisii) which here is close to its northernmost limit in Britain.
The commons are also home to areas of olinia meadows (Molinia caerulea – Cirsium dissectum). This habitat is best represented on Fairwood Common and Welsh Moor where it’s possible to find nationally scarce soft-leaved sedge (Carex montana) and geographically restricted whorled caraway (Carum verticillatum).
In the north, plant species are influenced by the large salt marshes of the Loughor Estuary and Burry Inlet. These form the largest continuous area of saltmarsh in Wales as well as major dune systems at the estuary mouths. Here marsh merges with sand dunes and water meadows with freshwater marsh to create some remarkably diverse habitats. Low marsh areas, which are most affected by the tides are dominated by glasswort (Salicornia), annual sea-blite ( uaeda maritime) and cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora while the effects of grazing and less salt means that middle marsh communities are characterised by their common saltmarsh grass (Puccinellia maritima) and sea purslane (Halimione portulacoides). In the upper reaches common saltmarsh grass (Puccinellia maritima) mixes with red fescue (Festuca rubra), sea milkwort (Glaux maritime) and thrift (Armeria maritime). Around Llanrhidian sea rush (Juncus maritimus) dominates.
These esturaine environments provide extremely important winter habitat for waterfoul and regularily supports over 34,000 individual birds. These include Curlew (Numenius arquata), Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa islandica), Dunlin (Calidris alpina alpina), Knot (Calidris canutus), Shoveler (Anas clypeata), Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna), Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus), Pintail (Anas acuta) and Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus).
Find out more on the excellent Gower Wildlife blog.
Conservation and Protected SitesThe UK has a responsibility to ensure the conservation and enhancement of habitats and species in both a national and international context. One approach to achieving this is the establishment of a system of protected sites. The national suite of sites providing statutory protection for flora, fauna, or geological or physiographical features are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) (Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs) in Northern Ireland) and Marine Nature Reserves (MNRs). As well as underpinning other national designations (such as National Nature Reserves), this system also provides statutory protection for terrestrial and coastal sites which are important within Europe (Natura 2000 network) and globally (such as Wetlands of International Importance). Further designations exist for sites outside of the national suite (such as Local Nature Reserves), varying in the level of protection afforded. Apart from designations for sites with particular natural features, there are also landscape designations which aim to protect areas of either national (e.g. Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) or international (e.g. natural World Heritage Sites) significance in terms of their outstanding scenic importance.
|The coastline west of Port Eynon (Photo by Nanuls)|
Gower also has 3 National Nature Reserves (NNR), which are in effect the next line of protection for nationally important environmental areas. NNRs are usually designated for their broader ecological value rather than for the presence of any rare species. There are however a number of sites which hold important numbers of scarce or rare species. A number of factors may contribute to the designation of a NNR. These may include; how fragile a site is, the size of the site, how 'natural' the site is and the presence of species rich communities. The NNR network represents almost every kind of vegetation type found in the UK.
There are also a large number of sites protected under international law. Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas are part of the Natura 2000 Networks of sites and are therefore strictly protected under European law. Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) are strictly protected sites designated under the EC Habitats Directive. Article 3 of the Habitats Directive requires the establishment of a European network of important high-quality conservation sites that will make a significant contribution to conserving the 189 habitat types and 788 species identified in Annexes I and II of the Directive (as amended). The listed habitat types and species are those considered to be most in need of conservation at a European level (excluding birds). Of the Annex I habitat types, 78 are believed to occur in the UK. Of the Annex II species, 43 are native to, and normally resident in, the UK.
Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are strictly protected sites classified in accordance with Article 4 of the EC Directive on the conservation of wild birds (79/409/EEC), also known as the Birds Directive, which came into force in April 1979. They are classified for rare and vulnerable birds, listed in Annex I to the Birds Directive, and for regularly occurring migratory species. In the UK, the first SPAs were identified and classified in the early to mid 1980s. Classification has since progressed and a regularly updated UK SPA Summary Table provides an overview of both the number of classified SPAs and those approved by Government that are currently in the process of being classified (these are known as potential SPAs, or pSPAs).
Special Areas of ConservationThere are some 3 SACs in Gower and the surrounding area. Combined they cover an area of 3604.4ha (just over 36 square km) and encompass a variety of environments including the sea beds just off its coast to the cliffs and woodlands that characterise its terrestrial landscape.
ForecastThis section displays the weather forecast for Swansea, which bounds the eastern part of Gower, and must be driven through to reach its southern coastline. Since most of Swansea and most of the places people will choose to visit on Gower are at or very close to sea level, this forecast gives a pretty good indication on what the weather is likely to be like at most of the crags. You’ll be pleased to hear that most of Gower’s crags are south facing and receive a lot of sunshine, even when other parts of Wales are not.
Web CamerasWebcams are a great way of getting up-to-date weather information. Currently there are only a few cameras located on Gower and even fewer that are actually reliable. The section below provides links to the best. These feeds are hosted by external sites, so obviously we can’t be held responsible if a camera happens to be malfunctioning.
|Three Cliffs Bay (Photo by Nanuls)|
As has been emphasised previously, tides are a very important consideration when climbing on Gower. As most of the climbing takes place on coastal cliffs, tide times can have a significant impact on where one climbs and at what time. Throughout one lunar month there are two spring or high range tides, and two neap or low range tides. Spring tides occur during the ‘Full’ and ‘New’ moons, when the sun and moon are in line and the combined gravitational pull causes the highest tides, which then ebb to the lowest level. During the first and third quarters of the moon, when the sun’s and moon’s attractional forces are at right angles, we experience the lower neap high tides and the higher low tides. The transition from high to low tide takes approximately 6 hours, which means that there are two high tides and two low tides in every 24 hour period. The average time for the tide to turn is actually slightly longer than 6 hour, which means that on Gower each day the high and low tide times are between 30 and 80 minutes later than the previous day.
It is therefore obviously extremely important to check the tide timetables before embarking on trip in the area. UK tides information for all standard and secondary ports is provided by the UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO), and displayed on the BBC's website.|
Tide information for the Mumbles, which forms Gower’s easternmost promontory, is available through the following link:
Should things go awry and you find yourself in need of rescue, the coastguard can be reached by phoning the standard Emergency Services number, which in the UK is: 999 or 112.
For more information on the role of the Coastguard, take a look at the link below:
Sea rescues are often channelled by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency through the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), a non-profit organisation run by volunteers. There are three lifeboat stations operating in the Gower area, each of which is located at a strategically important point along the coast. For more information on the area’s stations and on ways in which you can help the RNLI, see the links below:
Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is exactly what it says it is: a precious landscape whose distinctive character and natural beauty are so outstanding that it is in the nation's interest to safeguard them. Each AONB has been designated for special attention by reason of their high qualities, which include their flora, fauna, historical and cultural associations as well as scenic views. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW) 2000 has added further regulation and protection, ensuring the future of AONBs as important national resources. The CRoW Act also gives the public the right to access large proportions of the land within the area regardless of ownership. Open access land is denoted on maps by a ‘yellowy tinge’ on Ordinance Survey Maps and on the ground by the following signs.
| Access symbol |
Used to indicate the start of access land, be this CRoW access land or access land under other agreements.
| Negative access symbol |
Used where the boundary between access land and land with no access rights needs clarifying, or where there are persistent problems with trespass.
| Dogs on lead symbol |
On all CRoW Act access land, dogs must be kept on a short fixed lead (2m or less) between 1st March and 31st July (the main bird breeding and lambing season), and at all times near livestock.
Climbing RestrictionsGower offers excellent sea cliff climbing with relatively few access restrictions. The National Trust owns a large part of the coastline and Natural Resources Wales also actively manages certain areas of particular landscape or ecological interest. Some cliff, notably Pwll Du, Pennard and Gravesend are home to the nationally rare plant Yellow Whitlow Grass (Draba aizodes). This plant is found on the broken scree and rocks on top of the cliffs and is easily damaged by trampling. Climbers should take care to identify this plant and avoid any route cleaning or vegetation clearance in these areas.
Some cliffs have seasonal access restrictions to protect nesting seabirds which are reviewed on a regular basis and will be lifted if birds are not nesting. For details of the Yellow Wall restriction please contact the National Trust (Tel: 01792 390636) or the BMC Access Rep. Gower is covered by a fixed equipment agreement reached after lengthy discussion at several open meetings in 1999 and 2000 and more recently in 2011, which covers all of the limestone and sandstone crags in SE Wales. There have been problems in recent years relating to the development of crags in sensitive areas and climbers should carefully consider the potential implications of new routing activities before embarking on new route campaigns. For detailed information see the British Mountaineering Council's:
Restrictions are in force in the following locations:.
From 1st March and 14th August, there is a bird nesting restriction on all routes between Bosco’s Den and Quartz Corner (just east of Bacon Hole), including Minchin Hole.
Furthermore, access for climbing at Minchin Hole. is only permitted on the proviso that climbers do not disturb any of the cave floor or climb on the conglomerate pillars that are on the cave walls. No new routes are to be developed here. This agreement has taken a long time to negotiate and its imperative that these restrictions are adhered to if access is to continue. From 1st March and 14th August, there is a bird nesting restriction between and including routes Central Cleft and Wimp at Thurba Head.
From 1st March and 14th August, there is a bird nesting restriction between and including routes 5 Minutes to Kill and Early Warning at Yellow Wall. The restrictions are reviewed in May – watch out for signs onsite or contact the National Trust Warden on (T: 01792 390636), for up-to-date details.
At Rhossili Bay's Trial Wall kestrels are thought to be nesting in a hole between the routes Black Wall and Inch Pinch. Climbers are advised to avoid these routes until the end of July or until the birds fledge. Please note that while this is not a formally agreed restriction, all wild birds are protected while in or near a nest and it is an offence to disturb any wild bird while it is building a nest or is in or near a nest containing eggs or young.
There is a permanent voluntary ban on climbing at Worm’s Head.
At North Hill Tor climbers have experienced access difficulties in recent years and there have been several encounters with the farmer. If you experience problems please report the incident to The BMC.
If you are in any doubt about any particular access arrangement, or need to report an incident, you should contact your local BMC Access Representative or the BMC Access Officers for Wales: Elfyn Jones.
Unless you own your own yacht and are able to sail there, if you are to reach Gower you will need to make some sort of contact with Swansea.
If you're mode of transport car, then you will most likely be traveling from the east along the M4. To be fair even if coming from the east or north, the M4 is going to be means of approach. Junction 47 (SH 620 994) is the exit you want, and then take the A483, then the A4216 and then A4118. This involves driving around the suburbs of Swansea and is the quickest way to get to most of Gower's climbing venues. If you are heading to a venue east of Pennard however, may wish to access via Gower Mumbles and the B4593. For detailed route information it's recommended that you consult Google Maps or equivalent.
By BusBus travel is widely available throughout the area, both in the form of coach travel and service buses. Service bus information can be obtained from the UK Bus Timetable Website Directory, while the National Express website has information on coach timetables.
By RailGower itself is inaccessible by rail, but Swansea does have a station and does receive regular trains from London and the south-east. Further information on timetables and tickets can be obtained from National Rail. The station is serviced by regular buses, which will take you to the city's main bus terminal and then onto Gower
By AirIf you are coming from abroad, the best options are probably Bristol or Cardiff Airports, which are within a two hour drive of Gower's most accessible crags. Swansea does have a minor airport on it's western side, but you'll either have to own your own plane or have the funds to charter your own flight, to put it to any use, see Swansea Airport for further details.
Camping and AccommodationGiven the size of the area, attempting to list a fair selection of camp sites, hostels, B&Bs, hotels and holiday cottages seems a little difficult, and anyway, there’s a huge supply of accommodation in Gower and Swansea and finding something that fits your needs shouldn’t be a problem. For a range of accommodation it’s worth checking out some of the following sites:
Youth Hostel Association in Wales
For everything else and more see Visit Swansea Bay’s website.
Everyone enjoys a drink and a chat after a good day on the crag right? There are many more pubs than listed below but these are probably the best.
King Arthur Hotel - Reynoldston. Tel: (01792) 390775
Dolphin Inn - Llanrhidian. Tel: (01792) 391069.
Greyhound Inn - Llanrhidian. Tel: (01792) 391027.
Oxwich Bay Hotel - Oxwich Bay. Tel: (01792) 390329
Britannia Inn - Llanmadoc. Tel: (01792) 386624
Tourist Information Centres
Handy sources of visitor information.
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Outdoor Clubs, Organisations and Companies
Maps and Guidebooks
Wildlife and Conservation