Day out: Dunraven Bay, Vale of Glamorgan

Seek rockpools, fossils and a reviving swim at this wonder of the Welsh coast

Big cliffs and rocky beach by sea

An annual pilgrimage I try to make every New Year’s Day is to the Glamorgan Heritage Coast, where I dunk myself in the sea. 

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It is not for very long – a minute at most – and is usually accompanied by high-pitched swearing, but once I have dried off and warmed up with a hot chocolate, I wander among the rockpools with my family, completely high and buzzing, making plans for adventures in the year ahead.

Aerial view of dramatic limestone cliffs and coastline
Aerial view of dramatic limestone cliffs and coastline at Dunraven Bay, also known as Southerndown/Credit: WhitcombeRD, Getty

Geology of Dunraven Bay

Dunraven Bay, with its dramatic cliffs and other-worldly ribbons of limestone stretching out to sea, is one of my favourite beaches in South Wales. It never fails to boggle my brain that all of this used to be at the bottom of a warm, shallow sea near the Equator; the layers of blue lias rock (named for its grey-blue colour) were laid down when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

Battered by the elements, this compacted history is eroding before our very eyes, making it a prime spot for the amateur fossil hunter, while those armed with nets and buckets can lose themselves among the rockpools, searching for crabs, anemones and seaweed.

Dunraven Bay walk

If you’re keen to take in the bay’s more recent history, there is a short walk from the beach car park to the walled gardens, which once formed part of the estate of Dunraven Castle.

It was in 1803 that local MP Thomas Wyndham built a flamboyant neo-Gothic house on the estate, which was used as a convalescent home during both world wars. It is now a ruin where you can still see the stone archways and ice tower, but it is the breathtaking view of the neighbouring cove and Cwm Mawr waterfall cascading over the cliff that makes the uphill climb worth the walk.

Birds on rocks
Look for choughs on the cliffs/Credit: unknown, Alamy
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There is a steep path down to the cove should you wish to explore, or you can head back to Dunraven Bay via the headland path to make it a circular walk, or return the way you came through the walled garden. All the while, keep your eyes peeled for the red-billed chough (pronounced ‘chuff’), a rare member of the crow family that likes to swoop and dive over the clifftops.