The rising sun must clear the Brecon Beacons before its light spills down the length of the Gower Peninsula and washes up Rhossili Down, the hill at its most westerly tip.
Then, the cold night mist unveils ghostly gorse and the tumbled stones of Neolithic burial tombs. The light augments the reds in the sandstone paths and kisses the hummocky nests made by rare black bog ants out of heather, before cresting the hill and wreathing all of Rhossili Bay with rosy light.
Overlooked by Rhossili Down, Rhossili Bay is a bare sweep of sand, rinsed clean by icy surf and cradled between two craggy limestone tidal islands called Burry Holms and Worm’s Head. They creep like fingers into the Atlantic Ocean, buffeted by its ship-wrecking winds. The timbers of The Helvetia, a Norwegian vessel driven onto the sand in 1897, are still exposed at low tide, stark as old whale-ribs.
HERE BE MONSTERS
According to tradition, Burry Holms is where St Cenydd was washed ashore in a currough and raised by seagulls, before going on to found a 6th-century Celtic Christian monastery just inland. To the south, Worm’s Head was named by the Vikings – wurm being Norse for dragon or serpent – and from Rhossili Down it does indeed look like a sinuous monster swimming out to sea. Crabs and lobsters are still dumped by the tides into holes of the Worm’s rocky causeway, pocked and riddled by the relentless sea.
WIDE OPEN SPACES
There are plenty of walking options around Rhossili; to Worm’s Head at low tide perhaps, or along the Wales Coast Path to Burry Holms. Or you can take a longer figure-of-eight route, climbing the bridleway by the church up Rhossili Down and keeping to its hilltop ridge, passing the cairns before turning inland at the burial mound to drop into Llangennith for coffee at the cosy King’s Head pub.
From there, take the road heading west out of town and follow the marked footpath across the moors and burrows to the beach. Return along the beach and climb the slope to Rhossili village. Pass the National Trust centre heading for Worm’s Head but keep to the Wales Coast Path circuiting the plateau above Fall Bay, before following the marked footpaths through the fertile plateau of The Vile (vile meant ‘field’ in old Gower) and back along the path to Rhossili.
Walkers are a common sight on the cliffs in warmer months but in winter you can sometimes stride along the hills high above the Helvetia’s cold barnacled timbers and have this place all to yourself.