It’s not as if the south Gower coast is otherwise unremarkable – maritime grassland atop limestone rock, which has been scoured into beaches and bone caves, yielding to an expansive sea with Devon fizzing on the horizon – but Three Cliffs Bay is a truly special place.
The cliffs are triangles of a single promontory, swimming out like a dragon to guard a bay brightly ringed by Pennard Pill river, which has squirmed through the saltmarsh to reach it.
At high tide, Great Tor in the west grants seclusion. But at the tide’s ebb, Three Cliffs Bay merges with Tor Bay, Oxwich Bay and Pobbles Bay – with its dramatic cliffs and caves – to create one vast dazzling magnitude of sand.
Three Cliffs Bay in summer, Wales Getty
A moderate-level, six-mile hike along Three Cliffs Bay and the surrounding cliffs in Wales.
1. Bone caves
The Swansea bus avoids cows browsing garden hedges (commoners’ grazing rights have been practised on the Gower Peninsula since at least the Bronze Age) and drops you outside Three Cliffs post office, café and shop, in Southgate, where more cows chew the cud in the car park. Join the coast path at the southern end of the parking area and turn right. Below the cliffs is a cave where the bones of elephant, rhinoceros, reindeer, wolf and bear have been found. At Pennard Burrows, the path turns to sand. Your first views of Three Cliffs Bay can be enjoyed from benches secreted among the gorse.
2. Riverside fort
Follow waymarkers to Norman Pennard Castle. Ambushed by medieval sandstorms, its ruins now frame a romantic view of the shining Pennard Pill river meandering through the bay like a scene from Camelot.
Descend from the castle then follow the Pill upstream for about half a mile.
Norman Pennard Castle, Gower Peninsula, Wales Getty
3. Water crossing
Cross the river by a footbridge, built with volunteer help from the Gower Society and Swansea Ramblers, then turn back to the beach below Northill Wood, until you reach the stepping stones.
4. Pillow mounds
Fork right up Notthill then immediately drop and climb again on to Great Tor headland. Don’t be surprised if a cow or horse pokes its head prettily through the gorse. As you circumnavigate the headland, note the pillow mounds – formed by submarine volcanic activity –concealed among the forested slopes. Descend steeply on the coast path to the beach.
Sunset through dunes on the Gower, United Kingdom Getty
5. Sand and sea
A shelf of sand crumbles into the Pill. From here, the Three Cliffs are most impressive. If tempted to swim, observe the rip tides; lifeguards operate throughout the summer.
6. Stepping stones
Return to and cross the stepping stones (submerged after extreme weather), then follow the coast path behind the storm bank – another great viewpoint – climbing back on to Pennard Burrows.
7. Burrows back
Either return to Southgate the way you came or head behind the burrows via the golf course.