Not just a land of bewitching natural beauty, myth
and history, Gower is also a scattering of small, deep-rooted communities,
where over the centuries women and men have lived off the land and the
sea. The sense of a living, working community is still evident in Penclawdd,
on the north coast a few miles west of Swansea, and its neighbouring
satellite Crofty, for cockles have been harvested here from Roman times
to the present day.
Copyright © 2003 Julian
Up until the end of the 19th century, Penclawdd was a flourishing sea
port, with several coal mines, and tinplate, copper and brass works.
It was a bustling commercial centre for much of North Gower. There was
a time, almost within living memory, when it had a railway station,
a forge, twenty grocers, three butchers, three drapers and four fish
and chip shops; for happy hours, there were eleven pubs and a cinema,
and for holy hours, three chapels and a church.
But above all else, Penclawdd was synonymous with cockles and cockling,
and this is the only one of the old industries to survive. The famous
low-tide cockle beds on the Burry Estuary sands have always produced
a good quality harvest. During the Industrial Revolution, women whose
husbands were unfit for work in the coalmines turned to cockle gathering
as a lifeline, and right up to the 1970s, women were the main gatherers.
Working with donkeys, hand rakes and riddles (coarse sieves), the women
were tough and resilient, famed for their ability to withstand all weather
conditions on the estuary.
Today, with demand ever increasing, the industry is run by men with
tractors and four-wheel drives, but they still gather the cockles with
the traditional hand tools. The cockles are processed in local factories,
carefully prepared and heat-treated for export nationwide. Look out
for the cockle stalls in Swansea Market, and for establishments, such
as the Kings Head Hotel at Llangennith, which serve a traditional Welsh
breakfast featuring cockles, bacon and laverbread (laver seaweed washed,
dipped in oatmeal and fried in bacon fat).
Penclawdd and Crofty both have high locations and enjoy spectacular
views over the Loughor estuary and the surrounding countryside. Worth
visiting in Crofty is the graveyard of the ruined Hermon Chapel, for
its profound atmosphere and marvellous views(see below). Originally
painted white, the chapel, built in 1807, was an important landmark
for ships navigating the estuary.