Oxwich Bay

From the A4118 main road along South Gower, a road signposted to Oxwich heads south at a junction dominated by Penrice Castle. There is no access to the private 13th-century ruin, but from both roads there are enticing glimpses of the most formidable fortification built by the Normans after finally gaining control of Gower in 1099. It can also be viewed at leisure from the footpath through the large, formal Penrice Estate, as can the imposing 18th-century Penrice mansion and the great artificial lake, which is now a heronry.

The minor road dips down to the strange landscape known as Oxwich Marsh, which has a haunted quality even in broad sunlight. It is a nature reserve comprising freshwater marshes to the west and a salt marsh to the east, with dense woods to the north and south. After about a mile the small village of Oxwich is reached, where there is an official car park. Beyond this lies the panorama of Oxwich Bay, the longest expanse of sand in South Gower, backed by sand dunes, woodland, cliffs and Cefn Bryn, the spine of Gower.

Now surrounded by exceptionally varied countryside classified as a National Nature Reserve, Oxwich was once a small port exporting limestone quarried from the headland of Oxwich Point. John Wesley lived here in a cottage called ‘The Nook’. The village, with its colourful quarrymen’s cottages, several of them thatched, feels deceptively remote from the rest of the world. The bay used to have a reputation for smuggling and ‘wrecking’, and there have been many shipwrecks both accidental and deliberate in its treacherous waters. The remains of one wreck, torpedoed during World War Two, can sometimes be seen at low water. In 1911, a Mr E. Sutton accomplished the first aeroplane flight in Wales from the long, flat sands of Oxwich in a Bleriot Monoplane.

Beyond the Oxwich Bay Hotel, which is located almost on the beach, a track leads towards Oxwich Point. It heads up the cliff through woodlands and past the ancient little church of St Illtyd, the subject of many myths and fairy tales. From further up there are splendid views of the bay and the Bristol Channel. Oxwich Castle is a fortified Tudor manor house and was constructed by the Mansel family, notorious for their plundering of local shipwrecks.

An alternative route back from Oxwich to the A4118 meanders through the tiny hamlet of Penrice, which once was the hub of Gower’s economy, hosting fairs and markets until they outgrew the tiny village green and had to be relocated to nearby Reynoldston. Depending on when you encounter it, the congregation of the scenic St Andrew’s Church appears to consist more or less equally of humans, sheep and wildfowl.