50km, 1000m ascent, 2 days (9 hours running time)
Category: Adventure, Camping
Difficulty: Beginner (liberal timings, good public transport)
We did this run in May 2013
What to do with a bank holiday weekend? Unfortunately I was still thinking this at 6pm on Friday evening, staring into my office computer for inspiration… Somewhere not too far away, runnable and campable. Stephan rang me at that moment. “Why don’t we go to the Gower?” he said. “I’ve always wanted to run all the way around it.” What a great idea! Less than three hours in the car, lots of campsites (no wild camping is allowed on the Gower) and good public transport if we got stuck anywhere. Not to mention, it would be a weekend full of sun, sea and sand instead of the usual wind, rain and bracken. I did some quick research, jotted down some campsite numbers and headed for home to pack the camping stuff!
Looking at the map, we decided ALL the way around the Gower might be a bit far for two days. Stephan and I had just started long-distance running then – we’d done a mountain marathon, some wild camping in Snowdonia and had tried (and failed) the Welsh 3000’s circular route. The Gower Peninsular is 100km all the way around, if you want to get back to Swansea, and, unfortunately, the public transport on the North side is a bit sparse, removing a lot of options. So, we decided Mumbles to Rhossili would be far enough at 50km – we’re on holiday after all!
The next morning we jumped in the car and headed down to Swansea, calling ahead to our Saturday night campsite so we would at least have one night booked. We parked up in Mumbles at lunchtime and set off along the sea front. We weren’t sure if we’d stay at Rhossili on Sunday night, or try to head back on the bus, so we packed food for two nights, leaving us with a 30L, 10kg rucksack each (you can see our kit list here: Kit Evolution Part 1).
So, off on stage one, Mumbles to Oxwich along the coastal path (for our exact route, click here). Mumbles Pier was boarded up, but we could just about peer through the gaps in the fence. Expecting an eerie sight of closed down amusement rides, we were actually just greeted by a rather cheerful looking Welsh Dragon. What better welcome to Wales?
Mumbles faces North-East, with the vistas of Swansea and the enigmatic, industrial Port Talbot in view. So, it wasn’t until we rounded the corner towards Langland that we really got an impression of what the weekend would be like. The view opened up to endless, dark-turquoise water; waves pounded the rocks below and I settled in to a steady running rhythm, for now thankful for the paved tracked that meant I didn’t need to look where I put my feet.
Langland was an odd sight… It seems to be Wales’ equivalent of LA (not that I’ve ever been to LA). Stark white hotels flank the beach and the houses wouldn’t look out of place back in Surrey. At one point we lost the coastal path – it veers off up through the town before re-joining the coast on the other side of the town – and were running above a small mansion with a helicopter parked on the lawn! I hoped this would not be a taste of things to come…
As we ran out of Langland, leaving the busy tourist trail behind, the tarmac path disappeared and I felt like we were finally in the wilds of Wales. The sun emerged, drawing out the local lizards, who were kind enough to pose for a picture.
We passed Caswell and Pwlldu Bay, running towards Three Cliff Bay, 16km into our run. As we headed away from civilisation, we saw fewer and fewer people, but one couple we passed did stand out. They clearly had the same idea as us and were hiking around the Gower. I couldn’t help but marvel at their HUGE rucksacks though, complete with flapping rollmats and mugs. I’m sure they thought we were total nutters too with our tiny packs though and I was also pretty sure they would be laughing later when we were chowing down on instant noodles and they had wine and cheese (probably – my imagination wandered a bit, I’ll admit).
Threecliff Bay is an amazing place. A river comes down from the headland into the sea here, producing a glorious coastal wetland, complete with its own ruined castle. The bay joins Oxwich Bay, a national nature reserve, which is reached by winding up a wild garlic scented path. We ran through here as the sun started to set, clouds of some sort of seed springing up from the nearby bushes like fireflies around us. Away from the coastal path, we headed to our campsite on Oxwich Green, pitching the tent just before dark. As we were packing up for the night, the couple with the massive bags arrived and started pitching their own tent…
I expected to wake up grumpy on Sunday, having slept on barely-a-rollmat (I had cut it down to nothing for the OMM). But, to be honest, Saturday had been so amazing I could have been aching all over and still wanted to go out. We had a pretty leisurely breakfast, seeing as we knew we had all day to cover the same ground we’d managed in just an afternoon the day before. So we waved off the hiking couple (in our heads, not actually) on their early start while we lolled around eating porridge. We had unknowingly run straight past another castle the night before, so went and checked that out before getting back on the coastal path.
This is the point where we got a little bit lost. Our basic premise was to keep the coast by our side, but without going back down the hill, we weren’t really sure where the coastal path was. So, we set off in a vague direction and eventually ended up in a farmer’s field… Now many people have liberal feelings about being in farmer’s fields, but I am not really one of those people and when a quad bike came round on the morning rounds, I felt compelled to hide behind a gorse bush until it was gone… Perhaps a bit overkill. We spotted the path below us through some burnt gorse and legged it down. This is NOT something I would recommend to anyone unless you want to come out looking like a cave painting…
Back on the coastal path, we continued our steady pace, once again passing the hiking couple, who’s incredulous looks were a little difficult to decipher. The path is pretty straightforward from Oxwich to The Worms Head (see the route here), though in some places the coast has eroded so the path has been diverted away from the sea. We saw a few mountain bikers carrying their bikes, but no one else until we got to the Head, which was exceedingly busy. We stopped for some M&M’s before a jog along Rhossili Bay to try our luck at the Hillend Campsite.
We were in luck, apart from the fact that it was the most expensive campsite we have ever stayed at (when we weren’t even going to use the showers!). It was still only mid-afternoon, so we pitched our tiny tent amongst the tribes of camper vans and went for a paddle and an ice cream until sunset. I was really worried the surfers would be partying all night, but high tide was at 5am so the campsite went dead at 11pm sharp. Surfers are so dedicated!
The next morning I was really feeling sore and tired. But Stephan was still full of beans and decided we should run back to Rhossili, rather than walk, for our bus, because he didn’t want to get up early. Now, usually I have thrown some sort of mini-paddy at some point on these adventures, because something hurts or we are lost or I can’t open my M&M’s. So far, the Gower had charmed me into silence. But the 4km to the bus stop did it and about 2km in I got a bit angsty because my feet hurt. So we had a little sit down and walked the next 2km, missing our bus but giving us time for another ice cream before the next one. Stephan is very patient.
Pacified, we hopped on the bus back to Mumbles, much to the annoyance of our fellow passengers who I’m sure could smell that we’d been on an adventure! We stopped for coffee and cake in Mumbles before driving back to Surrey, saying goodbye to the sea that had been our wild, striking companion for the weekend. Hopefully we’ll see it again when we return for the second half!