Discussions at breakfast revolved around heading to a beach destination today. Sea air, negative ions, ice cream and a smattering of seagulls called us to the briny. Devon? Dorset? Cornwall maybe? So whilst Mrs Wessex Reiver consulted the map as to a premier coastal hot-spot, I headed into the kitchen to make a Man vs Food style sausage and egg breakfast combo sandwich.
If you have not seen Man v Food it is currently on the Freeview channel Dave and hosted by Adam Richman. Each programme’s premise is easy and strangely compelling. Adam sets himself a challenge to find and consume the biggest - and I’m talking big here - food challenges available in America. Usually his prize if he succeeds is a t-shirt and a photograph on the wall of fame. His feat of eating 5 x 1.5lbs meat-and-French-fries-filled baguettes in under an hour has to be seen to be believed. My breakfast bap combo wasn’t quite as large, but stomach filling it most definitely was. I lay on the floor for 10 minutes to recover from this overindulgence, as a voice was heard stage left.
“Let’s go to the Gower”.
Good choice. I’ve never ever been to the Gower in South Wales. Ever since moving to Bristol in 1993, colleagues and friends have said to me “you must go to the Gower, it is fabulous”. So for nearly 19 years I’ve wanted to go. Advertising images of Rhossili Bay gleaming in bright sunshine do look absolutely stunning. Legion reasons have prevented me going but today, after checking the weather forecast, we headed off up the M5 to the Severn Bridge, paid our £6 and headed deep into the land of Owain Glyndŵr; although in our haste we had forgotten a map.
By Cardiff mist had begun to skirt the Valleys and by Swansea what can only be described as a pea souper had blanketed the entire Celtic landscape. Port Talbot is best seen in thick fog and whilst in reverie for this small mercy, I nearly missed the brown tourist sign “To the Gower”. A sharp left saw us descend into the underbelly of Swansea. On a grey, fog-enveloped June day Swansea is not at its best. The Amazon.co.uk huge warehouse is impressive, but not quite on the tourist trail yet, although the Celtic Lawnmower superstore looks fun. Wave upon wave of traffic lights loomed out of the deep gloom; each seemingly set to turn red as we approached. A sign gleamed, “Gower” to the right, so in a balletic manoevere across three lanes we found ourselves in a Short Stay Hospital car park. Did I mention we’d forgotten a map?
Retracing our steps we then took in the delightful aspects of street upon street of grey pebble dashed houses adjacent to grey streets enveloped by grey fog. It reminded me of bleakest parts of Tyneside, and unfavorably so. Like an Olympic torch bearer we sped into, through and out of the Mumbles in the blink of an eye. Let me summarise that from there by hook and by crook, or at least every single track lane in the Gower we finally made it to Rhossili after the most pleasurable and leisurely hour and 20 minutes drive from the M4 possible. Tempers were fraying.
At Rhossili the fog was so thick I had difficulty seeing the car park attendant grunting something in his Liverpudlian accent about £3 to park. In front of us was a cratered field awash with water, mud and ‘yooths’ in surfing gear. Californian surf dudes look bronzed, muscular and fit; Rossili’s Celtic cousins looked gangly, pasty white and about to expire due to hypothermia. Looking first at the attendant, then the fog, we did a U turn and, although initially thinking we’d drive somewhere else instead, we parked further up the village in the Church carpark. I’d rather give the Church my money as a donation to park, and so I did in their honesty box.
Improvement of our now frazzled demeanor however did come in the excellent guise of The Bay Bistro and Café. Optimistically, the sign outside advertised glorious views of Rhossili Bay while sipping a Barista served coffee. Predictably no one was sitting outside as the scenic view of the fog- enveloped landscape wasn’t really a major draw. Inside though was busy, packed with damp walkers and hypothermic surfers; it was also humid. Lingering for just a moment at the door, our brief indecision whether to go in or beat a hasty retreat was dispelled by the menu board proclaiming a veritable smorgasbord of vegetarian options, of which we partook of heartily. The food was excellent and with coffee consumed, a voice was heard stage left.
“Shall we go to the beach?”
So thick was the fog I hadn’t realised a beach existed, but scrambling down the 200 foot cliff footpath, there at “The End”, as some wag had scrawled into the erstwhile wet cement, was Rhossili beach. Empty of human life, in this thick fog it was moody and fantastic. We walked along the tide line with the sound of the sea as our constant companion. I gathered shells and took a photograph or two. Adding to the mood of the day it began to rain, but onwards we went. The return walk was just as damp and so as I emerged huffing and puffing at the top of the cliff path, we once again entered the comforting interior of The Bay Bistro for refreshment. Coffee consumed, a voice was heard stage left.
“Shall we go to home?”
In 2010 Rhossili Bay was voted the best picnic spot and the best beach in the UK. It was a superb beach I have to admit and we did have a fabulous walk in the gloom. It would be good to see it again in the sun. But I know of better beaches in Britain which are just as impressive and just as empty. More importantly to get to them does not involve traversing miles of urbanised sprawl. As if to add insult to injury, we tried a few sandy bays on the way home, each seemingly turned into a caravan park with a grumpy car park attendant with a Liverpudlian accent demanding money.
I like Wales, I like the Welsh people, but I’m sorry, even in glorious sunshine, I think it will be a long time before I’m persuaded to visit the Gower again.