Shutterspeed: Hiking on the Gower & visiting Caerphilly Castle

I have been in Wales for a little over a month now, but it feels three times as long! Not only am I kept very busy at work, I try to make the most of my weekends by going exploring. Last weekend I returned to the Gower peninsula, and this weekend I visited Caerphilly Castle, the largest castle in Wales, which was high on my to-see list.

The internet has proven very helpful in suggesting the loveliest walks on the Gower. Last week I started from the 14th century church in Llanrhidian, in the north of the peninsula. I had downloaded a map of the walk and a list of direction onto my phone. The walk I had planned took in a stretch of the Wales Coast Path, so when I saw a sign with that logo on it, I followed it. I happily walked past beautiful south marshes and peacefully grazing horses and sheep, taking photos and wondering at what point on this seemingly endlessly straight road I would find the fork in the road that, according to my directions, I should have encountered after about ten minutes. When I consulted my map I realised that the salt marshes were on the wrong side of the road… I backtracked to Llanrhidian and found another Wales Coast Path sign pointing in a different direction. I wish I had a better sense of direction, but as it is, I can turn every trip into an adventure by getting slightly lost. 🙂

The actual walk that I had planned took me through a stretch of forest, some grassy fields, and past Weobley Castle, which was so hidden behind the trees that I didn’t actually get to see it. At one point I had to cross a field full of sheep. The sheep began to run when I approached, bleating as they did so, and before I knew it I was surrounded while trying to pick my way through the high grass up to the village of Landimore. The bleating almost sounded human, and it felt a little as if they were ganging up on me! I emerged from the field relatively unscathed (because of nettles, not sheep) and continued on my way to Cheriton. Having a map while hiking around here is essential, but not much use when none of the villages–or their streets–have any visible signs with their names on. Signposting is fairly erratic, too. However, I reached the village in good time. The complete walk looped around and covered much of the same roads on the way back, but because of my wrong start I’d lost some time and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to catch the last bus back to Swansea (buses run irregularly until around 7 PM on Sundays) if I walked all the way back to Llanrhidian where I’d started out. I decided to wait for the bus with a cold glass of cider in the nearby pub. I’m beginning to appreciate the phenomenon of the pub as a locus of British cultural identity. It is a place where weary travellers like yours truly can have a drink and a meal, use the bathroom and have a rest; at the same time, the local pub is a second living room for many people living in small villages nearby, where they can watch sports and meet up with friends (to watch more sports). It’s a place where it is acceptable to order hot food and an alcoholic drink at any point during the day. I can’t think of anything really similar in the Netherlands; it’s not simply a cafe or a restaurant by the roadside.

Last Saturday I visited Caerphilly Castle, taking the bus eastwards to Cardiff and taking another bus up to Caerphilly, where I fell to talking to a woman on the bus who had lived in the region all her life and pointed out to me all the attractions of the area as we rode further up north. She was going to Caerphilly for the Big Cheese festival (Caerphilly is famous for its cheese). When I got off the bus, the town was swarming with people. The festival was taking place somewhere behind the castle, which I’d glimpsed already on the bus. The castle, massive on its own, is surrounded by a moat. It was built in the late 13th century, and, like Caernarfon Castle and most castles in Wales, it was constructed by an English nobleman, Gilbert de Clare, in order to secure and defend the area against the Welsh. De Clare built the castle to defend himself against the same enemy as Edward I in CaernarfonL Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, the last sovereign king of Wales before it was conquered in 1283. However, by the time the building was finished shortly after its resumption in 1271, Wales was conquered and the castle no longer served any key defensive purpose. Though it was attacked during the Welsh uprising under Madog ap Llewelyn in 1294, the Llywelyn Bren uprising in 1316 and during the overthrow of Edward II in 1326–27, its defense system was so good that it was never besieged: the moat prevented any siege engines from getting close and launching projectiles within the walls of the castle, and a structure of towers, gatehouses, mural passages and “hourds”–sheds fixed to the top of a wall from which crossbow bolts, stones, hot oil and such could be poured onto the enemy–made it very difficult to attack.

Inside the castle, I was disappointed to find that there wasn’t that much to see. On the grounds, there were two reconstructed siege engines and a statue of the Welsh dragon. Unlike in Caernarfon, the towers and the ramparts were closed off. It might only have been that day because of the festival and the number of visitors, though. There were actors dressed as knights (and when I say knights I mean men dressed as a strange Viking/Anglo-Saxon combination that didn’t seem accurate, but oh well) running around, as well as merchandise and food stalls. Keen to escape the throng of people I walked around the moat, viewing the castle from a distance. Having spent around three hours in Caernarfon I decided to go back home, since there wasn’t much else to do and I didn’t feel like visiting the festival.

It was such lovely weather on Sunday that I decided to go back to the Gower for a walk. The professor at whose house I’m staying recommended a beautiful walk through the Bishopston Valley in the south of the peninsula. It took me through an actual fairy tale forest, past an old mine, to Pwll Du Bay, a pebble beach hemmed in by the gorgeous rocky coastline. I then walked towards Brandy Cove, circling the cliffs, and ended up in Bishopston, where I found out that the bus had just gone and I’d have to wait two hours for the next one. Luckily, the pub wasn’t far away.

I can’t wait to take my family and friends, when they come to visit later this month, around this beautiful country and show them what has captured my heart! In the meantime, I love going hiking by myself. I firmly believe in the therapeutic power of walking in nature, and I believe this sentiment has been better expressed by no one but Anne Frank in her diary:

The best remedy for those who are frightened, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere they can be alone, alone with the sky, nature and God. For then and only then can you feel that everything is as it should be and that God wants people to be happy amid nature’s beauty and simplicity. As long as this exists, and that should be forever, I know that there will be solace for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances. I firmly believe that nature can bring comfort to all who suffer.


All photos can be viewed in higher resolution on my Flickr 🙂

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