Walk 88: The Mumbles Circular: Surf’s Up!

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 3.7 miles (5.98km)

Time to walk: Only just over 1 hour, but if the sun’s out & you want to combine with a day at the beach, then why not take the whole day!

Difficulty: Pretty much all on hard surface, but then there is the beach. There are a few steep sections on the coastal path & back up the hill into the town

Parking: Free parking a couple of streets back in the Mumbles or pay £5 for 4 hours

Public toilets: On the front near the start of the walk, or cafes etc on the way

Map of the route:

Mumbles (Mwmbwls in Welsh) marks the beginning of the Gower Peninsula’s coastline & is a small fishing village, plus the name of the headland situated at the Western end of Swansea Bay, at the entrance to The Gower Peninsula

The headland is thought by some to have been named by French sailors, after the shape of the two anthropomorphic islands which make it up. The word ‘Mumbles’ may be a corruption of the French ‘les mamelles’, meaning ‘the breasts’. Another possible source of the name is from the word ‘Mamucium’ which is generally thought to represent a Latinisation of an original Brittonic name, either from mamm, (“breast”, in reference to a “breast-like hill”) or from mamma (“mother”, in reference to a local river goddess)

A frequent haunt of Dylan Thomas & his friends, it’s also the birthplace of Catherine Zeta Jones & Ian Hislop. Back when Dylan roared around the Mumbles, there were considerably more pubs to visit along the famous Mumbles Mile. “A rather nice village, despite its name,” was how Dylan described this small, increasingly well-heeled fishing village

The village even gets a mention in the poet’s ‘Under Milk Wood’ when the fourth drowned sailor introduces himself as “Alfred Pomeroy Jones, sea lawyer, born in Mumbles, sung like a linnet, crowned you with a flagon, tattooed with mermaids…”

It is rather a gorgeous place & headland. We did this walk on a fine, early April evening when the sea was like a millpond. It takes us along the seafront & then round the headland to Langland Bay, before cutting up the hill back to the town again

Shall we go explore?

Let’s Walk!

1. We parked in the seafront car park by the toilets – there are more scenic places! When we did this walk again a few weeks later we parked a couple of streets back for free, outside  Johnnies Fish & Chip shop in Chapel Street & walked down to the front

Either way, facing the sea turn right & walk towards the headland…

This is the vast Swansea Bay. Oyster fishing was once an important industry in Swansea Bay, employing 600 people at its height in the 1860s. However, overfishing, disease & pollution had all but wiped out the oyster population by 1920. Things are much cleaner these days & there are plans to reintroduce the industry

The views across the Bay to Swansea & neighbouring steel town, Port Talbot are panoramic. When we were here there was still snow on the Brecon Beacons

2. The walk along the seafront’s known as the ‘Mumbles Mile’ – just be careful & try to stick to the pedestrian side of the path & hope the cyclists stick to theirs

It’s also extremely dog friendly around these parts

3. Pass all the boats that are part of Village Lane Boat Park…

If you’re feeling peckish, or fancy a coffee or, dare we say it…an ice cream, then there’s a Mumbles institution on the slipway ahead…Verdi’s, which is a bit like the ‘Betty’s of Mumbles

 If it’s a warm day fight for a table outside as the view’s pretty good

4. Continue towards the Mumbles Lifeboat Houses. We say ‘Houses’ as there are actually three of them here…

The Mumbles Lifeboat Station opened in 1835 with a lifeboat that was funded & managed by Swansea Harbour Trustees & was known as Swansea Lifeboat Station. It was taken over by the RNLI in 1863 & moved to Mumbles in 1866. When the station first opened, it did not have a boathouse & the lifeboat was stored under the cliffs…

In 1866 the first boathouse was built & it was then replaced with a larger building when a replacement lifeboat needed more room. A slipway was constructed for launching the lifeboat in 1888 &, in 1897, Mumbles Railway & Pier Company constructed a new slipway for the RNLI at no cost to the institution. Another new slipway was built in 1916 & it was extended & had alterations made to it in 1922. In 1965 the all weather boat was supplemented by a D-class inshore lifeboat. A new boathouse for the inshore lifeboat was built in 1994

The old wooden station is attached to the pier & is probably one of the most photographed places in this part of Wales

5. We’ve now arrived at Mumbles pier which is an 835 feet long Victorian pier built in 1898. Designed by W. Sutcliffe Marsh & promoted by John Jones Jenkins of the Rhondda & Swansea Bay Railway, the pier opened on 10 May 1898 at a cost of £10,000. It was the western terminus for the world’s first passenger carrying railway, the Swansea & Mumbles Railway & a major terminal for the White Funnel paddle steamers of P & A Campbell, unloading tourists from routes along the River Severn & Bristol Channel

In recent years the pier has fallen into a state of disrepair with a large section fenced off to visitors & other areas patched up to maintain safety. It’s currently halfway through a multi million pound renovation which includes a plan to update the fish ‘n’ chip shop which is already pretty good

6. Turn sharp right as if to head up the steep hill, but immediately climb the steps on the left…

The steps lead into one of the car parks that serve Bracelet Bay. We’re now walking the Wales Coastal Path & the scenery is shortly going to change from the flat wide expanse of Swansea Bay into spectacular wild cliffs & secluded beaches

The Wales Coast Path (Llwybr Arfordir Cymru) is a long distance footpath which follows, or runs close to, the majority of the Welsh coastline. It opened on 5 May 2012, & covers a 870 mile route from Chepstow in the south to Queensferry in the north. Wales was the first country in the world to provide a dedicated footpath close to most of its coastline. The Path runs through eleven National Nature Reserves & other nature reserves

7. Bracelet Bay is surrounded by limestone cliffs & the bay is pebbly, with some sand. The name ‘Bracelet’ is thought to be a corruption of ‘Broad Slade’

Swim here with caution however, for the tides off Mumbles Head are treacherous as its naval history testifies. The first Mumbles lifeboat disaster occurred here in 1883, resulting in the loss of four lives & numerous ships have floundered off its rocky coastline. Bracelet Bay offers great views towards Mumbles Lighthouse, whose operation is now the responsibility of Trinity House

The tower has two tiers & initially had two open coal fire lights. These open fire lights were difficult to maintain & were soon replaced by a single oil powered light within a cast iron lantern. In 1860, the oil powered light was upgraded to a dioptric light & the fort that surrounds the tower was built by the War Department. In 1905, a mechanism, where the light was made to flash, was fitted. By 1977, the cast iron lantern had deteriorated beyond repair & was removed. In 1995, the main light was replaced & an array of solar panels & emergency monitoring equipment were added

8. If you’re feeling peckish or just fancy sitting on the terrace watching the waves roll in, then the Italian cafe / restaurant Castellamare isn’t a bad spot. It’s also noted for its ice creams!

9. Carry on along the path past Tutt Hill with its coast guard lookout station & maybe take a seat overlooking Limeslade Bay – the sun was already starting to set

Limeslade Bay is a small cove with a mainly rocky beach with little sand. There’s an iron mine at the head of the bay, near the roadside which is believed to have been worked from Roman times, but is now closed & sealed off. The bay has a varied & different geology from that of the neighbouring Bracelet Bay

This is one of the many ‘slades’ one finds in Gower which are small valleys or dells, usually opening on to the sea

10. Walk along the side of the road around the bay…

What is it about this area & ice creams? On the corner’s the famous Forte’s Ice Cream Parlour. Originating between Rome & Naples, Fortes ice cream is inspired by a traditional home-made recipe first created in 1926 by Onorio Forte. Fast forward almost a hundred years & Onorio’s grandson David now proud continues the family tradition

11. It’s time to leave civilisation behind for a time & follow the narrow coastal path along the cliffs…

Keep looking down to the rocks below. It’s hard to spot it in the picture below, but there was a seal antagonising fishermen who were trying to cast their bait

12. We’re heading towards Langland Bay now, but to do so have to walk round the headland

The further we go the more the path starts to climb until it reaches a steep stage with steps. Don’t be fooled that the climb ends at the corner – it keeps going for a bit longer, so take your time & stop & admire the views

13. On reaching the top the view of the path ahead is really exciting & inviting…

…& just further on is our first view of the beautiful surfers’ & paddle boarders’ paradise that is Langland Bay. Apparently, given the structure of the rocks it has some of the best surfing around, although there are many submerged ones that people have to take care of so it’s not for the amateurs

14. Continue to the steps down to the beach…

We did come back & walk this path again the following weekend & fancied an ice cream. We would suggest that you avoid the cafe at this end of the beach, where the staff were surly & unhelpful & instead make a purchase from the one near where we exit the sands

Not good

15. The tide was starting to come in & the light fade, but apart from a few dog walkers we had this glorious beach to ourselves – time for a paddle!

You can always rely on the surfers to hang around for “just one more wave…”

16. We need to finish this walk in daylight so time to exit the beach up the steps in the middle – the cafe is here. Apparently there’s also an excellent restaurant further along the esplanade called Langlands Brasserie

Walk up the steepish road to the junction at the top passing the Langland Bay Lifeguard Club

17. The next part of this walk contains some steep steps as we climb the cliff. They could be quite slippery in wet weather so care is required. Cross the road & start the climb – look out for the rather “posh” houses along here

If you’re a fan of wild garlic then this is the place for you – the place was absolutely covered & smelt incredible

18. The steps bend left & right & just when you think you’ve made it there’s a steep alley to follow…

…which emerges into a rather exclusive Mumbles neighbourhood. Even the signs about picking up after your dog are posh!

19. This is the last hill to climb so head straight on to the crossroads…

…& cross straight over. Keep looking to the right as many of the houses along here have a great view across Swansea Bay

20. After about half a mile we arrive at the crossroads with Newton Road. Ahead is The Newton pub which is the opportunity for a break before arriving back at the start of this walk

It gets excellent reviews for its carvery. No time to stop for us so turn right down Newton Road which is going to take us all the way back

21. Pass the rugby grounds on the right where there was some pretty serious training going on to arrive back in town at the crossroads

The church on the right is the Mumbles Baptist Church. Look left to see an earlier building, Oystermouth Castle

Oystermouth castle was founded by William de Londres of Ogmore Castle soon after 1106 following the capture of the Gower by the Normans. In 1116 the Welsh of Deheubarth retook the Gower Peninsula & forced William to flee his castle which was put to the torch. The castle was rebuilt soon afterwards, but was probably destroyed again in 1137 when the Gower was once more retaken by the princes of Deheubarth. The Londres or London family finally died out in 1215 when the Gower was again taken by the Welsh under the leadership of Llywelyn the Great. In 1220 the Welsh were expelled from the peninsula & the government of Henry III of England returned the barony of the Gower to John de Braose who rebuilt both Swansea Castle & Oystermouth

After the Middle Ages, the castle gradually fell into ruin. A survey of the Gower made in 1650 describes Oystermouth Castle as an old decayed castle of no use, but of a very pleasant situation. It was restored by George Grant Francis in the 1840s while the castle was owned by the then Duke of Beaufort. In 1927 the Duke of Beaufort gave the castle to Swansea Corporation & today it’s maintained under the responsibility of the City & County of Swansea council

22. Continue down the hill back to the start of the walk…

So that’s the end of a varied little stroll around the beautiful small headland that forms part of the Mumbles. We did this walk on a spring evening & again on a weekend when there wasn’t a breath of wind

It would be well worth doing this again on a stormy, wild winter’s day when the sea is crashing against the cliffs

A super stroll, so…

Go Walk!