Along the bent and Devon-facing seashore

I’ve been off for a few days because my folks have been visiting from Newcastle. The good weather (on Tuesday, at least) gave us the opportunity to go for a drive around the Gower peninsula to the west of Swansea, seeing  some of the sights. I don’t think I’m very good at travelogues, but here are a few memories of the trip.

Along the north coast first: Penclawdd, Crofty and Llanrhidian. Weobley Castle stands decaying and forlorn, overlooking a salt marsh grazed by sheep and horses. In the distance, over the estuary, a nondescript town. Through binoculars I see they’re building a new Asda. What was there 700 years ago when they built the Castle?

Rossili Bay, at the western end of the peninsula. Beaches and dunes under cliffs. Caravans as far as the eye can see. Impatient surfers waiting in wet-suits for the tide to come in. Don’t they check the tide tables? The smell of Fish and Chips fails to lure us.

We drive south. White cottages shining bright in the sunshine, then down steep hills into cool dark tunnels formed by trees either side of the narrow roads, their leaves meeting overhead. I wonder what it’s like down here when it’s raining: the road must turn into a torrent. Then up on top again. Bright sunshine, a small airport and more caravans.

Driving south we come again to the jagged coast and see  Devon  along the horizon in front of us. I’m surprised it is so clear, as it must be at least 30 miles away. It’s dark and solid, a featureless granite wall. It reminds me of Dylan Thomas Reminiscences of Childhood ..

There was another world where with my friends I used to dawdle on half holidays along the bent and Devon-facing seashore…

I had always thought he just knew that Devon was there, not that he had actually seen it. I decide I like the word “dawdle”.

Port Eynon, at the southernmost tip of the Gower. A small beach between two headlands with a larger beach to one side. Fish and Chips and hot tea offer themselves. This time we accept. Inside the café (“The Captain’s Table”) an old newspaper in a frame on the wall tells stories of smuggling and wreck sales. Another, dated 1916, says that three lifeboat men had drowned while trying to rescue a ship that had foundered off the headland where the derelict oyster pans lie.

The sand dunes behind the beach are covered in wild flowers and they are covered in turn with vividly coloured beetles and butterflies. The tide is still out and it’s too far to walk over the rocks to get to the sea to have a paddle.  It’s not difficult to imagine a boat coming to grief in this place. There are flags all over warning about the dangers of the current. It must be a desolate place in the winter.

I think about retirement.

We pass a church with a memorial to the brave men who lost their lives that day in 1916. The lifeboat station was moved in 1919 because the place was too dangerous. Stopping to read the inscription, I’m almost run over on the narrow road by a big van carrying surfers and their gear. I wonder why they’re in such a hurry when the tide is out.

We try to avoid getting snarled up in traffic in Swansea on the way home. We fail.

As an afterthought, we head for The Mumbles, park the car and walk. Ambling along the curved promenade in the evening sunshine, a large and lumpy lady waddles towards us with sweat running down  pale pink arms;  her voluminous black dress conceals a hefty bosom that makes me think of two sacks of Tyne coal. It turns out The Mumbles is named after the French Mamelles – meaning breasts – although it takes its name from the shape of two small islands off Mumbles Head rather than from some distant ancestor of the lady I’ve just seen.

The long promenade sweeps along the side of Swansea bay to the pier and a lighthouse. The tide is still out. It seems miles to the sea, over nasty rocks that look like cinder. No beach. On the esplanade dozens of boats lie stranded, like befuddled whales that have run aground to their doom.

Dogs carry sticks and people carry ice-creams.

It’s evening now and I wonder why the tide seems to have been out everywhere we’ve been since morning.

On the inland side of the Mumbles there is a hotch-potch of closed-down pubs  and up-market bistros, next door to one another, an amusement hall and, next to it, tennis courts. The inevitable Fish and Chips. Nearer the pier  there’s an open-air Café called Verdi’s. It’s packed and doing a roaring trade in ice-creams. The waiters are very handsome but I’m not convinced they are Italian. A man sings “Just one Cornetto” and laughs loudly, but nobody else does.

Back to the car, through the centre of Swansea, and then home in less than an hour. Pimms and Lemonade in the garden before going to the pub for dinner.

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