Hiraeth. (n.) a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.
I am four or five, it is a hot sticky day, but I am shaded by Harlech castle, North Wales. I am wearing an orange and blue plastic watch which came free with a magazine, bought to buy mum and dad a few minute’s peace on holiday. I am dawdling behind pretending to tell the time and staring up at the castle where the red and green dragon flag is billowing in the breeze.
I am 41, it is a hot sticky day, I am climbing to the top of Oystermouth castle, Mumbles, South Wales. I am holding an iPhone 8s and a gimbal, bought to make travel blogging with my family a little bit more fun. I am ahead of my family who are sprawled in the shade of the castle ramparts. I am staring out across to Mumbles and up at the red and green dragon flag and wondering what will be the best angle to capture it.
Wales always has a funny effect on me, I absolutely love it, but have discovered that leaving can be problematic. I have since discovered the Welsh have a word, hiraeth, a word like Wales, full of mystery and complexities, that in many ways describes some of the funny things I have been feeling this last two weeks.
I miss the holidays of my childhood when I go to Wales, but I love reconnecting with it and sharing with kids a love of many of the things about Wales I learnt to love as a child. I always feel like I have left something behind when I come home. If I could live in Wales I think I would, in fact we have decided on this house on the beach where we had our surf lesson on Rhossilli beach or at least a holiday home we can eventually retire too 😉 Shame there is a waiting list just to rent it out for a week!
Anyway, enough navel gazing and hiraething, if it can be a verb as well as a noun…there are adventures to recount.
I’ve been wanting to visit South West Wales for ages, so many people I trust have told me to go. Many of you have told me you are keen to go after seeing some of my pictures on Instagram. Gower peninsula was the first place in Britain to be named an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Cliffs, sandy beaches, smugglers coves, islands that look like sleeping dragons, castles, plus great activities, stunning accomodation and great grub.
Perfect recipe for a family holiday…
Family Accomodation on the Gower
We stayed at the area’s only 5 star campsite, Three Cliffs bay Holiday Park. You can absolutely see how this place earns its stars. The whole site is immaculately maintained and the washroom block is absolutely wonderful – better bathrooms than many homes have.
I met Gary a warden on my first morning and asked where the beach was. He walked me over to show me the best walking routes and impressed me so much with all the local info, warmth and enthusiasm he had.
Our yurt was so snug, beautifully furnished and even had a heater. Mr A and I slept in the height of luxury, in crisp white sheets with a fur throw. The only thing our older kids struggled with was sharing a sofa bed. Luckily we had a sleeping bag so L slept on sofa cushions on the floor, still a million times more comfortable and cosy than actual camping, but something to bear in mind with older kids.
I had worried what to pack, but you don’t need anything, crockery, washing up stuff is all provided. There is a small fridge, kettle, BBQ with gas hob. You can even stroll to the cafe for breakfast and skip cooking completely.
The Best Gower Beaches
Three Cliffs Bay Holiday Park overlooks an absolutely stunning beach, rock formations like tiny mountains break up the sweeping shore between three cliffs, there are streams, stepping stones, dunes and vast swathes of pale sand.
We also surfed at Rhosilli beach, which has the amazing Worm’s Head, originally named after the viking word for Dragon: Worm. I love how in Wales, the hills always remind me of curled up sleeping dragons and Worm’s head is no exception. There is a shipwreck in the sand and the scenery is stunning. You can walk onto Worm’s Head if you time it right with the tides. It’s an amazing place to surf too, you can see Worm’s Head behind us here.
The truth is Gower is packed with stunning beaches and repeatedly tops UK and European beach charts.
Dryiad Bushcraft experience. I thought that we had done a spot of firelighting, toasting marshmallows and a bit of whittling at home, so did wonder what more was there to learn on a family bushcraft session.
Absolutely loads. I was so wrong.
As well as being a bushcraft expert, Andrew Price also presents ITV’s Coast and Country, so was a brilliant and knowledgeable host. We sat transfixed round the campfire as he put the area into historical and cultural context for us.
Next we carved tent pegs, the perfect craft to learn four really essential knife techniques. Mr A has been doing some whittling with the kids, so was really impressed to pick up some great tricks and new techniques. I found it much more relaxing and easier than I expected and can’t wait to do some more at home.
Next we lit fires, which took us back through the ages, from steel and flint invented by the Swedish Army to cope with firelighting in extreme cold, to chemical reactions in the form of Potassium Permanganate and glycerine to the earliest, 100,000 year old friction methods. So impressive, I knew it could be done, but I’ve never seen someone actually light a fire by rubbing sticks together before.
Then we foraged, learning more about medicinal plants and Andrew made the kids both whistles using sycamore branches.
This was just a taster, but Dryiad Bushcraft run family overnight stays so you can truly get your teeth into survival. Andrew was a great leader, full of fun but very safety conscious and especially encouraging with our sensory seeking, impulsive 9yo. Andrew talked a lot about knives and fire and how they have come to be abused, and really encouraged a deeper reverence for both. It was a joy to watch the kids’ sense of achievement.
Exploring Mumbles. No holiday is quite complete without a little bit of shopping. Mumbles is a pretty seafront town with lovely cafes, ice cream places and shops. We bought a love spoon in the Love Spoon Gallery and went to check out Gower gallery too. ‘Luckily’ for Mr A they were refurbishing, as last time we visited the coast at Scarborough he was coerced by me into a rather expensive art purchase. There is also the pier, which we sadly didn’t have time to explore, and Gower Cottage Brownies, whose brownies once fuelled our climb up Snowdon for Comic Relief with Team Honk, many years ago.
Verdi’s. We were famished after a morning outdoors doing bushcraft so pasta and pizza and ice creams was just the ticket. Verdi’s is a stunning seafront Italian place, with lots of glass, perfect for watching the water, boats and people go by. The staff are super efficient and friendly. The kids loved the mix and match ice cream, sprinkle and sauce menu. The toffee sprinkles were amazing.
Oystermouth Castle No trip to Wales is complete without a trip to a castle! Only a short walk from the seafront in Mumbles, this is a brilliant place to enjoy the views, lounge on the grass and imagine what life was like in years gone by.
Arthur’s Stone, Cefn Bryn
360 degree views of the Gower Peninsula, a huge rock with legends linking it back to Kind Arthur. What else is a giant warrior to do when he gets a 25 tonne boulder stuck in his shoe, but lob it across Loughor Esturary? This is an incredible place for a wander and we hit it at golden hour. Beautiful.
King Arthur Hotel , Reynoldston.
The wild village green doubles up as a beer garden, welcoming hanging baskets swing in the breeze and friendly staff usher you through to a wonderfully homely, farmhouse style restaurant for a delicious home cooked meal. The veggie options were good here, I was very torn between the vegetarian mixed grill and the curry.
Gower Activity Centres : Surf lessons
We had our surf lesson with Gower Activity Centres, on Rhosilli beach. Our instructor Carwyn was absolutely brilliant with us all. I was a bit nervous about surfing and don’t particularly enjoy the stress of getting in and out of a wetsuit, but it was fabulous fun and not in the least bit scary.
The kids were soon up and surfing away, it was pretty amazing to witness, they made it look so easy. I think it is just a lot easier when you are small. I couldn’t get past my knees, but it was great fun trying and being in the water together was so wonderful. I loved watching the kids fly and Mr A have a few decent attempts too.
It’s no mean feat getting surf boards up and down to this beach, but when the kids were out of steam on the way back Carwyn simply plonked two on his head and told them stories about fossils, and bones found in caves as we walked back up the hill.
The Bay Bistro, Worm’s Head, overlooking Rhossili Beach
Well we all want to take up surfing and get jobs here! They’re hiring, and all the existing staff are so friendly and cool and the place is so funky with the most incredible views and a very cool homewares shop.
We were utterly ravenous after surfing so went for a full carb overload rather than the specials, like pretty heritage tomato salad or halloumi and cous cous. Carwyn told us to get chips because they are amazing, but we were so hangry we forgot to order them. But local Welsh cheese in baguette with crisps, followed by a massive cake each totally hit the spot. Plus chips were coming later…
A night in Port Eynon
In Port Eynon old bouys hung in the palm trees in a garden like coconuts. A scarecrow couple stood side by side smiling in the summer sun and in the garden of our B&B tomatoes ripened in the greenhouse and beautiful bedding plants filled hanging baskets.
Port Eynon is very geared to holidaymakers, while feeling very loved and villagey.
We walked through the dunes, across the beach, through a campsite full of happy kids, to Salthouses, one of many building on the Gower Coastline associated with smuggling.
We stayed at the Rickyard B&B here for one night as The Killers were playing in Swansea so staying on at the glamping wasn’t an option for our third night. It was ground floor, two separate rooms in a house shared with others, which we were fine with – it was nice for the kids and us to have our own rooms and beds after two days sharing a yurt. The rooms were clean, comfortable and the breakfast was lovely.
I suspect some of my readers won’t feel separate rooms in a B&B is the most family friendly arrangement. But Croft Acre Holiday Cottages who own The Rickyard B &B, own lots of holiday cottages in Port Eynon. They can accommodate up to 63 people across the properties, perfect if you are looking for a big family get together. Port Eynon is a lovely peaceful location for a beach holiday and Gower Activity also have a second centre there.
The Ship Inn, Port Enyon.
We absolutely loved the nautical theme here, larger tables are like hollowed out boats, there are maps, tankards and ships’s wheels and anchors. We had a really lovely relaxed family meal, amongst lots of other families, so felt right at home. My vegetarian daughter and I were over the moon to discover they had beer battered halloumi and chips. It was absolutely divine washed down with a large Sauvignon Blanc, or juice for her. The boys had fish and chips.
Surf, Waves, Water coasters and climbing at LC Swansea
As if we hadn’t had enough adventure, we also made time to rock climb, try out the water rollercoaster, wave pool, bubble pool and have a go on the surf simulator at Swansea’s LC. It’s a beautifully clean and new Leisure Centre with excellent facilities, by Swansea marina. This would be perfect if you had a rainy day during your stay – it does happen occasionally in Wales. There are three slides, one is a ‘water rollercoaster’ that you ride on a rubber tube, it propels you up and then flies you down the course. We loved this. There are also dark and more gentle water slides.
Thanks to Visit Swansea Bay for organising and hosting our trip. Do check them out for lots more inspiration for your visit or help planning it.
Need to know:
- Three Cliffs Bay Holiday Park, Gower’s only Visit Wales 5 star family campsite in the heart of Gower.
- Bushcraft Adventure with Dryad Bushcraft. One of the UK’s leading Bushcraft and Wilderness Survival training organizations, a range of courses covering everything for the beginner, through to the advanced practitioner, and can also tailor the contents of our courses to your specific requirements.
- Verdi’s, a family run Café, Ice Cream Parlour and Licensed Restaurant with a reputation for authentic Italian flavour and quality. Situated on Mumbles sea front.
- Oystermouth Castle. Sits majestically on the hill in Mumbles, with stunning views overlooking Swansea Bay, boasts ancient graffiti art from the 14th century and a medieval maze of deep vaults and secret staircases.
- The King Arthur Hotel, Reynoldston, renowned for their traditional ales (normally four or five to choose from) and delicious home cooked food. Very pretty and the perfect stop before/after King Arthur’s Stone.
- Gower Activity Centres have over 30 years experience in providing Abseiling, Team Building, Rock Climbing, Sea Level Traversing, Coasteering, Surfing, Canoeing, Hill Walking/Navigation, Orienteering, Cycling, Kayaking and Gorge Walking. They also have residential centres at Rhosilli and Port Eynon.
- The Bay Bistro and Coffee House overlooks stunning Rhossili Bay, perfect for a post beach or surf or Worm’s Head walk, refuel.
- Croft Acre Holiday cottages and Rickyard B&B are located in the pretty village of Port Eynon, minutes’ walk from the beach where you can enjoy long walks, surfing, horse riding, sailing, kayaking, hang gliding, picnics.
- Salt House is one of many locations on the coast known for smuggling. Find more here.
- The Ship Inn, Port Eynon is a newly refurbished pub with a rustic seafaring décor and award winning Gower Brewery ales.