Conquest castles, celts, cakes, cawl, sheep, St David, daffodils, Davy Gam, Dylan Thomas, rarebit, rebels, leeks and us. They’ve even got a dragon on their flag. This isn’t Westeros, its Wales boyo. We’re holidaying in south west Wales, with rain coats at the ready guarding us against the accidental spittle of unpronounceable place names. We’ve driven past villages that sound like you need your tongue cutting off and a bad nasal tone to pronounce, Sat-Nav started to melt trying to interpret place names. Not bad for a language where there are seven vowels in the alphabet, none of which I can pronounce without a verbal accident.
We’ve placed ourselves in South West Wales, near Kidwelly, and through our online brochure, booked a static home by the beach. In real life, this is a mouldy caravan by a muddy estuary that a night-time has the thermal equilibrium to rival that of Pluto’s frozen ice mountains. That’s still a step up from Royal Air Force accommodation, I should know, I was stationed near here temporarily some years ago.
It does allow us though, to go extreme dog walking and explore the Gower peninsula and the Pembrokeshire coastline. We’re not far from Carmarthen, the supposed birthplace of the wizard Merlin from Arthurian legend, though we cannot find anything magical about the place. We’re across the bay from the lovely village of Laugharne where Dylan Thomas lived in his boathouse, but between here and there, it’s an alien landscape filled with boulders, lugworm mounds and dead jellyfish.
Gower starts just past Swansea, the graveyard of ambition, at a placed called the Mumbles, presumably called because the local Welsh rebels were moaning about regular incursions into the lands by their oppressive English overlord rulers; these days it’s me and tourists.
What Gower does have is stunning expanses of scenic and sandy beaches. Rhossili beach (£4 for parking all day), voted Britain’s best beach, a 3 mile long stretch of glorious sand proving that time on the beach with your dog is never wasted. The promontory Worm’s Head, or ‘Wurm’ meaning dragon, as it was named by Viking invaders, thought it resembled a sea serpent. Not so sure about that but it is a pretty panoramic sight. The producers of Doctor Who thought so too when they filmed here (episode entitled New Earth). Don’t let that put you off, the climb down to the beach will do that for you when it kills your calf muscles.
If Kidwelly Castle seems familiar, then it may be because it was a location in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where Arthur and Patsy saddle up to their destination in the very first scene just after the titles. They say that first impressions count, a castle on your doorstep certainly says something and if I was a medieval bad ass, I’d be building something like this. portcullis and murder holes are a definite must-have when looking for our next home.
Set on high ground with natural defence using the river Gwendraeth, its got great views of Kidwelly killing fields when in 1136. the warrior Princess Gwenllian led her army against the Lord of Kidwelly, got captured and her head cut off. Supporters of Owain Glyndwr, the rebellious Welsh prince who led the Welsh revolt against the english in the war of independence, led an attack against the castle but it never fell. It doesn’t cost a fortune (£4), is dog friendly, helpful staff and you can climb steep stone steps to the top.
A visit to south west Wales isn’t complete without a few scrambles along The Pembrokeshire coastline. We pass yet another castle, I suppose you need something to keep the rebels in line, the imposing Pembroke Castle along the way, where Henry Tudor was born, later becoming Henry 7 after killing the King in the Car Park Richard 3 at Bosworth in 1485 and winning his crown, and make our way to Marloes Sands. Marloes has a sandy surf of clean seas, beach and cliffs. Layers of upturned sharp shale, sandstone and silurian stratified layers make it a geologists dream.
It’s nice to soak up the sun and gaze over the surf to the islands of Skomer, Skokholm and Grassholm while munching on soggy sea-sprayed sand-blasted sandwiches while our salty sea dog Lord Nelson goes mad from snorting seawater.
Further down the coast we visit the 800 years old structure that is St Govan’s Chapel, wedgied into the crags of the cliff above a stormy sea, presumably to avoid the bucket and spade brigade. The only thing disappointing is that we didn’t have to duck to avoid the Apache A10 attack helicopter as depicted by the public information leaflet. Turns out that this place is part of the MOD Castlemartin Range.
Along St Bride’s Bay, we divert to Newgale beach and Solva before reaching St Davids. Britain’s smallest city founded by the Welsh patron saint himself in 550. You can go in the church but expect glaring looks off the god squad bouncers on the door directing your gaze to the ‘charity’ tin.
Then it’s off to St David’s Peninsula, the most windswept westerly point in Wales for more extreme dog walking by Whitesands beach. Wielding our walking boots in South west Wales along the Pembrokeshire coast we can see seals swimming in the sea and horses harassing us, dragonflies but no dragons. The horses aren’t the only thing up here that’s wild. I need to be careful, Sam is in no mood for another Monster Megalithic Monument Tour, but yet again, we’ve stumbled across Carreg Coetan Arthur Dolmen, a neolithic burial chamber around 6000 years old. I really mean stumble as well, we’re knackered.
We finally make it back to the car park only for me to fail; a fat man in his forties falling flat on his face trying to leap and avoid paying 20p for the gents. Another one to add to the database of pain. I’ll be one of those old folk you hear about dying after suffering complications from a fall, but at least it wasn’t tumbling down a Pembrokeshire cliff. Next time anyone ask for a penny for my thoughts, I’ll charge ’em 20p and recite back that memory.