While I was lying in bed awake, but wishing to be asleep, my thoughts turned unexpectedly to memory, and the strange phenomena of being able to remember with immense clarity, certain situations, places, people etc, and yet at the same time having huge swathes of complete nothingness in-between these seemingly illusive segments of lucid recollection.
For example, suddenly my mind was hijacked by the memory of visiting Cardiff docks with my father to see the ships that were moored there. Occasionally there were ships with the hold full of oranges, and the dock workers used to throw us some which had split from their wooden crates during the voyage. It was great fun, running along the side of the dock trying to catch the oranges they hurled high up into the air.
Why that memory suddenly came to mind at 03:30 a.m. this morning I have no idea, but it led to a string of thoughts about what I could and couldn’t remember. For example until I was five I lived in a terraced house in Malefant Street, in the Cathay’s area of Cardiff, and the only memory I have of that time is a stained glass window through which light passed, creating beautiful patterns on the floor and wall, but in fact I’m not even sure if that was in the house I lived, or in my grandparents house which was a few blocks away in Clodein Avenue.
I remember the three schools I went to, Primary, Junior and High school; I remember some of the teachers, and some of my classmates, but not all of them. I remember sport, because that was my passion, and one or two other lessons, but I don’t remember ever doing homework, though I must have, otherwise I would have been thrown out of school! I also remember the tuck shop, strategically placed by the zebra crossing which led to the primary school, and buying black jacks, fruit salads and other tempting sweets designed to tease the pocket money out of the school children’s pockets.
I have a clear memory of going to Rover Way, off Newport Road in Cardiff on a Sunday with my parents when my mother was learning to drive. There were few cars there on Sundays so it was a good place to practise. I remember walking up through Caedelyn Park, along the path behind Whitchurch Golf Course, across Rhiwbina Hill, and up through the fields to the Wenallt, from where, on a clear day, there were beautiful views across Cardiff, and out to sea. I also remember the immense joy I felt being surrounded by trees and nature, something that has stayed with me throughout my life.
One of the memories that sprung to mind in the early hours of this morning was a trip with some college friends at the end of term, when we drove to one of the beaches on the Gower Peninsula near Swansea. However, I only have two clear memories about that day, the first is that on the way back I sat in an open top sports car, and my long hair became so tangled that it took ages to brush out all the knots when I returned home. The other is that I got really sunburnt and it was agony sleeping for some nights after as my horribly red skin stung so much against the sheets of the bed. But, I don’t remember any of the people I went with, which beach we went to, what we did while we were there, or even if I had a good time, though I guess that I did.
And that dear reader is a rather long introduction to what is one of the most beautiful areas of Wales that I remember visiting during my time growing up in Cardiff – the Gower Peninsula.
Gower, with a total area of about 70 square miles, is known for its unbelievably spectacular, and immensely beautiful coastline, popular with hikers and those just wishing to amble along the golden sandy beaches. It is also popular with surfers.
There are many, small, sandy bays, coves and larger beaches along the coastline. The ones I remember as a kid are, Three Cliff Bay, Rhossili, Oxwich Bay, and Caswell Bay. To the north of the peninsula you will find the cockle beds of Penclawdd.
Three Cliff Bay is made up of different beaches which are separated at high tide, but appear as one beach when the tide is out. A large stream called Pennard Pill flows into the sea in the middle of the bay. About 500 metres inland above the beach are the ruins of Pennard castle which was built in the early 12th century.
Rhossili probably gets part of its name from the Welsh word rhos, meaning moorland, however, the origin of the second part of the name is uncertain. In the village of Rhosili there is a Norman Church dedicated to St Mary the Virgin inside of which there is a memorial to Edgar Evans who was the first to perish on the Terra Nova Expedition on the return from the South Pole.
Rhossili Bay is a sandy beach three miles long, backed with sand dunes. The local people refer to the beach as Llangennith Sands. At the southern end of the Bay is a small tidal island known as Worm's Head which consists of two islands, inner and outer head. At the north end of Rhossili Bay there is another island, Burry Holms. Both islands are only accessible at low tide. It is possible to see the remains of several shipwrecks at low tide, one of those being the wreck of the Helvetia.
Caswell Bay is popular among tourists especially as the long sandy beach is easily accessible compared to some of the other beaches along the Gower Peninsula. Inland from the beach there is a recreational park. Caswell is ideal for surfing holidays with accommodation available in the nearby Hotels and Chalet Park
In the twentieth century, Caswell Bay was central in a murder mystery investigation which lasted for more than forty years. Less than 2 years after moving to a house overlooking Caswell Bay, George Shotton and his wife Mamie Stuart mysteriously disappeared before Christmas 1919. The Police were able to track Shotton down the following year and believed he had murdered his wife, but they couldn’t prove it due to insufficient evidence being available.
On 5 November 1961 a sack of human bones was found in a disused mine at Brandy Cove not far from Caswell Bay. A coroner’s inquest determined that the remains were those of George Shotton’s wife, Mamie Stuart, however, after an extensive manhunt George Shotton was traced to a cemetery in Bristol, having died just 3 years earlier.
Penclawdd is famous for its local cockle industry which goes back to Roman times. The cockles collected from the extensive sandy flats in the Burry Estuary and sold worldwide. Until the 1970s the cockles were gathered by women using hand-rakes and riddles (coarse sieves) with the help of donkey carts. These days they are harvested mostly by men, still by hand, but using tractors or Land Rovers.
I remember when I used to go out drinking in Cardiff on weekends, there was someone who used to visit the pubs selling small bags of cockles and assorted shell fish from the local area. I wasn’t a vegetarian at the time, and the shell fish tasted great washed down with a pint of the local Brains beer.
I wrote about that find in a previous blog post which can be read here.
The longest cave on the Gower is llethryd Tooth Cave, which is almost a mile long; however, as it has sections which are very narrow and flooded, the cave is kept locked for safety reasons. The remains of six early Bronze Age people were discovered during an excavation of the cave in 1962.
Gower is also home to eight standing stones from the Bronze Age, and there are six castles in the area: Bovehill Castle (also known as Landimore Castle), Oystermouth Castle, Oxwich Castle, Pennard Castle, Penrice Castle and Weobley Castle.
The memories I have of Gower are of the incredibly beautiful sandy beaches and coves, with their cliffs, rocks and the breathtaking natural beauty that has to be seen, and experienced to be believed. I spent many a happy day in the Gower, and hope to visit the area again in the not too distant future when I’m sure all these childhood memories will come flooding back to me.
And on the next visit I will dedicate a lot of time to exploring the area in detail and making many photographs to share with everyone out there in the big wide world.
Sometimes you don’t have to go far from home to see outstanding beauty, very often it is just around the corner.
You can see images of the Gower here:
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