This walk takes in the stunning views over one of Wales's finest and wildest beaches.
Distance 4 miles (6.4km)
Minimum time 1hr 45min
Ascent/gradient 590ft (180m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Easy-to-follow footpaths across grassy downs, 2 stiles
Landscape Rolling downland, rocky outcrops and views over gorgeous sandy beach
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 164 Gower
Start/finish SS 416880
Dog friendliness Care needed near livestock
Parking Large car park at end of road in Rhossili
Public toilets At start
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1 From the car park, head out on to the road and continue uphill as if you were walking back out of the village. You'll pass St Mary's Church on your left then, immediately after this, bear left down on a broad track to a gate. Go through the gate and keep left to follow a grassy track that snakes along the steep hillside.
2 Follow this through the bracken, passing the Old Rectory on your left and eventually you'll reach a sunken section with a wall on your left, and a caravan park behind. Don't be tempted to break off right just yet; instead, keep going until you come to a gate.
3 Turn sharp right here and follow the grassy track steeply up on to the ridge. At the top of the steep section it's easy to be drawn off to the right towards some obvious outcrops, but keep to the top track that literally follows the crest.
4 You'll pass some ancient cairns and drop slightly to pass a pair of megalithic cromlechs, or burial chambers. These are known as Sweyne's Howes and are over 4,000 years old. Continue on a broad track up to the high point of The Beacon.
5 Keep straight ahead on a clear track that starts to drop easily then steepens to meet a dry-stone wall. Continue walking down the side of the wall and you'll eventually come to the gate you passed through on the way out.
6 Follow the lane out to the road, turn right and pass St Mary's Church on your right to return to the car park.
Of all the Gower walks this is my favourite, although rather oddly, in its short form, your feet won't leave a single footprint in the sand. The lofty heights of Rhossili Down not only show the magnificent arc of sand in its best light, but they also offer a feeling of spaciousness that's difficult to describe and almost impossible to equal in this part of the world. The ancient stones that define the ridge line only add to the captivating atmosphere.
The Gower Peninsula comprises a 15-mile (24km) finger of land that points westwards from the urban sprawl of Swansea. Its southern coast is the more spectacular, boasting dune-backed beaches of surf-swept, clean, yellow sand and magnificent limestone cliffs, chiselled in places into deep gullies and knife-edge ridges. The northern coast forms the southern fringes of the marshy Loughor Estuary. It's nothing like as dramatic as the southern coast, but it's an important habitat for wading birds and other marine life. Between the two coastlines, the land rises into a series of whaleback ridges, or downs, covered with gorse, heather and bracken and littered with prehistoric stones and remains. Scattered around the windswept landscape are a number of impressive castles. In 1957, the peninsula was designated Britain's first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
Of all the Gower beaches, none are blessed with quite the untamed splendour of Rhossili Bay. It's sweeping expanse of golden sand runs for over 4 miles (6.4km) from the headland of the Worms Head to the stranded outcrop of Burry Holms, upon which sits a ruined monastic chapel. It owes much of its wild nature to the steep-sided down that presides over its relentless waves and provides a natural and impenetrable barrier to development. The down is a 633ft (193m) high, whaleback ridge that runs almost the full length of the beach. The path that traces the ridge is one the fairest places to walk in the whole of South Wales, especially in late summer when the heather tinges the hillsides pink. From The Beacon, at the southern end of the ridge, the views stretch far beyond the coastline at your feet and it's often possible to see St Govan's Head in Pembrokeshire and even the North Devon coastline on a very clear day.
The string of tiny islets that thrust defiantly into the Atlantic at the bay's southernmost tip are known as the Worms Head. This doesn't refer to the earthworm, but is a derivative of the Old English, Orm, which means dragon or serpent. The likeness can be seen. It is now a nature reserve, but can be reached at low tide by scrambling across the rocky causeway at the western tip of the promontory. It's essential that you check the tide timetables before making such a sortie as it's easy to be cut off by the surprising tenacity of the rising tides.
About ½ mile (800m) east of Reynoldston there's a footpath that leads to King Arthur's Stone, one of the finest standing cromlechs (burial chambers) in Wales, covered with an enormous capstone. The site is believed to be over 6,000 years old and is most striking when visited at sunrise or sunset.
More than one ship has fallen foul of the cruel storms that pound Rhossili and the wreckage of a few of these still pepper the beach. The most obvious is the Helvetica, now a crumbled timber skeleton protruding from the sands at low tide. She was washed up here in November 1887, but miraculously her five-man crew all survived.
There are a few places to get a cuppa and a snack in Rhossili; from the Bay View Shop, which offers hot snacks and has a few tables outside to the Rendezvous Café, which acts as a tea room during the day and a full-blown restaurant at night. The Worms Head Hotel is the only pub in the village, but if you don't mind driving a few miles, the King Arthur Hotel at Reynoldston has a better atmosphere and serves better food.