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Woodland and Family Wars at Oxwich Point

A short but very exhilarating ramble through woodland and along delightful coastline.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 480ft (146m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Clear paths through woodland, along coast and across farmland, quiet lane, 6 stiles

Landscape Mixed woodland and rugged coastline

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 164 Gower

Start/finish SS 500864

Dog friendliness Can mostly run free

Parking Oxwich Bay

Public toilets At car park near start

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1 Walk back out of the car park and turn left to a crossroads. Turn left here (waymarked 'Eglwys') and pass the Woodside Guesthouse and the Oxwich Bay Hotel, on your right. This lane leads into the woods and up to 6th-century St Illtud's Church, where a gate marks the end of the road and the start of a path leading out on to Oxwich Point.

2 Go through the gate and bear right, going up the wooden steps to climb steeply up through the wood. As the footpath levels, bear left to drop back down through the wood and around the headland until it comes out into the open above Oxwich Point.

3 The path drops through gorse and bracken to become a grassy coast path that runs easily above a rocky beach. Keep the sea on your left and ignore any tracks that run off to the right. After approximately 1 mile (1.6km) you'll pass a distinct valley that drops in from your right. Continue past this and cross a succession of stiles, until you reach the sandy beach of The Sands.

4 Turn right, behind the beach, and follow a narrow footpath to a stile. This leads on to a broad farm track, where you turn left. Continue up and around to the right until you come to a galvanised kissing gate. Go through this and keep right to head up a lane past some houses to a crossroads.

5 Turn right here and follow the road along to a fork where you keep right. Drop down to the entrance of Oxwich Castle on the right. After looking at or exploring the castle, turn right, back on to the lane, and head down into Oxwich village. Keep straight ahead to the car park.

The Gower has less obvious headlands than nearby Pembrokeshire and this makes it much more difficult to fashion short but interesting circular walks. This one stands out for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it can be combined with a visit to Oxwich National Nature Reserve, a treasure trove of marshland and sand dunes in a wonderful beachside location. Secondly, the wonderful coastal scenery includes the beautiful and usually deserted beach known as The Sands. And finally, being short, it allows plenty of time for exploring both the atmospheric St Illtud's Church and the majestic ruins of Oxwich Castle.

Once a busy port that paid its way by shipping limestone from quarries on the rugged headland, Oxwich is now one of the prettiest and most unspoilt Gower villages, due in no small part to its distance from the main roads. The name is derived from Axwick, Norse for Water Creek. For maximum enjoyment, it's best visited away from the main holiday seasons.

Founded in the 6th century ad and tucked away in a leafy clearing above the beach, St Illtud's Church is particularly significant for its stone font, which is said to have been donated by St Illtud himself. The grounds are tranquil with an atmosphere that comes in stark contrast to the summertime chaos of the beach below. Behind the building is the grave of an unknown soldier who was washed up on the beach during World War Two. It's certainly a spooky spot and the graveyard is purported to be haunted by a strange half-man-half-horse creature.

St Illtud (or St Illtyd) was a Welsh-born monk who founded the nearby abbey of Llan-Illtut (Llantwit Major). He is perhaps most famous for his fights against famine which included sailing grain ships to Brittany. He died in Brittany in ad 505.

Really a 16th-century mansion house built by Sir Rhys Mansel on the site of the 14th-century castle, Oxwich Castle occupies an airy setting above the bay. Sir Rhys, in common with many Gower locals, wasn't above plundering the cargo of ships that came to grief in the bay and was quick to take advantage of a French wreck in late December 1557. The salvage rights, however, belonged to a Sir George Herbert of Swansea, who quickly paid Mansel a visit to reclaim his goods. A fight broke out and Sir Rhys's daughter Anne was injured by a stone thrown by Herbert's servant. She later died from her injuries. Court action against Herbert proved ineffective and there followed a feud which continued for many years until eventually the Mansel family moved to Margam, east of Swansea. Part of the mansion was leased to local farmers, but most of the fine building fell into disrepair.

What to look for

Spring is a great time to wander the woods of Oxwich Point where many interesting flowers can be seen vying for space before the deciduous canopy develops, cutting out the light supply. Perhaps the most prolific is ramsons, or wild garlic as it's also known. It isn't actually related to garlic, but when the woodland floor is completely carpeted by the stunning white flowers, the smell certainly resembles it.

While you're there

A windswept pot-pourri of dunes, saltwater marshes and freshwater pools, Oxwich National Nature Reserve offers an unusual and important habitat to many species of flora and fauna. Wild orchids are prolific in spring and early summer and the reserve is also an important breeding ground for a few species of butterfly, including the small blue, brown argus and marbled white. There are a number of trails that cross the marshes.

Where to eat and drink

Snacks are available in Oxwich - try the Beach Hut or the General Stores - and there's also the Oxwich Bay Hotel, which you pass on the walk, serving food all day from bar snacks to daily specials (children's meals also available). But, for the best food and atmosphere in this part of the Gower, it's worth heading to the King Arthur Hotel in Reynoldston.

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