Food and fun on the Gower
Why, you may well ask, when there are spectacular views across Swansea Bay, have I turned my back on this panoramic splendour to press my face against a cold, hard cliff face and cling on for dear life?
The reason is simple: I’m an adrenaline junkie, and it’s an addiction that’s got worse with age. Perhaps I’m in denial of my advancing years.
Here I am taking a weekend break on the Gower in South Wales, without doubt one of the most beautiful coastlines in the UK. It’s the week before my 55th birthday, and while most people would perhaps choose to spend their first morning taking a stroll along the stunning coastal path, I’m saying goodbye to my comfort zone to try my hand at something which has always terrified me – rock climbing.
My chap and I had booked a session at the Gower Activity Centre at Rhossili which has provided outdoor adventures for families, groups and schools for more than 30 years. I nervously introduce myself to our instructor Stuart, who leads us down to the cliff tops, and within minutes I’m feeling less nervous – his jolly, confident demeanour is proving contagious and I’m beginning to look forward to my new challenge.
Pretty soon I’m dangling from a rope at the bottom of a sheer, slightly concave rock face. Deep breath, there’s no going back. Flakes of sleet hit my face as I pull myself up the surprisingly grippy rock, egged on by Stuart’s words of encouragement.
I’m so focussed on reaching the top I’ve forgotten all fear, knowing there is someone at the other end of the rope to shout advice when I get stuck – and catch my fall should I slip.
By now the tension has gone from my body and I’m stretching further and feel stronger. About three-quarters of the way up I lose my grip and swing away from the rock, but Stuart is there to reassure me.
With the summit nigh, I make a determined push – and the sense of achievement when I clamber onto the cliff top is immense. I’m grinning from ear to ear and thank Stuart for turning fear into something that was fun. All that exercise had given us a huge appetite. We had a table reserved for lunch at the Beach House overlooking Oxwich Bay.
The restaurant is in a stunning location right on the beach and, not being familiar with the venue, we turned up in our climbing scruffs expecting a casual, rustic affair. How wrong we were! The contemporary interior is bustling with smartly dressed diners and busy table staff. We’re led to the only free table by a charming waitress who doesn’t bat an eyelid at our windswept appearance.
A glance at the menu reveals were are somewhere very special, and the food we finally choose all outstanding. There are fantastic little touches – a beetroot amuse bouche and warm home-made bread with a slash of larverbread in the middle. Dishes are local and super fresh. If you’re in the Gower area, a visit to the Beach House is a must.
After a bracing walk on the beach, we head back to our hotel – the King’s Head Inn, a 17th century 4* inn at Llangennith.
From here, there is easy access to the beach, where the sands stretch to Rhossili Bay named as the third best beach in the UK and 25th best beach in Europe, by the recent TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice awards.
The luxurious rooms are incorporated in two beautiful large stone barn-style buildings; super clean and with contemporary decor, guests can enjoy a super king size bed, large plasma TV, flagstones with underfloor heating, a sitting area and large bathroom.
Breakfasts at the King’s Head are memorable – traditional full English or full Welsh or healthier options such as smoked haddock with poached egg and spinach or avocado and tomato sitting atop grilled ciabatta.
Fresh, Welsh produce features heavily in the hearty, home-cooked evening meals. We had eaten there the night of our arrival on Friday, and wiled away a few relaxing hours sampling some of the local ales in the busy bar adjoining the restaurant.
Gower is brimming with great places to eat, so on Saturday evening we felt obliged to try out another recommended eaterie – the King Arthur Hotel at nearby Reynoldston. Friendly and full of character, this country inn is renowned for its traditional ales and delicious, locally sourced home-cooked food.
Sunday morning we were up early to explore Mumbles, a beautiful seaside village on the edge of the Gower peninsula. There’s a lighthouse built in 1794, a Victorian pier and the hilltop Oystermouth Castle is well worth a visit. If you like shopping, there are plenty of high-end shops, independent boutiques and quirky galleries.
Most striking is the plethora of tempting places to eat. Many are situated on the seafront, including the contemporary Bistrot Pierre, where we checked in for lunch. With high ceilings and huge windows, the restaurant is flooded with light and has spectacular sea views.
The menu consists of French classics and regional favourites with a modern twist, all prepared with seasonal produce. Food is of high quality yet surprisingly inexpensive – two-course lunch costs £11.95.
We had hoped to grab a surfing lesson, but an icy wind had swept in from the east, taking temperatures plunging for early spring. Undaunted, we headed to Swansea Leisure Centre to try out the Waverider machine where, with determination, you’ll be up on your feet riding a manufactured wave within a 45-minute minute. I bounced off a few times but pretty soon managed to stand up for a few seconds.
I’d managed to master the basics of rock climbing and surfing in two days, and we’d explored some stunning coastal paths along the Gower.
We’d also experienced some fantastic food and great hospitality. If you love exercise in the great outdoors, and love your food, then Gower’s most definitely the place to be.