Oasis of calm in secret garden
Beautiful Gower in South Wales is the oldest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Britain and usually one of our family’s favourite destinations for a short break. . .
But this time I sensed a certain reluctance from my other half after broaching the topic of a weekend break with friends at Oxwich Bay, on the south coast of the peninsula. Not even my carefully considered use of the term ‘glamping’ could win her round.
“You’ve got another thing coming if you think I am going camping,” said my wife bluntly, the scars of roughing it at Glastonbury before we were wed still evident.
Then her mood seemed to lighten. Once she had viewed the accommodation online and satisfied herself that we would not actually be under canvas, she relented. “It actually looks really nice,” she said.
And so it proved. The Secret Garden, in the grounds of the Oxwich Bay Hotel, is a small development of luxury detached cabins, or ‘S-pods’ as they are called, which are hidden from public view by fencing and vegetation.
You enter through a wooden gate and it really does seem a world apart inside the ‘garden’. The pods, made by Yorkshire-based Swift Group, are around 15x10ft, meaning they are cosy but not cramped. The decor is smart and modern and they have large windows with tinted glass.
There are double beds which drop down from the wall.
Every pod has its own terrace with chairs and table and ours proved a real sun-trap in the mornings. At night they are subtly lit with coloured lamps. Other than the showers being a little tight for those of more ample girth, we could find little fault with the accommodation on offer and it is reasonably priced too.
The hotel itself occupies a prominent spot at the western edge of one of the finest, most family-friendly beaches in Wales. Originally a vicarage, the property was purchased in 1959 and has remained in family ownership ever since.
You can be on the beach within seconds. There’s a range of watersports and boat trips on offer or you can just enjoy pottering along the sand, which stretches for some two and a half miles. Due to the concept of the Secret Garden, none of the pods benefit from sea views, but these can be had from the main hotel building which is right next door.
In the hotel itself you can eat either in the upmarket Chestnut Room or the main restaurant/bar. These surroundings are humbler but do benefit from stunning views across the bay.
The menu offers ‘traditional favourites’ like a burger or curry for £11 to £15, but we tended to opt for chef specials like oven baked sea bream in lemon, parsley and parmesan crust, as they were only slightly dearer. This is worth bearing in mind if you opt for the half-board tariff as it includes a voucher of £25 per person towards dinner.
From the hotel it is an easy stroll to one of the Gower’s main historical sites: Oxwich Castle. The ruin – less a castle and more a Tudor mansion – sits on a wooded headland overlooking the bay. Though not that much of the building has survived, it is clear the castle would have been a sumptuous property in its day.
Another historic site worth a visit is Weobley Castle, a short drive away on the north coast of the Gower. Again it is largely a ruin but does enjoy a fantastic location overlooking the Loughour Estuary.
Near Weobley, in the village of Llanrhidian, we found a couple of pubs. The Greyhound is a microbrewery which serves its own ales but we ended up at the Dolphin, tucked away in the heart of the village. It was a lovely evening and we enjoyed the distant views of the estuary from the beer garden.
This was one of the few times we used our vehicles. For the most part we left them at the hotel as we wanted to make the most of the many walks on the Gower.
The first of these saw us step out on a scenic circular route taking us west towards Horton before we turned south and picked up the Gower Coast Path. This led across the top of a cliff to Oxwich Point and then back to the hotel through woodland. A more challenging route heads east along Oxwich Bay and round the promontory to beautiful Three Cliffs Bay. There is a cafe at Southgate nearby and you can walk back over the dunes for a bit of variety.
There are lovely walking routes all round the Gower coast or you can try the 35-mile Gower Way which was mapped out to mark the Millennium.
If the weather is less than clement you could do worse than visit the Gower Heritage Centre at Parkmill. This is a surprisingly large complex of buildings offering a range of quirky attractions, mostly aimed at children.
There was just time for one last walk on the beach before leaving the Gower. We had visited out of season when it was relatively quiet, but it’s worth pointing out that Oxwich Bay can get very busy during the school holidays and on bank holidays.
But no matter how many people are crammed onto the beach you will be in an oasis of calm inside the Secret Garden – and snug as two peas in an S-pod.