Time continues to fly by over here, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. On the plus side I’m moving away from schoolwork and towards break, but on the other hand I’m moving closer and closer to having to leave. I’m both extremely excited and incredibly anxious about the next few months so I decided to take it day by day and try not to think too much about what I have coming up.
Since about the time I first decided that I wanted to study in Wales, I’ve been online searching for ways to really see this country and embrace everything it has to offer. During those hours of endless Internet searches I discovered a company called Where When Wales, which is a small tour company operating out of Cardiff that offers affordable tours to amazing places around much of Wales. When I finally got over here I did some more investigating of the tours, and based on suggestions from numerous people, the Gower Explorer tour to the Gower Peninsula was the must-see. Everyone I have ever talked to has said the Gower Peninsula is one of the most beautiful places in Wales so I had to get there.
We booked the tour about a week before we were intending on taking it with no problems at all, and then spent the entire next week patiently awaiting Sunday. I was so excited.
Sunday finally rolled around with an aggressive 7:30 am alarm and a quick breakfast before we set off for our day. One of the best parts about this company, at least for us as Cardiff residents, is that the pick up and drop off location is in front of the National Museum, which is an easy walk for us. Our walk ended up being way faster than we anticipated so we had some time to just sit on the museum steps and watch the city of Cardiff wake up. I realized how little Cardiff feels like a major city, it may have a population of over 300,000, but it still genuinely feels like a smaller city. We still have a lot of the accessibility of a major city, but not so much the overwhelming atmosphere.
At a little before 9am, the WhereWhenWales mini-coach pulled up in front of the museum and we were greeted enthusiastically by Jan, our fearless leader, and her husband John, the courageous driver. There were nine of us (seven American) and from the start, Jan and John spent time getting to know us, so much so that it felt like we had known them for years. They were so incredibly kind and welcoming it made the amazing tour even more fun.
Our first venture brought us to Swansea, the second largest city in Wales, and the National Maritime Museum. We weren’t there long, but we got to see the marina and all the boats in front of the museum before heading inside to check out some of the exhibits. It’s a relatively small museum, but it was recently refurbished so it’s very nice and innovative. There were some really cool transportation vehicles from history, including a two-person bicycle from the Victorian age and a one seated, tiny car that was designed to battle London traffic. After our brief viewing of the museum, we were back on the bus listening to Jan narrate the ride with tons of interesting facts about the area, and Wales as a whole, including making sure we all knew when we were passing Catherine Zeta-Jones’ house. We were finally to the coast and the views.
We pulled off the road into Langland Bay and I was blown away. This kind of tropical view is probably one of the last things I expected to see in Wales, it’s like the true hidden treasure of this to often overlooked country. It may be one of the rainiest places, but it has incredible tropical beaches with surfers and everything. This stop of the tour allowed time for a walk along the coastal path from Langland Bay to nearby Caswell Bay. I learned that Wales actually has a coastal path that follows the entire perimeter of the country, and is the first country to ever do so. The path we walked along was absolutely breathtaking. It was by far one of the most amazing moments of my entire life. I have never seen anything like it, but it wasn’t just the views, it was the entire atmosphere. It was an absolutely pristine day; sunny and blue skies, and we were surrounded by people who were also out there enjoying the gorgeous environment we were surrounded by. By far my favorite part of the walk was the smell. You always hear about the “fresh ocean smell” and you see it in all sorts of air fresheners and candles, but out there it was real. It was fresh and clean, and it was mixed with the faintly floral smell of the flowers that line the path, and it was amazing.
After our walk, we set off to Rhossli Bay, which has been voted the #9 best bay in the entire world, and it is much deserved. The bay is immaculate; sandy beaches and limestone cliffs at the base of mountains that we explored for hours. There is an adorable little town at the top of the cliffs where we grabbed some sandwiches before heading down to the beach.
Down on the sand we wandered for a while, taking in the scenery and just enjoying the weather. It was really cool to be down there because not only is there the ocean, but there is the remains of the shipwreck of the Helvetia, which is kind of surreal to see. I don’t really know anything about the ship (and have forgotten what Jan told usabout it) but it’s very strange to think that the pieces of wood sticking out of the sand used to be a massive ship. To leave the beach, we scaled a small incline and climbed a very steep hill that left us out of breath, so we rewarded ourselves with some delicious Welsh ice cream.
The rest of our time in Rhossli was spent exploring the path along the cliffs leading out to Worms Head, a very uniquely shaped landmass so named because it looked like a serpent to the people who discovered it (worms head in their native tongue loosely translates to serpent). We tried to make our way down to climb it but unfortunately didn’t really have enough time; I’ll just have to come back some time to try again.
Our last stop on the tour brought us to a more inland portion of the peninsula to see Arthur’s Rock, a location thought to be a Neolithic burial ground. To get to the rock, we had to walk through a field that just so happened to be the residence of a local herd of wild ponies. It was pretty spectacular to just walk through this herd that remained seemingly unfazed by us.
The rock itself didn’t really stand out that much (I think after you see Stonehenge any rock is just sort of a rock) until John got to telling us about it’s history. Originally it would have been built like a mound that you could go inside of, but it has since collapsed. Historians thought it might be a burial mound, but as no human remains have yet been discovered, they think it may have just been a ‘mead stone,’ or magical rock worshipped by the pagans. Tradition held that visitors would walk up to it, rub their hands together (‘to get the energy flowing’) and touch it with both hands to absorb the magic, so obviously we did the exact same thing.
However, this stone may not have just been for magic. John told us that legend has it that this rock was the rock that housed the legendary sword of Excalibur that could only be removed by King Arthur. Sure enough, on the front of the rock is a slit that would have held the sword. I would have never believed it had that slit not been there. Why else would it be there? I am 100% convinced that we touched the rock that Excalibur was embedded in, absolutely surreal to think about.
Unfortunately, our encounter with a legend was also our last stop and we were then on our way back to Cardiff. I had such an incredible experience that I will no doubt be taking another WhereWhenWales tour. It was completely worth the money to see more of the spectacle that is the country of Wales.
While it was by far the highlight, the tour wasn’t my only adventure this week. As a spontaneous last minute decision, I decided to join some friends on a Wednesday afternoon trip to a different Welsh coastline. We hopped on a train after lectures and made our way to Bridgend, where we grabbed a seat on the bus to Porthcawl. Our afternoon was spent exploring another amazing beach. I have a very strong attachment to seeing the ocean, which is ironic seeing as I have a very strong aversion to the sand that so often comes along with it. For the most part this beach was stone (which I absolutely adored) but there was a bit of sandy portions that I tried my hardest to avoid.
I don’t know how I’m going to be able to cope with returning to landlocked Minnesota after falling in love with being by the sea. We may be the land of 10,000 lakes, but it’s just not the same. Just add spectacular ocean views to the list of reasons why Wales is amazing.
This Friday is officially my last day of classes before Easter Break, which is also the beginning of my three-week adventure around Europe. That means very limited time and Internet connectivity. My goal is to get a post up about each location we get to so hopefully I’ll find the time to make it work. They’ll all get up eventually, it’s just a matter of when. So hopefully the next time you here from me I’ll be in *drum roll* Marseille, France!