Mumbles

For most people in Swansea, Mumbles head, with it’s lighthouse and distinctive twin tidal islands, is iconic. It can be seen from the whole 5 mile sweep of Swansea Bay and, by design, it’s lighthouse is visible much further away. I’ve written about it before, here.

The first lighthouse was built there in the late 18th century. It had two coal fired lights in open braziers. The island just out into the Bristol Channel and catches every last whisper of wind; keeping an exposed coal fire burning in those conditions was well nigh impossible. So it wasn’t long before the coal fires were replaced by enclosed oil lamps with reflectors to improve visibility. There was a house on the outermost island for the keeper to live in during his (or her – there were wives and daughters here sometimes) duty, which must have been a lonely existence.

Meanwhile, Napoleon was causing mayhem in Europe and to protect the country, coastal forts were built at strategic points. By this time, Swansea was an industrial centre producing copper and other metals and exporting coal. Copper was particularly important strategically as copper coated hulls allowed Nelson’s ships to move more quickly and maneuver more easily. Mumbles Head was the ideal place for a defences and in the early part of the 19th century a stone fort was built which still stands today. Over the years various guns were placed here. Initially, 6lb cannon protected the port and these were replaced by bigger calibres until 68lb cannon with a range of 5 miles were sited on the island.

Eventually, modern 4.7″ guns were emplaced on the island and the 68lb cannon were unceremoniously dumped into the sea. One was recovered in the 70s and is situated in Swansea Marina. During WW2, these guns formed the inspection battery part of the defences of the port of Swansea, which was one of the biggest Bristol Channel ports during the war. Their responsibility was to enforce the requirement for all shipping to stop and be identified before proceeding into the docks and they were manned by regulars of the 299th Coastal Defence Battery, with Home Guard units and women of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRENS).

A pair of 6″ guns formed the defence part of the battery and were sited further back on the mainland, above the Bracelet Bay car park. These heavier guns with their longer range and better visibility would have engaged any enemy shipping trying to enter the bay. Search lights and local defences completed the battery. Further back on Mumbles hill was the 623rd Heavy Anti-Aircraft battery comprising 4 x 5.5″ guns sited to engage enemy aircraft flying in to bomb Swansea.

The whole area was defended from attack by Territorial and Home Guard units in trenches, machine gun emplacements and pill boxes. A mobile 75mm gun was also available to be used where required and there were minefields laid for further protection.

Where Bracelet Bay car park is now were the Nissen huts and other temporary accommodation for the garrison troops. Immediately after the war, these were used for homeless refugees while new houses was built to replace those destroyed in the bombing of Swansea earlier in the war.

The islands are accessible at low tide. A concrete walkway built to improve access for the battery garrison was destroyed after the war when it was found to affect the way the tide interacted with the beach. As you walk out, you can see the remains of the walkway along with railway lines and, as you near the outer island, posts for guide railings. On the outer island, the Napoleonic fort forms part of the current lighthouse structure. Around it there are the remains of the buildings that made up the more modern defences. And engine room to provide power for the searchlights; barracks for the garrison; platforms for the defence of the island from landward attack and the two search light houses.

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Rufus and Dave’s Fortnight of Fun part 4: Old haunts

Give me the keyboard Dave.

But it’s my turn, Rufus.

But you’ll just go on about the car again.

No I won’t. Anyway, have you seen it? It’s red, you know.

*sigh* I know. Hey, Dave, I think someone is touching it.

*woosh*

Right, now Dave’s out of the way, let me tell you about this morning. After yesterday’s hill walk, we were both tired and we both had a lie in. I only woke Dave once to go out and then we both slept on until 7.30. After a breakfast of chicken and vegetables in a ragout sauce (I know, but I’m worth it), and scones for Dave, we set out for Gower. I knew we were going to Rhossili, because Dave muttered something about the longest drive in Gower. Anyway, we parked in the church car park – he prefers to give the parking money to the upkeep of the church. Then we set off. But this time, instead of the climb up onto Rhossili Down, we headed in the opposite direction towards Worm’s Head. I was glad as it was quite hot this morning, despite my new, sleek look.

There were lots of sheep around, and the cliff edge is quite crumbly so I like to keep Dave on the lead for this part of the walk. He tends to wander off with his camera to his eye and who knows where he’d end up in his quest for the perfect photo if I didn’t keep him under control. By the way, he’s been on that quest for 35 years now, but I’m too kind to mention it to him. The Worm was lit up by the soft morning sun and behind it, dark clouds made it stand out. Inevitably, he took pictures of it.

Once we were away from the cliff, I let Dave off the lead and we made our way around to Fall Bay. We haven’t been here for ages so it was nice to go back to an old haunt. The tide was in and it looked as if the cliff path was falling away in patches, so we went down to the rocks in front of us. It was nice to dip my paws in the sea and cool off, and not have great strands of soaking wet fur hanging off them afterwards. I had to remind Dave to throw me stones but he got the message and I managed to retrieve most of them from the surf.

I could see the signs of fatigue in the way Dave was walking, so I decided we should head back to the car. Of course, I did it with such subtlety that Dave thought it was his idea; it’s easier that way. As we walked back we met lots of older people taking a morning stroll to see the Worm. It seemed as if they’d all come from some kind of coach trip, although they were in pairs rather than all together.

As we neared the car park, Dave’s face lit up in a sickly, familiar way and I hopped in the back while he made excuses to walk around the car. I may even have sighed.

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The Seaside

Yesterday, Rufus and I went down to the seaside. We haven’t been to Whiteford for a while and the morning was nice and warm without being too hot, so it seemed like an ideal time to reacquaint ourselves. I used Whiteford a lot during the early days of my trek preparation, and I know Rufus loves the area, so it seemed like a good idea.

We walked through Cwm Ivy wood to get to the dune system. Walking through the wood reminded me of the walk through the rain forest at the start of the Kilimanjaro trek. In fact, I remember thinking the same thing during the trek and mentioned it in my journal. The 20 minutes or so we spent in the woods brought back lots of memories; the only thing missing was the sound of  Turacos calling in the tree tops.

Then, suddenly, we were through two gates and out onto the sea wall that marks the boundary between the salt marches of the Loughor Estuary and the pasture of Cwm Ivy. This had been damaged in the storms earlier this year and the path had only just been reopened. A large section of sea wall had been washed away where a stream passes beneath it; a wooden bridge had been built over the breach.

It didn’t take long to get to the dunes and I found that great parts of it had been fenced off (or in, depending on which side of the fence you were on). I think it was to control the sheep as there were fewer around that on our last visit. In the distance, I could hear the sea which meant the tide was coming in. We headed across the dunes to the beach and sure enough, there was the sea.

There followed a long session of throwing sticks and fetching sticks as we slowly made our way along the water’s edge towards Whiteford Point. The beach was ours; there wasn’t a soul around. In the far distance, on a sandbank, a flock of Oystercatchers flapped and fluttered. We got closer to them until Rufus managed to spook them and they took off in one mass, flying low over the sea to another sandbank.

Walking back through the dunes, I heard the sound of aircraft and spotted a group of five planes performing aerobatics over the Loughor Estuary. It looked as if they were practising and as I watched, they looped and spun and dived with a large cumulus cloud as a backdrop. It reminded me of a painting of a Spitfire against billowing clouds.

It was getting hot as we headed back to the car, so the shade of the wood was welcome for both Rufus and me. We got back to the car having walked 5 miles and spent 3 hours in the sunshine. There was much snoring in the house in the afternoon.

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Stormy Weather

I made a quick visit to Mumbles this evening, it being dry (I haven’t been out of the house much recently) and windy. I hoped to get some photos of the high seas at high tide and I wasn’t disappointed. The wind was blowing roughly form the south and as I drove along Swansea Bay, the waves looked tame. But they were sheltered by Mumbles Head, and as I got to the car park at Bracelet Bay, the car was buffeted and the windscreen covered in spray and foam.

I battled the wind to get to the beach and was rewarded by some of the biggest waves I’ve seen there in a long time. I stayed for about 30 minutes until high tide had passed, then struggled into the wind and back to the car. There were plenty of people lined up on the sea front, mobile phones raised. There were a lot of flashes as people wasted battery power trying to light up the breakers.

Nature is powerful when aroused. The thing that struck me once again was the way I could feel the impact of the waves through the ground, even standing 40m away from the beach.

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Out Out

I only popped out for milk, but somehow I found myself on the seafront near Swansea Marina watching the waves as the tide reached it’s highest point this morning.┬áThere wasn’t much of a wind and I wasn’t expecting anything spectacular but right on the promenade I could see and hear the waves pounding the sea wall. Sure enough, there were plumes of spray bursting high into the air.

I stood and watched for a while before getting the camera out. Not only did I want to make sure I experienced this properly but I also wanted to see what the waves were doing, so I wouldn’t be surprised by a big one and get soaked. Although there wasn’t a pattern I could find, I did notice that waves coming in at a certain angle created the massive spray plumes. I kept an eye out for those waves and waited.

There were others on the promenade walking dogs, jogging, riding bikes and just watching and snapping away, like me. One of the photos I had in mind was of some of those people getting soaked. However, I didn’t want to be a similar subject of someone else’s picture. Between photos, I kept a careful eye on the waves and what they were doing. High tide was around 9am and I didn’t notice any change one the tide was technically going out. In fact, the waves seemed to get stronger as I walked along the promenade towards the docks. I didn’t go far, finding a great vantage point that offered me some protection and a nice view back towards the Guildhall. Looking at the times on the photos, I see I was only there half an hour but it felt like a lot longer.

I headed off to get my milk but once again something went wrong and I found myself in Mumbles. Although the shelter of Bracelet Bay didn’t give rise to many waves, further along seemed to offer more opportunities and I took a stroll along the coastal path to Langland. Along the way I could hear and feel rather than see the waves hitting the cliffs. There was a deep boom at every impact, followed by a much higher pitched hiss as the water receded. At Langland Bay, large pebbles – fist sized of more – had been thrown on to the path and the forecourts of the cafe. As I watched, I saw similar sized pebbles being pushed up the slipway, grating and rattling as they went and occasionally hitting the metal handrail, causing it to ring.

The rain forecast for later this morning started a little early so I turned around and made for the car. It was amazing to hear and feel the thump of waves against rock as I hurried back to avoid the inevitable downpour.

I did manage to pick up milk, too.

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Walking off the turkey

Rufus and I, having celebrated Christmas with the traditional mound of food followed by more food that couldn’t be fitted on the first plate, felt we needed to walk off the calories with a stroll on the beach. It was a lovely day and many people had the same idea. Unfortunately, many of them chose to head in the same direction as us. These people clearly only drove once a year and so we found ourselves in a queue of traffic travelling at 20mph.

To try and counter this, we headed to a more isolated beach, Fall Bay near Rhossili. But to confound the masses of once-a-year walkers, we parked away from the village and walked along the coastal path. Sure enough, we had the path pretty much to ourselves, with only a few intrepid souls making the detour off the well worn and very muddy path. The wind was up, the waves were crashing onto the shore and the sun was shining.

I stopped to take photos along the way and I had to keep Ru8fus on the lead near the edge of the cliffs as he was was in danger of being blown over the edge, so strong was the wind. But eventually, we made it to the beach and without a word from me, Rufus dashed off towards the surf. While I snapped away at the waves and the surfers, Rufus dived in and out of the water. I threw driftwood for him and he chased them enthusiastically. It was a gorgeous afternoon and we enjoyed the rare sun. Although the wind was strong, it wasn’t cold. It whipped the tops of the waves up into a spray and dashed the water against the rocks all along the coast.

It only started getting cold when the sun disappeared behind some thin cloud, so we decided to head back to the car. The mud that was inconvenient on the way up tot he cliffs was now slippery and almost impassable on the way back down. I nearly went over several times and managed to strain a leg muscle as my leg went from under me. But eventually, we both made it back to the car.

Back in the house, two tired walkers spent the evening watching TV and eating more food, that will have to be walked off again.

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A Stroll in the Park

With the sudden onset of summer (only three months late) I decided to go for a stroll through Singleton Park and down to the bay. It’s about 1.5 miles from my house and in the early morning, it’s a pleasant walk.

When I was growing up, we’d often stay with my grandparents who use to live just down the road. The highlight of any visit was ‘going to the sands’, which is what I called Swansea Bay. I can still remember one horrendous day when we got to ‘the sands’ only to find that several JCBs were loading up the sand onto big lorries. I was devastated and convinced that the sand wouldn’t be there the next time I visited. The sand was being taken to Blackpool!

This morning I made my way through the park, past squirrels searching for the last stores before winter and dogs eager to get to the beach. Across the empty main road, I sat on a bench with the sun in my face and watched the waves gently lapping up against the shore. The tide was nearing its highest point; the sea was flat and calm.

I love watching the different people as they walk along the sea shore. Today, most people were walking dogs although there were a number of joggers as well. The style of jogging varies between the serious sports person, pacing themselves and the recreational jogger, barely moving faster than a medium paced walk. I have, in the past, overtaken ‘joggers’ with little more than a strolling pace. There are sprinters, those who only jog a few hundred yards and then turn back; others who treat it as a marathon and who are probably running the entire south coast of Wales judging by the sweat and puffing and panting. Few people just walk, like I was doing. I wonder what people watching me think?

I walked along the sand at the edge of the sea for a mile or so before taking another break to enjoy the atmosphere. By now the sea had come in as far as it was going to and over to my right I could see a sandbank on which were a number of birds, including a young heron. Herons have always proved elusive for me but I thought I’d try and get a photo of this one. I set about slowly approaching it. I lined up with a bush on the shore so I wouldn’t stand out against the sky. I walked slowly and diagonally towards it. Every so often I stopped to take a photo in case it decided to fly away. Of course, it did eventuall but I was pleased at how close I got.

The walk back was more strenuous as I pushed the pace and it was all uphill. According to my heart monitor, I burned up 440 calories, 11gm fat and my peak heart rate was 142 bpm.

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