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 6: Rufus’ day of rest

We’ve been doing quite a lot over the last few days. Rufus runs, gallops, jogs and jumps about 50% more than I do on any given walk and I’ve done nearly 30 miles of hills, dales and water courses in that time. So today was a rest day for Rufus.

I took the opportunity to do some domestics and to visit the local museums (yes, I have an interlekt… intalect… inlect… I like museums). But the one I wanted to visit is closed on Mondays. I know because I read the sign as I walked past it. So instead, I headed off to Mumbles and had a so-so coffee at Bracelet Bay before going for a stroll along the beach. I remember coming to Bracelet Bay as a kid – we used to stop at the Big Apple (literally, an apple shaped shop overlooking the bay. It was built as part of a nationwide advertising campaign for an apple flavoured drink and it’s now one of the few (I think there are only two) left in the UK).

The tide was out today and the gentle smell of the sea also reminded me of my childhood. They say smell is one of the most powerful memory triggers and the memories were so fresh I felt as if I’d been here as a child only a few years ago. Sadly, it’s a lot longer than that. I stepped over rocks and remembered that I’d trained to scramble and walk over rough terrain by clambering over the rocky outcrops around here. But it wasn’t the same without Rufus and I turned back to the car. After a detour to the local supermarket for some supplies, I headed home.

Most of the rest of the day was taken up by bread making, chasing Rufus around the garden trying to get his chew from him, and planning where to go tomorrow.

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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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Stormy Weather

Feeling a bit under the weather today (see, the weather theme already and only one sentence in to the blog). So I was glad of the extra hour in bed this morning. I was up in time to see the motor racing, but that was a bit tame and when a friend called to say the sea was pretty spectacular, I decided that fresh air was what was needed. It only took 20 minutes to drive down to Mumbles. It nearly took longer to get out of the car, as the wind was blowing in such a way that I couldn’t let go of the door handle for fear of the door blowing off completely.

But once I’d managed to get out and remain upright despite the gusts, the sight was indeed spectacular. On both sides of the headland the waves were queuing up to crash and dash against the rocks. Seagulls rode the gusts, wheeling and diving and probably not completely in control of their movements. Spray blew up from the frothy waves and in no time my glasses were coated with a thin film of salt. People dashed from cars, raised camera phones up and quickly snapped a couple of frames before retreating to the warm car interior.

I made my way to the shelter of a rocky outcrop and crouched down to take some photos. Then I made my way around to Bracelet Bay, where I spent about an hour watching and snapping the waves. A ship, the local dredger, was slowly making it’s way out into the bay and the waves were smashing up against it’s bow. The ship rocked back and forth on the rough, grey sea. Only once have I been on seas as rough as this and it wasn’t pleasant.

Finally, I watched as another photographer ventured close to the waves to get some pictures, before scampering back as the next wave broke. I’ve done it myself and it’s great fun. Back at the car, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and realised why I should have worn a hat. My hair was windblown and with the salt in the air, it had set fast. In the photo, you can see the driver of the car next to me wondering what was going on.

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I must go down to the sea again…

I have a confession to make. I spent the morning looking for bathroom tiles. I’m sorry. I should have been out climbing mountains, racing cars or saving kittens. I don’t know what came over me. Promise you won’t think any less of me? Please?

But this afternoon, despite the driving rain and storms lashing … er, well some light drizzle, I headed back down to Mumbles to get some more photos of the beach and waves. I had nothing in mind, and in fact I was feeling decidedly uninspired as I walked up to Bracelet Bay. I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather so I guess it was that. But as soon as I’d made my way down to the beach, I started to see picture opportunities and the camera therapy kicked in. I spent an enjoyable hour snapping away at anything that interested me. 

I’ve said before that photography is a means by which I find relaxation and it’s one of the ways I de-stress (not distress, which would be wrong).  Today was a classic example of how it can take over and lift my spirits. Not that I was particularly down. I just need a bit of a lift. Maybe it was because I couldn’t find the tiles I wanted… er… I mean couldn’t do the football-drinking-man things I wanted to do.

I was particularly fascinated by the waves breaking on the shore. I was using my ultra wide angle lens (10mm at the wide end) and getting the camera down close to the water. So close, in fact, that there were splashes of foam on the lens that I had to keep cleaning off. I managed to avoid getting it (and myself) soaked, though. You can see from the photos below that there was a lot of ‘oh, that looks good, I’ll snap that’ randomness going on. Sometimes that’s how it goes.

I have another confession to make. I’ll probably be out looking for tiles again tomorrow. Be kind in your judgement. 

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Frustrations

Another glorious morning and the sun forced the curtains aside and slapped me on the face at about 7am. That’s ok – it’s an hour’s lie-in for me. Any longer lying awake and my back starts to ache. Age, I suppose. So I was up and out of the house by 7.45. My knee is still playing up so it was plastered with ibuprofen gel and strapped up. I ended up in Mumbles. It would have been a nice walk but today I had to drive and also be very careful where I went. No hills, no rough ground. Even the few steps down to the beach made me wince.

Even so, I managed to get some decent photos of the sea as it made every effort to soak me by splashing over the rocks. Then I strolled back along the seafront, taking in the views across Swansea bay. The tide was in and the waters choppy and restless. The waves seemed uncoordinated and random. I could just about make out my road from there and I have a photo that shows my house. It was that clear. Beyond Swansea, I could see the snow covered hills. I would much rather have been there with my walking buddy and slave driver, Rufus. But it would be foolish to risk worsening my knee.

Not content with Mumbles, I drove down to Birchgrove to find the engine house of Scott’s Pit. This was one of three or four small scale coal pits in the Birchgrove area in the early to mid 19th century. All that remains now is the shell of the Cornish beam engine house which was used to pump water from the mine. Despite several developments to the site, and a branch of the Swansea Vale railway line being built, it went out of use in the middle of the 19th century as the flooding made the pit uneconomical. I’ve seen the characteristic engine house and chimney from the motorway many times but today I was able to find access to it.

Then it was back home for coffee and the inevitable housework.

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Mumbles

Out of my window I can see Swansea bay. If I strain and squeeze my neck out of the window (okay, I can’t do that but I’m painting a picture here so bear with me) then I can just see the Meridian Tower (South Wales’ tallest building). At the other end of the bay is Mumbles Head. The headland juts out into the Bristol Channel, and has two tidal islands. They are probably the origin of the name; many websites will tell you they are so named as they resemble breast shaped hills (the Latin ‘mamillae’ being easily corrupted by sailors and fishermen). What they’re trying, delicately, to say is that the two islands look like boobs. There, I’ve said it. The sniggering you can hear is from schoolboys who have Googled ‘boobs’. (And, of course, I can now legitimately add boobs to my keywords list and thereby raise my hit count ten fold).

Anyway, if we could get back to the real subject. I’ve been going to Mumbles for years, every since we first moved to Swansea several decades ago. Some of my earliest mameries.. er memories of Swansea are of Bracelet Bay, between the lighthouse and the coastguard station. A little shop, in the shape of an apple, sold buckets and spades and other beach essentials. It was originally built as a promotion for an apple flavoured drink in the 1930s. Recently, the apple shop was damaged by a car and there was some doubt over whether it would be repaired. As a result, a campaign in the local paper took off the the apple has been restored and is there today.

I remember playing in the remains of an anti aircraft artillery battery on the top of the mainland when I was 10. It took me many years to go back and find the place again. My mum, who lived in Swansea during their blitz of February 1941, recalled hearing the sound of anti aircraft guns. There were several sites, but they always knew when the Mumbles site was firing because the guns were bigger and made a deeper, louder sound. There was also a battery of anti shipping guns protecting the bay based just the other side of the road by the big car park at Bracelet Bay. There is nothing left of this now apart from the flattened area where the guns were located, but on the outermost breast… er… island, clustered around the light house are the remains of searchlight houses and the old Napoleonic era fort that protected Swansea docks.

In the 1980s, me and a group of school friends were making a comedy movie on super 8 equipment and one of the scenes called for an old pram (with a baby inside) to be washed up on the shore. We chose Bracelet Bay as the location and I still remember trying to get the pram to float and then hoping it would come back in to the shore again. As I recall it belonged to the sister of one of the guys, and she didn’t know we had it! We told the coastguard in case there was a scare. I’m not sure what they made of it.

Mumbles Head catches the worst of the westerly winds and it’s always a good place to go if I want to capture storm waves crashing against the rocks. I’ve seen them breaking over the lighthouse, although I’ve never managed to snap those as I’m usually sheltering in the car at that point.

In the summer, Mumbles is a popular destination for day trippers as well as those staying longer. The village itself is strung out along the shore and as a result, there is always a bottle neck of traffic as people try and get to and from the few car parks. I like it in winter, though, when the sun rises over the light house, there is no one else around and as long as I don’t look too closely, I could be back in the days of my childhood.

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