It seems a shame not to make the most of the New Year’s Day Bank Holiday, so that means, whatever the weather, heading for my favourite place… Rhossili Bay on the Gower near Swansea.
Last year, it was fabulously grim with heavy threatening clouds and vicious winds that froze your ears and toes and threatened to topple you off the top of Rhossili Down.
Walking along the beach, we lost sight of Worm’s Head and realised that the reason was an approaching storm. We walked the length of the beach with the rain driving on our backs but there was an exhilaration to it all, watching the sand being pitted by the driving rain, listening to flocks of oystercatchers crying out as they wheeled low over the edges of the whipped up waves.
Today, there was blue sky and sunshine which seemed like a real blessing after the grey downpours which have plagued us for weeks. We climbed the steep, spring-saturated slope to Rhossili Down and discovered the windspeed was about the same as last year but hey, the views… the views! I could just about make out Pembrokeshire!
I love being out on New Year’s Day. All the walkers we met wished us Happy New Year. That open friendliness can’t be just Welsh but it’s very welcome and feels like everyone’s spirits have been raised by the optimism of a fresh year ahead, not just my spirits.
The old RAF radar station always reminds me of the terrible WWII bombing that Swansea suffered and how the operators there must have spotted the incoming planes that would inflict so much damage.
The walk went onwards and upwards, sloshing through mud to the Beacon, which was predictably the windiest place of all but a compulsory stop to take in the views, take a few snaps and hold on to the hat!
Descending towards Rhossili village, it was the squeeze through gorse bushes that made me doubt we were on the right track, followed by a treacherous, slippery-slidey descent that made me giggle and curse in equal measure. Looking back at it from below, it was obvious we’d picked the hardest way down and somehow missed the very civilized, nicely maintained series of steps on the hillside.
While the beach below was mainly deserted – it’s so big it would take millions of people to make it even slightly busy – the village was packed with cars queueing to get into the already-full car park. The Worm’s Head bar was a warm and welcoming rest stop with the advantage lifting the spirits further with a double serving of excellent Macallan malt whisky. It warmed the cockles beautifully for the walk back along the beach.
The extra treat was the expert paraglider playing about on the thermals near the cliffs. It was incredible to watch his control, the way he would gain height, turn and swoop with the grace of a bird at awesome speed before somehow regaining height to do a twirl ready for the next manoeuvre.
Trotting down the many many steps to the beach always holds an anticipatory excitement because just being on just a majestic beach is a beautiful experience. The pleasure is similar to meeting an old friend again… checking on the rock pools under the cliff, the wreck of the Helvetia in the sand – which seems to be degrading or sinking every year – the state of the white-washed Rectory above the beach where Dylan Thomas stayed.
People turn into Lowry matchstick men on this beach, with little black shadows emphasizing how small they are in comparison to the long, long continuous waves washing in and the vast expanse of wet sand. I always feel I should just take a pad and watercolours and just try and paint it. One day.
In the meantime there are just photographs and interesting shells including baby razor clams. Those little creatures have a rough time in the storms.
Final destination: Eddy’s. Eddy’s is a surf caf at Hillend, the campsite which is perfect for surfers, windsurfers, walkers and beachbums of all sorts. But on New Year’s Day Eddy’s is the perfect venue for a New Year Welsh breakfast, served with orange juice, champagne and a pot of tea. No messing. The Welsh platter includes battered cockles and a pot of laver bread, rashers of thick old-fashioned bacon, mushrooms and sauteed potatoes. I can never eat it all, but one has to make an effort, faced with such deliciousness.
The afternoon slipped away nicely in the warmth of Eddy’s and the sun went down. There was just time to catch the final glow before the cloud came in, then home.
2013 so far? Mustn’t grumble.