A Walk To The Amazing Cliffs of Hartland Quay


Aerial View of Hartland Quay Hotel. Image – Peter Keene

A short walk from the conveniently placed car park will take you to Hartland Quay. Recently used as a location setting for the forthcoming ‘House of Dragons’ prequel to ‘Game of Thrones’, it has some of the most amazing cliffs in the whole of the United Kingdom.

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‘Rebecca’ Boat. Image – Paul Berry

If starting in the upper car park, take a moment to have a look at the boat used in the film ‘Rebecca’, a 2020 thriller starring Lily James, Kristen Scott Thomas, Keeley Hawes, and Armie Hammer, based on the 1938 novel by Daphne Du Maurier. Hartland Quay has been used as a location for a number of other films, including ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Solomon Kane’.

Now, leave the upper car park and turn left for a short stroll down the road to the quay and the hotel, passing through the lower car park on the way. Follow the path that leads in front of the Hartland Quay Hotel and the ‘Wreckers’ Retreat’ Bar – well worth a visit at the end of your visit. Just past the hotel can be found the remains of the old quay, which ran from immediately below the hotel to Life Rock. This was once a bustling maritime communication hub that performed an important role in such a remote area not easily accessible overland. Sadly, all that remains now is a scatter of some huge sandstone blocks on the old harbour floor, and the tumbled remains of some of the port buildings.

Old port hartlandquayhotel.co.uk 1870s

Old Port – Late 1870s. Image – Hartlandquayhotel.co.uk

There are no safe havens on the Hartland Peninsula, and in the distant past before the quay was built, a tradition of ‘beach work’ was the only way that marine trade could be carried out in this remote part of Devon. This involved small sailing craft landing on accessible beaches at high tide, and then having just twelve hours to unload their cargo before re-floating on the following tide. This methodology was very much weather dependent, quite hazardous due to the dangerous rocky shores, and extremely hard work. Maritime trade increased towards the middle of the sixteenth century, and in 1566, an Act of Parliament was passed to authorize the quay’s construction, sponsored by influential individuals of the time such as Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake, and Sir John Hawkins. Hartland Quay was first recorded as ‘Mr Abbot’s Quay’ in 1602/3, named after William Abbot of Hartland Abbey. It was constructed using a natural rock barrier which connected Warren Beach to Life Rock, and provided a shelter from rough seas for vessels to load and unload, while also providing a haven for small craft during storms. The quay was expensive to build, but proved to be profitable and flourished for over 200 years, operating a lively trade with ports in South Wales and along the Bristol Channel. Coal and limestone were brought in from South Wales (a lime kiln once stood next to the port), and taken up the steep cliff path by donkeys and carts. The main exports included corn and other agricultural products.

HQ Working Port Map New

Atlantic storms delivered a regular battering to Hartland Quay, and by 1629, severe wave damage left it in need of expensive repair. Further restoration work was necessary in 1729 and 1887. Imagine how difficult it would have been to bring materials to the shore in those days! However, it was improvements in transport that ultimately led to its demise. Roads began to get better, and when the railway came to Bideford in 1855, the writing was on the wall for the port. The old quay customs houses and warehouses were converted into the hotel, the old stable now forms the Wreckers Retreat Bar, while old hay and corn lofts have been converted into en-suite bedrooms.

HQ Working Port Sketch NewYou might find time to call into the excellent small museum opposite the bar entrance, packed with exhibits and information about the history of this stretch of coastline, telling stories of smugglers and shipwrecks.

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Warren Cliffs & Warren Beach. Image – Paul Berry

Walk down the slipway onto the rocky shore of Warren Beach, where a number of interesting features can be identified. The two major rock types of this location are sedimentary layers of sandstone and mudstone, and these have been folded and contorted to form some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in the UK – evidence of geological events that took place around 300 million years ago in the Variscan Orogeny. However, do be watchful of the tide times before you venture onto the beach.


Aerial View of Warren Cliffs. Image – Peter Keene

The Variscan orogeny was a period of mountain building that took place in the late Carboniferous/early Permian periods and lasted for around 100 million years. At this time (when the Atlantic Ocean did not exist), plate movements resulted in the northern land mass of Laurasia (containing Europe and North America) colliding with the southern continent of Gondwanaland (containing South America, Africa, Antarctica, Australia, and India). This closed the Rheic Ocean that was located between the two giant land masses, and created a new supercontinent called Pangea.


Maps – Chris Cornford and Alan Childs

In the Carboniferous period (290-350 million years ago, and before the plate collision), rivers from South Wales brought sediments into a basin containing a shallow, brackish sea – fine sediments leading to mudstone rocks, and coarser sediments leading to sandstones. As sediments were being laid down in this basin, mountain building was taking place to the south. The later squeezing of the two plates compressed the basin, buckling these layers and raising them high above sea level in the final stages of the Varsican. The exposed cliffs of Hartland are the remaining stumps of folded rock beds, while the top surfaces were eroded away to create the flat, inland plateau. At the coast, the near-vertical rock beds have been eroded by the sea to produce shore platform ridges and gulleys that are exposed at low tide, with numerous fault lines also clearly visible. Saw tooth reefs exist offshore, hidden from view, and a serious danger to passing ships. The sandstone beds tend to be lighter in colour to the darker mudstones, and as they are rather more resistant to wave erosion, tend to stand higher and prouder as ridges while the less-resistant mudstones are worn away faster to produce gulleys. Hartland Quay stands on the flat floor of a former valley dissected by the sea.

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Vertical sedimentary beds, Hartland Quay. Image – Paul Berry

The map below shows the location of a number of the interesting features you can investigate at Hartland Quay.

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PDF of Geology Walk Map: Hartland Quay Geology Walk PDF Map

View 1: Folded Rocks

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Chevron Folds, Warren Beach. Image – Paul Berry

Chevron (zig-zag) folding can be easily identified in the 85 metre near-vertical Warren Cliffs in the centre of the bay. The vertical cliffs themselves are modern features created by wave erosion, but the sandstone and mudstone rocks are much older, laid down as horizontal sediments over 300 million years ago, and have since been lifted and twisted into these magnificent shapes. Try picking out a single layer in the cliff face and following its crazy journey through up-folds and down-folds. It is not easy to do! Smaller parasitic folds can also be identified on some of the larger folds. Looking at the top of the cliffline, you can see how the sedimentary rocks terminate abruptly, forming a flat erosional surface cutting straight across the folded beds. Looking northwards across the bay, the tall stack of Bear Rock can be identified.

View 2: Tunnel Rock

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Tunnel Rock, Warren Beach. Image – Paul Berry

This feature is the result of differential erosion of the two main local rock types, the more-resistant sandstone and the less-resistant mudstone. Sandstone is a hard, brittle, and coarse (rough to touch) rock, light grey or rusty brown in colour (due to oxidation), and produces ‘massive’ featureless beds. Mudstone (often known as shale or shillet), is softer (can be scraped with a knife), finer grained (smoother to touch), and darker in colour (grey to black). It produces thinner layered beds. At Tunnel Rock, erosion of an unusually thick bed of less-resistant mudstone has produced an arch – a hole punched right through the large outcrop.

View 3: Rock Gully

Around a 100 metres further along the beach, a 5 metre wide gully can be seen. This represents a fault line that has been eroded and deepened by the sea. On the quay-side of this feature, rock beds dip steeply to the north (same as on the tunnel slab), while on the north (Warren Beach) side, the rock beds are contorted into chevron folds that continue in the cliffs.

View 4: Unstable Cliffs

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Sketch – Chris Cornford and Alan Childs

If you walk to the cliffs along the fault line, you can pick out the fault in the cliffs. There has been a lot of slumping here, and rock debris is strewn along the cliff base.

View 5: Downfold

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Sketch – Chris Cornford and Alan Childs

Continue northwards to identify an obvious synform – or extreme downfold – in the cliff. It is amazing how a hard sandstone rock layer can be bent so sharply.

View 6: Cave

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Upfolds and Caves. Image – Paul Berry

At the north end of the beach is a clear antiform – where rock beds have been folded up into pointed arch. As you follow the beds up and over the anticline, you can pick out the confusion of rock layers at the fault in the crest.

View 7: Barrel Cave

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Open Fold Cave. Image – Paul Berry

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Open Fold Cave. Image – Paul Berry

30 metres to the north, you can clamber through a breach in the sandstone rib to find beyond it an open-mouthed barrel cave within a gentle fold in the cliff rocks. Inside the cave, there are lots of quartz veins in the roof and on the floor.

View 8: Beer Garden

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Life Rock. Image – Paul Berry

Return to the head of the slipway, and turn right to walk through the hotel beer garden to the viewpoint on the headland. From here, there is a great view back to Warren Beach. You can also see Life Rock in the bay, and the pattern of criss-cross faulting in the rock platform below the wall.

View 9: Well Beach

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Well Beach. Image – Paul Berry

Retrace your steps past the bar, museum, and hotel, and walk to the wall at the back of the lower car park. From here, you have a view of the flat wave-cut platform of Well Beach. Folding is also clear here, and a storm beach can be easily identified. To the south is the headland of Screda Point, showing part of the same flat bottomed grassy valley floor that lies beneath Hartland Quay.

You could end your visit with refreshment in the Wreckers’ Retreat Bar. There are some really good local guides and books for sale here, and a map on the wall showing all of the shipwrecks that have been recorded in this area. The bar also displays relics from the ‘Green Ranger’, a ship wrecked at Hartland in 1962. The seven-man crew was safely rescued.

Hartland Quay is a great base for walks along the coast – either north to Hartland Point Lighthouse or south to Spekes Mill Mouth waterfall (and Stoke village). Both walks are described in detail elsewhere on this site.

Reference: ‘Geology at Hartland Quay’ by Chris Cornford and Alan Childs

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A Sense Of Place – Countries of the World


Image: Wikimedia

This poem focusing on recent trends in the USA might be a useful classroom stimulus for any lessons on ‘sense of place’:

bilston poem

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Where Are The Highest Cities In The World?


La Paz Image; Wikipedia

How many of the top 20 would you manage to name?

This ‘Visual Capitalist’ infographic shows the top 50 highest cities over a background of some of the world’s highest mountains.


Top Ten

  1. La Paz (Bolivia) – 3869m
  2. Quito (Ecuador) – 2784m
  3. Toluca (Mexico) – 2648m
  4. Cochabamba (Bolivia) – 2621m
  5. Bogota (Colombia) – 2601m
  6. Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) – 2361m
  7. Mexico City (Mexico) – 2316m
  8. Xining (China) – 2299m
  9. Sana’a (Yemen) – 2316m
  10. Puebla (Mexico) – 2176m

Link to infographic and full article:

The 50 Highest Cities in the World

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Our Renewable Energy Options


This ‘Visual Capitalist’ infographic shows the five main types of renewable energy and also explains how they work. Nice poster for the classroom?


Full article here:


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Cities With The Highest Crime Rates


Image: Aftermath Services

According to the ‘Security, Justice, and Peace’ organisation from Mexico, here are the cities with the highest homicide rates. All of the top ten are from South America (5 from Mexico). From the top 20, 16 are from South America, with 1 from the USA, 1 from South Africa, 1 from the Caribbean, and 1 from Central America)


Top Ten

  1. Los Cabos – Mexico
  2. Caracas – Venezuela
  3. Acapulco – Mexico
  4. Natal – Brazil
  5. Tijuana – Mexico
  6. La Paz – Mexico
  7. Fortaleza – Brazil
  8. Ciudad Victoria – Mexico
  9. Ciudad Guyana – Venezuela
  10. Belem – Brazil

If you want to check out the ‘top 50’ – log on to the following web site:

What are the cities with the highest crime rates?

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Football Club Incorporates Climate Change Stripes in New Shirt Design


Reading Football Club has incorporated climate change ‘warming stripes’ into the design of their new home kit.


The warming stripes graphic has been designed by Professor Ed Hawkins from the University of Reading to illustrate temperature trends throughout history. Professor Hawkins said: “The climate stripes are intended to start conversations about climate change – and making them visible to thousands of football fans across the country every week.

Each thin stripe is coloured according to the average temperature of a year, with shades of blue for cooler than average and red for hotter.

The stripes for Reading’s new kit, which costs £52.99 and was unveiled on Monday, will appear on the shirt sleeves and side of the shorts, depicting climate change during the Royals’ 151-year existence.

Reading Football Club's new home shirt



The traditional blue and white hoops still appear on the main body of the shirt.

The design comes after the Berkshire club announced they begun a new partnership with the university last month. A club spokesman said:

“We are not perfect, but this is the start of a journey. We will not aim to change the world overnight but we want to aim to reduce our carbon footprint as a football club and give our fans the opportunity to come with us on the same journey.”

For more about climate change warming stripes, check out a blog from the Devon geography archive from 2020 by clicking on the title:

Warming Stripes Climate Change Visualisations


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Track Your Carbon Footprint


Image: CO2 Living

There are a number of mobile apps available that allow you to check on your carbon footprint.

Here are 8 possibilities – all reviewed in the following web article: https://www.makeuseof.com/tracking-carbon-footprint-best-apps/

My Earth








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Map Busters Game


This online geography game sets you the challenge of trying to travel across an interactive hexmap from Lands End to John O’Groats.

Web Link: https://bothness.github.io/mapbusters/

To move from one hexagon to the next, you have to correctly answer a ‘higher or lower’ population question. Each hexagon represents a local authority area, so you have to decide if the hexagon you are moving to has a higher or lower population to the one you are resting on.

Take care though, because an incorrect answer blocks off that hexagon. Get too many wrong, and your route gets blocked – your game is then over!


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Saudi Arabia’s ‘Mirror Line City’ Pushes Boundaries Of Urban Planning

Inside telecom

Image: Inside Telecom

‘Mirror Line City’ is a  futuristic mega-city currently under construction that will change the face of urban living. It is basically a skyscraper comprising two buildings up to 490 metres tall, running parallel for 120 kilometres.

Neom You Tube

Image: NEOM You Tube

The Mirror Line is one of a series of projects that make up ‘NEOM’. Four other developments, Neom Bay, Aqaba Region, Neom Mountain and Neom Industrial City, are intended to surround it.

‘NEOM’ is named from a combination of the Greek word for “new” and the Arabic term for “future”. City State, and is the brainchild of Saudi Crown Prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman. it is expected to cost somewhere in the region of $500 billion to complete.

NEOM is planned to cover some 10,000 square miles – making it 33 times bigger than new York City. It is located in Tabuk Province in north west Saudi Arabia, near the country’s borders with Jordan and Egypt.

Middle East Observer

Image: Middle East Observer

Al Jazeera

Image: Al Jazeera

NEOM is planned to be part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan to wean the country off oil — the industry that made it rich. Among its plans to do so, is building an economic hub at the “crossroads of the world” where more than 40 percent of the world’s population can reach by a flight that’s just a few hours.

The ‘smart’ linear city of  Mirror Line is expected to be home for 5 million people. It will have no cars, no streets, flying drone taxis, and will include a high speed train link underneath the main structure. The design also includes a giant Jurassic park amusement park, a 2-mile man-made artificial lake, and a giant artificial moon that lights up at night. There will also be a separate winter sports resort ski village called Trojena for residents to enjoy. There are plans for vertical farming systems to be incorporated to help feed the new mega-city.


Image: TechEBlog

Smart Cities World

Image: Smart Cities World

One of the biggest criticisms of NEOM is that the project is just ‘greenwashing’ by the Saudi Arabia elite – making grand promises about environmental protection to distract from the realities of a country with numerous human rights and political criticisms. Many see the opulent city as just an attempt by the prince to repair the country’s tarnished image.

Another issue of concern surrounding the Saudi prince’s dream project is the displacement of  the Huwaiti tribe, who currently resides on the land. At least 20,000 members of the tribe now face eviction due to the project, with no information about where they will live in the future.

Wall Street Journal

Image: Wall Street Journal

Mirror Line is scheduled to be completed by 2030!!! Watch this space!

You Tube links:

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Romancing The Worm – A Coastal Fieldtrip Out Of Area

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Worm’s Head. Image: Paul Berry

On a sunny day, it is possible to look across the Bristol Channel from north Devon and pick out the buildings of the South Wales coast. I decided recently to plan a walk ‘out of area’, and headed for Wales and see what the view looked like from the opposite direction. On the Gower Peninsula, it was quite strange to gaze across the sea and pick out the outlines of landmarks like the Great Hangman Cliffs and Countisbury Hill through the shimmering haze. Lundy Island also looked quite different from this new angle.

S Gower Coast From Fall Bay

South Gower Coast. Image: Paul Berry

I stayed for a few days in the middle of the South Gower Coast National Nature Reserve, attracted by the possibility of a walk that included a visit to Worm’s Head. My route was to take me along a coastline of tall Carboniferous (290 – 360 million years) limestone cliffs and sandy bays, and started at Port Eynon. It covered six and a half miles of moderately difficult coastal walking – with the possibility of a number of possible detours that would extend the distance a little further.

Port Eynon is a small village of around 600 residents, named after an eleventh century Welsh Prince. It occupies a position of some isolation, being reached via the A4118 road from Swansea that terminates here. Today, the village is a busy holiday resort that depends upon its safe, sandy beach, although there have been fears recently that sand supplies have diminished due to dredging operations in the Bristol Channel. In days gone by, it was better known for limestone quarrying, oyster fishing (the remains of oyster pools and an old harbour wall are visible at low tide), crabbing and lobstering. The church in the village is worth a visit to see the memorial in the churchyard to three lifeboatmen who lost their lives at sea on New Year’s Day, 1916, when they went to the assistance of SS Dunvegan that had become shipwrecked off nearby Oxwich Point. The lifeboat station closed three years later, and is now the village’s youth hostel.

Rhossili Map

The walk begins at Port Eynon Point car park, and from here a route can be followed to the beach. After heading right and climbing the stone steps next to the hostel, it follows the enclosed path to a junction with a track. Turn left here, to follow a permissive route through the campsite. After exiting the gate at the far end, pause to admire the remains of an old salt house next to the path. Salt was highly valued in earlier times as a means of preserving meat before the days of refrigeration. The saltworks here was quite large and sophisticated, collecting sea water in large shallow open pans before heating it with coal to form salt crystals. The resulting salt was duly raked out and more sea water added for the process to begin again.

Climb to the right of the salt house to rejoin the coast path, then take the fork continuing uphill to the left before crossing debris from a former limestone quarry. The path soon emerges onto the grassy headland of Port Eynon Point, the most southerly location on the Gower Peninsula. This is part of the 33 acres of the Port Eynon Nature Reserve, one of eight to be encountered during this walk. Off the headland here back in 1981, the Prince Ivanhoe steamship (fore-runner of the famous Waverley paddle steamer) struck a submerged reef, and had to be run aground at nearby Horton Beach. The wreck was abandoned and was broken up in winter gales, before having to be salvaged as it had become a hazard to small boats. Today, two orange buoys mark the undersea remains.


Port Eynon Point. Image: Trip Advisor

Walk now to the granite memorial that stands on Port Eynon Point dedicated to two founder members of the Gower Society, set up in 1947 to campaign to try to keep the traditional rural character of this special area. The Society also had a significant role in helping to gain AONB status for the Peninsula (the first in Britain) in 1956. Then turn right to follow the path along the top of the cliffs passing above the rock fissure of Culver Hole Cave, once used to breed pigeons for food (culver is an old name for pigeons or doves). This man-made cave is connected to many smuggling stories, and a staircase inside leads up four floors, and is said to have possibly connected to Prince Eynon ’s castle that once stood on the cliff-top above.S Gower Cliffs

The path passes Overton Mere (another nature reserve), a broad, rock-lined inlet with a beach of white pebbles. You could take a detour here and descend steeply down to the cove in order to visit Culver Hole Cave. If you continue on the coast path, you will pass junctions with routes leading to the village of Overton and back to Port Eynon, before it takes you through a gate to the next nature reserve, that of Overton Cliff. The coast path continues through a second gate to Long Hole Cliff, with its sixty-foot sea cave not visible to the walker above. The path turns right along a dry-stone wall, and then climbs inland along a narrow valley to a ’T’ junction where you need to turn left onto the cliffs once more. The path now continues for a mile or so on unfenced common land, passing Common Cliff, and eventually leading to the steep-sided inlet of Foxhole Slade.

You could drop steeply here along a dry-stone wall into the narrow valley and make short detour to Paviland Cave below. If the tide is out, an exposed sandy strip leads to a shoulder of rock on the right, and from here it is possible to scramble up to the entrance of the cave. Here, in 1823, Reverend William Buckland, the first professor of geology at Oxford University, discovered the oldest human ceremonial burial site in Europe. He (incorrectly, as it transpired) named the skeleton he found there the ‘Red Lady of Paviland’, thinking it was female because of a sea shell necklace found with the body. As the bones were coated in some sort of red dye, he presumed the body to be that of a prostitute or perhaps a witch. As it turned out, the skeleton was that of a male. Buckland also got his dates badly wrong. As he was a creationist, he couldn’t place his find any earlier than Noah and the Great Flood, so estimated his body to be from the Roman era. It was later found that Buckland’s cave discovery (which included a mammoth tusk and ivory jewellery) amazingly dated back to around 31,000 BC – a time when sea level was some 80 metres below that of today, and the cave lied 70 miles from the sea.

Mewslade Bay Cliffs

Mewslade Bay. Image: Paul Berry

Mewslade Bay 1

Mewslade Beach. Image: Paul Berry

Ram Grove Dipped Limestone

Ram Grove Dipping Limestone Strata. Image: Paul Berry

Ram Grove Valley

Ram Grove Valley. Image: Paul Berry

The coast path route continues along the cliff top, passing The Knave and the isolated stumpy stacks of The Combs, before heading inland to negotiate the steeply-sided Ram Gate Valley. Some old lime kilns can be found at the head of the valley, and the path follows a stone wall towards the next bite in the coastline, Mewslade Bay. The path here drops down into Mewslade Valley, like other similar features on this walk, cut by glacial meltwater around 10,000 years ago. If you have time, you can take a short detour here to the sea to visit the isolated bay, with its raised beach and fossil cliffline. From this vantage point, it is possible to see that the east side of the bay is made of just four distinct layers of limestone – despite the cliffs being some 200 feet tall. If you ignore the diversion, the path at the head of the valley climbs up the far side to meet a path heading off to the right towards the village of Middleton, and climbs again to the cliff top.

Fall Bay 1

Fall Bay. Image: Paul Berry

The coast path soon reaches Fall Bay, where the limestone beds are only a metre or so in thickness, and rich in fossils of corals, crinoids and worm tracks and casts. The limestone cliffs along this stretch of coast are little affected now by active marine erosion, the most active processes being sub-aerial ones. The only erosion taking place affects the solifluction debris that has tumbled down the cliffline. The rocky wave cut platform here was cut in the distant past, and not the product of contemporary processes. At the head of the foreshore in the bay, is a layer of rounded limestone pebbles that have been naturally cemented together. Within this matrix can be found lots of limpet shells, representing the remains of a fossil beach now 10m above the current sea level – called ‘patella beach’ after the Latin name for these shells, that look similar to a human knee bone. Above this layer is another known as ‘head’, consisting of angular material sludge to this position at the end of last ice age. At the interface of these two layers, fossilised teeth of straight tusked elephants have been found.

Coastguard Lookout

Coastguard Lookout. Image: Paul Berry

The path continues past Tear Point (with its easily identifiable raised beach) that marks the western end of the bay, then turns away from the cliff edge, to follows a stone wall towards a coastguard lookout standing on a wide, grassy cliff top. Originally built in Victorian times, the modernised building is now manned by volunteers to watch over the safety of walkers and sailors using the sound (or ‘The Shipway’) below, and the causeway that connects the tidal ‘islands’ of Worm’s Head to the mainland.

Causeway 2

Worm’s Head Causeway. Image: Paul Berry

The dramatic landscape feature of Worm’s Head is the most westerly point on the Gower Peninsula and gets its name from an old Norse word ‘wyrm’, meaning serpent or dragon, and refers to the outline shape of the headland, which consists of three high sections linked by a long slender neck – somewhere around a mile in total length. Access to the Worm is possible via the rocky causeway for two and a half hours each side of low tide, and local tide times are displayed in the coastguard building. A fit person could get to the end of the outer headland in an hour or so, but it is not an easy journey. It usually takes longer than people expect, and it is not uncommon for people to be left trapped on the headland because the tide has come back in, hence the need for the volunteers in the coastguard lookout. Stranded visitors have to face a 12 hour wait for the tide to turn, or face the embarrassment of rescue by helicopter. Swimming back to the mainland is out of the question, due to the extremely strong local currents. Dylan Thomas described one of his visits to the Worm in his story ‘Extraordinary Little Cough’: “ …. Laughing on the cliff above the very long golden beach, we pointed out to each other, as though the other were blind, the great rock of Worm’s Head. The sea was out. We crossed over on slipping stones and stood, at last, triumphantly on the windy top. There was monstrous, thick grass there that made us spring-heeled and we laughed and bounced on it, scaring the sheep who ran up and down the battered sides like goats. Even on this calmest day a wind blew on the Worm.” But even he experienced being trapped by the incoming tide, and he described the situation experienced by the boys in his story ’’Who Do You Wish Was With Us’.

Worms Head 5

Worm’s Head. Image: Paul Berry

A set of steps lead down from the cliff top to the causeway, but from here, there is no clear path over the rocky platform to the islands. It is a case of picking your own way carefully over the boulders and between the rock pools. It is easier to stick to the right-hand side, where you will pass a large ship’s anchor half-buried in the rocks, the remains of an old coal cargo ship wrecked here in days gone by. It is still possible to find the odd fragment of coal amongst the rock pools.


Outer Head. Image: Chris Knight.

Worm’s Head is a jagged rock platform carved by marine erosion across an ancient fold in the strata. To the left of the causeway, the beds of limestone can be seen to slope inland at between 30 and 45 degrees. There is then a gap, and the rocks then appear to slope out to sea. This represents a major up-fold shaped like the keel of an upturned boat. Minor faults can be seen on the causeway running out to sea, and these are part of a major fault system that caused the folding here. The faults on the causeway are easy to pick out as they are often filled with white calcite precipitated out from the saturated limestone-rich water. It is possible to tell the mineral here is calcite (rather than quartz) as it can be scratched with a coin. Some of the veins also contain hematite and so have streaks of red, appearing as if they are bleeding.

Worms Head 7

Worm’s Head. Image: Paul Berry

When you reach the first section of the Worm, the 200 metres of the Inner Head, there is sign at the entrance giving information of the tide times. A rectangular enclosure marks the location of an old medieval farm building, and it is interesting to note the sheep have been grazed here on the headland up until quite recent times. It was believed that the grass here made the meat taste sweeter. To access the Inner Head, you have the choice of following a route straight up and over the top, or a more conservative one around the side at sea level. The top of the Inner Head is flat and grass covered, and represents an old beach level – the same as that visible on the mainland.


Devil’s Bridge. Image: Chris Knight

A rocky scramble over near-vertical rock beds takes you over to the Middle Head. A path leads to the stunning arch named the Devils Bridge, all that is left of a collapsed sea cave below, dividing Middle Head into two parts. The narrow path over the arch must be negotiated to make further progress along the headland.

Worms Head Map

The path now leads over Middle Head to reach the last section of the headland. When you reach the Outer Head, a sign explains about restrictions of summer access due to nesting sea birds. Dylan Thomas described: “At the end of the humped and serpentine body, more gulls that I had ever seen before cried over their new dead and the droppings of ages.” Outside of this season, a rough scramble on all-fours (but for only 30 metres or so) is required to reach the top, at 55 metres above sea level. Beneath your feet are several sea caves, one of which fills with sea water from an incoming tide and spouts high into the air as a blowhole. Another of the caves has been found to contain evidence of early man with a prehistoric midden, mainly of sea shells.

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Kitchen Corner. Image; Paul Berry

As you return to the mainland, you get a great view of the old boathouse occupying the small cove on the headland known as Kitchen Corner. Limestone quarried from the cliffs in the nineteenth century was exported from here, used for fertiliser and as a building material.

Your route now continues on a flat cliff top walk to the village of Rhossili. This takes you along the old beach level, raised here to around 200 feet – a common feature of South Gower cliffs. Beyond the stone wall to the right is the ‘Vile’, the last remnants of an ancient strip farming system. This complex agricultural landscape is one of only a few left in Britain – including one at Braunton near my home in north Devon. It involves the land being divided into individual farming strips of around one and a half acres in size, separated by low grassy banks or baulks. The Vile project has restored 45 hectares of farmland, returning the landscape to how it was in medieval times. Flower crops planted alongside traditional arable crops have helped improve biodiversity, producing food sources for bees, birds and butterflies. The extensive fields of flowering sunflowers provide an impressive sight in late July.

Worms Head Sign

Image: Paul Berry

Views ahead now open up to the expanse of Rhossili Beach, and as the path approaches the gate leading to the village, some low mounds can be identified to the left of the path. These mark the location of an old Iron Age fort – commanding a magnificent view from the tall cliffs. Beyond the gate is a National Trust shop (in some old coastguard cottages), and a large National trust car park.

A little further on is the Worm’s Head Hotel, with a large outdoor seating area that enjoys a tremendous view of Rhossili Beach, previous winner of Trip Advisor’s Travellers Choice Award for Britains Best Beach. Is there a hotel anywhere else in Britain with a better view? Saunton Sands Hotel in north Devon maybe the only competitor I can think of. From the hotel, you can see that Rhossili Beach stretches away for a full three miles from the island of Worm’s Head to the small island of Burry Holms to the north, outdoing the golden sands of north Devon, where Saunton Sands measure 2.5 miles, and Woolacombe just 2 miles. In his story ‘Extraordinary Little Cough’, Dylan Thomas describes the beach as “The wildest, bleakest and barrenest I know – four or five miles of yellow coldness going away into the distance of the sea.”

Rhossilli Beach 2

Rhossili Beach and Solifluction Platform. Image: Paul Berry

While the headlands are formed from Carboniferous limestone, Rhossili Bay has been hollowed out by the sea from older less-resistant Devonian Old Red Sandstone. Backing the beach are the slopes of Rhossili Down, the remains of an old beach level eroded by ice sheets in the last but one ice age. The sole building to be seen behind the beach is the Old Rectory, which stands on a platform above the sands. This gives the impression of being a classic raised beach, but is in fact a solifluction apron that has been truncated by marine erosion. This is formed from ‘head’ material that was sludged down the slopes of Rhossili Down in slightly warmer peri-glacial conditions.

Worms Head Panorama

Rhossili Beach. Image: Paul Berry

The walk may be over for some, but could be extended by a walk further along the coast path or by a visit to Rhossili village. To gain access to Rhossili Beach, there are some steps and a steep path that descend directly to the right of the hotel. Just a few hundred metres along the beach, and right in the centre of the sands, can be seen the remains of the wrecked vessel ‘Helvetia’. She was caught in a storm in November, 1887, and ran aground spilling its cargo of 500 tons of oak timber. Fortunately, the crew managed to get off safely. Two ships were later sent to salvage the timber, but they too were caught in a storm before managing to escape. One of them, the steamboat ‘Cambria’, was forced to abandon its anchor at the time, and months later the captain sent some of his men back in a small boat to retrieve the valuable lost item. Sadly, the boat sank under the weight, killing all the crew bar one. Over thirty wreck sites can be found in Rhossili Bay alone (there is a fascinating map showing these in the bar of the hotel), including a Portugese ‘dollar ship’ carrying the dowry of Catherine of Braganza, Charles II ’s Queen.

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Wreck of the Helvetia. Image: Paul Berry

You might want to carry on walking towards the Old Rectory, standing alone on the solifluction platform, Once the home of Reverend John Ponsoby Lucas, who served the villages equidistant on each side – Rhossili and Llangenneth. It is said his ghostly horse can sometimes be heard galloping along the beach below. In 1953, Dylan Thomas and his and family were faced with the possibility of leaving at short notice  his famous home at the Boat House in Laugharne. He considered bringing them to the Old Rectory after an old school friend Guido Heller (who was managing the Worm’s Head Hotel  at the time) mentioned that it was empty. Thomas thought it was a wonderful location, but with the hotel not yet licensed, he asked where the nearest pub was. He was told that the nearest tavern was now miles away after the Ship Inn at Middleton closed in 1906 . Dylan said he could never stick that, and plans to relocate to the ‘old and ratty rectory owned by by a batty farmer’ as he described it in a letter, were quickly abandoned. In other circumstances, the Old Rectory might have become as famous as the Boat House as a symbol of Thomas’ creativity. The building is now a highly sought-after National Trust rental property.

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Old Rectory on Solifluction Apron. Image: Paul Berry

Limestone Fossils 1

Image: Paul Berry

Below the Old Rectory, landslips have occurred in the solifluction apron which allow an opportunity to examine the material close at hand. The storm beach below the platform is littered with large limestone rocks that are rich in fossils. When I visited, the strand line was littered with hundreds of stranded common (or moon) jellyfish – sadly also mixed in with a large amount of plastic waste.

Gannet Plastic Pollution

Image: Paul Berry

Alternatively, you could extend your walk by picking up the coast path that runs along the flat platform to the Old Rectory, and beyond to Hillend sand dunes. You may even be brave enough to climb Rhossili Down to the Beacon, at 193 metres the highest point on the Gower Peninsula. Views from here across the Bristol Channel, Carmarthen Bay and on to Swansea can be enjoyed from here, and on a clear day it is possible to see the Brecon Beacons, the Pembrokeshire Coast, the cliffs of Devon and Somerset, and Lundy Island.

If there is time, a quick visit to Rhossili village may round off your day. This small settlement (population c300) once located just above the beach before sand reclaimed it, was a favourite place of Dylan Thomas. The writer spent his boyhood in Swansea and enjoyed camping on the Gower. He moved about a lot during his life, but maintained a great fondness for this area, and Rhossili was the setting for one of his better-known tales ‘Extraordinary Little Cough’, which is included in his semi-autobiographical short story collection ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog’.

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Memorial Tablet Dedicated to Edgar Evans. Image: Paul Berry

The Norman church dedicated to St Mary the Virgin is worth a visit. Inside is a memorial tablet dedicated to Edgar ‘Taff’ Evans, who joined Captain Scott on the famous expedition to the South Pole in 1912. Evans was born at Middleton Cottage in Rhossili on March 7th, 1876, and enlisted in the Royal Navy at the age of just fifteen. In 1899, he joined the crew of MHS Majestic, where he met up with Scott who was serving as a Torpedo Lieutenant. Evans joined Scott’s first Antarctic expedition on the ship ‘Discovery’ between 1901 and 1904, where he accompanied Scott on his ‘furthest west’ sledge journey in 1903.

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Photo of Edgar Evans in Worm’s Head Hotel. Image: Paul Berry

He was described by Scott’s biographer Roland Huntford as a “huge, bull-necked beefy figure” and a “beery womaniser”, and was indeed nearly left behind in New Zealand on the ‘Terra Nova’ expedition when he fell into the sea while trying to board ship when he was drunk. But Scott held him in very high regard, and he was chosen as part of the select group along with Scott, Wilson, Bowers and Oates, to race for the Pole. They reached the South Pole on January 17th, 1912, only to find that Amundson’s competing party had beat them to it by five weeks. Evans was the first to perish on the fateful return journey from the Pole, and he died on February 17th, 1912. Apart from the plaque in the church, there is a delightful stained-glass window dedicated to the memory of Edgar Evans. It is designed in colours of blue, grey, black and white, and depicts two figures standing above a crevasse and staring into the bleak abyss of the Antarctic landscape.

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Stained-glass Window Dedicated to Edgar Evans. Image: Paul Berry

To finish the day, why not return to the Helvetia Bar in the hotel for a farewell pint of Worm’s Head Ale before heading home?

Worms Head Ale

Image; Paul Berry

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