Grade C. 8 miles.
Date: Wednesday 9 December 2015. Weather: Gusty winds, mild, cloudy
Mwmbwls (Mumbles) today refers to a district covering the electoral wards of Oystermouth, Newton, West Cross and Mayals. The headland is possibly named by French sailors, after the shape of the two anthropomorphic islands comprising the headland. Another possible origin is the Celtic word Mamucium, meaning breast-shaped hill. Mwmbwls lighthouse was built during the 1790s and converted to solar powered operation in 1995. The pier was opened in 1898 at the terminus of the Mwmbwls Railway. At that time one of the oldest passenger railways in the world, it closed in 1960.
Rambles, at least those conducted by Llanelli Ramblers, are generally a steady, ordered affair. Albeit in an informal kind of a way. They normally begin in a car park. As did this one. Three cars become four, or five; eventually nine or ten, perhaps. As did this one. Ramblers emerge, unwinding like cats limbering up after being curled by a fireplace. Pleasantries are exchanged. Some are pre-prepped: jackets, gloves, boots and gators are on and finely clipped. They are “Ready-to-Ramble.”
Others, though not yet ensconced in full walking regalia, arrive no less prepared. Like bees buzzing around flowers, these individuals perambulate around the vehicles in which they have travelled, in unhurried fashion. Yet still maintaining a suitable air of urgency. They search for an appropriate perch from whence to comfortably attach their outstanding (sic) rambling footwear. And this is just how it was on this occasion.
Apparel on and suitably adjusted, gradually, small groups of two, three or four ramblers begin to gather together, forming small, multi-coloured clusters, seemingly exhibiting innumerable limbs because of the effect of flailing walking poles.
To the accompaniment of audible “blips” and orange winks, cars are locked down. Greetings are exchanged. Final checks are made. After a suitably polite, just-so period of time, a Walk Leader calls firmly for order. Some with volume, others with a quiet air of confidence and expectation of hushed attention. An explanation of varying length follows, setting out how the ramble will proceed. All very gentle and ordered. All very Ramblers-like.
Not so this time!
On this occasion, our designated gathering point was the Bracelet Bay car park. Things initially proceeded quite typically. A few grumbles could be heard that car-parking was a bit pricey. Moreover, that the 50p winter season discount was paltry and hardly worthwhile. To add insult to injury, the ticketing machine serving the top-end of the car park, where we had been asked to gather, was not dispensing tickets.
Like worker bees duly dispatched, individuals representing each vehicle proceeded, in more of a straggle than a stream, towards the lower end of the car park, wherefore to obtain the necessary authorisation. With time ticking on, it was at this point that the normally genteel nature of the start of a Ramble gave way to something else. Even from a distance, it was clear that events were not proceeding in orderly fashion.
Two small groups were, by now, circling agitatedly around the two ticketing machines. Word reached my ears—as I put on my second walking boot—that car registrations were required for the ticket. Realising that my car-sharing colleague would not know the registration of my vehicle, I leapt in and drove the 200 yards or so, down to the ticketing machine.
Frustration was palpable. It was in the air. One machine required vehicle registration…the other did not. This one had eaten a pound coin without any recognition of the deposited funds. Mutterings and sighs abounded. Blood pressure was rising. The air was turning ever so slightly blue.
At the other machine discontent was equally evident. People were edging back and forth. Some got on their knees in desperation. No, not for prayer. To key in their vehicle registration! O’s were confused for 0’s. The ticketing dispenser was silent and unobliging. More ‘smug teenager’ than ‘well-oiled machine.’
A quietly growling Mini—like some sort of left-over from the Italian Job—hovered in the space between the two machines. Ticket finally dispensed, it roared off—almost as though escaping from a bullion robbery. Back to join the chunter of Ramblers, gathered expectantly, if not discernibly impatiently, for a proper start to proceedings.
All in all, a very un-Rambler like start to a Ramble!
Car park authorisations now in place, the planned walk was liberated to proceed apace. It began with a gentle ascent, up Mumbles Hill, now a designated Nature Reserve. From here, we were immediately rewarded with clear, expansive views of Bae Abertawe (Swansea Bay).
A viewpoint (golygfan) information board helpfully picks out distant sights from across the bay, including Clyne Common, Clyne Gardens and Clyne Valley Country Park, Singleton Hospital and Park, the Lower Swansea Valley, Meridian Tower, Swansea Marina and Docks. It also suggests that llamhidydd yr harbwr (harbour porpoise), common dolphin and basking shark may be spotted by keen-eyed observers.
Close by, along the ridge, we encountered the first piler triongli (trig point) of the walk. Here, the Walk Leader explained the methodology of triangulation and the significance of trigonometric Bench Marks (BMs; no longer maintained by Ordinance Survey, following adoption of GPS survey methods) and the less well-known Fundamental Bench Marks (FBMs; still maintained by OS).
Trig point. A fixed surveying station, used in geodetic surveying. Officially: triangulation or trigonometrical station / pillar / point. Frequently shortened to trig station / beacon / point, or informally, “trig.”
Shortly after this, the walk passes by the defunct Safle Rheoli’r 623edd Fagnelfa Wrthawyrennol Drom (623rd Heavy Anti-Aircraft Command Post) nestled into the hillside.① At its zenith, the 623rd Battery consisted of 76 men of the Royal Artillery, 33 Home Guard and 86 women of the Auxiliary Territorial Service. It operated four 4.5 inch guns, adapted to fire 3.7-inch shells, which could go as high as 45,000 feet. The guns were used significantly during Swansea’s single heaviest air raid on 17 January 1941, forcing enemy aircraft to fly much higher than they would have preferred.
Over the next mile, the route descends from Mumbles Hill, via a maze of streets and lanes formed by tightly-packed houses, before emerging at the site of Oystermouth Castle.② A break for coffee was taken in the shadow of the castle. Before moving on, walk leader David continued the trigonometrical theme, briefly explaining the principles of Pythagoras’s theorem of the hypotenuse and how it could be applied to a calculation of the height of the castle.
Whilst acknowledging the superiority of Pythagoras’s method, a couple of us chose instead to use the well-known Construction Workers’ “rule of thumb”—i.e. “measuring” the walls against a thumb held up in the air, at arms length, first vertically, then horizontally, with one eye shut and the other squinting carefully, in the direction of the raised thumb, aided by a suitable degree of muttering. Using this tried and true method, we felt able to confidently estimate the height of the walls at 35-40 metres. Pythagoras was unavailable for comment.
For the next two or so miles the walk drops onto the sea-front promenade. A blue plaque, placed besides the pavement, pays homage to one Amy Dillwyn. Considered to be the world’s first female industrialist, she saved her family’s Zinc Spelter Works from massive bankcrupcy and returned it to prosperity. She was also an author, Town Councillor, President of Swansea Hospital, principal fund raiser for Cwmdonkin Convalescent Home, female emancipator, water-polo player and cigar smoker.
Shortly afterwards, the walk arrives at the second trig point of the walk, at Black Pill.④ Here several playground ramps provided our group with a suitable lunchtime perch. The beach and the stream that flows out of the Black Pill area is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, with large numbers of wading birds and a variety of gulls gathering regularly, according to the tide.
The walk returns along the promenade, with Mumbles Head beckoning tired walkers, from across the bay. The route then turns off to follow the Mumbles Road into the town centre. This brings it to site of a Grade II listed monument, the Prince’s Fountain.⑥ The fountain was originally erected in 1863 to commemorate the marriage of the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward (later Edward VII) and Princess Alexandra. The monument was restored in 1977 by the Mumbles and District Conservation Society.
Our walk then proceeded to encompass two other points of historical interest. Firstly, another Grade II listed “building” quite likely to be overlooked by anyone other than the keenest of observers.
On the junction of 704 Mumbles Road and Clifton Terrace, to the rear of the pavement, set against the wall of the house is a low, triangular boundary stone with a chamfered edge into the spine of which ‘Boundary’ is engraved. The faces are partly legible and read ‘Turnpike Road 1836’. It is a rare surviving Turnpike Trust boundary stone. Turnpike trusts were established to extract tolls from travellers, using the funds for road maintenance and improvement.
After this, we doubled-back for a few hundred metres in order to ascend up some steps and enter the church of All Saints Oystermouth, which in 2011 celebrated its 870th year of Christian worship.⑦ Even so, it is considered probable that a church existed there before the first recorded date of 1141. When the church building was being extended in 1860, workmen excavating the south side of the grounds found a tesselated Roman pavement (mosaic flooring), a sample of which is displayed inside the church.
All Saints is home to a number of beautiful stained glass windows. Perhaps most famous amongst them is the modern Lifeboat Window. Installed in 1977, the window commemorates the lost lives of the eight lifeboat crew who drowned attempting to rescue the stricken ship Samtampa, stranded on the rocks off Sker Point, Porthcawl in 1947 during a hurricane-force gale.
Another modern stained glass, St Christopher’s window, dedicated in 1982, celebrates the locality’s connection with the Mumbles Railway. It depicts St. Christopher and three different Mumbles trains — horse-powered, steam-driven and electric, as well as Oystermouth Castle and the Lighthouse.
After leaving the Church, the final mile of the walk is completed largely along the promenade, passing the Lifeboat Station and Pier, before ascending a set of steps to the car park where our walk began.