Christianity reached the Gower Peninsular in the early 5th century. At this time, Christians gathered for religious instruction and worship in open spaces. The early Christian instructors of the area are believed to have been missionary monks from Gaul and when these great leaders of the faith died, they were buried in the locations in which they had taught. These sites would then become sacred grounds where further Christian burials would be held. These early Christian graves were commemorated with stones inscribed by local stonesmiths and it is these stones which offer the historian the earliest physical evidence of Christian worship in the region. In later years, these sacred places were enclosed and small stone oratories, measuring some three square metres, were constructed within the perimeter.
The first churches to be constructed in Gower, very often upon these early sacred locations, were wooden in construction, the more familiar stone buildings not arriving in Gower until the later invasion of Anglo-Normans. Of these numerous Celtic period buildings, which spread right across the Wales, only one now remains across the whole of the Principality. This can be found amongst the ruined chapel on the small tidal islet of Burry Holmes.
As the Anglo-Normans settled on the peninsula, the more familiar village churches we recognise today were constructed, again mainly upon the already established Christian worship sites. Of these, only around half now remain standing. These stone churches bore thatched or tiled rooves and possessed saddlebacked towers whilst their earthen floors were covered with rushes. The walls of these building were plastered and decorated with simple illustrations of Bible stories. However, despite the Romantic air one now places upon these early churches, these were very simple buildings and afforded little comfort to their growing congregations.
With the arrival of The Victorian Age, Gower's churches received huge facelifts and, in some instances, complete reconstructions. Their early character was swept aside as little effort was taken to incorporate the old with the new. It is mostly the results of these later Victorian alterations that are viewed on Gower today.
To those familiar with historic churches, Gower's religious buildings may appear a little crude, looking as though they were designed by masons more familiar with building castles than fine examples of ecclesiastical architecture. Nearly all the churches here exhibit some form of military appearance. Their tower walls especially give these churches this air of fortification. Several are around a metre deep and possess arrow slit windows. These bulky exteriors were functional however, for as well as being constructed for spiritual worship, the churches were also designed to protect the gentry of the villages from any attack the Welsh armies might rain against their Anglo-Norman invaders.
Given Gower's history, it is perhaps unsurprising to find that many of the peninsula's churches witnessed troubled and intriguing histories. Walking around their ancient graveyards today is now a quiet affair for the visitor however. But whilst taking in the serene atmosphere these special and revered places now afford their guests, take a moment to reflect upon the many lives, eras and wars these places have stood witness to and survived. Gower's churches are truly places to respect as well as cherish and delight in.
Tens of thousands of tourists flock to the Gower Peninsula each summer. And without doubt, the greatest draw for these holiday makers to the area are Gower's succession of varied and spectacular beaches.
Within its rugged coastline, there are no less than 24 bays and sheltered coves, all of which can hold their own against any other British seaside destination.
From Swansea Bay, with its huge sweep of clean, flat sand, the coastline becomes ever more scenic and magnificent in its rich and natural beauty. From Mumbles, with its twin beaches of Bracelet Bay and Limeslade, the peninsula's famous limestone cliffs begin to dominate the landscape and a fine coastal walk develops from Limeslade to explore the wealth of its rocky terrain.
Rotherslade, Langland, and after a short distance further west, Caswell are amongst Gower's more popular bays. Though beautiful beaches, their huge popularity has developed from their closer proximity to Swansea. Some of Gower's more picturesque beaches demand abandoning the car and taking a hike over undemanding cliff land and through winding valley woodland. A good example of this can be found with Gower's next two beaches, Brandy Cove and Pwll Du. The remoteness of these coves have given this area an infamous history of smuggling and skullduggery and it is not difficult to imagine oneself in times long past, whilst exploring the wilderness of these quiet and romantic beaches.
Another brisk walk is required for the next clutch of bays, but the rewards offered for the walk along Pennard Cliffs (which are more than worthy of the trek itself) are beaches that rank among the peninsula's greatest. Fox Hole Bay, Pobbles Bay, Three Cliffs Bay and Tor Bay are distinct and separate beaches at mid to high tide, but at low tide lead from one to another in a glorious seaside walk all the way west to Oxwich Bay .
Oxwich Bay is another of Gower's more popular bays and possesses a large car park on its front. This makes this an excellent beach to visit for the young or elderly. Slade, Horton and Port Eynon are the next beaches on this tour westwards along Gower's coastline and their popularity is often twinned to that of Oxwich's. Again, a seafront car park makes this an ideal destination for the young and elderly, but Port Eynon is definitely more geared to the more family end of the holiday market. The beach possesses an array of shops selling buckets and spades and seaside gifts and candy.
The coastline here becomes increasingly wild and the beaches of Mewslade and Fall Bay both demand a long walk over some rough terrain before their delights can be savoured. Now as the Bristol Channel washed beaches give way to those defined by the strength of the Atlantic Ocean, what is arguably Gower's finest scene comes into view. Rhossili Bay has to be one of Europe 's most breathtaking beaches. A long walk down some steep steps is required to actually reach the sands, but the place is worth a visit just to take in the splendour of this bay. Words are simply not adequate to the task of describing this beach!
Llangennith Sands describes the northern half of Rhossili's huge length of sand and is a favourite haunt for surfers and water sports enthusiasts in general. From here, several coves crowd amongst rough limestone cliffs, all of which can only be visited at low tide and of which Burry Holmes Beach and Blue Pool Bay are probably the most popular.
Gower's last two bays both offer long stretches of clean, golden sands. Broughton Bay is the most popular of the two given that the dunes leading to the beach host a large camping site. Whiteford Sands is a very quiet bay requiring a long walk, it is often overlooked by tourists yet it offers its visitors a spectacular stretch of beach which, even on the hottest of summer days hosts only a handful of sun worshippers.
Gower's earliest castles were constructs of earth and timber, built upon the steepest aspects of hills and coastal promontories. There, the natural geogaphy of the land often provided as much of a defence to villages as the fortifications themselves. Most remains of Gower's Iron Age Hillforts date from around the 6th Century A.D. and evidence of their quite large scale can still be easily traced in the numerous mounds and ditches on many of the peninsula's larger hilltops.
However, by the 12th Century A.D. the increasing sophistication and weaponry employed by invading armies found these earth and timber hillforts desperately wanting and none stood any real chance of succesfully defending their occupants against the cruel onslaught of the Normans. After much bloody and vicious battles, Gower untimately fell under Norman occupancy and these conquering armies built around their new settlements stone castles to protect themselves from any future local uprisings.
The common practise of Normans builders was to construct their castles using the 'motte and bailey' method. This consisted of a mound (motte), upon which a wooden keep would be erected. This would then be surrounded by a flat area (bailey), which in turn would be defended by a ditch or bank. Gower's Norman castles differ from the norm in that they were constructed using the less common 'ringwork' method. Although similar to the 'motte and bailey' method, Gower's castles were designed to take full advantage of the natural landscape to further the defensive potential for their buildings. Particularly fine examples of this design can be seen at Pennard Castle and Weobley Castle.
Such was the strength of Norman rule and the effectiveness of their castles that it is was not until the early 15th Century that a Welsh rebellion, led by Owain Glyndwr, finally managed to liberate Gower from their occupation. Gower's castles were ransacked and brought to ruin in celebration of the Norman defeat at this time - with only Weobley and Oxwich Castles (which were never really more than fotrified manor houses) continuing to be occupied thereafter.
The Gower Peninsula is an ancient landscape that has preserved much of its history for the visitor to explore today. As well as Norman Castles, there are also the later fortified manors. Most of these are open to the public during summer months (for a small entrance fee) but those that remain closed throughout the year - like Penrice Castle - are still worth visiting, if only to admire their magnificent structures from the outside.
Medieval history is perhaps best represented on the penisula by its numerous Churches - some of which are truly awe-inspiring in their sylvan settings. Several of Gower's Churches are open to the public whilst others can be privately viewed.
Gower's more ancient history manifests itself in the form of megalithic and Neolithic monuments, such as North Gower's secretive standing stones and the impressive prehistoric burial constructions of Arthur's Stone, Giant's Grave and the Sweyne Howes .
Less noticeable, but equally worth a visit, are the numerous hill fort remains which occupy many of the larger hill tops on the Gower Peninsula. Whilst all that can be traced of these early Gower monuments are earthen mounds and ditches, these sites also afford some of the grander vistas available in the area.
Located in the very heart of the beautiful Gower Peninsula, Kennexstone Camping and Caravan Park affords the opportunity of exploring a wide variety of indigenous wildlife. Despite its relatively small size, nearly every British environmental habitat can be found within its rugged coastline, making Gower a haven to both the naturalist and the casual holidaymaker with an interest in wildlife. To help visitor's to our campsite get the most from their stay, Kennexstone Camping and Caravan Park has produced a guide, illustrating both the variety of flora and fauna found on the peninsula and also the best locations to view the various species highlighted.
Gower villages each have their own unique character and all are worth a visit during a stay in the area. The nearest village to our camp site is Llangennith. This, like most of the Gower villages, has a friendly pub which serves delicious food as well as a wide variety of refreshments. Other villages on the peninsula include: