Pennard, or Penard as some people title the locale, is the name generally given to the geographical area that includes the large village of Southgate (population 2000), and over 3 kilometres of National Trust cliffland stretching from Pwlldu to Three Cliffs. Included in its boundary are the medieval remains of a castle, and excavated Romano-British fort, remnants of a village that was entirely abandoned in the early 16th Century and some of the finest bone caves on the whole of the Gower Peninsula.
The entire area here, as might well be expected with such a history, is also rich in folklore and legends and is as famous for its tales of fairies and ghosts and smuggling as it is for its fascinating archeological finds and monuments. Its natural history, also, is as varied and splendid as any other spot in Gower and boasts the fact that it is one of only two sites in the whole of Britain where the Yellow Whitlow Grass, Draba aizoides, grows wildly. The other site, also on the Gower Peninsula, is at Mewslade.
The first points of interest in Pennard are located on the cliff top overlooking Three Cliffs and Oxwich. The predominate feature here is the gently rolling grassland of the large golf course, which must offer the best scenery of any golf club in the country. Luckily, there are several public footpaths that cross this immaculately kept course and, keeping to these, the ruins of both the abandoned medieval village and Pennard Castle are easily reached.
The original village and church were founded here but both had to be deserted in the early 16th Century because of the gradual encroachment of sand that had begun as early as the beginning of the 14th Century. Unfortunately, there is only scant evidence of this early village remaining today. Taking the approach across the golf course towards the picturesque cliff top ruin of Pennard Castle, a low, rather ramshackled wall is all that remains of the early church of St. Mary. Much of this building was removed to be incorporated into the new church when the village as a whole was relocated further inland. This, and the holy well located beneath the castle, which is said to have curative properties, are the sole remains of what was a large and flourishing village community.
Rounding the cliff top, past Pennard Castle and the majestic sweep of Three Cliffs valley and bay, the spectacular stretch of limestone at Pennard Cliffs is reached. Within its length of 3.22km are a whole string of significant bone caves, with two of them in particular probably being the finest example of these archeological sites on the entire peninsula.
For those not wishing to undertake the sometimes steep clamber down the cliffs to explore these wonderful caves, Pennard Cliffs offer an excellent cliff top walk with fine views over the Bristol Channel. Culminating on the cliffs of Pwlldu Head, some 85 metres above the sea, are the earth remains of High Pennard Promontory Fort.
Excavated in 1939 by Audrey Williams, the site yielded many interesting discoveries. The site resides within 0.4 hectares of land and was occupied in the late 1st and 2nd Centuries AD during the time of the Roman occupation of Britain. The excavation centered on the inner rampart of the fort where the remains of a timber gateway and guard hut were uncovered at the entrance of the site. A gully, cut into the rock, was also discovered and was found to have been used to channel water down into a pit where it was collected as drinking water. Other finds at the site included animal bones, shellfish remains, pottery and fragments of glass and a clay spindle-whorl that indicates that weaving took place here. This item can now be viewed at Swansea Museum.
Whilst looking over the Bristol Channel, it is interesting to note that somewhere beneath the waves here is the grave of a World War II German bomber - seen to hit here on the night of August 27th 1940, after taking a direct hit from heavy anti-aircraft fire. It's crew of four escaped alive and were later picked up by a naval patrol vessel.
With a tour of Pennard Cliffs complete, a rewarding walk can be undertaken further inland towards Pennard Church and the farms of Great and Little Highway, once the centre of Gower's great smuggling history.