Category Archives: Wales

Making waves

A few weeks ago I went on a walk along the southern side of Gower. The sky was full of heavy cloud and there were small glimpses of better weather in the distance.

This coastal wander was dominated by the soundtrack of the sea and in particular the waves. At different spots you could tune in to the repetitive and reassuring sound of the waves lapping against the limestone cliffs or the tidy little beaches. Sometimes the sound was very faint and it was a bit like when you’re listening out for the claps of thunder when you’re counting the length of time between the bangs.

Hunts Bay on Gower as the waves gently lap against the beach

Hunts Bay on Gower as the waves gently lap against the beach

As we joined the old route into Swansea – a kind of cross between a footpath and drovers lane – you could hear the waves before you could see the coastline. The small wood either side of the path was filled with the sweet melodies of birdsong and as you descended from the hill-side the sound of the sea grew in intensity and clarity. And then through an opening you reached a beach – littered with stones from the old quarry. Hunts Bay is a sheltered little spot and the waves sounded just like you’d imagine waves would always sound.

Arriving at a beach like this took me back to the days of GCSE geography. This small bay with its stones and little summit before falling away into the sea is a lovely spot.

When on the beach I recorded the sounds of the waves. The full-on sound of the waves on with the direct impact on the sand and stones and then also the sounds from a sheltered spot next to the limestone cliffs. There was a clear difference in the sounds of the waves even though they were only a matter of metres apart.

For World Listening Day (Saturday 18 July) this year (the theme is water) as part of the sounds of our shores project we want as many people as possible to record the sounds of waves at noon. This will create a lovely snapshot, a kind of sonic postcard, of how waves sound and what differences that there might be. It will be interesting to see how the size of the stones affects the sounds of the waves or the nature of where the beach is – it might be a big open flat beach or a small narrow beach surrounded by sand dunes.

The sound of waves are so intrinsically linked to the sounds of our shores. There is something timeless and comforting about that sound as you first reach the coast – whether to spend a family day at the beach or walking along a coastal cliff.


Creating coastal corridors

Walking between Port Isaac and Port Quin on the rugged north Cornish coast is pretty special. A landscape battered and sculpted by the sea this undulating walk is part of the South West Coast Path that meanders 630 miles through four counties.

And yet go beyond the tourist hot spot that is the South West of England and the opportunity to wander our majestic coast is limited. That’s why the ambition to open up the whole of the coast of England is so important and the lessons from Wales show the benefits that it can bring.

Championed for years by the Ramblers and now enshrined in an Act of Parliament, passed in 2009, a footpath around the coastline of England, would link many of the jewels of this beautiful coast.

There is a need for the new Government to back the commitment made by the coalition, and the Deputy PM, Nick Clegg, back in September 2014 to deliver this by the end 2020. This means committing money and resource to allow Natural England to help deliver this exciting and ambitious project.

The Wales coastal footpath opened back in 2012, the first of its kind in the world, has made great strides in giving people access to hundreds of miles of shoreline rich in nature, archaeological and epic beauty. This is giving people the chance to see their coast anew and generating much needed income for coastal communities.

Over the Irish sea in Northern Ireland, the journey to create a footpath along its coastline is just beginning and would be a real boon for the tourist industry. I’ve been to Northern Ireland three times and its coastline is spectacular.

The Great Orme, 12/05/15. Photograph Richard Williams 07901518159

The Great Orme where the National Trust has bought Parc Farm and the wider grazing rights for this wildlife paradise. Picture: Richard Williams

Our history, cultural and the story of our nations has been shaped by the sea. In the last 50 years the National Trust’s Neptune Coastline Campaign has saved, thanks to a people-powered and very British revolution, hundreds of miles of coast; something that it still alive and kicking as seen by the announcement today that the Trust has bought a farm on the wildlife paradise that is the Great Orme in north Wales.

The next part of our coastal story needs to look at how we can create the space for people and nature. There is a need to look at the idea of coastal corridors, where footpaths can be moved as the coast changes and we can look to move habitats for nature. This would truly revolutionise our relationship with the coast.

Wandering along the coast

We’re fast approaching the beginning of a mass migration on these islands.

Every Easter marks the start of an exodus to the coast. The two week break when the schools are off sees a huge movement of people via road and rail to the seaside. Traffic jams and delayed trains don’t dampen our spirits with the coastline in reach.

Yes people visit the coast all year round but there is something symbolic about going to the coastline at this time of the year. The clocks will have changed (giving you that precious extra hour of daylight) and spring has sprung (or is nearly there) as nature comes alive in all of its colourful glory.

Taking the sea air has become a bit of a national obsession since Victorian times. There is definitely something so refreshing about going to the coast that helps to de-stress us and makes us feel alive.

Pretty much all my life I’ve been going to the coastline. Like millions of other Brits I love to paddle in the sea and feel the sand between my toes. 

But there is something pretty special about going on a coastal walk. We’re so lucky to have some of the most beautiful coastline in the world.

The opening up of the coastal footpath around the Welsh coast was a world first. Its created a chance to literally wander for hundreds of miles, exploring some of the jewels of the British coastline such as Rhossili and Barafundle – owned by the National Trust.

And in the South West of England a footpath follows the drama of a coast from Dorset all the way round to Somerset. I can’t get enough of spending time clambering up and down hills along this coast or stumbling across a cove or little estuary. The region for me is defined by its coast and the two big cities – Bristol and Plymouth – have been shaped by the sea. We also now have the promise that we will have a footpath around the coast of England by 2020.

Walking along a coast gives you a deep sense of the topography and the rich history of our shoreline. You can travel through geological time, stop off at pubs hemmed in against a narrow strip of land or get a sense of the military back story of our coastline over the centuries.

In barely a few generations the coast has gone from a place of work and often fear (invasion, pirates) to a place of leisure; a place that we have become so familiar with by walking its contours.

This Easter if you’re visiting the coast see how your connection with the seaside blossoms through your footsteps. Take the time to stop and soak up this sensory experience – the sights, the sounds, the smells and taste. You’ll see the coast anew, I can assure you.

Life’s a beach

This week Trip Advisor released a list of the best twenty five beaches in the UK. We are spoilt for choice on these beautiful islands with some of the best beaches anywhere in the world.

Rhossili on Gower is a must for anyone that loves a beach

Rhossili on Gower is a must for anyone that loves a beach

Four of the beaches on the list are places I know well – three of them owned by the National Trust (Godrevy, Rhossili and Barafundle). They’re all pretty different but resonate in terms of what makes a good beach.

Top of my pops would be Barafundle in Pembrokeshire (number 14 on the list). We spent a day on this beautiful beach last summer. My memory from that day is swimming in the cold August water and feeling so alive and refreshed; an experience you can’t put into words. And the kids loved the sand dunes slipping and sliding over them. This beach could be in the south of France and I remember taking a relative from Australia there and she was blown away by it.

Then there is Porthminster in St Ives (number 5 on the list). One of four beaches in this wonderful Cornish town. What a beach. Not that big but a great spot. We spent many an hour body boarding and jumping into waves last summer. On the penultimate day before we left for week two in Wales, we were on the beach alone before 9am as the cold morning air swept in. Hot chocolates were the order of the day.

Across the bay from Porthminster is Godrevy (number 22 on the list). A classic Cornish beach, ideal for surfing and where the tide races in. The rock pools are great and the low beach is a great atmospheric place what ever the weather. Its a beach to blow away the cobwebs and feel the full force of the Atlantic: magical.

And last but not least is the majestic Rhossili on Gower (number 3 on the list). What a beach. Every time I visit it I’m blown away. Three miles of pure golden sand, steep downland and a sense of total connection with seas. Standing on the footpath to Worms Head and looking along the beach has to be one of the best views in Western Europe!

All of these beaches reflect something really deep for us Brits: that strong and lifelong connection with the sea. We need the sea and the feeling of the sand between our toes. Its what defines us and has shaped our identify.

They are places to dream, they are places to switch off and they are places to play and have fun.