City by the Sea
In 1700, Swansea was a small village of only 300 people clustered around a medieval castle. Today, the port city is Wales second largest with close to a quarter of a million people.
Swansea Castle, in the city centre, was built in the late 13th early 14th centuries by the de Braose lords of Gower, William II and William III, and their descendant, John Mowbray, added to it.
In the late 18th century it became, for a while, a debtor’s prison. The ruins of the castle—note the arcaded parapet—are now part of a large plaza, which contains a cascading waterfall, making for a pleasant picnic spot on a sunny day.
In medieval times Swansea’s nearby coal deposits were mined. With industrialization in the 1800’s, Swansea boomed as a coal producing and shipping area.
But it was copper smelting that added the finishing touch to the area’s environment as ships from around the world brought copper here for processing. The atmosphere soon became polluted with acid, damaging the land and ending the agriculture in the area.
Interestingly, sailors from Swansea sailed all the way to Chile and back, trading copper. The trip took more than a year, and those who survived were known as the Swansea Cape Horners. To be called a Cape Horner was the highest accolade a seaman could earn, and Swansea boasted more “Horners” than any other British port.
Tinplate production, nickel, gold, silver, arsenic and cobalt refining and lead smelting were other industries in the valley area. Fortunately, most of this industry closed down by the end of the 19th century. Unfortunately, the valley was changed forever.
The second disaster to hit Swansea was the Blitz of 1941, when 3 days of German bombs, aimed at destroying the waterfront docks, reduced most of the Victorian city centre to rubble. A few individual buildings—among them the Swansea Grand Theatre—escaped.
By some quirk of fate an entire street, Wind Street, was left intact. The street dates back to medieval times, when it served as the town's main thoroughfare. Today there are pubs, cafes and restaurants lining the street. The No Sign Pub is one of the oldest buildings in town.
The Swansea Market, located in the city centre, is well worth a visit. Fresh fish, local cheeses, vegetables, pies, and cockles and laverbread (more on these in another article) are available. Pick up a picnic.
You can enjoy scenic views of Swansea Bay along the five-mile waterfront path which has a special cycling lane.
Details of Swansea’s history and industrial past can be found at the National Maritime Museum, in refurbished waterfront warehouses. The Museum features vintage and antique motor vehicles, historic boats and ships and the industrial and maritime history of the city. Neath Abbey Woolen Mill is at the Museum on the Quay. You can watch garments being made on an 1840 great spinning wheel, then buy them later in the gift shop.
Dylan Thomas, one of Wales’ most famous writers, was born in Swansea. The Dylan Thomas Centre has a year round program of literary events and a restaurant. There is a room of Thomas memorabilia, books about, and by, the poet and an AV program. A festival is held in the fall, and there is a city trail of landmarks associated with his early life.
The Clyne Gardens: In the spring there are rhododendrons and azaleas in bloom. Attractive paths skirt a stream and hillside; there are treed and open areas. You will need to take a bus or bike from the city centre or walk along the waterfront—about 25 minutes.
Plantasia: 1000 varieties of rare and unusual plants in a tropical glasshouse environment. Located in the city.
The Maritime Quarter, where the Museum is located, has a 600 berth marina. The beautiful Gower Peninsula hangs on the end of Swansea Bay.
The Grand Theatre holds many national productions, and it is home to the Pavlov ballet in the UK. The Taliesin Arts Centre at the university is a highly respected arts venue.
From London’s Paddington Station take the First Great Western Railway, a through service that runs every hour.
From other areas to Swansea:
Virgin Trains; website: Virgin Trains
Also try Wales and West
For area bus information: First Cymru
National Express Coaches travel to Swansea from London.
By Car: M4 Motorway
Swansea Tourism is located on Plymouth St.
Tel. 01792 468321
Email: Swansea Tourism
Website: Swansea Council and Visit Swansea Bay
Photos courtesy Wales Tourist Board, Swansea Council and Tourism and Swansea Cam
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