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, Gower and the Vale of Neath Attractions
Details of Swansea's history and industrial past can be found at the National Waterfront Museum, in refurbished waterfront warehouses, where a 600 berth marina is located. 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 Maritime and Industrial Museum on the Quay. You can watch garments being made on an 1840 great spinning wheel, then buy them later in the gift shop.
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 and nickel, gold, silver, arsenic and cobalt refining, as well as 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.
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. 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 are now part of a large plaza, which contains a cascading waterfall, making for a pleasant picnic spot on a sunny day.
The Swansea Market, located in the city centre, is well worth a visit. Fresh fish, local cheeses, vegetables, pies, and cockles and laverbread are available. Pick up a picnic and go for a walk or bike ride along scenic Swansea Bay-a five-mile waterfront path. Plantasia is another attraction in the city. It contains 1000 varieties of rare and unusual plants in a tropical glasshouse environment.
Dylan Thomas, one of Wales' most famous writers, was born in Swansea. The Dylan Thomas Centre has a year round program of literary events with 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, further out from the city centre, are in bloom with rhododendrons and azaleas in the spring. Attractive paths skirt a stream and hillside; there are treed and open areas. The Singleton Gardens feature collections of magnolias, camellias, and a famous rhododendron collection. Collections of iris, dahlias, chrysanthemums, sweet peas, carnations, asters, delphiniums, and penstemons present a colourful show. Thereís a tropical house and a temperate one.
The Vale of Neath is a narrow valley with steep wooded hills and waterfalls. The 80-ft waterfall at Resolven is worth a visit as is the one at Aberdulais. Nearby are the restored and preserved remains of an industrial site. The Cefn Coed Colliery Museum tells the story of the former coalmine, the world's deepest. A working sawmill and museum are located at Seven Sisters' Museum along with 18th century woodworking machinery.
Neath is an industrial town at the foot of the Vale of Neath. Like Swansea, copper work polluted the air and landscape. Huge oil refineries now dominate the area. The Cistercian Neath Abbey was founded in the early 12th century, at the same time as the castle (little remains), but was rebuilt in the 14th and 17th centuries. Later a mansion was built in part of the Abbey. The Abbey's remains are discoloured by the many years of copper smelting.
The Gower Peninsula is accessed by travelling south through the city of Swansea. Oystermouth is a small village in the Mumbles area, the most populated spot on the Gower peninsula. Itís reached by a walk and cycle way from Swansea as well as a road. The village became popular in Victorian times. It caters to tourists with eateries, entertainment, shops, and places to stay. There is a scenic walk leading from the village to the top of the hill behind it. Oystermouth Castle, on the hilltop, is an early Norman keep. It guarded the landward approach to the peninsula and became a popular subject with Georgian and Victorian artists.
The southern and western coasts of Gower consist of dramatic cliffs interspersed with sandy beaches - Oxwich Bay is a popular large sandy beach with dunes and cliffs that are a national nature reserve. The limestone Pennard cliffs, a National Trust property, begin at Three Cliffs (west) and end at Pwll Du Head (east). There are walks along the coastline.
Near Three Cliffs Bay is Penmaen Old Castle, a 12th century earthwork, Penmaen Megalithic Tomb, and Old Church - remains consist of only a stone wall, but supposedly a whole village is buried under the sands. Surfing, sailing, walking, and fishing are popular sports on the peninsula.
The most famous beach on the Gower is Rhossili Sands on the western coast at the end of the Gower peninsula. A path leads from the village of Rhossili to the former Coast Guard cottage perched on the clifftop. The islet of Wormís Head, at landís end is the 6th most photographed sunset in the world.
This small but scenic peninsula is home to many historic churches. There's an old mill and other interesting exhibits and historic information at the Gower Heritage Centre at Parkmill. Nearby the prehistoric burial site of Parc le Breos chambered tomb is one of several on the Gower.
The peninsula is also the site of several castle ruins. Above the Llwchwr estuary stands dramatic Weobley Castle, erected by the powerful de la Bere family in the early 14th century. More fortified manor than castle, Weobley was expanded in the 15th century and provided with a tall, arched entry. Visitors can ascend to the solar, or lord's private chamber. Above Oxwich Bay is the 16th century mansion of Oxwich Castle. Built on earlier medieval foundations, the mansion is built in two ranges about a courtyard.
The Gower is well known for its fresh seafood, and there are a number of excellent restaurants. Cockles are harvested on the northern shore at the village of Penclawdd, site of the small Penclawdd Shellfish Factory, which can be visited. Phone first for directions and to check on times.
For opening times and full details of attractions see the Attractions section of our website.
1940s Swansea Bay Museum
Elba Crescent,Crymlyn Burrows, Swansea
Tel. 0 1792 458 864
Web: 1940s Swansea Bay
Three miles north-east of Neath on the A4109
Tel. 0 1639 636 674
Carn Llechart stone circle
Near Rhyd-y-Fro, West Glamorgan on A470
Cefn Coed Colliery Museum
On A4109, Neath Rd; near Crynant, Glamorgan
Tel. 0 1639 750 556
Black Pill; south of Swansea, Glamorgan
On the A4067
Tel. 0792 401 737
For photos and more details see our article Clyne Gardens and Singleton Park
Cowbridge Roman military site
On the A48
Crymlyn Bog & Pant y Sais National Nature Reserve
Visitor centre car park, off the A483 near Swansea
Dylan Thomas Centre
Somerset Place, Swansea
Tel. 0 1792 463 980
Fonman Castle and Gardens
Rhoose, Barry, on the A4226/A4050
Tel. 0 1446 710 206
Glynn Vivian Art Gallery
Alexandra Rd, Swansea
Tel. 0 1792 516 900
Gnoll Estate and gardens
Neath, Glamorgan; on the A465
Tel. 0 1639 635 808
Gower Heritage Centre and Mill
Off the A4118, near Parkmill, Gower Peninsula
Tel. 0 1792 371 206
For photos and more details see our article Parc Le Breos Mill on the Gower
Minor road northwest Porthcawl, Glamorgan (A4229/M4)
Llanblethian, just south of Cowbridge, Glamorgan, on the A48
Loughor, west Glamorgan; at A484 and A4240 junction
Loughor Roman Fort
On the edge of Swansea
Margam, in Margam Park, by Port Talbot
On the A48/M4
Port Talbot, Glamorgan; off junction 38, M4
Margam Stones Museum
In early schoolhouse by Margam Abbey church, Port Talbot
Tel. 0 1639 871 184 (Wed and Fri only)
Mumbles Rd, Mumbles, Swansea
Tel. 0 1792 365 200
For photos and more details see our article The Gower Peninsula
Web: Mumbles Pier
National Waterfront Museum
Oystermouth Road, Maritime Quarter, Swansea city
Tel. 0 1792 638 950
For photos and more details see our article National Waterfront Museum
Web: National Waterfront Museum
5 miles north-east of Swansea, West Glamorgan, by the A465
Tel. 0792 812 387
By a carpark in the town of Neath
Off the A465/A474
The Gwyn Hall, Orchard St, Neath, Glamorgan, on the A474
Tel. 0 1639 645 726
Neath Roman Fort
Neath, W. Glamorgan
Oxwich, south-west of Swansea; off the A4118
Tel. 0 1792 390 359
Mumbles, on the A4067; at head of the Gower peninsula
For photos and more details see our article Oystermouth Castle
Parc le Breos prehistoric site
Gower Peninsula, south-west of Swansea
Reached by footpath .5 mile south of Parkmill
On the A4118, Gower peninsula overlooking Oxwich Bay
Gower peninsula, off the A4118; on private land, viewed from footpath
Parc Tawe, Swansea
Tel. 0 1792 474 555
Singleton Park and Gardens
Tel. 0 1792 298 637
For photos and more details see our article Clyne Gardens and Singleton Park
South Wales Minersí Museum
Afan Forest Park, near Cymmer, West Glamorgan, on A4107
Tel. 0 1639 851 833
Web: South Wales Minersí Museum
St Cadoc Church
1.5 miles past Britannia Inn, Llanmadoc, Gower Peninsula
St Cattwg Church
Port Eynon, Gower Peninsula; on the A4118
St Ceyndd Church
Llangennith, on minor road; western end of Gower Peninsula
St David (Llandewi) Church
Knelston, Gower Peninsula; off the A4118
St George's Church
Reynoldston, Gower Peninsula, on minor road
St Illtyd Church
Oxwich, Gower Peninsula
St Illtyd Church
Ilston, Parkmill, Gower Peninsula
On minor road between B4271 and A4118
St Madoc Church
Llanmadoc, one mile past the Britannia Inn
On minor road on west end of Gower Peninsula
St Mary Church
Pennard, Gower Peninsula; on the B4436
St Mary Church
Rhossili, south-west end of Gower Peninsula; on the B4247
St Nicholas Church
Nicholaston, Gower Peninsula; on the A4118
St Rhidian and St Illtyd
Llanrhidian, Gower Peninsula; on the B4271
On minor road at Bishopton, Gower Peninsula; off the B4436
Swansea city centre
B4271 or B4295 to Llanrhidian village
Then by minor road
Tel. 0 1792 390 012
Photos courtesy Visit Wales as follows:
Swansea marina; Swansea market; Dylan Thomas statue; Three Cliffs on Gower.
Photos courtesy Swansea City and County as follows:
National Waterfront Museum; Swansea Bay; Dylan Thomas Centre.
Photos courtesy Cadw as follows:
Swansea castle; Wormís Head sunset.
Photos courtesy Geograph Britain and Ireland as follows:
National Maritime Museum ship model and Wind St by Colin Smith; Aberdulais falls and Neath castle by Chris Shaw; Cefn Coed Colliery Museum by Nigel Davies; Neath Abbey by Mick Lobb.
Other photos by Barbara Ballard
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