The three miles of golden sand at Rhossili on the Gower Peninsula regularly features in top ten lists of best beaches. This year alone it has been voted the number one beach in Wales, third best in the UK and 25th in Europe. I can see why. But, and I will whisper this, perfect sandy beaches just don’t do it for me. I don’t swim, sunbathe or surf. I need something else to hold my attention.
So it’s fortunate that, at the southern end of the beach, there’s a fabulous tidal island that’s right up my street. Let me introduce the rockpools, cliffs and wildlife of Worm’s Head.
But, first, a word about the name. The Vikings named the promontory ‘wurm’ which translates to dragon. Not worm. I guess that with a little imagination the green summits do resemble a serpent’s back.
Crossing the causeway
The large National Trust car park for Rhossili beach is about 20 minutes walk from Worm’s Head causeway. From the car park it’s a surfaced track almost as far as the volunteer run coastwatch station.
From the headland there’s a short scrambly section to get down onto the causeway which links to the island. Worm’s Head is accessible for 2.5 hours before and after low tide; there’s a large notice advising the safe crossing times so there’s no excuse for strandings. If you’re tempted to race the tide the small coastwatch station has a tally notice in the window advising of the number of rescues. Don’t add to the numbers!
Crossing the causeway takes about 20 minutes assuming you’re not distracted by the rock pools. We delayed our rock pooling until the return journey so soon reached Inner Head, the first section of Worm’s Head. The entire island is about a mile long; Inner Head is joined to Outer Head, by Low Neck. I guess the Vikings had exhausted their imagination after naming the island.
We hadn’t been organised enough to make a picnic but fortunately we’d bought some sandwiches in Rhossili. The sandwiches were surprisingly good although I think a combination of sea air, fabulous views and rumbling tummies contributed to our enjoyment. We ate our sandwiches, enjoying the view, and discovered that the people staying next to us in the campsite were sitting only a few steps away. Great minds.
After lunch we faced the first climb of the day to the summit of Inner Head. Although quite a steep hill it was relatively short and once over the top we were treated to a panoramic view of the serpent in all its glory.
As we dropped down to Low Neck we took a slight detour to peer over the cliffs at the grey seals below. A couple were swimming lazily in the sea, another huge one was laying on the rocks, seemingly oblivious to the humans above them taking photographs.
The most exciting part of the route came next, clambering across the jagged teeth of Low Neck. OK they were only rocks. But surprisingly fierce ones; I still have one of the bruises! There are a few hand on rock moments and god forbid if you’re trying to cross in Crocs (as I saw one lady wearing). The big positive is, in dry conditions at least, the rocks are very grippy. This section can take some time to negotiate so do bear this in mind if the tide is turning.
My geology knowledge is basic but even I could appreciate the different strata and faults in the rocks. However my eyes glaze over at the mention of wave cut platforms, carboniferous limestone and calcite veins; suffice to say they all feature on Worm’s Head.
Devil’s Bridge is the remains of a collapsed sea cave. One day it too will fall into the sea. Until then it’s one of the most photographed features on the island. The best photographs are obtained by scrambling down towards the sea, probably not for the faint hearted.
The crossing itself is straightforward and nowhere near as airy as I expected, but then again I didn’t attempt to look down. I might have changed my mind if I took a moment to peer over the edge.
A little further on we came across a cave window, perfectly framed for a photograph out to sea. If you’ve come this far with children be warned there’s a sheer drop off the cliff on the other side of the window!
At the bottom of Outer Head there’s a notice advising of nesting birds and asking visitors to keep to the marked path. We didn’t go any further as we’d left the teens at Devil’s Bridge and I had visions of them scaling cliffs or (more likely) arguing.
Instead we stopped and watched the seabirds for a while. Guillemots and razorbills whirling and diving around the cliffs. I looked in vain for puffins but to no avail.
We took an alternative return route, keeping low and circling around the hill, enjoying the waves of pink sea thrift that lined the path edge.
Back at Devil’s Bridge the kids were still on speaking terms and had been taking photographs of each other messing around on the bridge. I’m glad I wasn’t around to watch them do this. My parenting survival gene may have kicked in!
Rock pooling on the causeway
The second highlight of the day, after Low Neck, was rock pooling on our return journey.
I love rock pools. The ones on the Worm’s Head causeway were fascinating; I could easily have spent all of low tide mooching around them. They were teeming with creatures; anemones, hermit crabs, shrimps, dog whelks and seaweeds to name but a few. Some of the rocks were completely covered in mussels and barnacles making it impossible to avoid standing on them. And sometimes the weird and wonderful shapes of the rocks alone were enough to make me stand and stare.
Despite the tide being out I still managed to get wet feet. I can only blame the sun reflecting off the water for my decision to walk through a large pool. My trainers and socks got soaked through so it didn’t matter when I did it again a few minutes later. Fortunately it was a warm day and I managed to forget how wet my feet were before the family stopped laughing at me.
The final part of our journey took us back to Rhossili for a well deserved ice cream. And several water bottle refills at the NT shop. The day had turned out much warmer than we’d planned for!
- The National Trust owns the land around Rhossili and Worm’s Head. Car parking is free to NT members or £5 for the day for non-members. There are no facilities on Worm’s Head.