It is sheer delight from the moment I walk out the door of the one-up one-down cottage known as The Slope. In May, the house martins fly right past carrying food to the youngsters in the coal shed; while the clematis and honeysuckle flowers on the fence provide a safe nesting site for blackbirds. A few yards more and the still pond at Mewslade View is home to beautiful blue iris. The field is covered in lush grass with blossoming plantains; this is the field that is mowed for the Caravan Club visitors to park. Beyond, a flock of sheep clear Nitten’s Field for a re-seeding of wild flowers that will supply food for migrating birds. This year there will be extra red poppy flowers planted to commemorate the centenary of World War I.
The boundary between the private land of Nitten’s Field and Mewslade valley is marked by a stile made of driftwood. From this point you can see right down into the steep-sided dry valley that leads to the sea and Mewslade Bay. The shape of the valley is partly due to it lying along a geological fault line, and partly due to quarrying activities in times gone past. Once the stile is negotiated, you are on public footpaths that lead in various directions. – the coastal path that follows the cliff tops in both directions along the southern shore of the Gower peninsula; back up the valley to the village of Middleton; or down the slope to the bottom of the valley and the beach. The scree-covering on the lower slopes is the result of peri-glacial activity. Access to the shore is via a narrow rocky fault gully but only at low tide as the sea comes right up the gully at many high tides.
If you arrive too early to get on the beach because of the tide, you can walk around the valley sides finding wild flowers and exploring the small caves high up the slopes. From a high vantage point looking east, you can see the dipping rock strata beneath Thurba Head. Looking in the other direction towards Fall Bay, Tears Point, and Worms Head, the high-tide waves lap the jagged dark rocks that project into the sea – Carboniferous limestone with numerous pits created by bio-erosion into a karstic landscape.
The ripping and tearing of the rocks along the fault-line has created some very interesting geology at the gully, with many rock types embedded in white crystalline calcite. This fault breccia can be seen in the solid rock of the gully and in large boulders on the ground. The force of the pounding sea has worked away over the years to carve out interesting tunnels, arches, caves, and blow holes around the entrance to the bay.
As the tide begins to recede, you can see small seashore creatures that cling to the rocks – invertebrates like limpets, barnacles and small periwinkles taking advantage of every nook and cranny.
When at last the tide ebbs, you can get onto the beach. This shore has seen dramatic changes in preceding months. By May this lovely family-friendly sandy beach was recovering nicely after seriously strong seas whipped all the sand away in the first few months of the year. At that time there was nothing but a jagged rocky platform, with a revelation of strata and fossils that most people had not seen before in their lifetime. It wasn’t an altogether unique event for Mewslade – it has been recorded before – but it was a rare circumstance. Mewslade was not alone in suffering this albeit temporary fate. Beaches along many British coasts were severely eroded. Many, like Mewslade, have recovered but some have been changed for ever.
Where the sand has not quite reached its former levels, a white band of crystalline calcite remains exposed at the base of one of the bio-eroded limestone cliffs. Across the shore, numerous rocks with fantastical sculptural shapes are scattered – their forms resembling the peaks and troughs of whipped meringue or cake frosting. Some of these rocks contain fossil corals, bivalves, and marine snails.
I can’t wait to discover more about this fascinating place on my next visit.
COPYRIGHT JESSICA WINDER 2014
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