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A coast and hill walk to a great village pub: the Britannia Inn, Gower peninsula | Wales holidays

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A pub is a vital part of a country walk, but which way to do it? The whole walk first, then pub for well-earned food and beer? Or pub as halfway mark, to restore flagging body and spirits, the uncovered miles making that second or third beer a bad idea? On this walk from the well-loved Britannia Inn, in the Gower village of Llanmadoc, we can decide on the day: it’s a figure-of-eight route, with the “Brit” close to where the loops cross. There’s rain forecast for later, so we start early and aim for a late post-walk lunch, with stops to soak in the views without getting soaked.

And what views. Part of the beauty of this peninsula is its variety of landscapes: wild moorland, golden beaches, limestone cliffs, meadows, mixed woodland and saltmarsh.

From the Brit, we head west along Frog Lane, passing Llanmadoc’s lovely Siop y Bobl. The post office closed in 2007 but volunteers opened this community shop, with fresh produce, a post office counter and a cafe. We can’t justify a coffee stop yet, but bunches of freshly picked Gower lavender are tempting.

Early on in the walk there are glimpses of Whiteford lighthouse. Photograph: Loop Images/Alamy

Glimpses of sea, sand and cast-iron Whiteford lighthouse are just a taste of what’s to come, and a little way on we turn left at a bridle path sign on a triangular green. Turning left again between a cottage and a stone wall, at a footpath sign for Llangennith, we head up a stony path to brackeny, brambly Llanmadoc hill.

Three or four paths lead uphill from here: any one heading south-west will do. In high summer, when the bracken is thick, it’s more like wading, but the 10-15-minute climb affords views of most of south Wales. To the left are Pembrokeshire’s Preseli mountains, then a swathe of Carmarthenshire before the Brecon Beacons in Powys. Including Swansea, that’s four counties. Closer at hand, the blues of the Loughor estuary and the golden sands of Whiteford and Broughton bays make a harmonious whole.

We climb on – bracken giving way to heather – to a ridge, and sea views open to the south, too: across Gower to the Bristol Channel, the north Devon coast and the Somerset Levels. But the route has yet more to give: as we walk up the now-gentle slope to the summit, the glorious sweep of Rhossili beach pops into view, with rocky Worms Head. A smudge behind it is Lundy. A trig point at the top tells us Timbuktu is 2,409 miles away.

We retrace our steps along the backbone of the hill, then keep straight on. It’s a sunny Sunday and we’re less than 15 miles from Swansea, yet there’s barely anyone here. It feels as if this hilltop is no more frequented than it was 4,000 years ago, when bronze-age people built burial cairns.

St Cadoc’s Church in Cheriton.
Thirteenth-century Saint Cadoc’s Church in Cheriton. Photograph: Francesca Jones/The Guardian

One is rather collapsed – perhaps walkers sheltered from fierce winds in its hollow. A wide path, still heading east, takes us a couple of millennia forward in prehistory, to the gorse-edged remains of an iron-age hillfort – the Bulwark, now managed by the National Trust. Historians believe a livestock enclosure was later fortified to protect a community against hostile tribes. Today, its south-easterly slope is a perfect elevenses stop: lunch is still a couple of hours away.

Refreshed, we head on east to a path that runs downhill to Kyfts Lane. Here, we could turn left and be at the pub in 10 minutes. But we’ve still got our walking legs, so cross the road and take a gravel path down through woods. We emerge on to a lane that’s part of the Wales Coast Path (WCP) and turn into Cheriton village, where sheep graze the verges in front of cute cottages, and 13th-century Saint Cadoc’s church – just beyond a bridge over the Burry “pill” (stream) – looks diminutive yet stately.

The Bulwark hillfort, Llanmadoc Hill.
The Bulwark hillfort, Llanmadoc Hill. Photograph: David Angel/Alamy

With the high flank of Llanmadoc hill behind us we turn left through a wooden gate, signposted Landimore, to stay on the WCP. Half a dozen of the area’s more stubborn residents have congregated on the narrow path and seem reluctant to move, especially as humans may have something to eat in a pocket or rucksack. They are semi-wild Gower ponies in grey, tan and chocolate brown, and though they seem gentle, we’re nervous of stray kicks.

Then we’re on the saltmarsh and a welcome flat stretch. To our left a stand of dead trees shows where the Cwy Ivy sea wall was breached in 2013 storms and controversially the National Trust didn’t reinstate it. Pasture became mud, colonised by marsh plants, birds and even otters. We spot egrets and a heron, and hear the wheezy squeak of lapwings.

But this has long been a changing land. After a mile, we turn right through a gate and into Landimore. Today, it’s just a handful of houses, but until the 19th century it was a thriving port, with shops, mill, forge, cobbler’s, three pubs and a school. The tiny, winding Bennett’s pill was once a navigable channel used to transport coal, but its silting-up altered the town’s fortunes.

We leave the WCP past Landimore, turning right up a steep grassy path signposted Cheriton, then following the hill right again to climb to the rocky summit of Bovehill and the walk’s final vista – the pocked marsh laid out below, beaches and the blue Loughor waters beyond, and a magnificent horsetail sky.

Views towards Rhossili and Worm’s Head from the top of Llanmadoc Hill.
Views towards Rhossili and Worm’s Head from the top of Llanmadoc Hill. Photograph: Francesca Jones/The Guardian

Descending, we turn right, climb a stone stile just past Bovehill Farm, and soon reach a road back to Cheriton. For a prettier and only slightly longer route, we take the footpath opposite as far as a stone house, then follow the arrow to its right pointing down through trees. Soon, at fingerposts pointing ahead to Ryers Down, we detour 100 metres on the Ryers Down path to a packhorse bridge over the Burry pill. Today it’s hidden in trees, but this, too, used to be a busy spot, the bridge built in 1602 to carry traffic to and from a medieval watermill.

Back at the crossroads it’s a half-hour stroll through meadows to Llanmadoc. We’ve walked nearly seven miles, climbed hills and crossed millennia. Time for beer and food.

Google map of the route

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Start/end Britannia Inn, Llanmadoc
Distance 6½ miles
Time 3½ hours
Total ascent 303 metres
Difficulty Easy
See GPX track of the route at OS Maps

The pub

Britannia Inn
The Britannia offers excellent food and ale plus sea views from the garden. Photograph: Francesca Jones/The Guardian

Llanmadoc was also once bigger and busier, until the silting up of Cheriton pill. Of four inns, only the whitewashed Britannia remains, with sea views from its garden, and beams inside said to be from ships lured ashore by wreckers. Its less-dastardly recent history is thanks to local couple Martin and Lindsey Davies, who took over the rundown pub 16 years ago and improved its looks, food and reputation.

Sunday roasts are exemplary, but even better are the starters: light, crispy Glamorgan sausages, and coarse smoked duck paté, brilliantly set off by glasses of citrussy Gower Gold ale from a few miles up the estuary in Crofty.
britanniagower.com

Where to stay

B&Bs in Gower get booked up fast, but Airbnb has useful alternatives. Three miles away, in Reynoldston, host Simon offers two studios (from £88) in his house near prehistoric King Arthur’s Stone. Both have outside seating and views across miles of rolling Gower landscape.

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