I love the bays and coves along the South Wales coast. I’m unashamedly biased but I think they’re some of the most beautiful in the world. Less well-known than the beaches of West Wales and the Gower Peninsula, their rugged beauty and excellent walking paths make for a great day out. Each one has its own attributes and personality – from the secluded cove of Monknash to the sand dunes of Merthyr Mawr and the great expanse of sand and strong tides at Ogmore-by-Sea that make it an ideal place for surfing.
One of my favourite beaches is Southerndown, which is situated on the Glamorgan Heritage Path in the Vale of Glamorgan. Nestled in the shadows of the golden yellow limestone and shale cliffs of Wales’s ancient Jurassic coastline, the sandy beach of Dunraven Bay that emerges when the tide is out can only be reached by clambering over the rocks or via the concrete path. The surrounding rocks are filled with rock pools and as a kid, I liked to imagine they were dinosaur footprints.
There’s a gothic feel to Southerndown, in part because of the ruins of Dunraven Castle and its walled gardens. The castle, which was situated high on the cliff overlooking the bay, was a large manor house, first mentioned in the 1540s, that underwent major renovations in the 19th century. The site had been occupied by stone buildings since the Norman era and the castle was used as a hospital during both World Wars, and later as a guest house, before being demolished in 1963.
These days all that’s left is the walled garden and a few stone ruins. Entrance to the gardens is via a large wooden door, and within are three enclosed gardens with large lawns at their centre and the wooded cliffs beyond. There’s also a small tower in one of the far corners.
The gardens have a secluded feel to them and even when the bay is busy, they’re usually fairly quiet. I can’t help but wonder when I walk around how they and the castle must have looked during their 19th century heyday – it’s such a beautiful spot for a grand manor house and I’m always a little sad that it’s been lost forever and I’ll never have a chance to see it.
That aside, when I’m in the mood for a brisk walk and the sea air, nowhere quite beats Southerndown (apart from maybe Monknash) and I’m aware just how lucky I am to live so close to such a beautiful part of the world.