The sea has always held a huge amount of magic for me. One of the main draws in moving to Cardiff was its position on the coast, however we haven’t made use of this in the way we imagined. As a remedy, our annual tradition has become a short voyage to The Mumbles, one of the most beautiful beaches in the UK.
This specific portion of the Welsh coast has always been a special place for T and his family. His parents were married in Swansea and lived in the Gower for a little while, so have been visiting the coast here for years. The wide spread of golden sand and slow lapping sea is calm and comforting, while the whipping wind travels for miles unobstructed, gathering sand and debris and propelling it along the beach and into the jagged mosaic pools.
This charming seaside is also incredibly convenient for us. Without a car, much of the southern Welsh coast is inaccessible to us, however The Mumbles is only a few miles outside of Swansea. We catch the train from Cardiff to Swansea, which takes just under an hour and costs very little with our railcards. On our most recent trip, we then located the closest Nextbike station. This is similar to the Boris Bike Scheme in London and allows you to hire bikes from multiple stations around most towns and cities, which you then return to another station once you get to where you’re going. For students, it’s also even more convenient, as T gets the first half an hour completely free as a member of Cardiff University.
Once we’d found a couple of bikes from outside the Waterfront Museum, we cycled through Swansea Marina, and were soon on the beach path. The sea greeted us warmly and the salt air cleansed our city-dense lungs. A brisk half hour cycle (around 5 miles) lands you smack bang in the middle of The Mumbles. The entire cycle follows the sparkling sea on your left, and you can watch dozens of dogs bounding around to their hearts' content. Children dig and paddle, and parents bemusedly try to keep track of both their kids and their animals. Admittedly, we’ve been treated to glorious sunny days whenever we have made this trip, but I can’t imagine that even Welsh rain is powerful enough to wash away its charm.
A small restaurant complex lies on the beachfront at Oystermouth, a great place to stop and have a meal or a pint, however our tradition extends past traveling here for the beach alone. Discovered by T’s parents years ago, Verdi’s is a family-run Italian café, serving up classic pizza and pasta dishes, as well as an incredible selection of desserts. I’m sure I’ve mentioned previously that T’s kryptonite is Tiramisu, so of course this the main event of Mumbles trips, accompanied by a pint of Peroni outside in the wind, on the edge of the beach.
This year, after we rolled out of Verdi’s considerably heavier than we went in, we decided to carry on walking along the coastal path. The blue sky seemed to extend on forever, with the crisp light that seems to come with the beginning of autumn. We eventually came to the Mumbles Pier, a pretty light blue collection of shops and restaurants. Echoes of the summer’s busy days and evenings were visible; ice cream signs still hung, but most flavours had been crossed off, while the games arcade was silent with the return of kids from the beach to school.
There were some steep steps opposite, and we laughed with an elderly man resting a few steps up, taking his time with the process. Rubbing our bloated bellies, we huffed and puffed our way up and were met by the famed Swansea historic attraction – The Big Apple. Strikingly different, but far more descriptive than New York, the Big Apple was built in the 1930s. Now a listed building with Cadw (the Welsh Government’s heritage arm), the Apple was originally built as an advertisement for cider brand Cidertone. After it was hit by a car in 2009, 27,000 people signed a petition to save and repair it – clearly proving it to be a much-loved feature of the South Welsh coast.
A small trail headed further up the hill behind the Apple, and so we hiked to the top, hoping for a pleasant look back over the beach. When we reached the top, we were met by something even more spectacular – a bird’s eye view of the Mumbles Lighthouse. Perched precariously on a jagged-tooth rock, the white tower rose up above the frothing sea, and tiny dark human-blobs danced across the stones between that rock and ours. The sea was so blue, almost too blue for British waters, and the gulls circled and swooped overhead.
The Mumbles was frequented by Dylan Thomas, the most famous Welshman among poet-royalty. In fact, this is his home territory, having been born in Swansea. With such scenes as this, it’s of no surprise to me that this place inspired such a lyrical mind – I hope the views have rubbed off on me.