Browse content similar to Gower to Anglesey (25min). Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
The coast of south-west Wales.
Our earliest ancestors came to the edge of our islands for sustenance
from land, sea and sky.
But this cathedral of the elements didn't only nourish their bodies,
they also found succour for the soul.
Far on the horizon lies the vanishing point
between the sea and sky.
Out there, it seems as if the heavens and the earth meet.
No wonder then that natural "walkways to eternity",
like this one, where the land snakes out into the sea,
are special places with spiritual power for pilgrims and pagans alike.
We're on a journey from one great finger of land, at Worm's Head,
to another on the Llyn Peninsula.
Travelling up the heavenly west coast of Wales to explore divine
and devilish goings-on along this stunning shore.
Having crossed from Brittany,
we're still in the land of the Celts, but back on home turf.
Our journey continues, heading for Anglesey,
starting at Worm's Head in Gower.
These long fingers of land on the western edge of Britain
reach out to caress the Irish Sea.
Gower was the UK's first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and at the very tip
of the Gower Peninsula lies this remarkable headland - Worm's Head.
Vikings coined its name "ormr" from the Old Norse for serpent.
I can see why that green spine of land reminded the Vikings
of a serpent reaching out to sea.
Those same Norsemen buried their dead in tombs they built
over there on Rhossili Down.
Who would dare disturb the spirits of their departed
with such a fierce beast guarding the shore?
Worm's Head is just a tiny little snake of land poking its head
out of the Gower Peninsula, which itself
pokes out like a pimple on the face of the South Wales coast.
But this is no unsightly blemish,
more a site of serene beauty scraped clean by the last ice age.
Its pretty make-up conceals dark dealings, though.
Nick Crane's looking for trouble in paradise.
He's on the trail of Gower's secret history.
On November 1, 1887, this ship, the Helvetia,
was struck by a terrible storm which swept along the coast of South Wales.
Now, the skeletal ribs rise from their watery grave every low tide,
to reveal the remains of a hull once laden with a cargo of wood.
The Helvetia was an honest trader that fell foul of the weather.
The same wild shores which wrecked Helvetia were used by other vessels
for a much more sinister and profitable purpose.
I'm searching for the smugglers who once stalked this coast.
Surely they couldn't cover their tracks completely.
Contraband travelled by sea, and so am I,
with the crew of the Olga.
Boats like this were built for speed.
She's a Bristol Channel pilot cutter,
whose legal trade was to guide bigger ships safely to port.
See if you can make that off there, Mike.
But such sleek lines and yards of sail
also made boats like this ideal for a profitable sideline.
How suitable would a pilot cutter like this have been to smugglers?
Lots of space down below,
lot of contact with all the trade ships coming in, and the boat would
have beached quite nicely, because it has got a nice flat bottom.
And the boat actually has legs which she uses to stand on the beach.
This is actually the Olga.
-So this is the legs stopping the ship from falling over?
But that means...
That pilot cutters could use any part of the coast they wanted?
Any part of the coast they wanted to, yeah.
Flat bottomed vessels like this were perfectly suited to the bays
and curves of Gower,
which has plenty of spots to beach a boat with an illegal haul.
The peak years for smuggling were around 1800.
To fund the Napoleonic Wars,
communities were heavily taxed on everyday goods.
Smugglers' boats bulged with basics like salt, soap and tea,
as well as alcohol and tobacco.
In lawless areas like Gower, violent criminal gangs roamed,
and the Customs men were heavily armed too.
Museum curator Steve Butler
has brought some of the tools of the trade.
-This is a blunderbuss.
This is a very vicious looking weapon, isn't it?
A blunderbuss was designed to fire shot over a short distance
-in a broad spread.
-You wouldn't want to be hit by anything coming
-out of the mouth of this, would you?
Armed to the teeth in fast boats,
you can see how the smugglers kept one step ahead of Customs.
But they couldn't stay at sea for ever.
They had to land their contraband somewhere.
Surely the smugglers had to have hidey-holes
tucked away along this coast?
Perhaps one of the store rooms is in a secluded cliff near Port Eynon.
Below me is one of the most mysterious structures on the coast of Wales.
This is Culver Hole.
It's so tightly-packed into the rock, it almost looks natural.
As front doors go, this is fairly inaccessible.
I've never seen anything quite like it.
It's built like a castle. We've got these very strange-shaped windows above.
There are no floors in it.
Look at these stone niches, lots of them.
I'm hoping to find out more from National Trust warden Sian Musgrave.
-Hi, Sian, very good to meet you.
-Hi, Nick, and you.
Now, can you tell me, what is this peculiar building?
It's very inaccessible, so it's a great hiding place.
Would it have been used by smugglers, do you think?
I think there's a high degree of probability that it was used by smugglers.
When the tide comes in, you can get a boat right in.
And inside, there's what appears to be a tunnel leading out from the back wall.
Yeah, there's a small tunnel and a little chamber,
which again leads us to think that it could have been used to keep things
out of the customs men's reach.
The highpoint of smuggling was about 200 years ago.
But this structure looks much older, medieval even.
And the old English name Culver Hole suggests an earlier use.
Culver is an old word which means pigeon. It's a pigeon house.
It's actually a medieval dovecote.
So that's what those rectangular niches are?
Yeah, they were built as an integrated part of the structure
so that the pigeons could go in and nest, so they'd encourage the populations to multiply
and then it would serve as food,
and they'd take the eggs as well as the meat.
So Culver Hole was originally a coastal larder many centuries ago,
when pigeon meat was a prized foodstuff.
But there's layer upon layer of history here.
I can easily believe that much later on,
it was converted to a hidey-hole for contraband.
Many Welsh islands owe their names to travellers.
Often Vikings can take the credit,
and Skomer is no exception.
Skomer derives from the Old Norse word "skolm", meaning short sword.
Vikings aren't the only adventurers that have been attracted to these islands.
This is a seabird paradise that welcomes some of the greatest airborne travellers on the planet.
I've visited Skomer quite a few times
and it's lovely to be back,
but every time I come here it's like I've got to get to know the island
all over again, it's ever-changing. It's a place of so many different facets.
One of the most precarious habitats is the Wick,
a sheer cliff with ledges ideally suited to nesting birds -
razorbills, guillemots, kittiwakes and fulmars.
I'm going to explore this fantastic abundance of birdlife, not just by day, but at night too.
In daylight, it's puffins that rule the roost.
And it's not rocky sea cliffs but rabbit burrows
that's their idea of a perfect des res.
This is one of the most important puffin colonies in north-western Europe.
The best way to appreciate the puffin's lifestyle is to get in the water with them.
Island warden Jo Milborrow is going to help me snorkel right up close.
I'm absolutely dying to get in. It's been a warm day and the water
looks so inviting and there are loads of puffins behind us.
-Yeah, they're great, aren't they?
-Yeah, hope we can get close!
-Hopefully, if we go in they'll come and have a look at us.
Oh, it's cool! It's very cool.
-It's very chilly.
Puffins are easily spooked, so we have to be patient and move slowly.
But we're soon rewarded with a rare chance
of swimming within just a few feet of them.
Puffins certainly steal the limelight during the daytime.
But Skomer attracts vast numbers of globe trotters
who are much harder to spot until night falls.
Every summer, Skomer welcomes back a flock of old friends,
birds from the island who've travelled way out
to the coast of South America, a round trip of 18,000 miles,
and they come back here to the island, often to within just a few feet
of where they were born, to mate and breed.
I'm in search of one of the greatest adventurers of the animal kingdom -
the Manx shearwater.
This tiny island off Wales
becomes an extraordinary landing strip for Manx shearwaters,
returning after winter from fisheries far down in the South Atlantic.
Because they're shy, nocturnal birds, you'd be hard pushed to see them in daylight.
But, as the sun sets, the atmosphere really changes.
That cacophony means the Manx shearwaters are arriving
in their thousands, and I can just glimpse them in the darkness.
Professor Tim Guildford is going to help me get a closer look.
-They are, the place is absolutely littered with them.
And this guy has probably just landed.
I'm guessing this is a non-breeder.
So this one's probably just a recent prospector
-who's looking to mate.
I don't know if you can see on the top of the beak there, there's two little holes.
These nostrils are actually salt-excreting glands.
-Yes, like a storm petrel.
That allows this whole family of birds to live in the open ocean
without ever having to drink, so they can essentially either create
their own water metabolically,
or they can excrete salt sufficiently not to need fresh water.
'There are more than 100,000 breeding pairs on Skomer,
'and nest cameras provide new insights into how they rear their young.
'Researchers like Tim have also been tagging the birds with electronic geo-locators.'
-OK, that's great.
Here they come.
-Brilliant, so this is one of the tagged birds?
-And on this leg...
That's the geolocator? It's so small.
Yeah, on this leg is the geolocating device...
The electronic log of this bird's position is downloaded to produce detailed maps.
This tells us, for every day and night of the year, where the bird has been.
So at last, now, we can reconstruct its entire migratory journey.
The male is the black one and the female is the purple one.
We see this outward migration down the west coast of Africa,
across to Brazil and then down to Argentina to over-winter.
They head back then in the early spring,
they take slightly different routes, but what you do see
is this extraordinary curve through the Caribbean.
They don't come back the way they went out.
-Isn't that incredible, they're not doing the same journey there and back?
-I wonder why.
We think they're exploiting the North Atlantic currents,
this circular current.
So the currents and the weather systems move like this
so they're basically following weather systems,
making it efficient, using the winds.
And soon they're off, back out to sea.
By daybreak, the shearwaters have vanished,
perhaps the most remarkable secret of this magical seabird sanctuary on the Pembrokeshire coast.
This coast doesn't only promise a paradise of freedom,
it's also been transformed for terror, here at Harlech.
At the end of the 13th century, an English King invaded Wales,
determined the locals would submit to his divine right to rule.
On this spiritual shore, Edward I of England hatched a devilish plan
to enshrine his authority over the Welsh - in stone!
What a piece of work and truly awe-inspiring.
It looks terrifying now,
but can you imagine what it would have looked like 800 years ago?
I want to bring this building back to its former glory
and discover what made this one of Britain's most formidable fortresses.
Although the stone walls are largely intact,
Harlech Castle has been stripped of its strongest defence -
Rhian Parry knows what's happened to the coast
since the castle was constructed.
We do know from this map of 1610 by Speed
that it was quite a different picture.
You can see, here's the castle.
We're presumably somewhere by that mermaid.
And look at the ships going in and out of the estuary.
The tradition is, and there's some documentary evidence, of course,
that there was a port for Harlech at Ynys at Ty Gwyn y Gamlas,
which literally means the white house of the canal,
and it's likely that this was all marsh
and at high tide was under water completely.
Restoring the sea to lap against the walls of Harlech castle
is step one of my medieval make-over.
This is how it looked
when Edward I of England built it to conquer the Welsh.
But the sea was more than a barrier. It was also a gateway.
Andrew, why have you brought me to this lump of masonry?
The name is explanatory in itself - this was the water gate,
and the implication is that the water was adjacent to it.
The sea actually lapped up onto the side of these rocks?
It did. So you've got to imagine water down here.
-With jetties and ships and everything?
-Certainly a bustling harbour,
because they had an enormous amount of material to get up there.
All the stone and iron they were bringing in, food.
-They were feeding 900 men at one point.
-So how do you get up there?
There's a path that goes up and I'll show you where that is.
The site of the castle starts to make sense.
With water guarding one side and steep slopes on the other,
there was only one way in - a landward gate
which was heavily fortified.
Just look at them, those towers!
One, two, three, four towers!
Yeah. They give an enormous aspect, don't they?
Any attacker who got this far would have to breach the gatehouse,
a massive defensive obstacle that dominates the castle.
You're making a huge statement, that this is the strongest bit.
Yeah, very definitely.
And this is sort of the chamber where...
This is the chamber where you didn't want to be.
-Two arrow slits.
-Two arrow slits either side.
So, crossbows would have come through there.
You've got iron gate there, iron gate there...
-And attack from above as well.
-Murder holes pouring down onto you.
Yeah, that sort of thing.
This concentric design, walls within walls,
held back the hostile Welsh nearby.
That's the Snowdonia range of mountains over there, and there's Snowdon.
And this was of course the Welsh stronghold
of the Princes of Gwynedd.
This was the real point that Edward had to get to, the bit he had to crack.
So what was his big idea?
He was going to encircle it with castles.
So Harlech is one, Caernarvon is the other on the north
and then you've got Conwy, and then slightly later,
Biwmares was built as well.
And this really represented, finally, the conquest of the Welsh.
It did, yes, yes, very definitely.
It's likely the grey stone walls of Harlech Castle
looked very different in its heyday.
Edward had the structure plastered with a white render of lime mortar.
Modern weapons are all about stealth, but in an earlier age,
this fortress was very much about broadcasting a message.
The building wasn't hiding, it was standing out,
a brutish display of English power.
This was the castle in full glory,
the shock and awe of the 13th century.
Can you imagine what that castle would have looked like painted all white?
A symbol of the conquest of Wales, but also a provocation.
The golden sands and clear waters of Llyn have a majestic backdrop -
the imposing mountains of Snowdonia.
And facing them across the water, Anglesey,
the island known as Mon Mam Cymru - the mother of Wales.
On its western edge is Llanddwyn Island, home of Saint Dwynwen,
the patron saint of Welsh lovers.
Which brings me to my final destination - Llangwyfan.
I'm on the causeway leading out to the Church in the Sea.
This is Llangwyfan, the church of Saint Cwyfan.
The Irish knew him as Saint Kevin,
and he was from Glendalough, not far from the stretch of Irish coast
directly across the water from here.
There's been a church on this site since at least as early as 1254.
It was extended in the 14th and 15th centuries
so it wasn't always the humble building that's here now,
because back in the day, there was a lot more land out here than there is now.
Over the centuries, the sea eroded this site
until the graves started to fall into the water.
So now the church sits here on a tiny promontory,
that, just like Worm's Head where my journey started,
becomes an island at high tide.
Places like this, sometimes part of the land, but sometimes part of the sea,
are reminders that everything is temporary.
No matter how hard we hold onto things,
our grasp of them is momentary.
And just like the tides around this promontory, we're just passing through.