Monthly Archives: September 2013

Like turning my cat into a hamster

I thought I’d achieved the impossible – a piece on South Wales in a travel guide which didn’t mention sheep, rain, or any of the other dreary outdated stereotypes attached to us. But no.  I received a complimentary copy of the guide on Friday, and of course I turned to my piece first.  I was horrified.  Not only had they edited it with a blunt, rusty machete, but they’d printed some total nonsense and attributed it to someone who claimed over 30 years acquaintance with the place they were (mis)representing.

My original piece is as follows.  I still own the copyright, but I signed a waiver allowing them to make changes.  Now I feel as though I signed a waiver for necessary treatment at the vets, and they turned my cat into a hamster.


Original piece, titled ‘A Beach Bus for all Seasons’
I’ve been travelling this route since the 1980’s, and although it hasn’t changed in all those years, no two journeys are ever the same.  The variations in light, weather, tides and seasons provide a new experience every time.

The chief appeal of this route is the number of opportunities for a good linear walk that it provides. It also provides access to some beautiful coves and beaches – rocky, sandy or multicoloured shingle, your choice.  But if you don’t have the energy or mobility for a walk, the route itself is diverting.  Setting off from a quirky post-industrial city, the bus skirts a bay with the world’s second highest tidal range, climbs to open moorland, winds through villages and countryside, and pulls up outside a coffee shop open every day except Christmas Day.  Ponies and stunning views of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall are provided free most days of the year. If you’re really lucky you may see dolphins. There are even whales out there in the Bristol Channel – a dead humpback was washed up in nearby Port Talbot a few years ago.  Royal visitors are less frequent, but Jewels by the Sea has photographic evidence of a recent visit.

The first part of the route passes through the Swansea district of Sandfields.  Neat 2-up-2-down terraces, each subtly different from its neighbour, are mixed with showrooms for timber, carpet or builders merchants.

As we exit Oxford Road, Joe’s Ice Cream is on the right, and the Art Deco Guildhall, its interior used as a set for Torchwood, is up ahead, with the Patti Pavilion behind it.

Passing these, we turn right onto Oystermouth Road, and the full sweep of Swansea Bay comes into view – from the flames and stacks of Port Talbot steelworks to Mumbles Head with its twin islets and lighthouse.  The tidal range is up to 9.5m at it’s most extreme, and the wide flat bay is constant in its changing.  In warmer weather it’s used by kite surfers, sand yachters, kite flyers, dog walkers, beach football players and metal detectorists.

For the next few minutes we follow the curve of the bay, until it disappears behind the embankment which now hosts a cycle path – quicker that the road in rush-hour – and an entertaining fitness trail, which seems designed to bemuse drunk students from the nearby University.

On the inland side is Swansea University, in the grounds of Singleton Park.  The Park Lodge, on the corner, was designed by Henry Woodyer for John Henry Vivian (1785-1885), the industrialist and politician whose copper mining and smelting works contributed a great deal to Swansea’s wealth – and air pollution – in the 19th Century .  A Grade II listed gothic revival building, it was auctioned to raise funds in 2011, and is now a private residence.

There is a Pitch And Putt course on the left, whose greens often host a small flock of birds – sometimes pigeons; sometimes crows; sometimes oystercatchers.  Past the Pitch And Putt the sea reappears near the Junction Café and Blackpill Lido. Thronged with local families in summer, it’s a good stop for a coffee in colder weather – you can walk back along the seafront to Swansea.  If you want to travel the whole of Swansea Bay to Oystermouth, a 2/2A/2B will oblige.  However, our bus turns right here, and chugs uphill, past Clyne Park and Gardens, and along  Mayals Road, with its grand Victorian villas set back from the road, mature trees shadowing the verges.

As we reach the top of the hill, we leave the suburbs, and the view opens out across the green breadth of Gower Common.  Ahead is the suggestion of rolling cliffs, mostly hidden behind a broad green blanket which undulates to the horizon, scattered with sheep and ponies.  I always find the next few minutes are great for clearing the mind as we travel this ancient highway.

Presently the bus turns left and we enter Murton villages – there’s a village green with well and maypole beside one of the bus stops – and soon the first choice has to be made – get off and walk down to Brandy Cove, or stay on for the coffee shop and a walk to Threecliff Bay?

If you choose to alight, ring the bell once you’re safely past the surf shop with the bus stop outside (or ask the driver for the top of Brandy Cove Road) and alight at the next stop, where the bus route swings uphill to the right. The road on the left leads to Brandy Cove (it’s soon becomes a lane, then a path, and is gated, so not suitable for wheels).  From Brandy Cove you can follow the cliff path to the right via Pwll Du Bay to Southgate, where you can meet the no 14 at its terminus. Turning left will lead you to Caswell Bay, which has a bus service, coffee shop and good surf, or you can continue around the coast to Langland Bay, Mumbles, or all the way to Swansea.

Alternatively, from the bus stop, you can follow Backingstone Lane straight ahead, which offers several access points to Bishopston Valley  This is karst limestone, so the river pops up and disappears as it pleases.  It can get exceptionally muddy, so be prepared.  You will need a map or GPS, aim for Southgate or Caswell for a return bus.

If several miles of clifftop walk aren’t what you’re after, stay on the bus for another 15 minutes or so.  We’ll roll through some more villages, countryside and farmland before another detour, through a modern housing estate.  If you want to visit Threecliff Bay, you can get off beside the Londis and hike across the golf course, using the water tower and ruined Pennard Castle as landmarks to the valley which leads to the beach. This is a tricky stop to find, so it’s best to ask the driver.  Threecliff bay is one of a chain of golden sandy beaches, linked at low tide, each with their own character.

Stunning Threecliff bay is a personal favourite.  At low tide, the Pennard Pill leaves its fairytale valley, guarded by  wooded hills and a ruined castle, and meanders across a vast golden strand to the sea, between weatherworn, rockpool filled limestone cliffs – including the three triangular cliffs which give the bay its name.

Be aware though – you have to hike to this beach, and at high tide all the sand is hidden beneath the waves.  Although you’ll need strong legs to get down to the beach and back, you can walk along the level clifftop path from Southgate, and look over the beaches from above.

There are no ‘facilities’ of any description here – just sand, sea, rocks and scenery.  You will have the beach almost to yourself – unless it’s a ‘busy’ summer day, when you might have to share it with up to 50 others.

Another few stops and we reach Southgate village and Pennard Cliffs, where the route terminates besides two coffee shops and a dozen footpaths.  The only decision now is how long to stay – one hour, two, or until the last bus back.  There are B&Bs, a caravan site (no tents), and even a retirement home so you could stay for days, weeks, or the rest of your life!  However, wild camping is not an option – the land is National Trust owned.

You’ll need strong, agile legs to access the beaches, but there are some level, quiet tarmacked roads you can roll or stroll along if mobility is limited. The buses are usually modern ones with easy access for wheelchairs and pushchairs, but be aware that many bus stops are low-level without a kerb – ask the driver for advice.  If you can access the coves, you’ll be rewarded with some truly stunning beaches – but keep an eye on the tide, and don’t get cut off!


It was a £50 commission, so I spent approx 3 hours on it – needless to say I’ve spent more than 3 hours fuming since I saw the printed version.  They removed the paragraph with the dolphins and royals, and all mention of 3cliffBay, often voted one of the best in the world.

I emailed them today – copy below…

‘I appreciate that editors reserve the right to delete text they feel irrelevant, and add new text, even to the extent of putting words into someone else’s mouth.  But I am deeply disturbed by some of the changes made to my piece.

You need to realise that Swansea is a beautiful place.  The architecture is typical of any British city which was devastated during WW2 and rebuilt on the cheap soon after, but the surrounding hills, woods and coastline are stunning.  I wrote my piece to highlight the visual aspects of the different parts of the journey.  I wanted the reader to conjure up an image in their minds’ eye using my descriptions, thereby encouraging them to visit this lovely and unusual part of the world.  You have removed most of the visual description, and replaced it with irrelevant, and often plain incorrect detail.

Your description of Sandfields is totally wide of the mark – it’s unrecognisable from your description.  Let me describe the ‘unremitting uniformity’ of the houses we pass in Sandfields. Some are pebble-dashed.  Some are stone-clad.  Many are plastered and painted in block colours – cream, beige, or russet.  Two (non-adjacent) have white facades with chunky black stone-cladding around the windows and doors.  One has a dado rail in the exterior plasterwork, with smooth plaster above and texture plasterwork below – an inside-out living room.  Hardly what you’ve printed.  Yet you’ve attributed these words to someone who claims over 30 years’ familiarity with it.

Regardless of whether or not Welsh is spoken in Gower villages, they are still definitely Welsh in their landscape, climate, architecture and culture.  Gower is certainly not ‘an area that seems to be only provisionally part of Wales.’  Where on earth did you get that bizarre idea?  As my friend John Rees asked, ‘If Gower isn’t part of Wales, where does it belong?  Guatemala?  Azerbaijan?  Zambia?’

As for those English counties on the horizon – I included them to help with the mental image.  The Bristol channel isn’t wide open sea, it’s an ever-changing body of water between two green and pleasant peninsulas.  I can’t say that Somerset and Devon ‘figure strongly in the Gower imagination’, and again, I’m not sure where you got this idea. Anyway, once again, who cares?  That isn’t going to influence whether someone decides to take this trip, is it?  Unless you wanted to reassure your English readers that the people of Swansea county are used to English people, and can communicate with them.  Newsflash – 26% of the population of Wales was born outside its borders, and we’ve been multicultural since 1283.

You reduced the most dramatic part of the journey – Gower common – to ‘an empty B-road’.  You then include a blatant lie about the (male) driver chatting to people loitering outside a pub. Stopping outside The Beaufort Arms without good cause is actually rather dangerous due to its location.

When I described Swansea city as post-industrial, I meant that it has all the features of an Industrial Revolution-era Seaport,  but that the heavy industry is long-gone.  Not that it’s ‘struggling to define itself in a post-industrial era’.  The docklands were redeveloped in the 1980’s.  They are home to museums, art galleries, restaurants, two theatres, sought-after flats and a marina which includes Premier League football players’ yachts in its berths.

As for the copper industry – in the decade I’ve lived here, that’s been mentioned half a dozen times at most.  If you want a peg to hang the city on, try Dylan Thomas. He’s been dead for 60 years, but he still brings in the tourists.  Swansea doesn’t struggle to define itself.  It knows what it is, and it’s proud.

It would appear that you’ve never visited Swansea, and have a deeply outdated stereotype of South Wales and its people.  I am furious that my name has been linked to these misinformed words denigrating the city I’ve inhabited for a decade, and adored  for much, much longer.  I don’t understand why you’ve changed my text the way you have, as the journey now seems far less appealing. If there was any way I could stop publication of this book, or have my contribution removed, I would take it.’


It will be interesting to see how they respond