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Letter from Worm’s Head: Custard Creams and a Causeway

24 Mar 2024 10 minute read
Custard Creams and a Causeway – Alex and Blitzen, image by Freddie Spencer-Cosford

Freddie Spencer-Cosford

My family holidays have always been… fraught and action-packed, with a rejuvenating beach stop – if we’re lucky. Usually, we rely on the North Devon wind to blow away our cobwebs, but, in 2013, my parents decided the winds of South Wales would work just as well.

We set up camp at Hillend Campsite, attached our extender plug to the electricity port and immediately cracked open a cold one in celebration of not putting our tent up in the rain – Wales 1, North Devon nil.

The main reason for coming to the Gower was to make the treacherous clamber across the causeway to Worm’s Head, exposed to the elements of sun, sea and gulls.

One fateful day, we decided it was time for our quest; departing with a backpacked filled with water, a fresh packet of Custard Creams and a map – a few extra layers were chucked in to be on the safe side.

And so we trekked across the sandy hills, the patchwork Gower to our left and the shimmering sands and water of Rhossili beach to our right. The sun was shining, the clouds were kept at bay and the sea had no malice in it. What could go wrong?

We checked the tide times by the little brick building that was the Coastguard hut and, according to my dad, we had plenty of time to explore the spine of the beast. And, so, we clambered. My short legs trying their best to traverse the shark-teeth like rocks without slipping on a lethal bit of seaweed. We made it with most of our limbs ungrazed and I pointed to the other tide table on the island.

“Should we double check,” I asked.

“Nah,” said my dad, confidentially bobbing off with his binoculars.

The island is not difficult to traverse. There was the momentary fear of slipping into the Atlantic Ocean but that was overshadowed by attempting (and failing) to find dolphins.

Interrupting our whimsical gazes into the sea was a man running, no – sprinting towards the direction of the causeway. We laughed and wondered why he was in such a rush, my dad assuring us we still had time; there was no one else around us this far out.

Standing on cliff tops and gazing out to sea is a family specialty. In the safety of North Devon, we can peer over the edge of Baggy Point, a tumbling outcrop of rock, and watch the slick black cormorants swoop below.

High winds and rain rarely stopped us from our need to gaze across a large expanse of water, and apparently, tide times didn’t stop us either.

We made our way back to the beginning of the island to start the walk back to our tent.

“Um, mum,” I say, “the water is blocking off the middle.” I decided the best thing to do in this situation was to weep softly. My mum decided the best thing to do in this situation was to offer me the Custard Creams.

So, there I was; 13-years-old, sniffling and eating my favourite biscuit. I haven’t looked at a Custard Cream in the same way since.

The causeway at Worm’s Head on the Gower, Wales by heatheronhertravels is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

There was a big bell you could ring to get the attention of the mainland right next to the tide tables as if they were rubbing a sore wound. Maybe it was the British embarrassment we felt, but we didn’t want to ring that bell. We can wait until the tide drops again, it will still be light.

A small crowd was already forming, some holding binoculars of their own, so we thought it was time to embrace the embarrassment.

In the meantime, my dad was trying to find a number to call, eventually getting through to the chief Coastguard on his private number, interrupting his family lunch; I hope his lunch included something better than a packet of Custard Creams.

An hour passed and we saw a dinghy rushing out around the headland. Our saviour! Turns out our saviour was a camp young Welshman who did not know how to put a life jacket on. It was explained to us that, due to the regularity and ease of these rescues, the task was used to train the newest recruits.

After teaching the lovely young man how to use a life jacket, we set off, laughing awkwardly at our stupidity. We reached a spiral-ish, rough-cut, slippery stone staircase, on which we were plastered to the inside by men in navy blue boiler suits so we wouldn’t fall of the edge.

The agoraphobia of being stuck on Worm’s Head then the sudden claustrophobia of body after body made little old me rather giddy.

It was recommended to us we donate to the Coastguard for the rescue, so my dad walked into the brick building and offered £50. They were more interested in how he got a hold of the chief Coastguard’s number than saying thank you.

We then had afternoon tea, though I was too full after my Custard Creams.

Custard Cream by PangolinOne is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Ten years later, I am back again.

Trundling along past a B&B called Ocean Breeze and a fish and chip shop aptly named Chips Ahoy, I found myself in National Trust car park for Worm’s Head.

Accompanying me on this wild adventure was Blitzen, a small, energetic white dog, and my partner, who managed to get us there in one piece.

Bad driving and Welsh Country roads are certainly a death-defying mix.

After figuring out how to pay for parking (that’s online or in the now-closed visitor’s hut), our legs naturally took us toward the pub doors of the Worm’s Head Hotel. The familiar pub smell of hoppy beer split on wooden tables wafted past.

Tearing our noses away from the pub doors, we started on our quest for the beach.

After confidently galivanting off in the complete wrong direction, we realised we were on course to traverse the fraught path to the serpentine Norse “Wurme”; the sleeping dragon, or “the very promontory of depression” (if your name is Dylan Thomas).

Clambering over the sunned pewter grey causeway like clumsy lizards would probably not be the best idea; especially with a small toddler, the dog, in tow. Another day, we agreed.

We inconspicuously turned around, as if we just wanted a little sneak peek at the dragon-esque outcrop of moss-topped rock and tried to find the right way to the beach.

An unassuming concrete path in between the pub and The View, a café advertising a dog-friendly ice cream, was the start to our journey.

On our left, a cage full of garish orange cannisters with “Cooking Oil” emblazoned on the side; to the right, some wind-beaten trees; at the end, a driftwood gate.

Rhosilli 1 by James E. Petts is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

There’s something spectacularly freeing about gazing out over the long grasses in varying shades of chartreuse and the quilted green heath of the Gower hills.

The golden 3 miles of Rhossili beach yawned and stretched to the next headland; tumbled steel stones marked the change from haphazard concrete path traversing through the sandy coarse heather to soft beach.

All my woes had dissipated into unimportance and Blitzen’s wagging fluffball of a tail said the same.

The path, cracked and slippery, sloped downwards with the occasional step to trip us over. It was then I was thankful the sun was beaming in the Antarctic sky, and the Welsh winds and rain seemed to be kept safely away; these steps must be hellish when battling torrential downpours.

Blitzen’s bright white fur shone wildly, turning him into a familiar fit for an angel.

Rhosilli Down by jjay69 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Now safely on the soft sands, I turned to look at the hills I had walked on with my parents when I was thirteen. I had stood on this precise spot, just after a cream tea in the same café advertising the dog friendly ice-cream.

I couldn’t quite believe that such small legs scaled those mighty hills. I stare at the craggy causeway and wonder if anyone will get stuck this time, being forced to gaze longingly to shore while they ring the bell placed so pointedly near tide times.

It felt bizarre, being in a spot I had been ten years before. Maybe it was recounting the memory of getting taught how to put a life jacket on by a camp young Welshman who also did not know how to put a life jacket on. Maybe it was remembering the wild emotions of being agoraphobic and claustrophobic at the same time. Maybe it wasn’t the past at all.

We planned this trip. We packed the dog; we packed the poop bags. We were the ones to forget to bring a bottle of water and had to run into the pub and buy an expensive bottle of water and complain about the price. Us.

Is this what it’s like being an adult on a family holiday? This is so painfully domestic in the most wonderful way.

A postcard I sent by Sue Langford is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

I ran with Blitz to the water so he could look at the waves for the first time and get his snout wet.

“Those are waves,” I said, pointing.

Blitz looked terrified. I turned to see if my partner could see this scared little dog about to wage war on the waves. They were too far away, but I stood and waited for their sanded Doc Martens to walk them to the water’s edge, wind blowing their wavy hair into more of a wonderful mess than usual.

“Oh Blitz,” they said, looking at the dog backing away from a 1cm high wave. In defence of Blitz, he was 1 foot tall.

We all came away from the beach with sand in our shoes (or paws) and a new lease of life. The car ride home was full of plans being made for a camping trip in the Gower or somewhere else that promised adventure.

We just wanted to go and do something together, uninterrupted by responsibilities or time constraints.

As cliché as it sounds, it was like magic being on Rhossili beach with my partner and a dog as if it gave some foreshadowing to how my life could be.

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