Pennard, Ilston and Bishopston Valley

An astonishingly varied walk through the woods, dunes and coastal commons of Gower




9.25 miles (14.9kms)

1250ft (380m)
3hrs 45min

About the walk

The Gower Peninsula is a place of stunning and astonishingly varied natural beauty. Here are hidden coves and glorious sandy beaches, high cliffs and windswept downs, dunes, marshland, wooded valleys and picturesque villages. Almost every path opens up a new and rewarding perspective, but there is no walk on Gower that captures this amazing variety better than this one.

To the west of Pennard, the view over Three Cliffs Bay will literally take your breath away. High above this fabulous beach (regularly voted among the best in Britain) perch the ruins of Pennard Castle. This dramatic ruin was probably built in the late 13th century to replace an earlier ringwork defence. It seemed like an ideal location, but the castle’s Norman lords could not have foreseen the problem of encroaching sand. Advancing sand dunes destroyed the fertility of the surrounding land and by the 15th century, the castle had been abandoned.

In 1649, St Illtyd’s Church, Ilston, became home to the first Baptist congregation in Wales. Its new rector, John Myles, was a supporter of Cromwell and went on to found a number of Baptist churches in South Wales during the Civil War. After the Restoration, Myles was ejected from his Ilston living and forced to hold his Baptist meetings at the small pre-Reformation chapel lower down Ilston Cwm. Persecution continued and the congregation eventually dispersed in 1664. Taking with him the Ilston Book – a register of all 261 members of Ilston’s Baptist congregation – Myles emigrated to America and founded a town in Massachusetts called Swansea, where he served as the town’s first minister and then schoolmaster until his death in 1684. Now held by Brown University of Providence, Rhode Island, the Ilston Book is no longer available for public viewing but a transcript of its contents is held by the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.

Now densely wooded, the Bishopston Valley was at one time divided into fields by dry-stone walls; even today there are areas of meadowland in the forest grazed by cattle. The valley’s most interesting feature is its stream, which disappears underground near Bishopston Church, where it meets the pervious limestone rocks underlying the valley. It reappears after reaching more impervious rocks further down the valley.

At Guzzle Hole, the underground stream can be seen and heard from the entrance to a shallow limestone cave (the name refers to the ‘guzzling’ sound made by the running water). Limestone was a valuable commodity in the 19th century, and over 200 hundred men were employed at a coastal quarry in Pwlldu Bay.

Walk directions

Facing the sea, turn right along a tarmac lane. Continue on to a grassy clifftop, which curves right above Pobbles Beach (‘Wales Coast Path’). Follow a grassy/sandy path into a valley. Turn left, then right, and climb steeply. Join a boardwalk above Three Cliffs Bay and follow the high ground above Pennard Pill to Pennard Castle.

Keep ahead to reach an enclosed path to the left of chalets. Descend steeply through woodland to a junction of paths and turn right. Follow a stream to a junction with a lane and cross to a track opposite. Drop to a footbridge and turn right along the A4118 (no pavement).

Just before the Gower Inn, take a path on the left (‘Ilston’). Walk up Ilston Cwm to the remains of a chapel, crossing two footbridges. Continue up the valley, crossing four further bridges to reach a waymarked fork. Turn left and follow the main stream to St Illtyd’s Church, Ilston. Walk through the graveyard and turn right.

At a small green, turn right up a track. With a house ahead, turn sharp left and join an enclosed path. At a grassy track, turn right towards Courthouse Farm and then sharp left, along the stony access track. Follow this down to a stream and then up to the A4118.

Keep straight across on to a road signed to Kittle. At Kittle Hill Farm, follow the lane round a series of bends, then go through a kissing gate on the left. The path runs parallel to the road, rejoining it in Kittle. Continue to a T-junction by the Beaufort Arms.

Turn right and cross to a footpath sign for the Bishopston Valley. Follow a track to a house and continue on a path to the left. Shortly fork left and descend past Gulver Pit to the dry, rocky bed of Bishopston Pill. Turn right and follow the main path down the valley to Pwlldu Bay.

Turn right on to a steep, stony track climbing out of the bay (‘Wales Coast Path’). Join an access track by Kilsaran house and climb to the left. At a righthand bend, keep ahead on to a path signed to Pwlldu Head.

At the headland, drop steeply towards the sea. Bear right at a waymark post and climb to the top of cliffs. The path bears right again, crossing grassy clifftops to reach an unfenced lane near Hunts Farm. Turn left and follow the grassy common to the left of the lane back to Southgate.

Additional information

Rough, stony path in Bishopston Valley; slippery in wet weather (1 stile)

Coastal common, dunes, wooded valleys, fabulous sea views

Livestock on coastal cliffs, but can run free in woods

OS Explorer 164 Gower

Pay-and-display car park in Southgate

Opposite car park at start of walk

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About the area

Discover Swansea

There’s no getting away from it – when it comes to image, Swansea is a bit of a mixed bag. During its heyday in the 19th century, as king of the copper industry, it was known as ‘Copperopolis’. Dylan Thomas then called it an ‘ugly, lovely town’, but home-grown megastar Catherine Zeta-Jones raves about it and surveys have concluded it’s the best place to live in Britain. The good news is that regeneration is afoot. The dock area has been redeveloped into an opulent Maritime Quarter, where refurbished old buildings mingle with modern architecture, and the city is home to some appealing attractions.

When you tire of the city, head west along the Gower Peninsula, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The perfect holiday destination, it is the ideal place to surf, kite surf or boogie board, with stunning beaches and pretty inland areas. There are four National Nature Reserves and ample gardens, parks, cycle-paths and bridleways. Inland Gower is mostly heath and grazing farmland broken up into tiny parcels of fields, but it has its fair share of attractions, with a smattering of little villages, such as Reynoldston, situated on the Cefn Bryn ridge from where there are far-reaching views of the peninsula.


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