Worm's Head, Swansea


★★★

Middle Head and Outer Head
Shallow rock pool

Narrow tidal island south of Rhossili Bay at the western tip of the Gower Peninsula, surrounded by limestone cliffs and eroded formations
Management
Location
Rhossili, at the end of the B4247, 18 miles west of Swansea
Hike
2.2 miles, to the top of Outer Head
Photo Tour (31 images)
Worm's Head is a narrow, tidal island, joined by a causeway to a promontory on the south side of Rhossili Bay, and it forms the westernmost point of the Gower Peninsula. Like the smaller island on the north side of the bay (Burry Holms), the headland is formed of relatively resistant carboniferous limestone; the intermediate rocks, along the three mile bay, are softer Old Red Sandstone and hence these have eroded more quickly, leaving the exposed spurs at either side.

The promontory is a flat-topped area about 175 feet above the sea, at the level of an ancient beach, and is partly lined by cliffs but slopes down less steeply at the far side to a band of exposed rocks along the shoreline, separated at high tide by a quarter of a mile of open water from the island, which was so named due to its long, slender, serpentine outline, 'wyrm' being an ancient term for a dragon.

The island has four distinct sections - the nearest and largest is the Inner Head, an oval-shaped area rising up to 140 feet, connected by another rocky belt, occasionally breached by storm tides but otherwise above the high water mark, to the much smaller Lower Neck, which adjoins the Middle Head. These two are separated by Devil's Bridge, a large, angular opening beneath a narrow strip of rock. The most distant section of the island, the Outer Head, is also the highest, ending at a small summit about 150 feet high. Like most of the island, Outer Head is bordered by sheer cliffs to the north but the south side is more gently sloping, and a wide band of intricately eroded limestone formations is revealed when the tide recedes, enhancing the already very photogenic scenery.

Worm's Head is reachable for about 2.5 hours either side of low tide, giving a five hour access window, plenty long enough for the round-trip, from the edge of the promontory, of 2.5 miles. Including the walk from the nearest parking area, in the village of Rhossili, the total is 4.5 miles; the hike affords a spectacular views of the island, the cliffs of the promontory, Rhossili Bay, Rhossili Downs, and the coastline to the east, while added interest comes from rock formations, spring/summer wildflowers, the plentiful tide pools, and a herd of sheep that graze the mainland. There are also two historic sites nearby - earthworks from an Iron Age fort along the north edge of the promontory, and the remains of a medieval field system ('the Vile') at the centre.



Path to the Island


Rhossili is served by a large carpark overlooking the bay, at the end of the B4247, opposite a hotel and restaurant. The walk to the far side of the promontory is along a vehicle track close to the north edge, near where the land falls away steeply to the sandy beach up to 200 feet below. The track leads to an old coast guard building, now used as an information point, seasonal cafe and lifeguard post, run by the Countryside Council for Wales. Tide times are displayed to allow visitors to gauge whether they have enough time to visit the island and return safely. The main path continues eastwards along the coast while another short route winds down a grassy slope to the edge of the rocks, start point for the quarter mile walk over the causeway to the island. Some sections are fairly flat - a mix of sand, gravel, pools and terraces - while others are more jagged, crossed by many small ridges formed by upturned strata, sometimes containing veins of calcite, but there are no great difficulties. The middle, and lowest section of the causeway is less rocky, along a northwest-southeast channel known as the Shipway.



Inner Head and Devil's Bridge


A path resumes on the far side of the intertidal rocks, climbing the Inner Head; the most used route runs along the south edge while an alternative climbs the central ridgeline, up to the summit and down the far side. Grey seals are often spotted on the north edge of the island, resting on inaccessible rocks beneath the cliffs. At the far edge the land narrows, giving way to a 400 foot-long stretch of exposed rocks, somewhat more difficult to cross than before owing to deeper fissures. The next grassy area, Low Neck, connects to the Middle Head via the top of Devil's Bridge, a feature viewable from below easily enough by climbing over the adjacent rocks. Sometimes the incoming waters are forced by the waves through a blowhole to form a powerful, angled jet, right beneath the bridge.



Middle Head and Outer Head


As before, two paths cross Middle Head, one along the crest, the other close to the south edge. The band of wave-cut rocks to the south, up to 400 feet wide at low tide, includes the best eroded formations on the island, a great array of weathered pinnacles, large and small, separated by narrow crevices and some wider channels, coloured various shades of bluish-grey, and black, contrasting with the whitewater waves and the white foam. After another, much shorter rocky band, on the rim of a dramatic, wave-pummelled cove to the north, the land rises steadily to the furthest section of the island, Outer Head. The path starts off on the south shore then cuts northwards, ending with a short climb up a slanted cliff, to the grassy summit right at the western tip, from where the views extend across the Bristol Channel to the hills of Devon. Outer Head is out-of-bounds between March and September in order to protect nesting birds, including guillemots, kittiwakes and herring gulls.