Whiteford National Nature Reserve, Swansea


Cwm Ivy Tor
Woodland path

Sandy beaches, grassy dunes, wetlands and forest, on the remote northwestern corner of the Gower Peninsula; varied plant and animal life, and scenic views
National Trust, Natural Resources Wales
North of Cwm Ivy. Parking is along the road from Llanmadoc; SA3 1DE
Photo Tour (36 images)
The northern tip of the Gower Peninsula is formed by a wide band of grassy sand dunes, dotted with patches of coniferous woodland, extending 1.5 miles northwards from an outcrop of carboniferous limestone, the hard rock that forms the majority of the coastal cliffs hereabouts. This region is rather remote, not directly reached by roads, and so not much visited, but is interesting both scenically and also because of the many different plant species found here, a result of the isolation and the varied habitats, of grassland, marsh, forest and calcium-rich sand. All the dunes, known as Whiteford Burrows, are protected as a national nature reserve, and are bordered to the west by a wide, sandy beach (Whiteford Sands), and to the east by extensive salt marsh, which stretches over five miles along Gower's north coast and provides a safe resting place for numerous birds.

The main path into Whiteford National Nature Reserve follows the east edge, between the dunes and the salt marsh, while a lesser route runs close to the beach on the west side, together forming a loop across the whole area of about 4.5 miles, starting from the nearby village of Cwm Ivy. The best area for wildflowers is towards the south end, in the partly boggy flats bordering the beach; further north, the land is generally drier though still has some damp areas, the dune slacks, between the sandy hills.

The Nature Reserve

Parking is provided in a farm field, on the east side of the dead-end road to Cwm Ivy, which forks off Kyfts Lane in Llanmadoc; a nominal payment is required, deposited in a box in the stone wall at the entrance. Once through the village, the road turns into a track, descending slightly and running along the base of the limestone escarpment, which ahead rises to a rocky peak, Cwm Ivy Tor, worth climbing for a fine overview of the surroundings. The views encompass a large area of coast on the far side of the Loughor estuary, and the dunes and salt marsh along the north edge of the peninsula. One path branches off to the north, through a patch of woods and on beside the salt marsh, while the other route continues to another junction beside a gate, at the entrance to the nature reserve. From here, the northwards path leads close to the beach, though the sands are not so accessible at this point, being separated by a 400 foot-wide band of boggy, tussocky ground, partly fenced off to provide a safe habitat for breeding birds. The moist land is home to a range of unusual plants such as bog pimpernel, yellow loosestrife, squinancywort, dune pansy and knotted pearlwort, plus orchids including marsh helleborine, southern marsh, early marsh and fragrant. At one time the very rare fen orchid grew here, though it has not been observed for a decade or more.

Whiteford Point

The path continues northeastwards, as the intervening grassy belt narrows, and the beach soon comes into view. Other, minor paths enter the reserve interior, which is generally not so overgrown and hence cross-country walking is possible in most places. The patches of woodland, mostly pine plantations established relatively recently, provide a great contrast with the sometimes hot and exposed surroundings, being permanently cool and sheltered, and on sunny days the thin, parallel trunks create pleasing patterns of light and shade. The northern tip of the dunes is Whiteford Point, where at low tide the land beyond extends another mile northwards, incorporating the disused Whiteford Lighthouse, a cast-iron structure built in 1865. The return path, on the east side of the nature reserve, is initially mostly through woodland, often surprisingly lush and overgrown, then crosses more open terrain beside the salt marsh, before re-entering forest towards the south end. In this part of the woods the National Trust manages the Cwm Ivy Lodge Bunkhouse, a self-catering facility accommodating up to ten people.

Whiteford National Nature Reserve
Trail junction