I'm pony trekking on the Gower Peninsula in Southern Wales with Olive Edwards, a dynamic woman who loves Welsh Ponies and works hard running her historic Victorian inn and vacation destination, Parc Le Breos. After a full breakfast with eggs, bacon, toast and hot tea on our first day, we began a trek that would lead us to castles, Neolithic tombs, and the wide, sandy beaches of the Gower Peninsula. People say that this small peninsula packs as much diversity as the whole of Wales. I believe it.
With about forty Welsh ponies ranging in size from 12hh to 15.2hh and larger horses that her husband uses for show jumping, Parc le Breos is a horsey establishment. Olive has been leading pony trekking tours on the Gower Peninsula for over 44 years. That's a long time! Her inn has 12 rooms and during my stay, I met guests from England and Germany, besides us Americans.
Parc le Breos is situated amid a forest. It was once the estate and deer park of William de Breos, who was fond of pheasant hunting in the area. Olive told me that Parc le Breos holds the record for the most pheasants shot in one day-- 444 pheasants. Yikes!
Being at the inn, I couldn?t tell how close we were to the beach, but it only took us about ten minutes to walk on our ponies down to Three Cliffs Beach, a wide, sandy beach backed by enormous green, mossy cliffs.
On the way, we passed a Neolithic tomb, sitting amid the sand dunes. The cliffs in this area are several hundred feet tall, which makes for stunning ocean views from above and below.
To reach the beach, ponies and their riders must ease down a slim pathway that snakes along a cliff edge. It's not as scary as it sounds. As we walked down to the shore, Olive pointed out the ruins of Pennard Castle, an 800-year-old fort, in the distance. It's amazing that here on the Gower ancient tombs and medieval castles are situated in such close proximity to each other and that they are all so well intact.
Once on the flat beach, we galloped along, running back and forth on perfect, compact sand. We splashed through shallow puddles, before climbing higher, away from the beach and into the hills to visit Oxwich Castle. The good thing about this Tudor mansion is that right outside of the entranceway, there is an old mounting block, so Olive and I would have no trouble hopping back on after exploring the grounds on foot.
This 16th century castle has the coat of arms of Sir Rice Mansel?s family above the entrance. These old family seals in Scotland and Wales are pieces of art in their own right. The entrance to Oxwich Castle looks very imposing, but it was built more to show power than to actually be useful in defending the castle.
Olive and I walked through the castle turned manor home, watching our step on the old, dishelved stone floor. There are several floors to the castle and many rooms to explore. As Olive enthusiastically described each, the castle came to life.
We then climbed up through heather and moorland where sheep and a band of wild Welsh Mountain ponies grazed. These hardy ponies are able to live off of the land all year round - even in winter.
We trotted, cantered and walked along the top of a high ridge with beautiful views of both coasts of the peninsula before reaching the King Arthur?s Stone. For centuries, people have made pilgrimages to this Neolithic tomb. There are many fables and tales surrounding the powers that King Arthur?s Stone holds.
Olive told me that there is a legend that if a single woman crawls three times around the stone on her hands and knees that she will find her true love shortly thereafter. The terrain around the stone is pretty rocky, so I don't know if I would try that, but it was a funny visual.
In just one day on the Gower, I was able to ride to castles, Neolithic tombs, through a herd of wild Welsh ponies and along some of the widest beaches I have ever seen. On any given trip, I would be delighted to visit just one of these destinations, let alone all of them all of them in one day!