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Geology controls every aspect of a landscape, and so holds the key to all natural and human history. Gower, with its rich past and unparalleled variety of scenery is therefore a perfect place to see the fulfilment of this legacy of the rocks -- to see its prophecies work themselves out, in the shape of the land itself, and in the shapes of people's lives for generations.

This guide, which I hope is rather more than a mere field guide, is for people who want to know the 'why?' as well as the 'what?' when they begin to explore this wonderful piece of country. Although the structure of Gower is not simple, sufficient of the principles of geology are explained in section 1 (I Gower - A part of Earth History) that even those with no previous knowledge of the subject may use the guide. It is intended, too, that readers should arrive at a true understanding of Gower's structure, and not be content with disjointed facts about a few localities and a list of common fossils.

I have tried, therefore, to build up a picture, to show what makes the geology of Gower 'tick'. I hope, too, that this approach helps to put the area in a wider geological context. After all, Gower is not the only place on Earth - though, as this is the author's native patch, I hope he may be forgiven for sounding as though he thinks it is!

This guide concentrates on the solid geology, and makes only brief reference to the very important superficial deposits of Gower. For an account of these, the reader is referred to the Further Reading section, and Mike Bridges’s excellent Classic Landforms of the Gower Coast).

How to use this guide

The brief first section is for those with no training in geology at all, and they should read it before setting out on any of the excursions. The trips themselves must be taken in the order presented, and they have been written so that facts and ideas are developed from one to the other. None of the trips involves any very serious walking, and the first (A stroll along the prom) may even be covered in a car. To help drivers, the words CAR PARK have been highlighted in this way wherever they occur in the text. The (downloadable PDF) maps mark these with the letters CP.

Downloadable PDFs

The Web text is illustrated mostly with photos. However, the diagrams that are so important to the explanations are provided as downloadable PDFs. The reader is invited to download and print these at appropriate junctures in the text. Some of these PDFs are quite large, so depending on the speed of your internet connection they may take some time to arrive.

After section 2 (II The structure of Gower - five guided tours), which provides five structured geological excursions that should be taken in the order presented, there is a third section detailing certain isolated localities of great geological interest and further reading and acknowledgements. A full glossary of terms used in the text is also provided as part of the guide.

When to visit

All the coastal sections are most profitably visited when the tide is out, affording maximum access. You can check the tides in the local paper on the evening before setting out, to ensure that you arrive at the correct time. If you are interested in fitting these excursions into a longer walk, some suggestions as to your route are often included at the end of each locality-description. The visitor is strongly advised to walk; it is the only way to get to know Gower.

Equipment and safety

In Gower, the main dangers to geologists include falling off the cliffs and getting cut off by the tide, which can turn at an alarming rate and rise very quickly. Almost every year, children are killed either through inadequate supervision at cliff-edges or through being washed off rocks by unexpectedly high surf.

Please watch out for yourself and others when under cliffs or in quarries, and never enter a working quarry without permission. You will not need a hard hat on any of these excursions, but they can save your life and will certainly prevent very painful lumps on the brow. You will find that any quarry manager will insist on your wearing one while you are on his property. All safety conscious guide leaders will expect you to wear a hard hat when you are near cliffs or in quarries.

Your best equipment, both for science and safety, is that which nature has bestowed upon you - hands, nose, ears, eyes and brains. Your senses might benefit from a little enhancement by the use of a handlens, and a compass would be very useful for those whose sense of direction is not infallible (everybody). You will be advised about maps later, but if you buy a geological map, make sure it says 'Solid' and not 'Drift' on the top if you want to see the rock-structure clearly.

A word about hammers

The hammer is to the geologist what the palette and floppy hat are to the artist. As with most popular conceptions, it is a mistaken one. Unless you are determined to look for fossils, then a hammer is of almost no use to a field geologist, unless he or she has to collect fresh, unweathered samples. Otherwise, it is heavy to carry, potentially dangerous and handy only when the courage begins to wane before some ferocious farmyard hound or field full of tetchy cattle. Strenuous feats of rock-breaking are best left to quarrymen and convicts.

And lastly - it's "Gower" not "The Gower"

As a local lad (and that's me, on the left, in 1964, struggling up Nicholaston Burrows with my mother) may I plead with you not to refer to peninsular Gower as "The Gower"? 

Nobody calls Gower "The Gower", unless they be Swansea people who think they're being posh. (Yes, there are some, believe it or not. They usually pronounce it "Tha Gaahh", like certain Surrey folk who somehow manage to reduce their County name to one syllable).

This hated definite article once even gained such currency as to make it to the title of the (then) new metric Landranger series of OS maps ("Swansea and The Gower"). After strenuous campaigning by The Gower Society, however, the error was corrected in subsequent editions. You have the author's permission to laugh loudly at anyone who tries to say "the Gower".