‘Is this really the way?’ I thought, as I drove over bare, windswept land on the Gower Peninsula. We were on our way to the Gower Heritage Centre, which I’d been told was a cultural hub of the local area. I had my doubts, given that the drive there involved crossing two cattle grids, passing a few lonely-looking wild ponies, and stopping to admire the dramatic, rugged view, all without encountering another soul.
Gower Heritage Centre is set in a valley between steep hills, in Parkmill eight miles west of Swansea. The approach to the centre is along quiet roads; the centre itself, however, was thronging with people, and we had to queue to park. It was Easter weekend, and the centre was hosting a gypsy jazz and swing festival, with musicians from across Europe playing all day and into the evening. It seemed that half the local population had turned out, with everyone from pensioners to toddlers to dreadlocked crusties bopping away, drinking locally brewed cider.
The centre was established in 1990 on the site of a 12th century water-powered corn and saw mill. The mill has been restored, and you can see the water wheel in action, as well as visit the workshops and galleries of the local artists and craftspeople who teach families and display their work here.Mine was just a fleeting visit. The rest of the family had fallen asleep in the car while I drove across the Gower’s heathland. I left D listening to the cricket in the car while the children slept on and I dashed in to the place, to find out more. The people on the door very kindly let me in for free, as I was on a fact-finding mission and only took 15 minutes or thereabouts. I would have loved to stay longer, but it was approaching the kids’ teatime, the daytime activities at the centre were about to end….and our children are very grumpy when awoken.
It was a shame, as there is a lot in the centre for families to enjoy. As well as the mill, and workshops on subjects like puppet making and pottery, there are permanent displays on the history of farming and medieval living in Wales; a mini-farm, with chickens and geese roaming free; and a play area (which was a little soggy and downcast when I saw it, but I’m sure it would be fun on a bright day).
The outside of the Gower Heritage Centre is also worth a look. A cider press is on hand, in case anyone is thirsty coming into, or going out of the centre. There are traditional Welsh cottages nestled into the folds of the valley, and a bright, quirky gift shop. Just outside the centre there is what is advertised as ‘the smallest cinema in Wales’, showing art-house films. I’m sure its claim must be true; from the outside it looked as though it couldn’t house any more than seven filmgoers, sitting thigh-to-thigh.
I’d like to return to Gower Heritage Centre on a day when my fellow travellers weren’t asleep. It has an inviting programme of events, including music and food festivals. It seemed to be a place very much in keeping with the character and charms of the local area.
We stayed on the Gower Peninsula for a long weekend over Easter. You can read more about our stay here. Daytime entry to the Gower Heritage Centre is £6.80 for adults and £5.80 for children. A range of special offers and concessions apply, including half price entry if you travel there by NAT Cymru bus.
The Gower Heritage Centre is in Parkmill, on the A4118, eight miles to the west of Swansea.