Historically named 'Wurm' meaning 'dragon' by Viking invaders, the promontory, Worm's Head, is shaped like a giant sea-serpent and marks the most westerly tip of Gower. The island is joined to the mainland by a rocky causeway and features an large flat-topped 'Inner Head', towards a natural rock bridge called 'Devil's Bridge', a 'Low Neck' leading further out to the 'Outer Head'. The headland is one mile long and the highest point is approximately 150 feet.
The rocky, jagged causeway leading out to the 'Worm' is only exposed for two and a half hours before and after low tide, so walkers should always carefully check the tide times before they set off over the causeway. Being trapped on Worm's Head for half the day, waiting for low tide again, is both inconvenient and desolate to say the least, but so easily done by the inexperienced. Even the young Dylan Thomas made the mistake of falling asleep on the Inner Head and missing his tide:
I stayed on that Worm from dusk to midnight, sitting on that top grass, frightened to go further in because of the rats and because of things I am ashamed to be frightened of. Then the tips of the reef began to poke out of the water and, perilously, I climbed along them to the shore.
- Dylan Thomas.
Dylan Thomas used to regularly visit Worm's Head and in his short story, 'Who Do You Wish Was With Us?', he wrote:
... Laughing on the cliff above the very long golden beach, we pointed out to each other, as though the other were blind, the great rock of the Worm's Head. The sea was out. We crossed over on slipping stones and stood, at last, triumphantly on the windy top. There was montrous, thick grass there that made us spring-heeled and we laughed and bounced on it, scaring the sheep who ran up and down the battered sides like goats. Even on this calmest day a wind blew on the Worm.
- Dylan Thomas
The Outer Head is a breeding ground for birds such as Herring Gulls, Guillemots, Razorbills, and Kittiwakes, with the occasional appearance of Puffins.
At the end of the humped and serpentine body, more gulls than I had ever seen before cried over their new dead and the droppings of ages.
- Dylan Thomas
Walkers are requested not to climb to the top of Outer Head between 1 March and 31 August, to avoid disturbing these nesting birds.
Worm's Head Cave and Blow Hole
The Outer Head is also home to Worm's Head Cave and on the north side, a natural blow hole. William Camden in the 1586 published 'Britannia' describes the blow hole thus:
Toward the head itself, or that part which is farthest out in the sea, there is a small cleft or crevice in the ground, into which if you throw a handful of dust or sand, it will be blown back again into the air. But if you kneel or lie down, and lay your ears to it, you will then hear distinctly the deep noise of a prodigious large bellows. The reason is obvious; for the reciprocal motion of the sea, under the arch'd and rocky hollow of this headland, or promontory, makes an inspiration and expiration of the air, through the cleft, and that alternately; and consequently the noise, as of a pair of bellows in motion.
- William Camden
During the right conditions the blow hole is heard to emit noisy, impressive boomings and hissing; in fact, there is an old Gower saying - "The old Worm's blowing, time for a boat to be going".
The land on Worm's Head is very fertile and despite its hazards and rare accessibility, people in the past have attempted to utilise its resources. One Rhossili man decided to grow a crop of potatoes on the south side of the Inner Head, the potatoes grew very successful here and his early crop was earlier than anyone else's, but others were deterred from following his example when the problem of getting the crop over the razor-like rocks, back to the mainland was illustrated.
Sheep farmers, in the past, have utilised the rich grazing ground on 'The Worm'. For example the Talbot family at Penrice Castle used to graze their flock of wethers on the Inner Head of Worm's Head from September to March. It has been said that Worm's Head mutton is the tastiest in Gower. However, the sheep are so fond of the seclusion and good grass growing there that they are loathed to return to mainland pastures. One Rhossili farmer, Wilfred Beynon, reported that his whole flock of sheep escaped from their mainland field in the summer of 1932 and attempted to cross the treacherous causeway leading to the Worm. They were caught by the rising tide and all seventy of them drowned.
I don't know what it is, but once you put a sheep out on Worm's Head, it can't be kept away from there ... Once they've had a taste of the grass out there, they'll never be safe again - that's a bit of family wisdom, now.
- Wilfred Beynon in 'Yesterday's Gower' by J. Mansel Thomas, 1982.
Walking The Worm
Owned and protected as a National Nature Reserve by the National Trust and the Countryside Council for Wales, the varied plant life on Worm's Head is governed by the high winds, tidal spray and sun. The Outer Head is a very rare, ungrazed grassland, whereas the Inner Head, which has been grazed over the centuries, shows a large variation of plant colonies. Therefore, visitors are advised to keep to the well-worn dirt trail rather than trample on these species.
The best route for walkers to follow is down the wide path past National Trust Information Centre and shop, through the gate and follow the track for 1 mile until the former coastguard lookout hut is reached (it is now the Countryside Council for Wales Information Centre). From here start the decent to cross the causeway. It takes about 15 minutes to scramble across the wet, jagged rocks of the causeway. When the Inner Head is reached follow the dirt track round the south side (bear left), then across Devil's Bridge, around the south side (bear left again) of Low Neck, and on to the Outer Head. Remember not to climb to the top of the Outer Head between 1 March and 31 August so the nesting birds there are not disturbed and if the journey outwards is proving too long and laborious do not venture too far out and take the same route back.
Royal Mint - Coastline of Britain
In August 2009 the Royal Mint released a silver £5 coin depicting Worm's Head to commemorate the London 2012 Olympics and the places, people and history of Britain. The collectable coin was released again in 2012 as part of a 6-coin set representing the 'body' of Britain, capturing the land’s natural wonders and beauty.