For many Britons, the ideal holiday home would be in southern England, in Devon or Cornwall – or perhaps Dorset or Sussex. Yet they ignore the lower profile and much less crowded Gower Peninsula in south Wales, which combines unspoilt countryside and beaches with some of Britain’s best value sea-view homes.
The Gower Peninsula stretches 15 miles across and six miles from top to bottom. On its eastern edge is Swansea, a former industrial city now cultivating a reputation as a cultural and administrative centre. Gower’s most westerly point is Worm’s Head, a serpent-shaped island in Rhossili Bay, linked to the mainland by a causeway. Penclawdd, known for its cockle industry, marks the northern tip, while the most southerly points are Port Eynon and Oxwich bays.
Inland, the Gower’s farmland dips and rises with a rolling and often-windswept landscape reaching, at its highest point, 640ft above sea level. The population is small – about 10,000 people in villages, hamlets and clusters of cliff-top homes.
For more than 50 years, most of the peninsula’s coastline has been designated an area of outstanding natural beauty. This year Rhossili, a four-mile stretch of sand, has been voted Europe’s third best beach by travel website TripAdvisor and 10th in the world by magazine Travellers’ Choice.
Yet, while coastal property prices in English second-home locations, such as Devon and Cornwall, are high – the average home in Padstow, north Cornwall, costs £386,261; and in Devon’s South Hams the average is £290,921, according to the Land Registry – Gower prices are much lower. A five-bedroom apartment within a larger house in the south Gower village of Horton, a short walk from two well-known beaches is just £269,000, available through Simpsons, a local agent based in the village of Mumbles.
The higher end of the market is similarly good value. A five-bedroom 1920s house, overlooking Caswell Bay, is one of Gower’s most expensive properties, on sale at £2m, with optional woodland available for an extra £500,000. A six-bedroom home with beach access in Horton is priced at £2m. Both properties are available through Gower Coast Properties. Similar homes on the Dorset coast are likely to cost more than £4m.
In Mumbles, the part of Gower closest to Swansea, a modern four-bedroom, two-bathroom house with substantial grounds is on sale for £799,950 through John Francis, the largest Welsh-owned estate agency.
What keeps values down here, compared with other British holiday home areas, is the perception that Gower is difficult to reach, despite it being only around 200 miles west of central London – closer to the capital than much of Cornwall.
“There’s an intercity rail link with an excellent and frequent service to Swansea,” says James Greenwood of Stacks Property Search, a buying agency. “The M4 motorway goes from London to Swansea. Even Cardiff airport is on the Gower side of Cardiff.” He says potential buyers often dismiss Gower for being “in Wales” – shorthand for “it’s hard to reach”.
Even so, about 70 per cent of Gower properties are now second homes, according to Carol Peett of buying agency County Homesearch. “The most popular are in the south,” she says. “Oxwich, Caswell and Langland Bay are particularly sought after and expensive, as is Rhossili. North Gower is not quite as popular.” Nearby Penmaen and Southgate are also popular with high-end buyers.
“These villages have uninterrupted views over the Bristol Channel and are just a [short] walk away from Three Cliffs Bay, one of the prettiest beaches in Gower,” says Nick Christofides of John Francis. “They are in a rural location, but just 15 minutes’ drive from Mumbles.” But the high-end market is not without its problems. Prices remain about 20 per cent below their 2007 peak and demand is inconsistent. “A water view is by far the most important factor, plus proximity to beaches and accessibility,” says Peter Reilly of Savills. “But there’s a big gap between demand for the best coastal spots and for properties further inland.” As a result, sales in villages in north Gower, such as Llanmadoc and Llanrhidian, farther from the M4 and Swansea, are sluggish.
Although there is a modern marina at Swansea, there is no deepwater mooring along the Gower coast, meaning buyers are more likely to be beach lovers rather than the serious sailors catered for along the southern English coast. This also accounts for the virtual absence of international buyers.
Gower also has many more houses built between the 1950s and 1980s than newer houses or apartments. This may make the location more attractive than, say, southern English ports lined with apartment blocks, but it also makes it tougher for buyers to find the right home. “It’s common for a property to be purchased at £600,000-plus only to be completely remodelled or demolished with a new house built in its place,” says Christofides, who believes many vendors are delaying plans to sell until prices edge closer to their pre-downturn highs.
They may be waiting some time. Despite signs of recovery, the Land Registry says average prices across Swansea, including Gower, dropped 4.7 per cent in the year leading up to April. One consolation for those living in the area is that diminishing values do not affect the glorious views. They merely emphasise the good value that Gower represents.
● Welsh is spoken by some people but English is the main language
● Sales website Rightmove says 168 detached houses have been sold in Gower in the past year
● Public rights of way close to coastlines are used heavily
What you can buy for . . .
£500,000 A three-bedroom garden apartment near a beach
£1m A detached five-bedroom house near Langland Bay
£2m A five-bedroom house near sought-after Caswell Bay