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The Donkeys Are Gone Now ~ A Photographic Portrait of Penclawdd (Gower Peninsula, Swansea)

Last updated on March 3, 2022

I took these photos of Penclawdd over the last year and a half (2021/22). Most of them were taken while walking our dog, Lola. I had no idea in mind of what I’d do with them, no goal. But after putting them together, side by side, I realised that they painted a picture, a portrait – a portrait of my home.


I’ve lived in the village of Penclawdd for more years of my life than anywhere else.

I was a child when I first moved here and a lanky 18-year-old when I left. Now I’m a husband and a father, and I call it home once again.

Sometimes referred to as the gateway to the Gower peninsula, it’s often overlooked as a stop-off point on the way to the famous local beaches. In a way, this has been a blessing for the village as it has never really had to bend to the weight of tourism.

Penclawdd Village, Gower, Swansea - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com110

Penclawdd Village, Gower, Swansea - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com86

Penclawdd is a place where history still feels very present. In fact, in many ways the past feels more present than the present.

When Welsh poet R.S. Thomas wrote, “There is no present in Wales, And no future; There is only the past,” I imagine he was talking about Penclawdd. I say this as a compliment, of course.

It’s one of those places that still feels like a village. A place where neighbours still know each other, where the local pubs are filled with… well, locals.

Penclawdd Village, Gower, Swansea - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com170

It was a mining village for much of its history. Producing, processing and shipping coal and copper across the world via its jagged network of salt marsh channels, stretching out to sea like a malignant nervous system.

People came from far and wide to labour in the mines and toil in the copper-works. Churches and chapels were built to accommodate the bulging population, which you can hear about in my short film, Gone for Good?. The local rugby club benefited greatly, too, as did the choirs.

Gone for Good - Penclawdd, Gower : Ben Holbrook41

Penclawdd Village, Gower, Swansea - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com110

Penclawdd Village, Gower, Swansea - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com170

The marsh is a sort of wet meadow and gave birth to a cockle industry that dates back as far as Roman times.

The bent-backed, web-footed cockle women and their beasts of burden have long been the symbol of the village. They’d head out with their donkeys to rake the sludge at low tide and bring back baskets laden with tiny white-shelled molluscs to sell at Swansea Market. This is why the people of Penclawdd are known as “Donks”.

Penclawdd Village, Gower, Swansea - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com170

Penclawdd Village, Gower, Swansea - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com174

The donkeys are gone now, as are the coal miners and cockle women. But somehow the village still belongs to them. Even now, there’s a toughness to the people, a calloused culture of stoicism inherited from generations of grafters.

Wild ponies graze their way across the bleak and boggy marshlands by day. By night they prowl the streets, hoofing up our gardens and fertilising the pavements.

Penclawdd - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com

Alan and his boats : Penclawdd Marsh, Gower Peninsula, South Wales - by Ben Holbrook6

Penclawdd Cockles, Gower Peninsula, Photography Project by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com-17

Penclawdd Village, Gower, Swansea - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com174

Penclawdd Village, Gower, Swansea - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com174

Penclawdd Village, Gower, Swansea - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com85

Penclawdd Village, Gower, Swansea - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com122

Penclawdd Village, Gower, Swansea - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com174

Penclawdd Village, Gower, Swansea - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com85

Penclawdd Village, Gower, Swansea - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com174

Penclawdd Village, Gower, Swansea - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com85

Growing up, it was the place I dreamed of escaping. But now I’m a husband and a father, I see its unfading beauty.

It’s a privilege to live in such a beautiful place, to be part of it somehow.


Make it Happen

I would suggest staying in Penclawdd for a night or two whilst exploring the famous beaches of Gower (Rhossili, Llangennith, etc.). There are a couple of great pubs, a chip shop, cafe, ice-cream parlour, gift shop and little supermarket.

The Estuary Bar and Rooms is a fantastic place to stay, with rooms looking out over the marsh. Prices from around £80 a night with breakfast included. Free parking.

More from Penclawdd and the Gower Peninsula

A Misty Morning on Penclawdd Marsh

‘Like Living on an Island’ – A Photo Essay Exploring Life on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales

Cine Scenes from Summer 2020 (on the Gower Peninsula, Wales) ~ A 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio Photography Journal

Best Beaches on the Gower Peninsula, Wales ~ A Local’s Guide

Walking to Pwlldu Bay (Wales Coast Path) ~ The Gower Peninsula’s Most Secluded Beach

Gower Gold ~ A Poem Dedicated to My Beloved Gower PubsLast Breath of Summer (in Mumbles, Swansea) ~ A Journal

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Camera Gear Talk

I shot all of these shots with either my Fujifilm XT3 or XT4. I prefer prime lenses for still photos and mainly shoot with my 23mm f/2 and 35mm f/1.4.

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Categories:Gower Peninsula Photography Talk UK Wales

One Comment

  1. Barry Fox Barry Fox

    Great pics, I will take my camera with me more often. Th lady with the flinger and two dog is Helen Clatworth. I will let her know

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