The Unitary Authority, or county, of Swansea covers an area of 146 square miles and has a population in excess of 230,000.
It stretches from Swansea Bay northwards across the M4 to include the picturesque hill country of Mynydd y Gwair [Grassy Mountain], where native Welsh cattle, sheep and ponies graze contentedly amongst nesting skylarks, hovering kestrels, gliding buzzards and circling red kites.
Here, too, are the Lliw Valley Reservoirs, which supply Swansea with a vital clean water supply and provide a resting place for a variety of wild ducks and geese .....as well as local walkers!
Walking through this wild, lonely area, you can almost forget that there is a bustling city just below your feet!
Sadly, the peace and solitude will not last if outrageous plans for a forest of gigantic wind turbines, up to 400 feet in height, go ahead.
To the west, the county of Swansea stretches from midway along the sweep of Swansea Bay, to the tip of the glorious Gower Peninsula.
The Gower Peninsula was the first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty [A.O.N.B] in the UK. Here you will find green hills, rugged limestone cliffs, secluded sandy bays, wooded valleys, acres of common land grazed by sheep and wild ponies and a wealth of fascinating historic and pre-historic sites.
The 19 mile long peninsula offers fabulous sandy beaches. If you are looking for a good beach... then look no further!!
From the vast 5 mile sweep of Swansea Bay, with its huge expanse of sand and close proximity to the City Centre to the stunning views from Worms Head at the western tip, the area offers a variety of secluded coves and sandy bays to suit all tastes.
Along the south coast of Gower are Bracelet Bay, Limeslade Bay,
Langland Bay, Caswell Bay, Pwll Du Bay, Pobbles Bay, Three Cliffs Bay, Tor Bay, Oxwich Bay, Port Eynon Bay and Mewslade Bay.
It sounds just like a Welsh version of Bay Watch!
Around the corner from Worms Head, facing west, the large sweep of Rhossili Bay offers both local and holidaying surfers wild Atlantic rollers on which to show off their skills.
The village of Llangennith is a favourite gathering point for the surfing set.
Around the next headland, at Burry Holms, is yet another large beach called Broughton Bay, facing north-west; a tad less sheltered than the warm sun-traps on the south coast!
On North Gower, along the Loughor Estuary, is the vast expanse of Llanrhidian Sands and the village of Penclawdd, famous for its delicious cockles.
Note how there are far more Welsh language place-names in North Gower than in the south. This reflects the anglicisation of South Gower in previous centuries.
Gower is famous for growing early vegetables to supply the large population on its door-step.
During August, Gower Agricultural Show is held in Penrice Castle Park, Reynoldston.
As you head towards the city of Swansea from South Gower, you reach the sea-side resort of Mumbles, on the western-most point of Swansea Bay.
Just around Mumbles Head, with its light-house to guide shipping, is Mumbles Pier, well-loved by the citizens of Swansea, especially on balmy summer week-ends. The pubs, cafes and ice-cream parlours of the village do a roaring trade at such times!
Mumbles is the birth-place of the late well-loved, comedian and singer, Sir Harry Secombe. Swansea born actress, Welsh actress Catherine Zeta Jones, a native of Swansea, and her husband, Michael Douglas, have built a luxury home here as their Welsh base.
Swansea is a wonderful shopping centre, attracting shoppers from all over West Wales, as far north as mid-Ceredigion, and as far west as St Davids in Pembrokeshire.
West Walians will travel about sixty miles for a "big shopping day" in Swansea, if they are looking for Christmas gifts etc.
The best shopping area in Swansea City Centre is around the covered Swansea Quadrant.
The streets around the Quadrant have been cobbled and made traffic-free, making it much more relaxing and convenient for shoppers!!
You will find a huge variety of shops in an around the Quadrant, including top department stores.
The very popular and competitive large covered Swansea Market, which we mention later in this article, is also adjacent to the Quadrant.
Further out from the city centre, there is a very large out-of-town retail park in Fforestfach on the western approach to Swansea as you turn off the M4 at the Swansea West junction.
If you turn into Swansea off the M4 on the Swansea North junction, you will soon pass the access to Swansea Enterprise Park at Landore, along the River Tawe, not far from the Liberty Stadium, the football and rugby stadium, used by Swansea City FC and the Ospreys regional rugby team.
After crossing the bridge across the River Tawe, you will find a huge number of businesses occupying Swansea Enterprise Park. There are printers, garages, supermarkets, solicitors, car-parts yards, retail outlets, factories, warehouses etc etc ......in fact, all sorts of businesses serving the whole of South West Wales!
Here's a tip! If you want a good breakfast in the Enterprise Park ....and there is a choice between Welsh Breakfast [including laver bread and cockles!]; English breakfast; Scottish breakfast and Irish breakfast!!..........then visit the clean and friendly "Fairdeal Cafe", just behind the Weighbridge Referral Centre. A great wholesome breakfast at excellent value !
A road from Swansea Enterprise Park loops around from the eastern part of Swansea to the City Centre.
In front of the City Centre is the highly attractive Swansea Marina with its many yachts, bars, cafes and little shops. This is all part of the Maritime Cultural Quarter.
The £30.8 million "National Waterfront Museum" opened its doors here in 2005. It tells the story of Wales's industrial and maritime heritage.
The nearby Swansea Museum, the oldest in Wales, has been here for a long time. It has a superb display of Swansea and Nantgarw porcelain, which is well-worth seeing.
Also in the Maritime Quarter are the Attic Art Gallery, Mission Gallery and Dylan Thomas Theatre.
There is also the Dylan Thomas Centre to commemorate Swansea's most famous son. Lovers of his great poetry visit Swansea from all over the world.
Ex-U.S Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are amongst Dylan Thomas' fans.
A large memorial stone to Dylan Thomas can be seen in pretty
Cwmdonkin Park, a child-hood haunt of the poet, who used to live in an adjoining street.
Other parks are Singleton Park in west Swansea, where there are notable Botanical Gardens, and Clyne Gardens further west, overlooking Swansea Bay. This is a very colourful place with around 2000 different plants, many unique to the gardens.
Plantasia is Swansea's very own" hothouse garden" in the middle of the city. It has Cotton Top Tamarin monkeys, reptiles, fish, insects and butterflies as well as exotic plants.
Brynmill Park is very popular with families. Here, you will even meet Swansea's swans on the duck-pond!
Also worth visiting in Swansea is the Brangwyn Hall, with its famous 17 huge murals depicting the British Empire. The Swansea Festival of Music and the Arts is held here every October.
The Glynn Vivian Art Gallery near the City Centre includes works by old masters as well as an international collection of porcelain and Swansea china. It also has works by famed Welsh artists Ceri Richards, Gwen John and her brother, Augustus John.
The well-loved Swansea Grand Theatre provides a variety of cultural and artistic entertainment, from pantomime to musicals to opera to TV stars. It caters for all tastes and age-groups!
One of the best places to visit in the city is Swansea Market, mentioned earlier. This covered market is popular with customers from all over West Wales, especially those in search of local produce.
Swansea Market is where many buy their Penclawdd cockles and that other favourite Swansea sea-food.....laverbread!
Laverbread, or bara lawr in Welsh, is edible seaweed.
To the uninitiated it may look and smell rather off-putting, but dipped in flour and cooked with bacon, many aficionados swear by its unique flavour and health-giving properties! It is certainly an acquired taste! Why not try it?
Swansea is a great place for sport, especially rugby, football and cricket.
In the summer, the Glamorgan County Cricket team play their matches at the well-loved St Helen's ground. It was here that the legendary West Indian cricketer, Sir Garfield Sobers, created a sensation by hitting six sixes off one over against Glamorgan!!
Some were hit clean out of the ground!!
The championship winning regional rugby union team, the Ospreys, share the brand new Liberty Stadium with Swansea City football club in the White Rock area of Landore in the lower Tawe valley, close to where copper and other metals were once smelted, using plentiful local coal and water.
The Landore area has now been land-scaped and made green, and is where the Enterprise Park has been built over recent decades.
Landore has also attracted modern factories, but this was once, in the 18th/19th Centuries, the leading smelting centre in the world.
Swansea once led the world in copper smelting.
Copper ore was brought, first from Parys Mountain in Anglesey, North Wales, then from much further afield, around stormy Cape Horn from Chile in South America .
The seamen of Swansea, known as "Swansea Jacks" to the rest of Wales risked their lives on those old sailing ships to bring the ore to the kilns of Landore.
Other Swansea men risked their lives around the red-hot furnaces to smelt the ore to make the " copper bottoms" for the ships of the "English" Navy! Without Welsh copper, the "English" Navy would not have ruled the waves.
The copper bottoms of the naval ships not only prevented marine parasites from drilling into their hulls,and ruining the ships, but the streamlined copper bottoms also made the ships much faster and gave them an invaluable advantage in battle.
The phrase "copper bottomed" derives from this practice.
The smoke and pollution from the factories of Landore must have been horrendous.
Remains of some of the old kilns and smelters can still be seen to remind us of this past. Much more information will be gleaned at the new National Waterfront Museum.
It was this sort of industrial waste-land, which existed in the Fifties and earlier, that caused Dylan Thomas to famously describe Swansea as his "ugly, lovely town ".
Swansea is striving hard to get rid of the first of those adjectives.
By the way, a famous English writer, Kingsley Amis, was also based in Swansea.
He was a lecturer in Swansea University and wrote all his best novels here. "Lucky Jim"; "That Uncertain Feeling" [made into the Peter Sellers film "Only Two Can Play"]; "The Folks That Live On The Hill " and "The Old Devils" are amongst his best-known books.
Swansea and its surrounding area, especially the Gower Peninsula, has a great deal of fascinating literary, historic and scenic interest.
Why not Visit Swansea and see for yourself?