When I came to live here decades ago, most Gower farms were eyesores. Farmhouses were in disrepair, surrounding outbuildings were broken down, piles of tyres, disused tractors and the like littered farmyards, certainly not conducive to Britain’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Some are still in the same state, but many farmers have thrown in the towel and moved into ecotourism, or have sold up and left. Visiting the Yorkshire Dales this year, neat farms, old stone barns and the overall tidy countryside reminded me that Gower has changed, but there’s still some way to go. Much of this improvement is down to rich incomers, and it’s a slow process, but gradually farmhouses are being transformed into buildings of real beauty, and barns have new lives as high quality holiday lets, or homes.
Apart from Penrice Castle, the only large houses of note on Gower are Kilvrough Manor, Stouthall and Fairyhill. Kilvrough, a late 18th century estate, lost its local appeal years ago, and now operates as an outdoor learning centre for Oxfordshire County Council. The buildings are restored, and the surrounding beech and ash woods are well managed. Stouthall is steeped in history, and was the home of the Lucas family for over half a millennium. It too was reduced to accommodating children, this time from the London Borough of Merton, but its future looks precarious once again.
The early history of Fairyhill is unknown, but since the 18th century has had many owners. Before it was converted into a first class hotel and restaurant in 1984, I knew it well. Nestling in a hidden hollow, it was full of old-world charm, its decaying fabric and overgrown gardens recapturing a lost 18th century world. The information in the glossy handout for the hotel fails to mention its real treasure of wild daffodils, which still grow in the woods, but probably go unnoticed by most of the rich guests.