Culver hole isn’t on my OS map. It’s a secret. A lowtide fortress for smugglers or is it pigeon-racers?
The sea spits a brain-splintering light today, here on the south shore of the Gower. Down we clamber to the shingly rock, the worn plaster-shattered plateau. This is Overton Mere – a mere mere – no sand in this crevice.
We travel with a dog, Ed – a dog with no strap to strap on, with a smaller-than-he-thinks complex. A little legged dog who has to be carried like a baby on the homeward road. ‘The reefs are working the waves,’ says Leon and I wonder how the moving parts get worked on by the solid parts. But maybe that’s the surfer’s trick – to be knowledgeable in crashable substances.
Perhaps message bearers hid here in the well-worn sea smooth crack of the cliff. The blues are pale and the cobbles round. But above the tide-line the rocks stay jagged, unworked on by the waves. In the crack is what seems like a building’s façade; stonework that includes windows and doors. It towers well above the beachy bottom.
It’s all perfect for bouldering, hanging, swinging but my limbs have gone dis-flexy since London claimed me. Leon is up in the masonry before we know it whilst Zoe and I are left wondering where our courage has gone to. We try to dangle on the rope but uneasiness takes over. Neither does the hobbly ladder dangling on another bristly rope and clanging against the cliff-face inspire much confidence. Ed is more interested in rock-pooling. Leon says it smells like pigeon shit in there. And so one purpose of the place is made clear – it’s a pigeon roost.
And maybe smugglers took roost here too. Inside there are walkways and stairs. Perhaps the hole’s one-time occupants caught the brandy flotsam and the rum jetsam. Little crafts could row right up to one of the portholes to drop off their contraband.
Nothing about Culver hole is very clear. But the name may come from the Old English for pigeon and, according to my google search, this place may have been somewhere to farm pigeons in a time when foul winters drove ‘desperate people’ to eat these scraggly birds. It is the home of the Blue Rock pigeon, a species gone interbred and feral. They are quick-shaggers, independent of tilling and sowing and back breaking. Tasty.
It also isn’t far from Port Eynon’s Salt House which is could be another clue. There are mentions of a pirate lord, John Lucas, who built a smuggling empire on this coast in the 17th century. Kind, powerful and criminal in turn, so the story goes, eventually he was beheaded by Cromwell. In other lore I find that Culver hole may have been used to store ammunition and could have also been the sea entrance for a long-gone castle.
And then I find, that in an archaeological dig in 1989, ‘a small fragment of an antler was found trapped in an alcove’. Well well, the mystery deepens and it smells distinctly of pigeon poo.
(copyright, Nia Davies, March 2010)