Beach lovers guide to the Vale (and beyond)

I've lived in the Vale of Glamorgan, South Wales, for 14 years and I still feel like a tourist. Living by the coast gives you that holiday feeling all year round and I spend as much time at the beach as I can. As a family and child photographer I tend to combine my love of the beach with my love of photography and do a lot of shoots at my local beaches. If you're like me and only truly happy with sandy feet and salty skin, then have a look at my beach lovers guide to the Vale and beyond!

This is a very personal list, based on the places that I regularly visit or shoot at. I know there's lots of other beautiful beaches in the area and still have plenty yet to visit.

I live in a small village just outside Cowbridge, a busy market town, nestled amongst the gentle rolling hills West of Cardiff. So, I'll start with my favourite local beaches and then head further afield to some of my favourites in the Gower and Pembrokeshire too.

girl on beach, rocks, water.

Southerndown Beach (Dunraven Bay)

At a glance: Car park, Shop, Toilets, Lifeguards, Disabled facilities, no dogs between May-Sept.

Although officially called Dunraven Bay, everyone locally calls it Southerndown, after the nearby village. This is my number one local beach. There's something magical about driving down the steep road from the cliffs at the top to the car park below. You catch glimpses of the water and we're always craning our necks on the way down the hill to see how much beach there is. It took a few years for us to understand the rhythm of the tides and to know what time to go to make sure there was sand to sit on (I'm originally a city dweller!). I've got the BBC Tide Tables as a favourite on my phone, so we never get caught out (anymore).

There's three car parks. One right by the beach and then an overflow car park on one of the fields above and a pay and display car park at the top of the hill. In recent years they have started charging for parking all year around (not just in the Summer months), so it can cost between £3.50-£5 to park for the day. There's also a toilet block (very handy indeed) and a little kiosk shop selling ice creams and beach paraphernalia as well as a nice cup of tea.

The beach itself is a lovely little bay, dwarfed by the Jurassic cliffs along the coast. Please be aware that there a regular rock falls from the cliffs, so you must not sit directly underneath them.

When the tide is low, there's a large crescent of sand to play on and some fabulous rock pools. When the tide is high, there's no sand at all but you can still sit on the rocks (away from the cliffs) and enjoy time at the beach.

If you walk through the car park and up the cliff, there's lots of different paths to take to explore the area and also there's the lovely Dunraven Gardens. Perched high on the cliff, they provide a great spot for a picnic and shelter from the wind as well. There's lots of paths to take through the gardens and beyond to some awesome cliff top walks.

I do a lot of family shoots at this beach all year round. If you'd like to see some, check out my blog and family portfolio. I've put a small handful in a little collage below.

I could talk all day about Southerndown. It has a piece of my heart but there's plenty more to see, so on we go.

Places to eat and drink nearby:

Frolics - An Italian restaurant right near the beach.

Three Golden Cups - The nearest pub to the beach.

southerndown beach

Ogmore

At a glance: Car Park, Mobile vendors, Toilets, Lifeguards, Disabled facilities, dogs allowed all year.

The Ogmore River meets the sea at Ogmore Beach. On one side there's a large sandy beach and on the other side of the river are the Merthyr Mawr sand dunes (some of the largest dunes in Europe!).

There's a large car park at the beach and sometimes mobile coffee and ice cream vendors in the car park as well.

Ogmore is a large beach and when the tide is out, you can walk quite far along beach towards Southerndown. If the tide is in, then there's plenty of rocks to climb and little coves to visit. There are great rock pools too and it's a fabulous place to hunt for fossils.

Places to eat and drink nearby:

Cobbles Kitchen - Winner of the Welsh Restaurant of the Year 2018. This place is highly recommended and our 'go to' place for a coffee (and cake) on the way home from the beach. Also great for meals too.

The Pelican in her Piety- A pub that also serves food.

The Watermill - A Brains pub. It has an outdoor play area, so it's great if you have little ones.

images of Ogmore beach

Rest Bay

At a glance: Car Park, Toilets, Lifeguards, Disabled facilities

Just down the road from the seaside town of Porthcawl you'll find Rest Bay. This is another one of my favourite places to hang out and where I go surfing with my daughter. It's a massive beach and when the tide is low, there is plenty of room to spread out and spend the day (enjoying the odd game of rounders or cricket). The beach is very popular with surfers, kite surfers and body boarders and each has their own separate area to play (when the lifeguards are there).

Most people tend to plonk their stuff down as soon as they hit the sand but if you walk a little way along the beach, it's much quieter.

There's also a lovely boardwalk/path that runs along the back of the beach and beyond in the westerly direction. You can walk all the way from Porthcawl, past Rest Bay and along the coast on the same path. When my kids were younger it was a regular day out for us, with scooters, bikes or roller skates. We always tempted them with a picnic at Rest Bay and then a promise of a cake when they got back to Porthcawl! It's also the route of the weekly 5k Parkrun on a Saturday morning.

There's a couple of surf schools and you can hire equipment from them as well as book lessons - so if you need a wetsuit or a surfboard in a hurry then they've got it covered. Visit Porthcawl Surf and Adventures Wales for more information.

Places to eat and drink nearby:

There are plans for a brand new sports centre and café to be built near the car park.

Porthcawl is only a minute down the road and there's plenty of cafes and shops there.

 

surfboards, flip flops, beach

The Gower

Rhossili

At a glance: Car Park, Shop, Toilets, Disabled facilities

Ah Rhossili. I first visited Rhossili on a camping trip with friends about 5 years ago. I'm ashamed to say, that even though I'm a massive beach lover, I was a little afraid of the water. Then one day in Rhossili, I threw caution to the wind and had my first experience of body boarding. The waves there can get pretty big but the bigger the better right? I've never looked back since that day. I went off and bought my own body board and then progressed to surfing a year or so later. Surfing is now my favourite thing to do. Ever. I'm rubbish at it but learning all the time and determined to improve.

With a 3 mile stretch of sandy beach, ending with the iconic Worms Head and more beach awards than you can shake a stick at, Rhossili is one stunner of a beach.

When we visit, it's normally via the campsite Hillend, which is just behind the sand dunes in the centre of the beach. There's a car park and also a cafe on the campsite with toilets etc. You can also access the beach from the National Trust car park at the Rhossili end of the beach. It's a steep walk down from the car park but worth every step.

If you love body boarding or surfing get down there. If you look closely you can see me surfing on the smallest wave in the world below. You can hire and buy surf gear from PJ's Surf Shop in Llangennith.

Places to eat and drink nearby:

The Bay Bistro in Rhossili

The King's Head in Llangennith is great for a drink and dinner - a regular haunt of ours when we're camping.

Pembrokeshire

Barafundle Bay

At a glance: Car Park, Shop, Toilets

For years I wanted to visit Barafundle Bay but legend (Mum friends) had it that it was a massive walk from the car park to the beach and I was afraid of schlepping the kids on an epic walk so put off the visit until they were a bit older. We eventually made it there a few years ago and were pleasantly surprised (after packing supplies as if we were going to the North Pole), that it was in fact about a 10-15 minute walk from the National Trust car park. A pretty flat and easy walk too, apart from the stairs at the start and end. So, don't be afraid my friends! Set the sat nav and off you go.

There's a car park, run by the National Trust and of course the obligatory National Trust café and toilet facilities.

The last time we visited we went for a walk around the headland as well and could see over to the beautiful Broadhaven beach a bit further down the coast.

images of barafundle bay

I know there's a plethora of gorgeous beaches all the way along the Welsh coastline. It would be impossible to mention them all, so this is just a little taster of my favourites.

I can't leave without a little shout out to some of the other gorgeous beaches that we've visited since moving to Wales 14 years ago. There's many more that are on my 'to see' list. If you have any suggestions, let me know!

woman holding a scarf on a beach

Even more beaches

Three Cliffs Bay - an absolute stunner.

Bracelet Bay - a cute little bay with playground, car park and restaurant nearby.

Langland Bay - family friendly beach with car park and facilities.

Caswell Bay - popular with families and surfers. Car park and facilities nearby.

Tenby - gorgeous beaches in this beautiful Pembrokeshire town.

Saundersfoot - I can highly recommend the very decadent and perfectly placed St Brides Spa Hotel perched high on the hill overlooking the beach. Check out a fabulous headshot photo shoot in the hotel and a portrait shoot on the beach below.

children playing on a beach at sunset

I'm always on the look out for new locations for family photo shoots and love discovering new beaches. If you have any recommendations for the next beach lovers guide, please let me know!

If you'd like to book a family photo shoot in South Wales, get in touch!

Gem x


How to boost your child's self esteem

Boosting Self Esteem

Did you know that displaying images of your children at home can increase their self esteem and well-being?

“When a child sees a family portrait with them included in the photograph they say to themselves: ‘These people have me as part of what they are, that’s why I belong here. This is where I come from.”
Judy Weiser, Psychologist.

 

family on the beach

family walking the forest

Show how much you love them

In this digital age, with social media taking up a large part of our children's lives there's a tendency forget the importance of printing family photos. I have a teenage daughter and I can tell you that a 5 minute scroll through her Instagram feed does worry me. As a photographer, I want to use images in a positive way - to promote happiness and security, not insecurity.

When I take photos of her with her family and friends and put them on the walls, in a photo book or in our annual family calendar, images take on a magical quality. They become a prompt to all of us to remember the fantastic times we've had a family. The images of her walking with her brother, hugging him or laughing with him make us all feel wonderful. Family selfies whilst out on a walk let us remember the day we had (and how we all have to bend down so my son's head is not cut off). The family images give my kids a sense of belonging, a secure feeling of knowing that they are loved.

sibling photo shoot

sibling photo shoot

A family bond

We had our own family photo shoot a couple of years ago (and I have another one planned soon too!) and we have the images all over the house. We have a multi-aperture frame in hall, which I look at every day. I have pictures in my office and the kids have them in their bedrooms too, along with other pictures that make them feel good about themselves. My daughter has images from a surf photo shoot with her friends on her wall and my son has some from his gymnastics competitions and ballet classes.

ballet class

friends photo shoot

Building self esteem

As a photographer, exploring the psychology of displaying images is really interesting. I've been reading about it online and I've come across some interesting research.

Psychologist Dr David Krauss says, “My bias is very simple. I think family photographs should be on the wall. I am very conservative about self-esteem and I think placing a family photo someplace in the home where the child can see it every day without having to turn on a device or click around on a computer to find it really hits home for that child this sense of reassurance and comfort. They have a certainty about them and a protecting quality that nurtures a child. It let’s them know where they are in the pecking order and that they are loved and cared for.”

 

autumn family photo shoot

family photo shoot on beach

Get in the frame

I've been a family photographer for 13 years now and it's very common for parents to ask about a photo shoot for their kids but not be so keen to get in the images themselves. Anyone that has ever had a shoot with me will know that I actively encourage parents to get in the frame. There's always a million excuses - not having the right hair, clothes, make-up, wanting to lose a few pounds, but I try to explain that nothing is more important that existing in images with your children.

Dr Krauss also says, ”I think it's really important to show a family as a family unit. It is so helpful for children to see themselves as a valued and important part of that family unit. A photographer’s job is to make and create the image to look like a safe holding space for kids where they are safe and protected. Kids get it on a really simple level.”

The pure emotional connection with your kids becomes the only thing that you'll feel when looking back at the photos. Not your flyaway hair or double chin.

family photo shoottwin brothers

They will cherish the images when they are older

My kids are only 10 and 13, so not really old enough to look back on their childhood with nostalgia just yet, but they LOVE looking through old photo albums. A while back we had some friends over, friends that we met when we moved to Wales, through our local NCT group. I've been photographing my kids and their kids for the last 13 years and it was so lovely to look through all the memories together. Trips to the beach, potty training, BBQ's, days out, sleepovers - they are all documented and looking at the images increases our sense of belonging and well-being.

“Displaying photos prominently in the home sends the message that our family and those in it are important to one another, and we honor the memories we have experienced,“ says Cathy Lander-Goldberg a licensed clinical social worker and a professional photographer and director of Photo Explorations.

display of framed images

Print your photos

We all have images on our phones, in fact, my son always asks to look at my phone so he can scroll through images of past holidays, but having the images printed and displayed has a much bigger impact.

Dr. Krauss believes that images should be displayed around the home. "What it says to a child is, 'I'm important in this family,'"

I understand that in this day and age people like having digital copies of images. That is why I include digital images in all of my packages. But, I also encourage families to print and frame images from their family photo sessions. It could be a large photo wall, or a multi-aperture frame or a few smaller prints displayed around the house on window sills. The important thing is that you and your children see them every day. It will promote a feeling of togetherness and a family bond full of memories.

display of family imagesfamily photo shoot

Get snapping and printing!

So, go off and increase the feel good factor in your families. Make your kids feel secure and loved. Display the images of your family that you have, instead of leaving them on your phone.

If you want to update your family photos - you can always book a family photo session with me!

Find out more about family shoots and have a look at my family portfolio.

Gem x