Chosen for its classic coastline and outstanding natural environment, Gower was the first AONB to be designated. Except for the small, urbanised eastern corner, the entire Gower peninsula is an AONB. Complex geology gives a wide variety of scenery in a relatively small area. It ranges from the south coast's superb carboniferous limestone scenery at Worms Head and Oxwich Bay to the salt-marshes and dune systems in the north. Inland, the most prominent features are the large areas of common, dominated by sandstone heath ridges including the soaring sweep of Cefn Bryn. Secluded valleys have rich deciduous woodland and the traditional agricultural landscape is a patchwork of fields characterised by walls, stone-faced banks and hedgerows.

1 Meditations on natural history

There exists a certain genre of biology writing which might be called "meditations on the natural history of life." Some classic authors of this genre are Aldo Leopold, and Loren Eiseley. The word "meditations" is appropriate here because these works are similar to religious meditations; they are reflections, often highly personal, on a story, in this case a cosmic story of the evolution of the universe.

The meditative story of an AONB starts with the origin of the universe, then continues with origin of earth and life, the biochemistry of life, the mechanisms of evolution, the evolution of biodiversity, the development of human consciousness (including the physiology and chemistry of neurological systems), the evolution of sex, and the role of death in the evolutionary process.

The vastness and grandeur of the cosmos can be seen as the "locus of Mystery". The emergence of life is very improbable, and this is why we should hold that life is sacred. The deep genetic homology between all living things is the ground for the fellowship and community of all life. Here there is a consonance with the central claim of every spiritual system that all humankind forms a community with all other beings. This is where meditation on a landscape can lead to the level of its biodiversity at which point contemplating the spiritual meaning of an area of outstanding natural beauty becomes holistic – every act is simultaneously a biophysical, socio-economic, cultural andi spiritual act that is based on, and interacts with one's personal belief system. In this sense, cultural and spiritual diversity is itself considered a part of biodiversity since it is the way that intra-species diversity would reflect itself within humankind.

2 Origins of beauty in landscape

The mission of AONB management is to conserve places where the complexities and struggles of daily life are secondary to a meditative experience, and nature is seen as an idealized wonderous state where human activity recedes in importance. Architecture is understood as a threshold to this vision of unspoiled natural beauty where place is dominated by geological forms and wildlife habitats, while coservation assumes an ethical significance. This is a kind of ‘arcadian landscape ethos,’ a mindset that emphasizes our human interpenetration with nature. Meditation on landscapes is about making something beautiful of that interpenetration while remaining aware of our mortality as part of an evolving universe.

A starting point for meditation is the painterly origins of AONBs found in “The Arcadian Shepherds”, one of Nicolas Poussin’s 17th century master works, which distils not only his classical learning but also the classical sense of balance and rigour that would determine his oeuvre . Set in an idyllic Arcadian landscape as described by Virgil, it shows two young, half-naked shepherds and a shepherdess clad in white, elegantly posed, having come across a tombstone topped with a skull and attempting to decipher its inscription: “Et in Arcadia Ego” – “I [Death] am even in Arcadia”. Pouring a vase of water (the passage of time), the river god Alpheus watches as the shepherds’ expressions, alert, expectant, melancholic, animate this calm pastoral countryside into an existential drama: the impossibility of death in the mind of someone living.

The comparison between artistic and natural beauty led Oscar Wilde (1854–1900) to the observation that life and nature imitate art far more than art imitates life or nature. Art is the creation of beauty; life and nature constitute its raw materials (The Decay of Lying, 1894). Benedetto Croce (1866–1952) similarly states that the sense of natural beauty is a derivative of artistic beauty.

In this context most people these days make contact with natural beauty through photographic 'art' images, which for the basis of choosing their holiday destinations.
Read more: Beauty and Ugliness - The Function Of Beauty - Art, Nature, University, and Beautiful - JRank Articles

3 Arcadian beauty
Arcadia is an actual region of Greece, a series of valleys surrounded by high mountains and therefore difficult of access. In very ancient times, the people of Arcadia were known to be primitive herdsmen of sheep, goats and cattle, rustic folk who led an unsophisticated yet happy life in the natural fertility of their valleys and foothills. Their down-to-earth culture came to be closely associated with traditional singing and pipe playing, an activity they used to pass the time as they herded their animals. Their native god was Pan, the inventor of the Pan pipes (seven reeds of unequal length held together by wax and string). The simple, readily accessible and moving music of Pan and the Arcadian shepherds gained a wide appreciation all over the Greek world.
This pastoral (in Latin "pastor" = shepherd) music began to inspire highly educated poets, who developed verses in which shepherds exchanged songs in a beautiful natural setting preserved pristine from any incursions from a dangerous "outside." In the third century BC, a Sicilian poet, Theocritus, created a literary genre called "bucolic poetry" (from the Greek "bukolos," a herdsman). Poems called "Idylls" were created that used these exchanges of verses by fictional shepherds as a compositional strategy. These idealized fictional shepherds recounted their heterosexual or homosexual love affairs and praised the poetry they loved and the master singers they admired. Two centuries later, the greatest of Roman (and perhaps of European) poets, Virgil (70-19 BC), used Theocritus's Greek Idylls in order to create in Latin 10 masterpieces of bucolic poetry, known as the "Eclogues" or "Bucolics."

Unlike Theocritus, who had placed his shepherds in Sicily, Virgil locates them back in Arcadia, an Arcadia, however, which has features strikingly resembling those of Northern Italy, where Virgil was born. Just as their Theocritean counterparts, the inhabitants of Virgil's Arcadia sing about love and its poetry, but they also make several crucial references to the political situation of Virgil's turbulent times. Many subsequent readers have in fact insisted that the "Eclogues" are full of references to politics and politicians, such as Julius Caesar and Octavian (Augustus Caesar). Virgil's poetic superiority has insured that his "Eclogues" dominated European culture.

They became especially popular and imitated in Italy, Spain, France and England in the 14th to 17th centuries, a period in which a type of verse called Pastoral Poetry was much appreciated by the intellectual and cultural elites. Parallel to the literary vogue of pastoral there existed in this period a rich pictorial meditative landscape tradition representing shepherds and shepherdesses in a bucolic or idyllic setting of forests and hills. In the seventeenth century, the French painter Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) used this pictorial tradition to paint one of his most famous canvasses, known as "The Arcadian shepherds" or as "ET IN ARCADIA EGO" (1647).


This painting represents four Arcadians, in a meditative and melancholy mood, symmetrically arranged on either side of a tomb. One of the shepherds kneels on the ground and reads the inscription on the tomb: ET IN ARCADIA EGO, which can be translated either as "And I [= death] too (am) in Arcadia" or as "I [= the person in the tomb] also used to live in Arcadia." The second shepherd seems to discuss the inscription with a lovely girl standing near him. The third shepherd stands pensively aside. From Poussin's painting, Arcadia now takes on the tinges of a melancholic contemplation about death itself, about the fact that our happiness in this world is very transitory and evanescent. Even when we feel that we have discovered a place where peace and gentle joy reign, we must remember that it will end, and that all will vanish.

For a fundamental discussion of Poussin's great painting, see Erwin Panofsky's essay in his book "MEANING IN THE VISUAL ARTS". In this essay, he analyzes brilliantly the possible interpretations of the expression ET IN ARCADIA EGO.

4 Grand Theory of Everything: an icon for meditating on natural beauty