Pack your boots—and your rain gear. It’s wet in paradise. Wales has a reputation for rain. It also offers a great holiday for walkers, amateur or experienced.
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Part of the appeal is the huge variety of trails and scenery available. You can walk by the sea exploring sandy beaches and dramatic clifftops. If you want challenge, it’s there in the high mountains. Want something easier? Then stroll through treed valleys or amble on mysterious moorland. You can plan your route, according to your interests, to take in historic villages, pubs, castle ruins and prehistoric sites.
The four most popular walking areas in Wales include three national parks: Snowdonia, Brecon Beacons and Pembrokeshire. The other trail, Offa’s Dyke, weaves in and out of Wales along its border with England, following the ancient earth dyke and ditch constructed by Offa, King of Mercia in 784AD.
Snowdonia National Park, covering 2170 square km. (838 square miles), in northwest Wales is a real challenge. Rugged mountains and deep valleys covered with ancient oak forests are characteristic of the area. Throughout the Park, lakes are sprinkled like diamonds waiting to be discovered. Waterfalls and glacial valleys dot the landscape.
A footpath beginning at the village of Llanberis—once a centre of slate quarrying—leads to the summit of Mt. Snowdon at 3560 feet (1085 metres), where stunning panoramas await. Enjoy taking the narrow gauge rack-and-pinion railway on the return journey. Try another path—the ascent is 1000ft—to the eastern summit of Yr Eifl to view the ramparts and hut circles of an Iron Age village.
Snowdonia boasts ancient burial chambers as well as Roman forts and medieval castles. Bird lovers can watch for buzzards, curlews and peregrine. Try the path—the ascent is 305 metres (1000ft)—to the eastern summit of Yr Eifl to view the ramparts and hut circles of an Iron Age village.
Mid-Wales and Brecon Beacons National Park is a land of high moors, plateaus and forests. It is crisscrossed with trails. Picturesque, isolated stone farmhouses and sheep cover the hillsides. Red kite and raven inhabit these hills where deep ravines are carpeted in yellow globe flowers. Lovers of stone circles will be in their element here. More than 30 dot the landscape.
You can walk the old drovers’ road from Tregaron to Abergwesyn. Dramatic and far-reaching views of the mountains and hillsides with rivers running through the valleys are on view with every turn along the way. There’s a youth hostel located in a deep valley off the road.
The southern area of the park is particularly noted for waterfalls, caves and gorges where water has eroded the limestone, creating surprises around every corner for walkers. One walk starts at the Porth yr Ogof showcave and traverses woodlands, streams, and riverbanks. Try the areas of the Mellte, Hepste and Neath rivers for spectacular falls. Lovers of stone circles will be in their element here. More than 30 dot the landscape.
Castle lovers can follow the Carreg Cennen Walk, located near the western edge of Brecon Beacons Park. This 6 km. (3 ¾ miles) long trail starts near Carreg Cennen Castle—sitting atop a steep 259 metre (850 ft.) hill—and descends into the Cennen valley where it follows the River Cennen. According to legend, the Welsh hero, Owan Lawgoch and his group of 51 men, sleep in a cavern on the bank of the river, waiting to fight for his country’s independence.
If you want a more strenuous walk, try the Three Castles Walk, an 20 km. (18 mile) circular route that starts at Skenrith Castle, passes through rolling countryside to White Castle (11.3 km.--7 miles), then 10km. (6 miles) further on to the ruins of another castle in the village of Grosmont—a tiny, friendly village. The Black Mountains form part of the scenic backdrop.
In south and west Wales, The Pembrokeshire Coast Path’s 290 km. (180 miles) route, starts near Tenby and traverses a variety of terrain—dramatic clifftops, isolated sandy beaches, far-reaching seascapes and wide-open views as well as man-made features—small villages, seaside towns and castle ruins—until its end near Cardigan.
The entire route includes 10,668 metres (35,000 ft) of ascent and descent, quite a challenge for even the most experienced walkers. And you’ll need to take care. Many of the clifftops are eroding against the onslaught of the weather and the ocean.
60% of Pembrokeshire’s coast is a national park where conservation of flora and fauna habitats is an important goal. Each spring, when flowers are in bloom and seabirds nest, the National Park organizes and leads a two week long guided walk of the Coast Path. Other guided walks along sections of the coast path are provided throughout the year. This is a favorite area for birders. The islands of Skomer (boat trips available), Grasholm and Skokholm are all sanctuaries. Nearby Ramsey Island sports a large gray seal population.
Carew Castle, set beside the tidal flats near Milford Haven offers great exploration in a romantic setting. It even has its own restored (not working) tidal mill. Photo Dale in Pembrokeshire At the small whitewashed village of Dale, you can experience what meteorologists say is the windiest place in Wales. Photo Strumble head lighthouseStrumble Head with its lighthouse provides unrivaled views over the water. Stop in the tidy little town of Newport for supplies.
A hike into the Preseli Hills section of the National Park will reveal unending views of Pembrokeshire and its coast, a feast for the eyes. This area of high bleak hills was once the home of the ancient Celts. One of Wales better known burial chambers, Pentre Ifan, dominates one hilltop. Other ancient burial sites are scattered in the hills along with the sheep and the occasional farmhouse.
Offa’s Dyke Path is one of 12 designated British National Trails. The Offa’s Dyke Heritage Centre in the town of Knighton offers books and maps for sale on the route as well as an AV presentation on the history of the Dyke. The trail runs approximately 274 km. (170 miles) from Chepstow to Prestatyn along the Welsh-English border.
This path presents meadows, carpeted with bluebells in the spring, and country lanes. Much of the path crosses farming land covered with the ubiquitous sheep of Wales. It also crosses 22.5 km. (14 miles) of high isolated countryside where care must be taken. The mists here, like on other trails in Wales, can come down quickly, creating a dangerous situation. It’s best to always carry a compass.
There’s plenty of sheltering villages and pubs along the way. Iron Age forts, abbey ruins and castles co-mingle with peaceful country views. Allow time for a stop in Hay-on-Wye, a town noted for its numerous second hand bookstores. Photo Tintern Abbey The atmospheric ruins of Tintern Abbey, reached off the path, are well worth a visit. The Path crosses the village of Llangollen clustered around the River Dee. Take a canal boat ride, if you have the time.
Whether taking a long walk or a short one, an easy footpat or a challenging trail, following an ancient pathway or a newly minted walk, scenic variety and beautiful landscape intermingle peacefully with human habitation to truly provide a paradise for walkers in Wales.
From London, rent a car or take the train or bus to Wales. The First Great Western train runs every hour from Paddington Station. It’s a through train that travels across southwest Wales to the west coast, with various stops along the way. First North Western, Wales & West, Virgin CrossCountry, Virgin West Coast and Central Trains go to other parts of Wales.
Visit Britain website: Visit Britain
Wales Tourism website: Visit Wales
Tourist Information Centres:
Tourism and Leisure Services
Pembrokeshire County Council
19 Old Bridge
Wales, UK SA61 2DN
Tel. 01144 1437 763 330
Website: Pembrokeshire Tourism
North Wales Tourism
77 Conway Road
LL29 7LN, Wales, UK
Tel. 01144 1492 531731
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
St. Thomas Green
Wales, UK SA61 1QZ
Tel. 01144 1437 764 6366
Website: Pembrokeshire Coast, includes information, maps and weather.
Offa’s Dyke Centre
Wales, UK LD7 1EN
Tel. 01144 1547 528753
Offas Dyke has a route of the area with details and profiles of the walk, accommodations enroute and on-line ordering of books.
Brecon Beacons National Park
7 Glamorgan Street
Brecon, Powys, LD3 7DP
Tel. 01144 1874 624437
Brecon Beacons National Park website: Brecon Beacons National Park
Tourist Information Centres stock maps and books on walks in Wales. For a complete list of the publications and where they can be purchased, contact the Wales Tourist Board, Brunel House, 2 Fitzaan Rd., Cardiff, CF24 OUY. A number of tour operators run walking holidays. Information is available from local Tourist Information Centres.
Photos courtesy Wales Tourist Board, Cadw, Visit Britain, Trent Cam, Cornwall cam, and by Barbara Ballard