Hiking Wales: what it’s really like
So you’re planning on hiking Wales; from the coast to the imposing hills and mountains, there’s a lot to consider before you pack up your rucksack and head into this vast wilderness. I’ve been on many expeditions, treks and hikes, and one of the most beautiful and awe inspiring locations that I keep coming back to is the Welsh countryside. And during the course of my travels – from the Brecon Beacons to the rugged coastline – I’ve seen and learned many things.
The aim of this post is to distill the knowledge I’ve gained into a series of useful tips and nuggets of advice that will, hopefully, make your forays more fun, and less likely to end with you soaked and miserable.
First, where are the best…
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Places to hike in Wales
Everywhere! In my honest opinion, it’s hard to find a walking destination in Wales that doesn’t reflect up the very beautiful, and often mysterious, nature of this vast chunk of the United Kingdom. The most obvious locations people head to include the Brecon Beacons, the Black Mountain and Mount Snowdon. But, striking as they are, there’s so much more to see than Pen Y Fan, or Offa’s Dyke.
So, what other Welsh hiking destinations should you consider?
Staying within the Brecon Beacons National Park, a vast mass of land covering 599 square miles (1,344 square kilometres) of forests, hills, open plains and deep valleys is a good starting point. There are many walking routes criss-crossing the countryside, each varying in length. From circular walks covering a few miles, to Offa’s Dyke Path (177 miles), there’s something for everyone.
Here are a few ideas, long and short:
Four Waterfalls Walk
Located in the Brecon Beacons, and following a circular path, the Four Waterfalls Walk takes in four stunning falls. Located near the river Melte, the four falls are named: Sgwd Clun-Gwyn, Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn, Sgwd y Pannwr and Sgwd-yr-Eira. Which is quite a mouthful!
The total distance of the walk is about 6 miles and most sections can be covered with ease.
For anyone wanting an easy hike or walk, this is one destination you must visit. Additionally, there’s a full rundown of the path around the Four Watersfalls walk at TrekSumo.
Note: hikers gain access to the path from one of two car parks. The first, Gwaun Hepste, is located at grid reference SN 935 123 (OS Map OL 12). The second car park is located at grid reference SN 928 124 (OS Map OL 12). Both parking points are pay and display.
The Pilgrims Way
At 170 miles long, the Pilgrim’s Way is not for the faint of heart. Unless you plan to hike only small sections of the route. Located in North Wales, the trail has been in use for hundreds of years. And one of the many highlights to see on the Way is Basingwerk Abbey, which dates back to 1131.
Although not often mentioned by many hikers, the Pilgrims Way offers you a view into some of the most rugged and beautiful areas of Wales. Generally speaking, this is hiking route on which you won’t see many people which is perfect if you want to get away from the bustle of life.
Note: pilgrims still walk the Way and I can guarantee you’ll meet some interesting people… well, one or two… along the route.
Tintern Abbey and the Devil’s Pulpit
Founded in 1131, and dissolved in 1536 by order of Henry VIII, Tintern Abbey is ocated at the very edge of the Brecon Beacons. Unlike the Abbey, the Devil’s Pulpit has more a more sinister story behind it. According to legend, the Devil preached to monks at this location with the intention of tempting away from their order.
Apparently, and considering how long Tintern Abbey was in use, he failed!
Putting the Devil to one side, the circular route taking in Tintern Abbey and the Devil’s Pulpit is about 6 miles walking distance. This makes it an ideal short hike for anyone wanting to take in the views and get some time on their feet. Additional, longer routes into the wilds are in abundance and I recommend you try some of these.
Here’s a full list of hiking routes around this area.
Cwm Doethie is one of those outstanding places you’ve never heard of! Sat just south of the Cambrian Mountains, it’s hard to believe some of the most heavily populated parts of South Wales are all but a stone’s throw away. But more significant the 30 km double circuit route that takes hikers through valleys and forests, up and down steep inclines as they loop around the countryside.
Additionally, the valley and trail caters to mountain bikers and anyone who fancies a short walk away in the countryside.
In all honesty, there are so many trails branching off from the main circuit you’ll be spoiled for choice.
Consider your appetite whet! There are so many beautiful places to hike in Wales, you’ll be hard pressed not to find something for you every whim.
The realities of hiking the Welsh valleys and mountains
As you’d expect, a trip into the Welsh wilds comes with a special set of considertaions. As one of the most rugged and mountainous areas of the UK, Wales is blessed with the full spectrum of weather conditions. And these can change hour by hour!
Accordingly, if you ask any hiker what weather type they most associate with Wales the answer will be, ‘rain’. But what about the sun, snow and everyting in-between? Well, it’s there and often in abundance. When travelling through mountainous regions you’re far more likely to run into real extremes of temperatures, hot and cold. Even high on the peaks, the hot days can feel all the more hotter.
While it might be tempting to find drier hiking routes, that’s rarely possible. The amount of rainfall varies on a county by county basis, but there’s no escaping the downpours when the come.
Likewise, as the summer heat pours down you’re guaranteed to experience truly beautiful weather.
Bearing the above thoughts in mind, planning the right gear for the right seasonal weather patterns is key.
Brutal at times, veering between extremes of hot and cold, the weather is Wales feels like a feral beast. The leap between the highs and lows is sometimes so fast you won’t know what hit you. But these conditions are a rarity and a good understanding of prevailing conditions, and historic weather data, will save you some misery. Unless you love hiking at the extremities of temperatures found in this country, in which case… no need for protective clothing.
However, if you want to get up to date news on the area you’ll be hiking, try the following sites:
Areas of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB)
Although not the largest country in the Union, Wales has six huge AONBs open for outdoor activities. Ineterestingly, the least know of these, on the island of Anglesey, is a former home to the Druids, a religious order wiped out during the Roman invasion. Since the destruction of the original Druids (the cult has had a resurrection) much of their history has disappeared, but there’s still plenty there for history buffs to see.
The six AONBs in Wales are:
- Clwydian Range and Dee Valley
- Shropshire Hills (an Area of Outstanding National Beauty that spans the West Midlands, England, and the East of Wales)
- Wye valley (a place I’ve spent many hours hiking and running. Vast, and coated with a dense layer of forest, this area is truly breathtaking)
- Gower – ideal for hikers looking for coastal routes
- Llyn – located in west Wales, and like the Gower offers stunning views both into Wales and out across the Irish Sea
When you pause and think about this, it’s easy to see the reason why Wales is such a popular destination for anyone interested in outdoor activities. Couple with the vast wild spaces, the AONBs are ideal places to visit, offering not only a break from day to day life, but also exploration opportunities galore.
Without reservation, Wales is a truly beautiful country. There’s something for pretty much everyone, even history lovers with a desire to delve into the depths of the British past.
I recommend taking your time and planning a visit that takes in as much of the country as possible.
According to some people, the UK is a mono-cultural society. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. The Welsh, like the Scots, have huge pride in their history visible in their unique language and heritage.
Note: Welsh people are the original Britons (but they’re not of English descent… don’t make this accusation as it’s a touchy subject for some).
Look around Wales and you’ll notice road signs written in both English and Welsh. Welsh language lessons in school encourage children to adopt their mother tongue, particulary in the north and rural areas. In addition, the devolved government holds responsibility for promoting Welsh culture and values.
Fiercely independent, with a powerful grip on identity, Wales is a country with a proud history.