Short Breaks in Wales
For a small country, Wales manages to cram in quite a bit. We’re not just talking about our mountains, valleys and beaches. Whether you’re after culture, exercise, adventure or peace and quiet, they’re all here. And ‘here’ isn’t too far - with no need to fly, change currency or speak a new language. Though if you’d like to speak Europe’s oldest living language, we’re always happy to chat.
Wales is an absolute stunner, but don’t just take our word for it, the facts speak for themselves. Two thirds of Wales’ 8,000 square miles is sparsely populated countryside. Almost a quarter of its land area lies in three National Parks – Snowdonia, Brecon Beacons and Pembrokeshire Coast. It also has five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty; the Gower Peninsula (the first area in Britain to be designated an ‘Area of Outstanding Beauty’); the Wye Valley; the Anglesey Coast; the Llŷn Peninsula; and the Clwydian Range.
Castles of course, are what Wales does very well, we have 641 of them in fact. They range form Harlech, Beaumaris, Caernarfon and Conwy, part of Edward l’s mighty iron ring of castles in the North, to romantic hilltop fortresses such as Carreg Cennen near Llandeilo. Here it’s easy to conjure up tales of princes, wizards and dragons as you climb its ramparts or explore the eerie underground passage.
We share our beautiful home with a rich range of wildlife. Mid Wales has the greatest density of birds of prey in southern Britain and was also home to the last remaining native Kites. The story of the protection of the Red Kites of Wales is the longest running story of protection of a bird species anywhere in the world - which just goes to show that we’re a caring bunch. At Gigrin Farm you can have a go at feeding the Red Kites – the BBC Wildlife Magazine described it as the “largest, most fantastic bird table in the world".
However, the true glory of this beautiful country lies in the range of outdoor pursuits. Whatever thrills you might be after, Wales has it. You choose the challenge - tough or not so tough, on land, in water or soaring above us all – we’ll accommodate you. People come hundreds of miles to taste the wilderness experience. You can do anything from walking to white-water rafting in the same day. Mind you, we haven’t seen anybody walking while white water rafting yet!
We have 200 golf courses that please the eye and test the handicap. In Wales you can play golf as it should be played, you can play your own game, at your own unhurried pace and savour the fantastic scenery. The settings and locations in this unsullied and beautiful land will inspire you to reach new golfing heights.
Walking is estimated to bring over £500m, into the Welsh economy, a fifth of our total income from tourism. It is the most popular outdoor activity as hardy hikers, rugged ramblers and suburban strollers find routes to meet their requirements. Even in the south-east, once a hotbed of heavy industry, you can find glorious tracts of countryside and walks amongst our industrial past. Blaenavon is a World Heritage Site, a vibrant monument to the history of iron-making, and also has the Gulbenkian Prize-winning National Coal Museum, Big Pit, just up the road - a road that leads you to the uplands that overlook the Vale of Usk to the east and Abergavenny to the north.
If it’s more information on walking you’re after - consult the visit Wales ‘Walking Wales’ brochure which is free from Tel: 08701 211252 or from www.visitwales.com you can also access the information via www.walking.visitwales.com.
If you take your walking with a little entertainment on the side, there are plenty of events for you to choose from. The Gower Peninsula has some wonderful walks but there is also the seven miles of superb striding along the Swansea foreshore to Mumbles - a very worthwhile trip if taken in early March for the St David’s Mumbles Festival or in October during the Swansea Festival or when the Beer Festival is in full swing. And talking of walking and beer – the Real Ale Ramble, Llanwrtyd Wells is organised in conjunction with the Mid Wales Beer Festival. The walks are non-competitive with a choice of distances of 10, 15 or 25 miles each day – and you’ll get free beer at the checkpoints.
Offa, the King of Mercia was pretty determined to leave his mark on Wales – he built what is known as Offa’s Dyke, the boundary between England and Wales. It runs for 182 miles from Prestatyn in the north to Sedbury, near Chepstow in the south. Today it is the only national trail to follow a man-made feature. Walking along the trail will take you to a charming town like Presteigne with its old courthouse and Shire Hall Museum or to the ruddy stones of Powis Castle with its terraced gardens and topiary.
Welsh mud is good mud and was made for splattering through on your mountain bike. Coed y Brenin in the north is one of seven centres of mountain biking excellence in Wales offering hundreds of miles of exhilarating tracks. If you’re not covered in mud by the end of your ride – you’re not trying hard enough.
Afan Argoed, off the M4 past Port Talbot, has registered with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport as a potential training ground for the 2012 Olympics. Tourism officer for Neath and Port Talbot Council, Steve Hopkins, says: “We also have top-quality amenities and infrastructure. Our ultimate ambition would be to stage a world championship here.”
The International Mountain Biking Association has rated Wales a Grade-A destination – which puts it on par with places like Idaho and California.
The website, www.mbwales.com gives the key information anyone might need, in particular the seven flagship centres for mountain biking in Wales: Coed y Brenin; Afan Forest Park; Gwydyr Fores; and Cwm Carn all of which have purpose-built single track trails. Nant yr Arian has a mix of purpose-built single track trail with natural trails, and both Machynlleth and Llanwrtyd Wells offer a variety of riding.
If you fancy a dirty weekend with a difference then Rhayader’s the place for you. Clive Powell Mountain Bikes run package breaks and holidays and offers every service the cyclist could require including information on routes through this area of forested hills, lakes and reservoirs. Call 01597 811343 for Clive Powell’s Dirty Weekends.
Another hotbed of mountain-biking lies around Machynlleth where Reditreks has recently opened a centre offering 4-star bunkhouse accommodation for 16 people and all the other facilities that cyclists could need. In addition, the beautiful Dyfi Valley provides purpose-built pistes that set your pulses racing. Indeed, the latest - the Cli-Machx trail that opened just over a year ago - runs from Machynlleth up into the mountains above Corris in a series of linked loops offering routes for all levels of ability - except the absolute beginner.
For something a little gentler there are cycling centres that provide superb seascapes such as Saundersfoot and Newport on the Pembrokeshire coast. The latter also offers ready access to the rugged Preseli hills, like rocky Carn Ingli with its remains of an ancient hill fort. For cycle holidays in the area call Greenways Holidays. Tel: 01834 862109. Why not swing into the saddle and pedal out to a life of adventure in the ‘wild west’.
For essential information on the sport, holiday accommodation, cycle shops and a list of routes for each area get a free copy of Cycling Wales from Tel: 08701 211251, or by logging on to www.cycling.visitwales.com
If you prefer to explore the countryside with more than a bike for company, you’ll never come closer to an equine heaven than on the roof-top of Wales. Saddle up, and roam the Cambrian hills, Brecon Beacons and the mountains of Snowdonia. These trails were once used by defiant Welsh Princes, cattle drovers and the odd highwayman. You might meet a fellow rider, a shepherd or a lost rambler, but don’t bank on it.
Why not visit the Dyfnant and Vyrnwy wooded trails in Mid Wales. They have been created by the Forestry Commission in conjunction with local enthusiasts for riders and carriage drivers. You can also try out the newly created bridleways of the Crychan Forest between Llandovery and Llanwrtyd Wells. For the more energetic there’s the three rivers ride, it takes you through 35 miles of the most stunning scenery of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
Pembrokeshire is one of those places where you can find the perfect place to practise any outdoor pursuit - almost. Pembrokeshire has 11 of Wales’ Blue Flag beaches. To the north of the county there are the Preseli Hills, which provide a complete change of terrain perfect to explore on horseback.
The Bluestones of Stonehenge came from the Preseli Hills. They were taken from the top of Carn Menyn in fact, but don’t worry, there are still plenty left for you to see. Iron Age earthworks and burial cairns adorn the summits. The Preselis are associated with many of the myths and legends of the Mabinogi. You’ll be glad to know that the Twrch Trwyth - the magical boar from the Mabinogi tales - was chased away long ago by King Arthur and his knights. You’ll only have the sheep to deal with these days.
Michael Weaver runs the Dunes Riding Centre at Narberth, from which he operates Pembrokeshire Riding Holidays. He says: “We are selling Wales and Pembrokeshire and our visitors certainly get to see a fair amount of it as they are experienced riders and will do as much as 25 miles a day in the saddle.
”We get people from all parts of Europe and Australia even. And they are all amazed at how different a place Wales is from anywhere they have been before. They love our country, our w ay of life and how relaxed they feel here. Their remarks are often very surprising and very flattering.”
Anglesey and the Llŷn Peninsula provide great countryside for family excursions on horseback as much of the terrain is not too demanding. The Cymyran Hotel and Valley Equestrian Centre on Anglesey is an ideal base as it can offer customised packages for individuals and small groups that involve seaside and inland itineraries.
So, if you’re looking for activities and adventure, Wales is ready to welcome you - Croeso i Gymru, Welcome to Wales. (By the way, we also count ‘relaxing’ as an activity – beginners welcome.)