Wales

A country overlooked by many. That small sliver of land attached to England where a plethora of sheep roam hills and the people talk a funny language. As a child my family took a two-week holiday to the south of Wales, I remember it being fun with a tint of gloomy days and rain. After that holiday I said “Enough! All our holidays are to be abroad!” And that was that. The following years were spent exploring the wonders of mainland Europe and Africa.

Much to my mum’s amusement, when Jacob came to visit this summer he asked if we could take a trip to some national parks in Wales. I obviously agreed because I wanted him to see as much of this island I call home as possible. And there began our ultimate trip around Wales.

Day One: Brecon Beacons National Park

We arrived in Wales the night before and stayed at this lovely Air BnB just outside Cardiff. Our host was an ex-mountain rescue worker and was eager to give us recommendations. As the plan for our first day only consisted of “get to the campground” his advice was very much needed. He told us about Pen-Y-Fan, gave us directions and sent us on our way.

Pen-Y-Fan

Travel time from northern Cardiff: 50 minutes. 
Start: Pont ar Daf car park, grid ref: SN988199
Hike Distance: 4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate 
Highest Peak in South Wales: 886 meters ( 2,907ft)
Further information here

Pen Y Fan
Jacob on top of Pen Y Fan

I love being outside in nature and I love hiking and seeing new things, but I dislike hiking on an overcrowded trail and I dislike hiking on wide gravel paths.  When we arrived at the car park, located in a picturesque spot across the road from a lake, it was full and the trail appeared to be a wide gravel path. My heart sank along with my expectations for this hike. Regardless, we set off along the trail and it wasn’t long before I understood why our host had recommended it. With every step, my appreciation for this place and hike increased, by the time we reached the top I was exhilarated.

The hike starts by crossing a stream before the trail widens out onto the dreaded, wide gravel path (“The motorway” as the locals call it). But we haven’t been walking long before I am distracted from my negative thoughts of the path underfoot by the view emerging. With every step, expanding vistas of the surrounding Welsh countryside come into view. As we climb higher the glistening lake located opposite the car park appears to shrink until it is no longer in sight. The trail is busy but not crowded and much to my surprise sharing a common enjoyment of the fresh air and panoramic views with a diverse array of other people adds to the pleasure of the hike.

After the first section of the climb, just below the final ascent to the summit of the lower neighbouring peak, Corn Du, the trail flattens out. Here you start to get the first hint of the panoramic views available a few hundred meters ahead at the Pen-Y-Fan summit. The trail forks, with one route going along the ridge away from the Corn Du summit, one heading up towards it, and a trail bypassing Corn Du going directly up to the Pen-Y-Fan summit. We decided to bypass Corn Du.

As we emerge at the top we are greeted by sheep, fellow hikers and a lot of soaring birds. We sit at the far side of the summit, a cliff top edge, and enjoy a well-earned rest, taking in the endless, open views. After catching our breath and marvelling at the vast greenness spread out in front of us we set off back to the car. On the hike down we are accompanied by a sheep and her lamb and, for a few minutes were entertained by the guest appearance of a little lizard.

Accommodation

We stayed at a campsite located by Llangorse Lake. It cost £14 each for two nights. It wasn’t our favourite campground as it had the feel of a holiday caravan site and we much prefer isolated, quiet campgrounds. However, the location was beautiful, and it wasn’t far from the village of Brecon.

Food:

In the village of Brecon, there are a whole host of restaurants to choose from. Usually whilst travelling we buy food from stores and make our own but we had run out of gas for our cooker and decided to treat ourselves. We weren’t optimistic about finding gluten-free and vegan food in such a small village but, after a quick online search, we found a gem.

Gurkha Corner is a small, authentic Nepalese restaurant. Neither Jacob nor I had ever tried Nepalese food, so with great curiosity, we ventured in. Whilst reading the menu I noticed that a lot of the food names were similar to those of Indian food. I mentioned this and the waitress informed us that although the names were similar the flavours and spices were completely different. We asked her about accommodating a vegan needing gluten-free food and she took special measures to ask the chef about all the ingredients, even bringing out packages for us to check.

The food was absolutely incredible. It was so tasty and unlike anything we’d had before. The service we received was above and beyond and a big plus, the food was a very reasonable price. If you want authentic Nepalese food at a good price and lovely service I highly recommend checking this place out.

Day Two: Brecon Beacons National Park

Four Falls Trail

Start: Cwm Porth car park 
Distance: 5.5 miles
Time: 3-4 hours
Extra Information: Four Falls Trial 

While planning what to do for the day a quick search on Google informed us that The Brecon Beacons is known as the “waterfall country“. This was like music to our ears as we love waterfalls. A further search led us off to hike the four falls trail. This trial boasts four waterfalls which all offer something unique.

This hike is in the middle of nowhere. After driving down long winding country lanes, across cattle grids and around herds of sheep we arrived at a car park. The trailhead is supposedly very close to a huge cave that attracts potholers. We must have been oblivious because we totally missed this.

After walking for a while, you reach a crossroads where a sign indicates that straight on leads to the first waterfall. We sat here for a while and picked wild blueberries. We did see some people enter the fall from the other side of the river and they were able to go right up to the water so there is a different trail you can take to get there but we weren’t sure how. Jacob slipped hurting his foot meaning we had to turn back, therefore, we didn’t get the chance to complete the entire hike.

I am unable to give any other details about the hike beyond the first waterfall. The part of the trail we took was lovely and relatively quiet – though we didn’t arrive until 4 pm, so it could be busy earlier in the day. If you want to know more about the walk check the link in the more info section above.

Day Three: Pembrokeshire

Travel time from the Brecon Beacons: 1 hour 40 – 2 hours. 

It had been many years since my last visit to Pembrokeshire. However, with the beautiful heat wave, we were enjoying, I decided a trip to the coast would be ideal. I also wanted to show the Californian what Britain has to offer when it comes to beaches.

Accommodation

Our base was a secluded meadow campground in Little Haven which is only a short drive from a selection of beaches (It cost us £50 for 2 nights). Pembrokeshire has a whole array of camping options as well as hotels and BnB’s.  Click here for other accommodation information.

Marloes Sands Beach

Travel time from Little Haven: 16 minutes 
Postcode: SA62 3BH (if arriving from the Little Haven direction, park just after the village and take the trail on the left)

Our campground has a list of recommended beaches, we selected one we liked the sound of. Trying to follow the directions given at our campground meant walking up and down a lane for about 30 minutes hunting for a trail down to the beach. Eventually, We passed other people and asked for directions. When we finally found the path it was a wide trail leading down to the beach. Arriving at the beach hunted for the section that looked like the pictures – we never found it, because we were on the wrong beach!!

Regardless, this beach was a lucky find. Accessibility is limited by the tide times. As we arrived about an hour or so before high tide, we were only able to spend a short amount of time at the beach. At the low tide, this beach is described as becoming “a continuous expanse of sand punctuated by rocky outcrops.” If you are in the Milford Haven area and after a quieter beach, I would recommend visiting Marloes Sands.

It was very secluded and peaceful, we spent our time here paddling in the water and doing yoga. There was also a family with children and a group of people bouldering over the rocks so there really seems to be something for everyone.

Marloes Sands Beach, Wales
Marloes Sands Beach, Pembrokeshire Wales

Day Four: Pembrokeshire

Barafundle Bay

Travel time from Little Haven: 40 minutes including toll (it only cost us 35p) 
Post Code: SA71 5LS

If you search for the “best beaches in Pembrokeshire” Barafundle Bay will almost certainly be on the list. This beach is reached after driving along thin winding roads ending in a National Trust car park. When we arrived the car park was nearing full and was £5 for the day.

The walk to the beach itself is beautiful, starting on a woodland path before opening out onto the headlands with a view of the sea. After climbing down some steps you are greeted by the stretch of pristine golden sand. The beach is surrounded by rolling sand dunes and on the far side, the headland becomes a thick pine wood.

The location of the beach is incredible. As it is so tucked away and far from the hustle and bustle of a town you are able to really feel at one with nature. On top of that, the beach is a national trust beach so has been left in its natural state and doesn’t feel commercialised.

The weather was so hot and this beach is so popular, meaning a lot of people were there. We still managed to find a spot and it didn’t feel too crowded because the beach is relatively large.

Another attraction is that it is a safe swimming spot. I headed straight into the water and enjoyed swimming around for a while.  It was, however, slightly crowded and I didn’t feel like I had a tonne of space. We stayed for a few hours, got some sun and ate papaya before we headed off. This beach definitely deserves its spot on the best beaches in Pembrokeshire purely because of its beauty.

Barafundle Bay, Pembrokeshire, Wales
View of Barafundle Bay

Musselwick Sands

Driving time from Barafundle bay: 29 minutes including a small toll.
Parking: If entering from Little Haven direction, drive through town and park on the lay-by, the trail starts down the road on the right-hand side. 
Tide times are here

This was the beach we were originally trying to find when we stumbled across Marloes Sands. The hosts at our campground described it as being their favourite beach, and as a bonus, not many people know about it. To access the beach you walk down a trail which borders a field ending with a view of the beach and the never-ending sea.

Musselwick Sands, Pembrokeshire, Wales
Path down to Musselwick Sands

Once on the beach, we walked round to left and entered a large cove. I headed straight for the sea and as there were fewer people I could lounge to my heart’s content.  Like Marloes Sands, the high tide at this beach means you can only access it at certain times. We lost track of time and forgot to check how the high tide was getting meaning to leave we had to clamber over the rocks. This beach was by far our favourite. The location was beautiful and it was secluded. If you are going to visit any beaches in Pembrokeshire I would make it this one, just make sure you check the tide times (Linked above).

Musselwick Sands, Pembrokeshire, Wales
View of Musselwick Sands from the entrance of a cave

Day Five: Travel day to Snowdonia National Park

Day five was a travel day from south Wales to north Wales and was pretty uneventful. We aimed to do it with very few stops because we wanted to check out Snowdonia in the evening. We made just one major stop along the way.

Aberystwyth

Drive time from Little Haven: 1 hour 52 minutes

The roads in Wales are not the fastest. They are narrow, windy and people seem to drive reeaallllly slowly. We decided to split the journey in half and stop in Aberystwyth on the way.

This stop was mainly to get food, stretch our legs and get an insight into a typical Welsh sea-side town. Unfortunately, as it was a Sunday, everywhere was shut, so for food, we had to settle for an M&S. We sat on the beach front to eat and enjoy the show of seagulls trying to steal food.

The town itself isn’t very large so we managed to wander around and get the feel pretty quickly. We only had 2 hours of parking so it was a very quick stop before we continued our journey to Snowdonia.

Day Six: Snowdonia National Park

Drive time from Little Haven: 3 hours
Drive time from Aberystwyth: 1 hour 12 minutes

We only gave ourselves one day at Snowdonia National Park, which we regretted once we arrived. With only a small amount of time, we decided to do the most famous hike in Snowdonia – Mount Snowdon. We stayed at the YHA youth hostel (£29 for one night) in Bryn Gwynant, and while the hostel itself wasn’t amazing the location more than made up for it.

Bryn Gwynant, Snowdonia, Wales
Bryn Gwynant, Wales. The location of our hostel in Snowdonia National Park

Mount Snowdon

Elevation: 1,085 meters (3,560 ft) 
Information on the routes available

As the highest mountain in both England and Wales, Mount Snowdon is a must see. We took the Pyg trail up and the Miners trail back. Both of these trails start and finish at the Pen Y Pass car park. There are several others trails to the summit that vary in their level of difficulty, and there is also a train if you want the view without the work.

We arrived at Pen Y Pass to be greeted by yet another full car park, this meant we had to head further down the hill to park in a lay-by. This added an extra two miles to our hike but a plus was that we didn’t have to pay to park.

The trail is moderately difficult, with some very steep parts. As the trail is so rough and sometimes rocky, I wouldn’t recommend taking these trails for those unstable on their feet. Once at the top, you get a panoramic view of the surrounding area. It was very busy but instead of ruining the experience, being surrounded by others who were enjoying the same view only enhanced it.

On the descent, there was an opportunity to swim in the lake at the base of the mountain. However, we didn’t know this beforehand and so didn’t take any swimwear (which I was very sad about). The experience and hike were absolutely incredible. It is a must do whilst in the north of Wales.

Mount Snowden summit
Louise at the summit of Mount Snowdon

 

Check out our video documenting the full roadtrip which includes our six days spent in Wales

Feedback and comments are much appreciated