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Why isn’t everyone raving about Wales?

I know there are some people on this site who are Wales fans (Ed and Kira come to mind), but Wales doesn’t get a lot of attention here or in the real world. When people asked me where I was going on vacation, they looked at me quizzically when I said Wales. “You’re spending the whole two weeks in Wales?” “Of all the places to go, why did you pick Wales?”

Now that I’m back (we went the last two weeks in September), I’m wondering why everyone isn’t praising Wales. It has stunning scenery, great walks and hikes, endless castles, neat little towns with charming pubs and good beer, and extremely friendly people. We found plenty of nice B&Bs with delicious breakfasts and tea makers in the rooms. And a special bonus - there are lots of free and clean toilets. We had a blast!

Is there anything bad about Wales? Yeah I guess. In much of the countryside, you can’t take two steps without stepping in sheep doo doo. The language in incomprehensible (though I find it kind of charming). And my husband did not enjoy driving on the narrow winding roads.

But all in all, it makes for a fabulous vacation.

I’ll describe each stop below, so you can read about the parts that interest you (or not at all).

Posted by
1999 posts

Start in Bath. We flew into London and spent two nights in Bath, a town I love, to recover from jet lag. The Roman Baths have been expanded since our last time there, and they are still one of my favorite places in Europe. Other than that we mostly walked around and enjoyed the architecture and the people dressed like they did in Jane Austen’s day. (It was the Jane Austen festival weekend.) We went to a rugby match, which was a special treat, especially for my husband, who used to play. (Luckily, I spotted a sign for it on the bus from Heathrow.)

When we left Bath, we stopped at Bradford-on-Avon, on the recommendation of a street musician. There is a 1000+ year old Saxon Church which is very cool, but overall, it’s not worth the drive if you hate driving on narrow hilly roads, like my husband does.

We also stopped at Tintern Abbey (really great, but unfortunately it was raining) and Caerphilly Castle, which we picked because we have a small antique print of it that we bought on our first trip to Europe in 1982. It’s a pretty neat castle, but we only had 15 minutes before it closed.

Posted by
1999 posts

Crickhowell in Brecon Beacons area. We spent three nights here in a very nice B&B (Glan-y-Dwr). The area is beautiful – green rolling mountains (actually big hills) dotted with small towns. Our first full day we never got in the car, which my husband loved. We took a hike to the top of Table Mountain, which was awesome. There were occasional rain showers, and we could watch them move across the valley and over the hills. Sometimes they missed us, but even when they didn’t they were just light sprinkles. Then the sun would come out. The skies were gorgeous and dramatic, and the 360 degree views were stunning. After a rest in our room, we took another easier hike along the canal, then had a very good dinner in the Bridge End pub. This was our favorite way to end every day.

The next day it was raining, so we decided to go to the Big Pit coal mine tour. It way exceeded our expectations. Our tour guide used to be a coal miner, and he was really funny and entertaining. It was really interesting to learn about the miner’s lives, and it made me think I had no business ever complaining about my job.

When we left Crickhowell, we headed up to the town of Brecon. I walked all over the town while my husband visited the South Borders Museum. My husband loved the museum, and I loved the town. I think it might have been a better base than Crickhowell in that it was bigger and had more to do, but I can’t imagine I would have found a B&B I liked better than Glan-y-Dwr.

From Brecon, we drove through Brecon Beacons National Park on our way to St. Davids in the southwest corner of Wales. The drive through the park was really beautiful.

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1999 posts

St. Davids and Pembrokeshire National Park. We stayed at another great B&B - Ramsey House - in St. Davids. Our first evening, we walked around the town, which we liked very much. We had dinner at the Farmers Arms pub, which our hosts recommended. It was great, and we had an interesting chat with a guy from London who was five years old during the Blitz in WWII.

Pembrokeshire National Park is a fantastic place for hiking/walking. The coastal path goes for 180+ miles, and there is a bus system that will take you to or pick you up from various places along the way. So you can hike sections of the path without having to back track. Our first day we took a bus north of St. David’s then walked back for a total of about 11 or 12 miles. The scenery is spectacular - you are mostly walking on cliffs with the waves crashing on big rocks below. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and the water was a brilliant turquoise - really beautiful. We came upon sheep (of course) and horses, which was a nice surprise. It was exhilarating until the last couple of miles, when we were pretty tired. It’s a lot of up and down, and the path is fairly rocky, so you have to watch each step.

The next day we headed south/east to Solva and hiked back from there. It was a little more overcast, and there was no wind, so the waters were very calm and a blue/gray color. It was serenely beautiful and a very different experience from the day before. This hike was more like 6 or 7 miles, so not as tiring. When we got back, I went to St. David’s Cathedral, which I liked very much, while my husband took a nap. Amazing that such a small town has such a large cathedral.

Posted by
1999 posts

Criccieth and the Llyn Peninsula. We left St. Davids and drove up the coast to Criccieth, where we splurged for a room with a view at the Caerwylan Hotel, only to find it was too foggy to see either the water or the castle from our room. It cleared up the next day, and we drove out the Llyn peninsula to Tre’r Ceiri, a hill fort on top of a mountain/hill. This is not a big tourist site, I guess because it’s out of the way, but it’s really spectacular. There are dozens of Iron Age stone huts and beautiful peaks all around. It was partially cloudy, and the skies were fantastic. From there we drove to Caernarfon and toured the castle, which was very nice.

Posted by
1999 posts

Climbing Snowdon. The next day we drove to Llanberis in order to hike up to the top of Mount Snowdon. It was overcast when we left, but the forecast was for sunny skies, so we decided to give it a shot. We lucked out. About two-thirds of the way up, we climbed out of the clouds, to find brilliant sunshine. The peaks of the surrounding mountains were peeking out of the white puffy clouds, and it was just spectacular. We went in the visitor center for about 15 minutes, and when we came out, the clouds had all disappeared and you could see for miles. It was a completely different world.

It took us three hours to get to the top, and two hours and 45 minutes to get back down. We were pretty darn tired! This is a hike that anyone in decent shape can do. It’s all pretty normal walking (at least the route we took), but it is three hours of walking up hill, and there are parts that were very steep where we (and most everyone else) stopped to catch our breath a lot.

Back to Criccieth for one last night. The next morning we walked along the beach, then toured Criccieth Castle. It’s quite small and we enjoyed it, but it’s not worth driving out of your way to see. Criccieth is an okay town, but I imagine other towns like Porthmadog might be a better touring base. However, we were happy with our choice because of the beautiful view we had from our room.

Posted by
1999 posts

Betws-y-Coed. We drove to B-y-C by way of Harlech. The castle is pretty great. It was a short drive to B-y-C, which turned out to be my least favorite place we stayed. It seemed like a place that was built just for tourists. That doesn’t always bother me, but for whatever reason, I wasn’t in love with it. We spent two nights there. My husband was getting tired of driving, so we decided to take the train to Blaenau Ffestiniog and visit the slate mine there. It was okay, but not nearly as cool as the coal mine tour. The area was kind of ugly, with giant mounds of slate waste everywhere. When we got back to B-y-C, we hiked out to Swallow Falls, which was a pleasant and fairly easy hike. For dinner, I had fish and chips for the eighth time. I love fish and chips!

Posted by
1999 posts

Llandudno and Conwy. We spent our last two nights in Wales in Conwy, but we drove there via Llandudno, where we spent most of the day walking along the promenade and pier and hiking up the Great Orme. Llandudno is much bigger than I expected and an enjoyable place to walk around. I was glad we went. It’s a short drive from there to Conwy, which is a very nice town with a great castle. We stayed at the Bryn Guest House, which is a really beautiful old house built right along the town wall. The gardens are beautiful, and the owners are very friendly. I believe it’s the only place that we stayed that is in Rick’s book. All the guests were Americans, and it was kind of funny to learn that a few of them were following Rick’s recommended tour of Great Britain to the letter. (Other than Conwy, it seemed like most of the tourists we ran into in Wales were British.)

From Conwy, we headed to Manchester. We had intended to skirt around Manchester and drive through the Peak District before settling in for the evening, but we made a bad turn and got stuck in some hellish Manchester traffic. We decided to pack it in and head to our hotel at the airport. The last day was a waste, but the overall trip was one of our favorite vacations ever. We are big fans of Wales!

Posted by
1217 posts

Fantastic report, Carroll. I want to go to Wales!

Posted by
6964 posts

Your trip report certainly makes me want to go to Wales even more! It is on my place to visit list, but you described your trip so well, it is downright enticing.

There used to be a regular poster on here named Neil. He always said Wales was where he wanted to go, and was constantly talking about it. Have always wondered if he made it there and why he stopped posting on the Helpline. He would have loved your report too.

Posted by
1973 posts

Carroll, what a great report! I've wanted to go to Wales for a long time to see the Edward I castles (Carnarvon and Caerphilly, to name just 2) and for the scenery. I also think Welsh is a fascinating language and would love to hear it spoken and try it out myself.

How do you pronounce some of the place names you mentioned?

Posted by
1999 posts

Ha ha, Sarah. No one knows how to pronounce Welsh. Certainly not me!

Actually, Rick has a few guidelines on pronunciation in his Great Britain guidebook that I found helpful. For example, W is pronounced oo, so Betws is pronounced bet - oos. F is pronounced V so, Carnarfon is pronounced care - nar- von. Double F is pronounced F though. Double D is kind of a hard th, and double L is pretty much hopeless - its kind of like a very guttural CL.

Fortunately, you can along very well in Wales with English. But we did hear some Welsh, which was fun.

Posted by
143 posts

We are planning to drive from near Plymouth (Kingsbridge) up into Wales and haven't decided yet where to go, but your descriptions have given us lots of ideas. This will be pour first trip to Wales. Have you visited the folk museum in Cardiff? I hope to find sheep trials or a farmer who would give a short demonstration w/ his dog(s). I will be checking out some of your B & Bs online.

Posted by
1999 posts

Cary, We did not go to Cardiff on this trip. I wanted to spend the first two nights there, but for a variety of reasons, it didn't work out. That was okay because Cardiff is the only place in Wales we had been to before. We did go to the open air folk museum - and enjoyed it - but this was on our first trip to Europe in 1982. That was before I had ever heard of Rick Steves or the internet. You might want to get an opinion from someone who's been there more recently. :)

Posted by
20 posts

I haven't been to Wales since 2000, but I spent a couple of days in Machynlleth and loved it. I think that might have been my first experience with truly clean air. Beautiful countryside, comfortable bed & breakfast in town, friendly people. Lots of rain, and yes, lots of sheep. I'd go back in a heartbeat if there weren't so many other new places to see and not so much money...

Posted by
103 posts

I was in Wales in 1990, so a lot has probably changed since then. We stayed in Brecon for a couple of days and had a nice time with walks on the public footpaths, lunches in one of the old pubs on the river, staying in another pub down the street, and driving through the Brecon Beacons just to see the wonderful scenery. We only heard people speaking Welsh in the Brecon supermarket and were treated royally at the Tourist Information Center which at that time was by the cattle auction yard. We visited the Mumbles which the locals called the Welsh Riviera and went swimming in the Irish Sea even though it was chilly and raining a bit just to be able to say we'd done it. We had a nice impromptu conversation with an older guy walking his dog on the beach who told us some stories about his old Da (dad). Since then I've read Sharon Kay Penman's historical novels and some murder mysteries by Glynn Carr and Rhys Bowen set in North Wales, and I fully plan on going back some day.

Posted by
252 posts

Thanks for the great report. Wales has been on my list for a long time. Hoping to get there next year. Conwy and the Bryn Guest House are at the top of my list!

Posted by
143 posts

Jaime: Machynlleth info I got online looks great. We don't want to be too pinned down w/ specific dates, but there seem to be quite a few B & B choices both in town and farm B & Bs. We will be in Wales 14-21/22 June.

Posted by
330 posts

I was in Wales back in 1987. Have always wanted to go back, and always felt that it was the best palace I visited in the UK. Shhhhhh... Don't want everyone trekking off to Wales and having it overrun! :)

Posted by
5 posts

So glad to hear of your wonderful experiences in Wales. It has been on my bucket list for many years, ever since reading the Sharon Kay Penman books based on Welsh history. We were going to visit this summer but opted to do another trip instead. After reading your post, I am now determined to make it there in 2015.

Posted by
4206 posts

So glad you all enjoyed Wales! I was brought up on the border( Chester) and my mum's family has welsh as a first language. It's one of my favourite places in the world so I hope you don't mind if I add a bit from a "locals" perspective.

The language- good luck trying to speak it! :-) lovely to listen to, ugly when written down. All children in Wales now have to learn it in school but historically it was banned from the education system. All teaching was in English and children were punished if they spoke it in class. My taid ( welsh for grandad pronounced "tide") was certainly beaten for speaking it. Today it is more commonly spoken as a first language in rural areas and in north Wales rather than south but all signage and official communication must be in both languages. One of my favourite aspects of the language is how the welsh language has adopted and adapted " English " words to their own language. Look out for the signs for "tacsi/taxi". You might also enjoy this site, good luck with the pronunciation!

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/lifestyle/fun-stuff/24-welsh-words-phrases-just-6387661

Snowdon- you don't have to walk up it. There is a lovely little railway that can take you up and down the mountain. http://www.snowdonrailway.co.uk At one point of the trip the train goes through an exposed stretch that gets quite windy. In the days when everyone wore hats, even to go up a mountain, many used to blow off and down the slopes. The rumour is that local kids used to wait to catch them and then sell them back to the visitors when they came back down. No idea if that is true, but knowing many north waleans it seems likely.

Betws-y-coed. It is quite a touristy place I think because it is an easy trip from the coast where many of the tourists stay. If you want another side to its history at the start of World War Two many children from Liverpool were evacuated to the area. If you are not aware of this bit of British history it is worth learning more. I don't think it would happen today! My dad was evacuated a week after his 7th birthday, leaving behind his parents and 2 younger brothers. He was billeted with an old woman who wasn't very kind to him. The family story is that my nan saved the whole family sweet ration to send him a bars of chocolate but the old woman stole them for months. One day my dad met the postman who gave him his chocolate which my dad promptly ate and then vomited all over the woman's sofa! Kharma I say! On a more positive note my dad was soon fluent in welsh which served him well when he married my mum. Her family was not happy about her marrying "out" and weren't initially very polite about him in welsh, at family gatherings! One day my dad accidentally responded to a question in welsh and the cat was out of the bag

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evacuations_of_civilians_in_Britain_during_World_War_II

I agree the slate mines aren't beautiful but they have their own grandeur I think? It was a very different form of mining to the coal mines in South Wales. It is also much harder to disguise the slate tips than it is to disguise coal slag heaps. Plants grow much easier on coal heaps rather than slate. There was also a concerted effort to maintain slag heaps in South Wales after the Aberfan disaster in the 1966. If you are not aware of this event, be warned you might cry.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aberfan_disaster

When they closed the slate mine at Dinorwic they converted part of it into a hydro electric plant which is amazing http://www.fhc.co.uk/dinorwig.htm. As my family was "local" we got a guided tour of it when it was being built. I will never forget the size of the turbine halls that were created by men with picks and shovels, and a little bit of dinamite.

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4206 posts

If you are interested in welsh culture, and you get a chance, try and visit an eisteddfod ( pronounced " I sted fod") which are cultural events of music, poetry and art. The welsh love their music and poetry! The events themselves are a bit of a Victorian invention ( lots of people dressed as Druids and ceremonies such as " the chairing of the bard"!)but the quality of performance is always very high.
http://www.eisteddfod.org.uk/english/

There is still a very strong choral culture in Wales, traditionally based around chapel and the mines. NOTHING sounds better than a welsh male voice choir!
A couple of years ago a young "male voice choir" called Only Boys Aloud got to the final of Britains got talent and even though they didn't win they were a huge hit

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=PCKcc2me_HU

And this simply makes the hairs on the back of my neck go up! ( one for you Taid!)
http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=AM4mIlYKG9s

Sorry, I have gone on a bit but as I hope you can tell I love the place!

Posted by
99 posts

Just got back from Wales.
Loved every minute. Here are some thoughts.
From USA arrival Manchester airport super easy Immigration and Customs. Train to Liverpool Piccadilly easy inexpensive.
Train to Conwy...Bryn Derwen Guest House easy walk from Conwy Station with our bags...yes we travelled light. Bryn Derwen is a gem....so are the owners. Great breakfast, nice people, who could want more? Lots of Neolithic sites in the area, good walks, castles ... we rented a car in Llandudno Junction, easy drive back to Conwy. Each morning we talked about our itinerary with owners and got more ideas and map suggestions. So nice. Isle of Anglesey is beautiful, not much traffic. South Stack Light is great. Saw puffins!
From Conwy to Cardigan by car. Breathtaking scenery. (By the way, we rented the smallest care Enterprise had on the lot...plenty of space for the two of us and great for the narrow roads and spaces. Don't get duped into the big jobs.)
Nant y Brenny in Rhydlewis fantastic place to stay. Lovely clean room, nice tea, great breakfast. Lots of coastal walks each one better than the last, even with rain. More castles, abbeys, and Neolithic sites. Great food at La Calabria.
For those thinking about money. We took our "travel" cash cards, (we only use the account for travel) and used our VISA for big purchase/dinner. Did not have to carry large amounts of US $$$ that way and it was simple to use ATM cash points INSIDE banks. No issues.

Bought train tickets in advance, open tickets. Cheaper and easy to use. All the train stations were easy to navigate, the personnel all very helpful.
Flew home out of London because we wanted to visit friends and we are not sorry we did.

Got Oyster cards....very simple to do at the tube station, used them for three days, returned them for the refund at Heathrow when we got off the Piccadilly line.

Wales is a beautiful country full of very nice people. We will go back to see all the bits we missed, and there are lots.
We travelled with one backpack convertible to suitcase each. Because we take lots of pictures we each had a small pack that was water resistant to carry camera equipment in. Mine doubled as a snack basket.....very handy on the coast walks. Sure made it easy to get around, especially riding the tube in London at rush hour when we left. Thanks for teaching us to travel light.

Posted by
1999 posts

It's so great to hear from other people who love Wales as much as I do. Emma, it was interesting to learn about your family ties to Wales. (I'm jealous!) Also to read about your insights about the country. I have to say the one regret I have about our trip (not counting my regret that we couldn't have spent two more weeks there) is that we didn't get to hear a men's choir. That was high on our list, but we just didn't come across any. We learned how great they are many years ago when a men's Welsh choir came to Pittsburgh. I'll tell you an interesting story about that (category: it's a small world).

Our first trip to Europe was to London where we spent two weeks. We took many day trips, including one to Cardiff. We stopped in a sports store and my husband had a long conversation with the woman who worked there about his Welsh ancestors (alas, not many) and rugby (which he played at the time). A year and a half later, a Welsh choir came to Pittsburgh, and my husband's rugby team sponsored them. He was riding on a bus (or maybe it was the incline) when he heard a voice behind him that sounded familiar. It was the woman from the sports store! Her husband was in the choir. She remembered him, and they established a friendship that lasted for the rest of her life. I think of her every Christmas when I put the Welsh hat ornament she sent us on the Christmas tree.

Ann, your trip sounds great. My husband and I have been dying to see puffins! But we never have. Interesting that you went to so many places that we didn't go. Just reinforces my feeling Wales has tons to offer and we need to go back. If only I didn't have so many other places on the list...

Posted by
100 posts

Tremendous trip report, and definitely a must-add to the list. I love running about and visiting museums and churches and other tourist sites, but there's something to be said for a "nature-hike" style vacation as well. Thanks for taking the time to post such detailed information.

Thanks so much for describing your trip. My husband and I are looking forward to spending at least 2 weeks there someday, as it is one of the parts of the UK we have not yet traveled through. We could almost say the same thing about Scotland. We have spent 2 different 2 week vacations there, and would go back in a heartbeat with more new things to see.

Posted by
29 posts

We have been into North Wales on almost every trip home. Conwy is a nice little town, well worth a visit, and Conwy Castle is interesting. Llandudno is Caernarfon Castle is wonderful, and Beaumaris on the Isle of Anglesey is worth a visit. We usually go for the mountains, and over the years we've hiked up Snowdon several times. The last time we took the Snowdon Mountain Railway, a pleasant alternative!
http://www.snowdonrailway.co.uk/

Llanberis is a good place to stay. The Electric Mountain tour is very interesting. The old slate mines got a new use, and you ride in a coach to see the tunnels and turbines in the mountain. We also enjoyed the Slate Mine museum.

One of our favorite places is Llyn Ogwen, with accessible mountains and some lower level walks. With all hiking, you need good footwear, preferably boots, and don't forget rain gear and food.
http://www.snowdoniaguide.com/llyyn_ogwen.html

We went to the Tourist offices on our last trip, as we didn't book before getting to Wales. They were very helpful with B & B lodgings or small hotels. We've also stayed in several Youth Hostels, which have changed over the years from all dormitory accommodations to smaller dorms or private rooms. The self-catering kitchens are a plus!

It's much better to have a car in Wales, but the driving is interesting with the narrow roads. The mountains aren't as high as they are in California, but the views are fantastic, and the climbers still head out to the Crags for some of the best climbing in the world.

It's