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Need help with England/Wales itinerary

My husband and I are planning a trip this July to England and Wales. We are meeting family in London and spending several days there, then plan to rent a car for 8 days to see Bath, the Cotswolds, and Wales. We'd like to see as much of Wales as we can, and are thinking about driving from south to north, departing from Manchester to come back to the U.S. I'd love to get some advice on potential itinerary options, can't-miss stops, and what's reasonable to cover in the time we have available. We love history and would love to experience as much of the natural beauty of Wales as possible. Is it reasonable to spend time in both south and north Wales? If so, what would be the best driving route? Does it make sense to try to see Bath and the Cotswolds before heading into Wales, or are we trying to do too much? I really appreciate any help you all can provide!

Posted by
1735 posts

I don't suppose I can help you too much, but I loved Conwy Castle! Highly recommend going there. I was on a cruise ship excursion so I don't have much other experience with Wales. The village of Conwy would be a great place to stay, I would think. It is from the 1200's.

Also, if you are a fan of Downton Abby make sure you plan a stop in Bampton in the Cotswolds. You will see the majority of outdoor filming sites. We loved Snowshill, Chipping Camden, Broadway, etc. We really enjoyed the Cotswolds!

Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
1834 posts

I shall refer to this map:>https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.6042296,-2.6705596,10.49z/data=!5m1!1e1

You might like to consider going to Bath by train and staying a couple of nights. Then, take the train to Cardiff for another 2 nights (maybe). During your time in Cardiff, visit the Castle and the waterfront (Cardiff Bay) but also be sure to go to St.Fagans Castle & Museum (Easyway Bus 32A from Westgate Street - roughly mid point west side). You could also take the short train ride north to visit Caerphilly Castle - town is a dump but castle is very big and impressive.

Now let’s consider an alternative: hire car say at Heathrow and maybe drive to Cirencester (near top R of map) and use that as a base for The Cotswolds/Blenheim Palace. You could also drive from here to Bath for a day out. Bath has limited /expensive parking so if approaching from the north via A46 - I would follow signs for Lansdowne Park & Ride - where you dump the car and take a shuttle bus downtown.

Having done the above, head off to Wales. Now, you could go to Cardiff but I would not stay in a city centre hotel with a car due to parking costs/bus lanes and a complicated road system - so, stay in one on the periphery and use local bus or train to centre. Look at the centre of the map and you will see a village called TINTERN. This has a ruined abbey from the 1100’s and lies in the scenic Wye Valley and is about 1 hour from Bath. You could continue up the A466 towards Monmouth before taking the A40 west to Raglan (castle) - but be careful of how you loop back to continue west on A40 to Abergavenny. Anyway - continue on A40 via Crickhowell and maybe spend a night or 2 in this area before continuing further into Wales.

So, let's assume that you reached Cardiff by train instead. Now would be a good time to hire a car to explore Wales but before leaving the Cardiff area, you might wish to drive to Dyffryn Gardens (allow 2 hours) and Castell Coch. Look at the map and you will see the A470 going N out of Cardiff. This road goes all the way to Llandudno on the north coast via the scenic heart of Wales. I would not do all of this in one go but perhaps just go as far as Dolgellau or Barmouth or Porthmadog and establish another base for a few days exploring NW Wales. (Click & drag the map to follow the A470 and check it out on Streetview to see the kind of road you could be travelling on).

Alternatively, take the M4 heading west and perhaps make the first stop at the National Botanic Garden of Wales - just east of Carmarthen. Then, continue west into Pembrokeshire - possibly heading for a 3 nights or so in the Tenby area. Should you do this, you would eventually head up the west coast of Wales to Dolgellau and beyond.

Google the places mentioned.

Posted by
2652 posts

If Bath and the Cotswolds are part of the 8 days, then there won’t be much time to see Wales. On our upcoming 2 weeks trip just to Wales, we’ll be stopping to see Tintern Abbey and spend time in that area before heading west to St. Davids (cathedral and bishop’s palace), stopping at Coch and Caerphilly castles and possibly Tenby. We’re already been to Cardiff so aren’t stopping. From St. Davids we’re heading north and will use Caernarfon as a base to visit that area (Rhos on Sea, Llandudno, Isle of Anglesey). If you haven’t visited them, Caernarfon, Conway, and Beaumaris castles are all nice. On the way to Manchester, Chester is worth a few hours. Unfortunately, with the little time you have, you’ll pretty much have to select the places you want to see and forgo the off the beaten path places.

Posted by
2354 posts

I think St. Fagan's near Cardiff is a don't miss destination and we also enjoyed Caerphilly Castle, but we didn't go to North Wales and I think I heard that there are some great castles there. I found St. Fagan's to be much more interesting than the Cotswolds.

Posted by
4113 posts

We did a 28 day drive tour of Wales and England in October 2017 and loved the trip.

We visited South Wales, since we had visited North Wales a few years before. Consider Tenby, Wales, a beautiful historic seaside city and of course historic St. David's.

Cardiff is great to visit Cardiff Castle and other nearby castles, as well as the Museum of Welsh Life.

Here is my review with details:
28 days in Britain and Celebrity Eclipse home
https://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=599139

Posted by
367 posts

Can you get a direct flight home from Manchester? If not check out the options from Cardiff airport. No direct flights unfortunately to the US but plenty with changes in Amsterdam or Paris. I say this because as other posters have said you'll be getting a whistle stop tour if you try and do Cotswolds, Bath South and North Wales in 8 days. If you want to experience natural beauty then I think you really need to be able to get out of the car and have a good wander and sit and enjoy it. To be aware the schools in Wales generally break out by the end of the third week of July so beaches etc will get more busy after then but you can still get beaches virtually to yourself in West Wales at this time of year if you're prepared to walk 15 minutes to get there. There is one beach, which I wont mention by name so that it doesn't turn into a Cinque Terre, but it often features in those lists of the best beaches in the world! You could stay on the south western edge of the cotswolds, Castle Coombe, Chipping Sodbury, Tetbury, that sort of area, and from there you could reasonably make a number of day trips to Cotswolds villages, Bath and Tintern Abbey. You'll have to see what you can fit in in 2/3 nights. Then relocate to outskirts of Cardiff, for 2 nights (west of the city in the Vale of Glamorgan is the most attractive), do the St Fagans museum, Castell Coch, Cardiff Castle. If you are staying in the Vale of Glamorgan area stop by Cowbridge. It's worth a 2 hour drive to Pembrokeshire if you have the time for the end of your trip, but it's going to be quite a drive over to Manchester from here or anywhere in South Wales to be honest - you'd be better off heading back to Heathrow. Tenby, St Davids and a beautiful beach all star attractions in West Wales. If not the Gower Peninsula near Swansea is very attractive and will take about 90 minutes from Cardiff.

Posted by
17 posts

Thank you so much for your help! I think I've concluded that we'll need to scale back our expectations for what we can cover on this trip. We'll focus on South Wales and come back to see the North. We'll also plan to leave from London instead of Manchester. I did check out flights from Cardiff and Bristol, but they're much more expensive and much longer.

I like the idea of picking a couple of bases and venturing out on day trips from there. If we want to see Bath/Cotswolds, Cardiff area, and Brecon Beacons/Wye Valley, which towns should we stay in? Is it realistic to include Pembrokeshire in this itinerary?

Thank you again for the great information. I really appreciate you sharing your knowledge of the area!

Posted by
1834 posts

If you wanted to cover Bath, Cotswolds (best bits are towards the north > Bourton-on-the-Water, Lower Slaughter, Chipping Campden, Broadway etc.) , Cardiff, lower Wye Valley (Tintern/Yat Rock viewpoint), Brecon Beacons, then the Chepstow area (which is by the Severn Bridges) would be a good location for a hub base. All of the above are within 1 hour’s drive. Look at the map and find the first rail station on the Welsh side of the Severn Tunnel - known as Severn Tunnel Junction. This station has hourly trains direct to Bath and roughly half hourly services direct to Cardiff (which Chepstow station also has). So, for Bath, you might find this a better option than driving. The same can be said for central Cardiff - however, if also going to visit Caerphilly Castle, Castell Coch and the St.Fagans Castle & Museum (needs half a day) - then it would be best to use a car and do them in the order listed for convenience. (They can also be reached by public transport - but using a car will swiftly get you from one to the other).https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.6065308,-2.699531,13z/data=!5m1!1e1

From Cardiff, it is 100 miles to Tenby and takes 1 hour 30 minutes driving time - assuming no holds ups. To do Tenby and back to a base in the Chepstow area is pushing it as the M4 is often jammed at Newport due to the Welsh Government not stumping up the money to build a new M4 south of Newport to avoid a tunnel. On a clear run, Chepstow to Cardiff can be done in 35 minutes. So, if you wish to see Pembrokeshire, you would really need a base in that area - though you could do Tenby as a day trip by car from a base in Cardiff. That said, you would now be further from the north Cotswolds but it is possible to reach Bourton-on-the-Water etc. from Cardiff in around 1 hour 30 minutes - assuming a clear run and using the M4 > M5 route and possibly returning via Tewkesbury and the M50 > A40 > A449 route or slower A48 route if staying in Chepstow. (Trains to Bath from Cardiff take around 1 hour and run hourly). The Brecon Beacons are an easy 40 minute drive north of Cardiff - most on the A470 expressway.

Now look at this map:>
https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.4388467,-3.5347379,11827m/data=!3m1!1e3!5m1!1e1
If you wanted to see the sea, then the best bit of coast that is near to Cardiff - like 30minutes out or 1 hour from Chepstow area - is shown on the map. Southerndown has a sandy beach backed by cliffs and Llantwit Major has some sand but is more rocky. The footpath along the cliffs going west from Llantwit Major beach is very pleasant. A trip to this part of the coast could also be combined with Dyffryn Gardens - which are just south of St.Nicholas - just west of Cardiff. (The St.Lythans Burial Chamber is about a 4 minute drive from the car park).
https://www.visitwales.com/things-to-do/activities/walking-hiking/historical-walks/scenic-glamorgan-coast

The Gower peninsula - which is just west of Swansea - has stunning beaches and is just over 1 hour from Cardiff. If you were to venture to the Gower, then I would suggest that you aim for Rhosilli - at the western tip. You will see a spectacular beach to the north of the car park and the headland known as Worm’s Head. However, what a lot of people miss are the smaller beaches which are to the south of the car park - reached by footpaths across small fields.https://www.visitswanseabay.com/destinations/gower-peninsula/

Links for the area just north of Chepstow:>https://www.visitwales.com/explore/south-wales/wye-valley-vale-usk/explore-aonb-river
https://www.visitmonmouthshire.com/places-to-visit/wye-valley-monmouthshire.aspx

If you wish to reduce driving, consider turning in the car before heading back east and using the trains. It is unlikely that you could turn in the car west of Swansea as rental agencies will probably not have depots. (Trains are also very slow west of Swansea). Also consider flying from Cardiff Airport to Dublin for transfer to a flight home. (Aer Lingus)?

Posted by
367 posts

Echo much of what James said. I think you're looking at 2 bases, minimum, 3 if you don't want to drive slightly longer distances. I think a base in Pembrokeshire is worth it but this is at least 4 hour drive back to Heathrow, so you could do Cotswolds, Pembrokeshire, south East Wales so that the drive back to Heathrow is more like 2hours. By 'natural beauty of Wales' do you have an image in mind? There are waterfalls, mountains, Sand dunes, rolling countryside, fishing harbours, 'tourist beaches' empty beaches... let us know what rocks your boat!

Posted by
4113 posts

Tenby is worth a couple of days. Also, recommend visiting St. David's in the SW corner of Wales.

Posted by
17 posts

Thank you all again -- this is so helpful!

ryanandgill, to answer your question, when I said we wanted to explore the natural beauty of Wales, I was picturing in my mind rolling countryside with walking paths, but we also love beautiful coastlines, waterfalls, etc, so that probably doesn't help narrow things down much! I would say whatever you think is most unique to Wales would be what we would prioritize.

I have done some more research and have a more specific list of places we'd like to go in Wales (after Bath/Cotswolds):

Hay-on-Wye/Wye Valley
The Mumbles
Gower Peninsula
Tintern Abbey
St. Fagan's Museum
Vale of Glamorgan (my great-grandfather is from there, though I don't know specifically where)
Caerphilly Castle
Castle Coch
Carrel Cennen Castle
Tenby - if time
St. David's - if time
Big Pit - if time

Also would like to incorporate:
Walks on the Wales Coast Path, Offa's Dyke Path, Wye Valley Walk, and/or Pembrokeshire Coast Path if we get that far west
Drive through Wye Valley
Drive over Gospel Pass

Given the above, does Chepstow still seem like a good base for part of the week, and somewhere farther west for the other part? James, thank you for all the information about public transportation options. Any thoughts you have on how we can minimize the number of days we need to rent a car are much appreciated!

Thank you again for all the great advice!

Posted by
1834 posts

So, you have found out about The Gospel Pass! If coming up from the south, the road as far as the ruins of Llanthony Abbey is reasonable enough. Going further up the valley and over the pass, the road becomes very narrow with limited places for vehicles to pass - you must be prepared to drive backwards if you encounter someone coming the other way - and you must do this with precision as the road is narrow. When you click the following link, you should see a Streetview of this road at Capel-Y-Fin - going north towards the pass. You will see cars parked by the small church (Capel). When I went inside this tiny church, I found names from all over the world in the visitors book. Anyway, click on the road to proceed and you will see the type of road that you must be prepared to drive on:>https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.9763339,-3.0860556,3a,75y,347.97h,84.1t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s8-SMR8IDVold7UAL2PR1qQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!5m1!1e1

Now for the lower Wye Valley. Should you be driving the A466 towards Tintern, the first village is St.Arvans - go around the bend and on the next corner turn off onto the minor road. Within a short distance you will come to a parking area. Park up and take zig zag path up through the woods for about 20 minutes. Just after it levels off - turn R and you come to the Eagle’s nest viewpoint. See map:> https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.6681846,-2.6906995,1825m/data=!3m1!1e3!5m1!1e1

Another famous viewpoint over the Wye is from Yat Rock - which is at the centre of the following map - where it says ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’.https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.8324342,-2.6309656,13.33z/data=!5m1!1e1

As you are now aware, Caerphilly Castle, Castell Coch (currently with scaffolding), St.Fagans, Cardiff Castle, Dyffryn Gardens and Vale of Glamorgan all form a cluster within a relatively small area. It is going further west to Gower/ Carreg Cennen and Pembrokeshire- then we are taking of going further even though they are still within day tripping distance of Cardiff. Gower is nearer than the Tenby area but you have to get through Swansea - which can be congested and the roads on the Peninsula are also slow going. (You might even find cows sitting on the roads). So, if you wished to see fine coastal scenery, it is a bit of a toss between Gower and Pembrokeshire. If time is limited, consider south Pembrokeshire only - beware of booking accommodation in Tenby if you have a car as parking is limited. It has medieval walls & canons - just in case the French, Spanish, Americans or pirates try and invade!

If going to Pembrokeshire, you could make a detour en-route to see Carreg Cennen Castle - a fabulous ruin on top of a cliff. The final bit of road is narrow - see map:>https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.8225642,-4.1002237,20877m/data=!3m1!1e3!5m1!1e1
To get from Carreg Cennen to Pembrokeshire - go to Ffairfach and take B4300. (The ruin of Dryslwyn Castle is worth the short detour. It has good views from the top across the pastoral Towy Valley). You could proceed along the B4300 to Carmarthen and onward to Pembrokeshire.

Now look at this map of south Pembrokeshire:>https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Tenby/@51.6512386,-4.8083177,16214m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x486933067fa2a7c5:0x64baa8e24098ac0e!8m2!3d51.672738!4d-4.703579!5m1!1e1
From Tenby, boatmen will ferry people out to Caldy Island - which has a monastery. Also look at the coast west of Tenby - which has spectacular cliffs and beaches. Between Lydstep and Manorbier is Shrinkle Haven = beach and massive cliffs. The coastal path has good views of Caldy. Manorbier is also nice. Look on map for Bosherston. A lovely walk goes from the car park by the church alongside lily pools to the coast. On reaching the coast - turn left (east) and walk to Barafundle Bay - one of Britain's most scenic beaches.http://www.tenbyvisitorguide.co.uk

If you wish to find out about your ancestry - try this government body >https://glamarchives.gov.uk

Posted by
17 posts

James, thank you for all this incredible information, along with maps! I'm carefully taking notes as I formulate our itinerary. Once I have a more specific itinerary, I'll post it here (probably along with some more questions!)

Geovagriffith, thank you for sharing your trip report! There's so much helpful information there that's also going to help me in planning.

Posted by
17 posts

What are your thoughts on Brecon as a base? I've just plotted out the things we'd like to see and do in South Wales, and it looks like most of the things we want to do would be within an hour's drive from there.

Posted by
1834 posts

Yes, Brecon would make a very good base. If staying in the Brecon area, you might like to also consider visiting >http://www.showcaves.co.uk/prices_opening.html
http://www.breconbeacons.org

If staying in the town, make sure you would have parking as it has lots of small narrow streets. It does have a larger area for parking near the supermarket but time allowed is limited. Another car park can be found near the Theatre - by the canal.