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Southern Wales — no car

We would like to spend 6 days in Southern Wales in early October. RS gives a lot of attention to Northern Wales public transport in his book but not Southern Wales. And I am finding it confusing.

We will be coming from London (perhaps via Oxford) by train or by coach (much cheaper). We would like to visit the Wye Valley, Abergavenny, Brecon Beacons NP and then down through the valleys to Cardiff whence we will return to LHR. Or we could do this in reverse. We want to see lovely autumn rural scenery, have the odd 2hour walk if it isn’t raining, wander small towns and villages, and visit the Big Pit exhibition. We are not especially fond of cities, so a day in Cardiff will suffice.

Train, local bus, or historic narrow gauge through the scenic middle of the country ... all good! We like slow, and looking out windows as the scenery rolls by ...and people watching and so on.

What are the best resources for planning local transportation? At the moment my mind is tangled with all the bus routes prefaced with “ X” and I have not found a route map.

Also suggestions for small but accessible by transport towns —or even specific lodging — would be appreciated. We have 4 or 5 nights for small towns, plus 1 or 2 nights for Cardiff. (Total = 6 N)

(We looked at car hire, but hire + insurance + fuel + parking adds up very quickly.)

Thank you,

Posted by
3928 posts

I've just done a dummy search for a rental car from LHR for six days in October and found some reasonable prices. For example, a Peugeot 308 (smallish car, good for narrow country roads) from Sixt (a good, reliable company), inclusive of insurance is £138.

Fuel aside (it is expensive but small European cars are very economical with fuel) you'll find that will be cheaper than public transport over six days plus the freedom it provides.

Posted by
71 posts

Car rental fees will vary greatly with manual vs automatic, and level of insurance. I have looked at a week with an automatic and “no deductible”walk away coverage from LHR in late Sept and found it to be $325 ish. If you look at care hire, be sure to select the transmission and insurance level that makes you comfortable and able to enjoy rather than worry.

Posted by
4131 posts

We rented a car at Heathrow for our 28 day drive tour of South Wales and England.

We spent 2 nights in Cardiff, 2 nights in Tenby and one in a village in SW Wales (Cardiganshire) where my ancestors came from in 1716. We loved South Wales. Now I know why Australia has a state known as New South Wales.

S. Wales is very scenic and there are many castles and historical places to visit. Plan on going to St. David's Cathedral at the SW tip of Wales.

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

Don't rent from Europcar

Posted by
5019 posts

While big cities and some other places in Europe are easily done by public transit, IME once you get out away from the cities, a car is almost always much, much better - and often the only reasonable option. While it's often true that a really determined traveler can make things work without a car in rural areas, that generally requires so much more time that it more than negates any cost savings. For most of us, time in Europe is our most constrained commodity.

Based on what you say you're interested in doing and how you want to spend your limited time, if I were you I'd go shopping for a rental car for parts of your itinerary.

Posted by
16770 posts

Or look into bus tours.

Sorry not to provide specific info. I did see a fair bit of north Wales last year via public transportation, but I didn't go beyond Cardiff in the south.

For individual bus schedules, it sometimes works to simply Google: Bus CityA to CityB, though that sometimes takes you to the schedule from CityB to CityA. If that doesn't bear fruit, use Rome2Rio.com and keep drilling down until you find a link to the website of the bus company. Do not under any circumstances trust Rome2Rio's fares, travel times or frequencies; they seem to be works of fiction.

Be very careful about day of the week and holidays. There are usually far fewer buses on Sundays and holidays, and Saturdays may be different from Monday-Friday as well.

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you. Looking into a car hire for part of the time — say four days picking up and dropping in Cardiff — would be financially feasible but, honestly, we have grave misgivings bordering on anxiety driving in the UK: other side of the road, road signs and markings totally different than the US, and so on. And we have read nightmare tales about finding parking —or not — and so on..

Perhaps we do not have a realistic picture of being newbie UK drivers in Rural Wales, where the map suggests we could stay on A roads most of the time, avoiding motorways.

So, if we did hire a car in Cardiff, would it be easier for nervous newbies to pick it up at the central station or the airport?

Posted by
1834 posts

Check out these local tour companies who use small buses - out of Cardiff:>http://www.wherewhenwales.com/wales-day-tours/

https://www.seewales.com

If based in Cardiff, St.Fagans Castle & Museum can easily be done by local bus = 32A from Westgate Street (northbound).
Caerphilly Castle can also be easily done by local train from Cardiff Central or Queen Street. www.nationalrail.co.uk

(For any of the above, the Premier Inn on Churchill Way would be handy or the more expensive Hilton - which is near Cardiff Castle. Also consider Jury’s Inn & the Park Plaza).
Downtown Cardiff is virtually all a pedestrianised area with a huge range of shops.

If you are travelling to Cardiff from Oxford, you will probably find it cheaper if you split the train fare at Swindon or Didcot. However, you may like to consider taking the train from Oxford to Hereford (change) and go up to Ludlow before heading south to Cardiff. Oxford to Ludlow might be cheaper with a split at Hereford. (Between Oxford & Hereford is Moreton-in-Marsh - which many people use as a jumping off point for The Cotswolds).

This website will tell you buses in Wales:>https://www.traveline.cymru
www.traveline.info is good for buses in England.
(You may like to try it out for buses from Hereford to Brecon. Then try for Brecon to Cardiff).

Posted by
2361 posts

Cardiff is a good base for day trips to Caerphilly and St. Fagan's. The bus stop for St. Fagan's is near the Holiday Inn which is near Cardiff castle. We stayed at the Hilton because we had hotel points. It was an easy walk from train station.

Posted by
2071 posts

Everyone has a different opinion on driving in the UK. Here’s mine (actually my husband’s; he does the driving):

Driving on the main roads is pretty easy, and you adapt to driving on the “wrong” side of the road fairly quickly. It’s the little roads in small towns and villages that are the problem. Roads can be very narrow, and you never know what you’ll find around the bend - a car coming at you, someone on a bike, sheep, etc. It makes my husband super tense. And you are correct - finding a parking space can be difficult. You can minimize this problem if you stay in places with dedicated parking.

Posted by
1834 posts

A word of warning about catching the St.Fagans bus outside the Holiday Inn near Cardiff Castle: be sure to look out for the bus - a small white bus operated by Easyway 32A service - and put are arm out at its approach - or it may not stop. (It definitely stops to dwell for a while in Westgate Street - northbound side of street).

Posted by
4 posts

Our plan without a car in October is shaping up nicely; we will use advanced purchase rail tickets with the Senior Rail Pass to get to Cardiff and spend three nights (and thus two full days and a half day upon arrival).
— half day after arrival: Get oriented, and get more information on buses, et. Walk around. Have a pint ....
— day 2: Local train to Llantwit Major to hunt for grandparents, greats and great-greats in St Illtud’s church yard; lunch at the Old Swan Inn (family connection). Then train back to Cardiff and visit Cardiff Castle
— day 3: Bus A32 to St Fagans for a very leisurely day; then back to the same bus stop in front of the Holiday in to catch bus 25 out to Llandaff to see the cathedral.

And then we will reposition to three nights in Brecon.

— day 4: Cardiff to Brecon by bus: T4, T14 or X4. Now we originally planned to take the train to Trehafod to see the Rhondda Heritage center, train back one stop to Pontypridd and then catch the bus from there. However RHC says there is no where to store our carry on bags while we are on tour, and that furthermore the days we are in Cardiff they are fully booked on tours until 3:00. So sadly skip the RHC.

Thus we will arrive in Brecon in early afternoon. Get settled in our Inn, and have a good look around including perhaps finding local bus service to the National Park Visitor Center?

— day 5: Take the bus from Brecon to Hay-on-Wye (40 min), look around, and then on to Hereford (about another hour). Visit the Cathedral, etc. Then the bus back to Brecon (1.5 hours). Again we need to do this as a day trip from lodgings as there is no where to store bags in Hereford.

—-day 6: This is where we need help. DH would like to ride the Heart of Wales train — joyriding down to Swansea and back if the weather is good. To do that, we would need to take the bus T4 from Brecon to. ...Llandridod Wells? (1 hr) .... to catch the train? That seems biting off a bit much. Alternatively (this will be a Friday) we could take the bus to Crickhowell and Abergavenny to have a look around, but this hardly seems like it will fill a day. Suggestions?

—- Day 7: bus to Abergavenny and then the train back to London.

So this is ticking all of our Musts except for exploring the area around Brecon (day 6).

QUESTION: we are disappointed in missing the RHC. We have not found a reasonable way to get to Big Pit by public transport from Brecon (we could do that on Day 6 if possible; riding 1.5 hours each way is acceptable.)

thoughts? Suggestions? Bonus points: how to fit in Caerphilly castle, bags in tow....

and many thanks!

QUESTION: Can we do something creative on the way to Brecon? Say, alight in Merthyr Tydfil and have a look around ( would there be a place to stash our bags?)

Posted by
1834 posts

No need to return to the city centre when on the way back from St.Fagans (be sure to ask the driver on arrival to tell you the times of the buses back to Cardiff). When the bus is taking you back from St. Fagans, get off at the first stop after it has passed under a metal railway bridge - or tell the driver that you want to get off at Waungron Road (by the ‘Insole’ shops. Then walk up Ely Road in a NE direction for about 14 minutes and you will reach Llandaff Cathedral. On leaving Llandaff Cathedral to return to the city centre, you could take the footpath going south towards the Rugby Club, cross the main road and then proceed through park land to the city centre - however, this is about 2 miles and having walked around St.Fagans, it would be better to take the bus - which you can catch from the main road in Llandaff opposite The Malsters Arms. (If it is a ‘Cardiff Bus’ note that they do not give change - so be sure to have coins. Take a look at the map - find the places and look on street view.>https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.4915294,-3.2250433,16.15z

Don't bother going to Merthyr. It is impossible to reach the Brecon Beacons Mountain Centre by bus and it is too far to walk. What you could do - is take a bus from Brecon to Storey Arms = the highest point on the A470 as it crosses the Brecon Beacons. From here, you could take the path up to the summits of the Brecon Beacons. The climb can be done in just over 1 hour to the top. However, check the weather forecast and only go in good weather.

It does not look like riding the Heart of Wales Railway is doable from Brecon. Crickhowell and Abergavenny are worth the bus ride from Brecon and the scenery between these places is lovely. You may like to consider going Brecon to Abergavenny (not getting off at Crickhowell) by bus, then train or bus to Hereford, then bus to Hay and back to Brecon - though this is pushing it as a day trip.

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you! The suggestion for the Brecon walk sounds very good ... if the weather cooperates.

On the TrawsCymru timetable for the T4 bus, I see a stop called “nr Forest Visitor Center, A470, Llwyn-on” which is six stops beyond MT. Perhaps we should stop here for information about the nati al Park?

Each time think I am mastering the bus timetables, I encounter a new head-scratcher. And I understand that the Cardiff bus station is still under construction so there is no central source of information/assistance for now. Ah, well. Thank goodness for this forum!

Posted by
1834 posts

The ‘Forest Centre’ to which you refer - has very little information about the National Park. It is a car park, cafe & toilets (modern) set amongst a pine forest.

A level walk from Brecon can be this one:>http://www.breconbeacons.org/explore/things_to_do/walking/where_to_walk/bus_walks/brecon_to_pencelli

You may also wish to consider a visit by bus from Brecon to The National Showcaves of Wales - formerly known as Dan-Yr-Ogof Caves. (Be sure to ask the driver to tell you when you have arrived). Bus T6 >https://www.traveline.cymru/timetables/?routeNum=T6&direction_id=0&timetable_key=0T6MFNAA4

http://www.showcaves.co.uk/prices_opening.html

Posted by
373 posts

Do you like impressionist art? If so on your arrival afternoon you could wonder over to the Museum (I think it's closed Monday) and head up to the first floor. Ask for directions to the Davies Sisters gallery. One of the best collections of impressionist art you will find without bustling crowds. If you are looking for a 'traditional' style pub you can head for the Pen and Wig close by to the museum.

Or go and visit Cardiff Castle on your first afternoon and then once you are done in Llantwit Major take the bus to Cowbridge - it's a similar feel it you like that sort of thing. From there you can get a fast bus back into Cardiff.

If you are looking for lunch options on your St Fagans day then I can recommend the Old Post which is just outside the entrance gates on the garden side of St Fagans.