adeo Insights – Kevin Murray’s Diary: Week 4, South Wales

It’s all very well us telling you what to see and do when you come to visit Britain but who can give you a better insight into what you can expect from an adeo tour than our guests themselves! Our guest Kevin Murray has been kind enough to allow us to publish his trip reports detailing his travels through England, Wales and Scotland this Spring.

 

This week Kevin and Glenys cross the border to Wales, land of Dragons, and make their way along the beautiful South Wales Coast.

Next stop, Cardiff in South Wales, reached via the gigantic Severn Bridge. Here we visited Cardiff Castle, another spectacular site just oozing with history. The last family to own it undertook extensive (and expensive) renovations, restoring the ancient Roman walls and creating a sort of medieval dream world in the opulent residences.

Cardiff - Cardiff CastleWe spent another whole day exploring this surprising city, beginning with the extensive riverside parklands, then the Civic Centre and the National Museum with its comprehensive and informative display of the geological and paleontological history of Wales. Under unexpected blue skies we then wandered the streets, admiring the colorful low-rise buildings, the numerous pedestrian plazas and the attractive shopping arcades which make the centre of town very people-friendly. We also got to admire Cardiff‘s iconic Bay area, cleverly transformed from being the largest coal port in the world to a lively entertainment precinct dotted with some very impressive architecture, like the ginormous copper-sheathed Millennium Centre and the historic red-brick Pierhead building.

From Cardiff we ventured deeper into the mountainous Brecon Beacons area to the north, following the tortuous course of the Wye River through valleys painted with every shade of green. We explored the ruins of the surprisingly large Tintern Abbey, learning what life might have been like for a medieval Cistercian monk – not comfortable, that’s certain!

Brecon Beacons - Carreg Cennen CastleAfter overnighting at the lovely little village of Crickhowell, we caught a beautiful old steam train right into the heart of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Expecting rugged mountains but finding green, rolling hills – albeit rather large hills! The scenery was spectacular, with the gleaming white new wool of this year’s Spring lambs dotting the bright green fields beyond mill-pond calm lakes and not a drop of rain in sight.

and so, on to Stackpole, our gateway to the glorious south coast of Wales, 200 miles of which is part of the Pembrokeshire National Park. We zigged and zagged along this rugged coast, exploring its windy headlands, sheltered coves and sandy beaches. We saw thousands of squabbling Guillemots vying for that crucial piece of ledge, high on pillars of rock thrusting above the crashing Atlantic waves. We wandered over headlands sculpted into magical shapes by sea and wind. We descended into a bleak stone hut wedged in a precipitous crevice where St Govan was supposed to have hidden from pirates. We explored the colourful town of Tenby whose pastel-shaded houses contrasted with the severity of the remnant castle ramparts.

Pembrokeshire - TenbyFrom Stackpole we continued northwards, hugging the Welsh coast. We followed the medieval pilgrim path to the smallest “city” in the world, St David’s. It achieves city status because of its cathedral, which is almost as big as the town. This beautiful cathedral with its impressive woodwork has been in more or less continuous use for over 700 years, even surviving the worst ravages of the Dissolution era. Next door to the cathedral was the Bishop’s Palace, which wasn’t so lucky. It is now in ruins but is intact enough to allow its English Heritage owners to use it as a background to cleverly convey what life must have been like in its heyday.

If you would like to explore South Wales, why not try our Cardiff, Castles and Coastlines self-drive tour or you could explore Wales on one of our popular small group tours!

Top Ten Walks in Wales

If you’ve read any of my other blog posts you’ll know that I’m something of an outdoors enthusiast. So living in Wales is ideal for me – there’s so much to do, from climbing to surfing; coasteering to kayaking. And hiking – most definitely hiking!

 

Wales is a bit of a walker’s paradise with wild moorlands, rugged mountain peaks and scenic coastal trails. And hiking is definitely the best way to get off the beaten track and explore the hidden beauty of the Welsh countryside.

Here, in no particular order, are the top 10 walks to try on your holiday in Wales:

  1. St David’s Head, Pembrokeshire

I plan to spend our next Bank Holiday weekend, coming up in just a few weeks’ time, exploring this section of the Welsh Coast Path. This spectacular stretch of coastline boasts golden beaches, ragged sea cliffs and an abundance of wildlife including seals and puffins!Pembrokeshire - Tenby (2)

  1. The Happy Valley Trail, Llandudno

This path through Happy Valley is an adventurous trek which leads to the Great Orme summit, a massive chunk of limestone rising out of the sea. You can reach the summit by cable car or tram but how much more satisfying to join the famous Kashmir goats in a scramble to the top?

  1. Isle of Anglesey Coast, Anglesey

The beautiful Isle of Anglesey is a walker’s haven, criss-crossed with tranquil lanes and paths. The coastal path is not for the faint hearted, climbing 4,174 metres during its journey, but is undoubtedly the best way to experience the wild coastal beauty first hand.

  1. The Branwen Walk, Snowdonia

Snowdonia - Harlech CastleHarlech castle is so impressive that they wrote a song about it: ‘Men of Harlech’. This walk through Snowdonia National Park is steeped in history and legend, taking in the mighty medieval fortresses, the town of Harlech, beach and dunes as well.

  1. The Dylan Thomas Walk, Laugharne

Track a ‘heron priested shore’ en route around the estuary where you’ll find the boathouse where Wale’s most famous poet wrote. With luck you’ll avoid ‘the pale rain over the dwindling harbour’, as you explore the ruins of medieval Laugharne Castle.

  1. Mount Snowdon, Snowdonia

There are many paths up Wales’ highest peak including the Pig and Miner’s path which both turn into motorways on a sunny day. If you’re feeling lazy you could hop on the Snowdon Mountain Railway Line and stop for tea and cake at the summit café.

  1. Pen y Fan, Brecon Beacons
Queues to pose on the summit of Pen y Fan!
Queues to pose on the summit of Pen y Fan!

The name Pen-y-Fan roughly translates as Top Spot. The regulars call the four-mile circular walk from the Storey Arms Outdoor Centre to the top of the highest peak in the Brecon Beacons National Park ‘The Motorway’, but the spectacular views bring them back for more.

  1. The Taff Trail and Cardiff Bay, Cardiff

Arguably the most popular walk in South Wales, the Taff Trail follows the River Taff all the way from Brecon, through the Brecon Beacons National Park, down to the Bristol Channel at Cardiff Bay.

  1. Rhossili Bay and Worms Head, Gower Peninsula

So called because of the resemblance of the rocks to the head of a dragon, the Worms Head walk is spectacular but requires careful planning. It is only possible to cross the causeway to Worms Head for 2.5 hours between tides. Never be tempted to swim the causeway if you are cut off; many people have lost their lives in the attempt.

  1. Elidir Trail, Brecon BeaconsBrecon Beacons (4)

The entrance to a fairy kingdom is reputed to be somewhere along the Elidir Trail, a tranquil walk which meanders among cascading and gushing waterfalls in the heart of the Brecon Beacons National Park.

Want to experience some of these spectacular walks for yourself? Why not visit Wales with adeo travel! Explore North Wales with our Mountains and Medieval Fortresses tour or try our brand new Small Group tour: Castles, Coast and Celts

Celebrating Wales – St David’s Day!

What do leeks, small onion-like vegetables, and daffodils, beautiful glowing yellow flowers, have in common?  Well, quite a lot if you’re Welsh actually.

Wales Flag
Wales Flag – Welsh Dragon

Last Friday the little nation of Wales celebrated its National Day as it does every year on 1st March.  Whilst not as internationally well known as the celebrations of St Patricks Day, which come around just shortly afterwards, the festival of St David is celebrated just as vigorously by the Welsh, who are certainly a proud and patriotic bunch.  So who was St David and how do the Welsh celebrate?

A 6th century Welsh Bishop of Minevia, legend has it that St David made his way from Wales on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem where he was made an archbishop and returned home to become a renowned preacher and teacher setting up monastic settlements throughout the country.  His miracles include moving the earth itself as it rose up beneath him whilst he was giving one of his speeches.

Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, Wales
Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, Wales

Almost 900 years later, St David was pronounced a saint and today St David’s Day, which is celebrated on the date of his death, marks an unmissable highlight of spring-time in Wales.  Celebrations take place across the country in every town and village of this little nation but the centrepiece of the festival takes place in the capital city of Cardiff.  Here there are master-classes in Welsh culture and cuisine with language workshops of the ancient Welsh tongue and culinary expositions taking place offering tasty treats such as the traditional Welsh cakes, Cawl and Welsh Rarebit.  The hi

The Daffodil - National Symbol of Wales
The Daffodil – National Symbol of Wales

ghlight is a vibrant parade of red and yellow which marches through the city past the stunning Cardiff Castle and on to St David’s Hall.  Dancers and theatrical performers come together to create a grand spectacle showing off the symbols of Wales such as giant dancing red dragons, and children in the traditional dress of black chimney hats, frilly skirts and white shawls.  And of course no Welsh celebration would be complete without some fine Welsh music whether from the national orchestra, a rendition of the stirring national anthem, the traditional dulcet tones of

some of Wales’ world renowned male-voice choirs or some the country’s best known international divas such as Tom Jones or Shirley Bassey.

And of course the locals are out in force wearing their national symbols of Wales proudly on their breast – the lowly leek or the beautiful daffodil.

Halloween is here in eerie England, spooky Scotland and weird Wales!

Do you believe in ghosts?  You may well do after your Britain vacation!  In the wake of Halloween I have been asked about where to visit for a good fright-fest and in a nation with such a long history, it seems that there are eerie goings on whenever and wherever you visit! 

Pumpkin on Halloween
Pumpkin on Halloween

In Scotland you should start of course with a visit to the eerie waters of Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands.  For years there have been sightings of the famous Loch Ness Monster, an unidentified sea creature which reputedly lives in the depths of the murky lake.  After a cruise on the Loch with one of the local guides you’ll definitely come away believing there really is something down there!  From the Highlands to historic Edinburgh where there are a wealth of walking tours to choose from to hear the city’s ghost stories; only the bravest however will venture beneath the city’s old town itself to Mary King’s Close, a warren of alleys which were buried beneath the city and sealed from the outside for centuries and which are haunted by victims of the black plague!

London too is host to a number of chilling tales.  Why not embark on a tour which visits the sites of the grisly murders of a number of women at the hands of one of the most notorious murderers of England, Jack the Ripper; try to discover his true identity and solve one of Victorian England’s greatest mysteries.  For something a little lighter, you could take the children to the Harry Potter film studios to discover the secrets of the Dark Arts, see the study of professor Snape and meet the Dementors face to er… hood.  In the West Country of England the brave may choose to venture down 50 000 year old natural caves to unravel the mystery of the Witch of Wookey Hole who, according to local legend, was turned to stone and still stands lurking in the shadows of the caverns.

Mary King's Close - Edinburgh
Mary King’s Close – Edinburgh

Crossing the border, you’ll visit the ancient land of Wales which is renowned for its Medieval castles which were the setting for torturous killings and bloody battles.  Almost every fortress has at least one resident ghost and eerie tales of hauntings from the depths of the dungeons to the tops of the towers.  Conwy Castle in the north is haunted by a soldier whose wife and child fell to their deaths from the watch tower whilst at Cardiff Castle look out for the Marquess of Bute who roams the library and passes through a wall to the chapel where he breathed his final breath.

If you’re not scared yet, why not come and see for yourself if they’re real on your own Britrain vacation!  For further information on visiting any of the above locations or tours, let us know.  Or if you have your own eerie tale, why not leave us a comment below!