| WALES - TRAVEL AND DESTINATION INFORMATION
Wales, for a small country, manages to cram quite a bit in. We’re not just talking about their mountains, valleys and beaches but also the Welsh culture.
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Wales, the 'Land of Castles' is a stirring reminder of the warlike medieval period. Conquering Normans were the first castle builders, followed by battling English kings and Welsh princes who built formidable strongholds in strategic locations along the coast and deep in the mountains.
From Merlin to Dylan Thomas and from eisteddfodau to Goldie Lookin' Chain, the culture of Wales has something to appeal to everyone. A land of myths and music, literature and the arts, where it is possible to hear one of the tongues of the ancient Britons in common use down the shops. It would be hard to find such a breadth of experiences in an area ten-times the size of Wales.
Feast your eyes on the works of world-famous Impressionist painters on display at Cardiff, or seek out accomplished home-grown talent at modern regional galleries. The traditional art of porcelain manufacture reached a high point at Swansea and Nantgarw a few centuries ago. Today's equivalent is scattered far and wide, at potteries and craft workshops throughout Wales.
Myths and Legends
The Welsh are great storytellers. You'll hear tales of King Arthur and Merlin the Magician, of kingdoms lost beneath the sea and battles between dragons, of haunted castles and knightly deeds. These captivating tales don't just spring from a fertile Celtic imagination. They are also inspired by Wales's wonderful landscapes and seascapes. Which may explain why Pembrokeshire is still proud to be known as Gwlad hud a lledrith, 'The land of magic and enchantment'.
The vast majority of people in Wales speak English. Yet the Welsh language is the country's most important distinguishing feature, underpinning its distinctive identity and culture. Welsh is one of Europe's oldest languages. You'll see it and hear it everywhere - it appears on signs along with English, and in the rural heartlands of the north and west Welsh is still the everyday voice of the community in the shops, streets and pubs. Although its roots are ancient it's very much alive, used with enthusiasm by young and old from all walks of life.
The Millennium Stadium sees more than its fair share of nail-biting football games: the FA Cup, the Worthington Cup, Nationwide League play-off finals. But is it true that the winning team always has its fans at the north end? And there's golf, with Wales having some of the best golf in Britain and Europe and the Ryder Cup due to be played here in 2010. Oh, yes, and then there's Grand Slam-winning rugby - how could we forget?
Find out more about Sport in Wales.
Places Of Interest In Wales
Wales is a land of stunning natural beauty that is both diverse as it is modern and family friendly. some of the most popular areas of interest and natural beauty in Wales are:-
Most of Anglesey’s 125-mile coastline is classified as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, making it one of the most important wildlife habitats in the whole of the British Isles. The rocky cliffs, quiet sheltered coves and open wetlands are a birdwatchers' paradise, attracting puffins, guillemots, razorbills, terns and cormorants and many varieties of wading birds and wildfowl.
The island also celebrates its human heritage; ancient burial chambers, known as cromlechs, show us that Anglesey has been inhabited from 4000BC. Combine a walking route with a visit to one of the many neolithic and Bronze Age sites dotted around the island, and soak up the atmosphere of this timeless landscape.
The North Wales coast has a lot of excellent value accommodation in a variety of seaside towns, making it ideal for long or short walking breaks. And since the A55 has made access easier and quicker, the coast has never been so accessible. Stretching from Prestatyn (also the terminus for Offa’s Dyke and the Dysarth Way) to Bangor in the west, the North Wales Path connects traditional seaside promenades with quieter villages. Get the train from Deganwy to Llandudno town, and then walk back around the Great Orme and alongside Conwy Sands for great views, which will include Liverpool Bay, Anglesey, and Snowdonia’s range. Or, take the train to Abergele, roll your trousers up, and paddle your way back to Rhyl. Llanfairfechan is a good place to disembark. Follow the coast path alongside the Lavan Sands Nature Reserve, before heading inland to see Aber Falls.
Elsewhere on the path, inland views provide tantalising glimpses of a turbulent past with Gwrych Castle near Abergele, Conwy Castle dominating its estuary and Penrhyn Castle near Bangor.
If you’re using public transport or getting a lift one way, always travel away from your start point and walk back to avoid any last minute dashes to catch buses or trains. The North Wales coast shouldn’t be rushed. That’s what the A55 is for.
Morning on the Llyn Peninsula is spectacular. Almost anywhere you stay, the sea is there when you open the curtains. The pointy mountains are an extinct range of volcanoes and you’re never far from them. Families with children come here because you can pretty much count on being able to go walking from your front door. You don’t have to travel far, and if you did want to travel, to Portmeirion, say, or to Caernarfon for the shops and castle, Llyn’s a small place and the journeys are short. You can feel cut off without actually being cut off.
Llyn’s popular beaches,offer some of the best surfing in the whole of Wales. And there are also big, quiet stretches of sand like Porth Oer, known as Whistling Sands because the dry sand squeaks as you walk on it.
The Snowdonia National Park contains some of the most dazzling mountain scenery in the UK. With their reputation for rough rocky outcrops, vertiginously sheer cliffs and scooped glacial cwms, the mountains have shaped the livelihood of the people who’ve lived here.
The remnants of slate, lead and copper mining are everywhere for the observant walker to interpret.
Only a short distance away from this spectacular land of mountains you can discover another Snowdonia, one where ancient woodlands cling to steep-sided river gorges and where arctic-alpine plants carpet the ground in nature reserves throughout spring and early summer. The nearby coast gives Snowdonia its unique character as does another of Snowdonia’s attractions – its waterfalls.
The Berwyn Hills in northeast Wales are ideal if you like to notch up high-level moorland miles, or meander along waymarked woodland trails. The most popular high-level route is on the Berwyn Ridge, which is now fully open to the public. This high ridge gives spectacular views across Snowdonia.
On the more relaxed days, you can explore historic abbeys, wander through wooded valleys or walk to a famous waterfall that is higher than Niagara. Whether you’re following in historic footsteps along the Offa’s Dyke Path, using the forestry centres as a walking base or taking the road less-travelled in the Berwyn Hills, there’s much more to this quiet countryside than first meets the eye.
Cardigan Bay’s long sandy coastline is dotted with pretty fishing villages like Aberaeron and Llangrannog. It’s one of two sites in the UK with a resident population of bottlenose dolphins. The coast between New Quay and Cemaes Head has been the area of greatest observer effort over the years, with dolphins often sighted from land in sheltered waters near New Quay, Ynys Lochtyn, Aberporth, Mwnt, and the Teifi Estuary.
Take a dolphin-spotting cruise to Cardigan Island, or keep a sky-wards eye when you’re walking to see a red kite hovering overhead.
- Preseli Hills
The bluestones of Stonehenge come from Pembrokeshire’s Preseli Hills, and were hewn from the rugged tor of Carn Menyn. Close to Carn Menyn runs the Golden Road, an ancient track that would have been a main trade route between Wessex and Ireland when bears and wolves still roamed the valleys.
Nearby, Iron Age earthworks and burial cairns adorn a loftier summit. A stone circle named Beddarthur (Arthur’s Grave), draws attention to the legend of the Mabinogion. Arthur and his knights crossed the ridge and fought Twrch Trwyth, the magic boar, on Cwmcerwyn.
History and legend aside, walking in the Preseli Hills makes a refreshing interlude from the stunning coast path. The views from the tops seem to go on forever.
Nowhere are the beautiful beaches and imposing headlands of Wales more accessible to the walker than in Britain’s only coastal national park, Pembrokeshire. This remote corner of the south-west is home to the longest of the three National Trails, the Pembrokeshire Coast Path – a 186 mile long meandering odyssey that hugs the surf between St Dogmaels and Amroth.
The walking is enthralling, with most of the miles on narrow cliff-top paths that run over headlands and down to the sea. The trail passes through some breathtaking scenery. From rugged headlands that jut stubbornly out into thunderous seas, to narrow crescents of bone-white sand, lapped upon by a cerulean ocean. Sea birds fill the skies whilst porpoises, seals and even dolphins vie for your attention in the waves.
- The Gower
Gower was designated the UK’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1956. It’s easy to see why. On the coast, you can walk to the striking limestone scenery at Worm’s Head and Oxwich Bay, explore the salt marsh and dune systems on the north of the peninsula and tread the length of the sweeping beaches at Rhossili Bay and Broughton Bay.
The interior of the peninsula has rolling grasslands, deciduous woods and fields crisscrossed by country lanes. A 34-mile stretch of the western end of Gower has been given the protected status of Heritage Coast for its outstanding scenic value and to protect it from the ravages of development. You can still see its medieval open field system.
The Brecon Beacons National Park is made up of four distinct upland areas: the Brecon Beacons, the Black Mountains, the Black Mountain and Fforest Fawr. The Brecon Beacons are the highest range of the group, and are considered the best hills in the southern UK. There are rounded contours of old red sandstone in the central Beacons, giving walking which is open in character, with big skies to complement the big hills. By contrast, in the south of the Park, there are dazzling outcrops of carboniferous limestone, water-worn to form deep gorges, caves and, most famously of all, waterfalls.
There are comfortable routes and paths for walkers of all levels, as well as the wild, open spaces for which this Park is known and loved.
The most easterly peaks in the Brecon Beacons are the Black Mountains where you’ll find tiny villages and churches set in a rolling green landscape of picturesque hills and valleys. Don’t mistake the area for the Black Mountain however; the Black Mountain (singular) is a spectacular wilderness environment in its own right, but the Black Mountains (plural) are a little less demanding for the laid-back walker.
The Black Mountains have long narrow valleys and isolated farms reminiscent of Bruce Chatwin’s novel On the Black Hill, which was based in the Crasswell area near Hay Bluff. The mountains rise above 2000ft. If you don’t want to climb the highest, Waun Fach, you can walk instead along the long, heath-covered ridges that cross the area – all of them have wonderful views.
The stretch of South Wales known as the Valleys is a great tract of upland, cut through by deep, high-sided valleys.
It is about 35 miles from Pontypool in the east to Neath, as the crow flies. Between the two more than a dozen valleys are intertwined, filling the country from the Brecon Beacons to the sea. Roads and railways stick to the valley bottoms, while the many, very good, longer trails make the best of the upland ridges.
At one time this corner of Wales was thick with mines. For a time in the first quarter of the last century it produced a third of the world’s coal. But today, just a single mine, the workers’ co-op Tower Colliery, is still in business. Now the Valleys are reinventing themselves, with walking trails that take you through gritty industrial landscapes and way up to wild hilltops.
The Wye Valley and Vale of Usk, on the border between England and Wales, is a beautiful and varied area which attracts walkers from all over Europe.
Most walks take in a water course for some of their length, whether it’s the canal or one of the rivers originating in the Brecon Beacons. This landscape is dense with long distance paths; many walkers pass through on the Offa’s Dyke Path, the north-south traverse of the border country. Some come to sample the best of the Wye Valley Walk (waymarked with the sign of a leaping salmon). If that sounds too energetic, you can browse a good selection of locally-available leaflets and packs to find walks to suit you, whatever your ability or interest.
Carmarthen's hills and moors rise to over 2,500 feet stretching northwards to include the southern end of the Cambrian Mountains and eastward to include the Carmarthen Fans in the west of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Carmarthenshire's remote and tranquil environments are a stronghold of the 'bird of Wales' the red kite, which has recently recovered from the brink of extinction.
Carmarthenshire's stunningly varied scenery includes Brechfa, Crychan and Pembrey Forests covering thousands of acres criss-crossed by forest tracks and public rights of way. In its agricultural hinterland green patchworks of lowland landscape are watered by rich and fertile valleys.
Carmarthenshire's coast continues eastwards from the end of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path at Amroth. Beautiful beaches are divided by
expansive estuaries where the rivers Taf, Tywi, Gwendraeth and Loughor flow into Carmarthen Bay. The silence here is only broken by the sounds of the sea and the wading and migratory birds feeding on the sandbanks.
Dramatically poised on a craggy outcrop overlooking the edge of the Black Mountain near Trapp stand the ruins of one of the most romantically situated castles in Wales, Carreg Cennen.
In 1973, the Glamorgan Coast became the first coastline in Wales to be awarded Heritage Coast protection. With stunning views across the Bristol channel to Exmoor, this area is quiet and crowd free.
The best place to start exploring is at the Dunraven Bay Heritage Coast Centre, where 14 miles of dramatic limestone and shale striped cliffs, boulder-strewn beaches and sections of wide, white-sanded beaches are just waiting to be explored. It’s possible to walk along the beach here for miles, but watch the tide at all times. Further around the coast near Merthyr Mawr, there are huge exposed sand dunes which are being created by the prevailing winds.
In the east, a path from Penarth Esplanade to Lavernock Point, gives views across to Flat Holm in the Bristol Channel, and is where Marconi sent his first radio transmission across water. To the west, the Ogmore and Garw are two parallel coal-mining valleys, separated by hills that offer stunning views.
The Vale of Glamorgan is a fertile land separating two of Wales’ biggest cities, Cardiff and Swansea and bordered in the north by the M4. The Valeways Millennium Trail provides the perfect way to explore this intimate and quiet area. Split into 16 short sections, this 72 mile routes shows you farmland and the coast, industrial and prehistoric remains, burial chambers and charming villages.
Walkers who dismiss the Clwydian Hills are missing a trick. This short 20-mile range of undulating hill and moorland may not be mountainous, but the views on offer are impressive. Separating the luscious Vale of Clwyd from the Dee Estuary, this open, expansive ridge is often called the north-eastern rampart of Wales.
When you reach the summit of Moel Famau (Mother Mountain), the highest point on the range at 1,818 feet, you realise just what the Clwydian Range has up its sleeve. The 360-degree views capture most of north Wales on a clear day. You can see Snowdonia to the west, Liverpool and its bay to the north, with the vast Cheshire Plain round to the south and east. This spot was chosen to erect a large folly to mark the golden jubilee of George III in 1850. The huge Egyptian style pyramid was designed to tower 150 feet above the summit, but unfortunately a wild storm damaged it ten years later.
The final section of The Offa’s Dyke National Trail is routed across the Clwydian Hills, further proving that walkers should take this area seriously. Loggerheads Country Park Visitor Centre provides the perfect place to start exploring the area, and Denbighshire County Council have designed several circular walks in the area that link up with Offa’s Dyke. Hey presto! – and the magic of moorland appears right before your very eyes!
Wales City Tours & Activities
You name it and the chances are you can do it in Wales. One day you could be up a mountain, the next on a beach.
Wales has some of the finest scenery combined with the most impressive inland and coastal waters Britain has to offer. The variety of experiences it can provide mean Wales is unrivalled as a venue for outdoor enthusiasts.
Serious accidents in the mountains and waters of Wales are a rare occurrence. But inevitably, accidents occasionally happen. However, with a little care and preparation we can all work to help make sure they don’t happen.
Ferryto.co.uk have partnered the biggest online city tour and activity agency on the Internet, Viator, to offer you access to exciting tours and activities in all major destinations around Wales and Cumbria.
Wales has some of the most beautiful and historic gardens in all Britain. Explore and discover that, whatever the season, you're never far from horticultural happiness in the Gardens of Wales.
Whether you want to join crowds of walkers at one of the obvious places, or you would rather discover something a bit special - it's all in Wales!
Little Known Fact About Wales
- The Millennium Stadium, a 72,500-seater stadium is the world’s largest retractable roof stadium, providing an all weather venue suitable for sporting and other events.
- The smallest cathedral in Britain is in St Asaph in North Wales.
- The tower at Caerphilly Castle out leans the Italian Tower of Pisa.
- Murray the Hump, Al Capone's right hand man, was born in Carno in Powys.
- Wales has more castles per square mile than any other country in Western Europe.
- 'Moby Dick', starring Gregory Peck, was shot off the Pembrokeshire coast
- Wales has more high quality beaches - Blue Flag (33) and Green Coast Award (44) beaches than anywhere else in the UK (2004).
- The Alice in Wonderland stories were inspired Alice Liddell, who spent her childhood summers in Llandudno, where she met Lewis Carroll. The Liddell's holiday home is now the Gogarth Abbey Hotel.
Frequently Asked Questions & Answers About Wales
Where can I see male voice choirs?
There are a large number of Male Voice Choir concerts that take place throughout Wales at all times of the year. However visitors are always more than welcome to attend weekly rehearsals.
Which beaches can I take my dog for a walk on?
Some beaches only allow dogs during quieter periods of the year. Please search for dog friendly beaches.
How many people in Wales can speak Welsh?
According to the 1997 census the percentage of people in Wales who could speak Welsh was 20.5% of the population.
Where can I find travel information?
Use the travel section in VisitWales to help you find the best links for information if you are planning a trip to or around Wales. Wherever possible we provide access to online timetables and booking lines.
What is the population of Wales?
The population in the 1991 census was 2,813,500 and in the 2000 census population was 2,946,200.
Can you explain why there's a dragon on your flag?
The origins of Wales' flag, a red dragon on a green and white field, are lost in legend but may derive from Roman custom, a dragon having been the emblem of the cohort. In post-Roman times, legend warriors sometimes became known as 'dragons'. Arthur's father was Uther Pendragon, the 'chief dragon', and legend tells that he had a vision of a fiery dragon, interpreted by his seers as a sign that he would mount the throne.
Legend tells too of the struggle between the red dragon of Wales and the white dragon of England, foretelling the victory of the former. A tradition that was fostered by the bards and made true by Henry Tudor whose standard was a red dragon. As Henry VII he incorporated the Welsh dragon in the Royal Arms, where it remained until James I displaced it in favour of the Scottish Unicorn.
In 1901, however, the red dragon was officially recognized as the Royal Badge of Wales, and in 1959 the Queen commanded that the red dragon on its green and white field should be the Welsh flag.
Why do you have a leek and a daffodil as your national symbols?
The custom stems from the plant being used by the Welsh as a national badge for many centuries. According to a legend utilized by English poet Michael Drayton (1563-1631), the leek was associated with St. David because he ordered his soldiers to wear it on their helmets in a battle against the hated, pagan Saxon invaders of Britain that took place in a field full of leeks. The poet probably made up the story, but it is known that Welsh archers adopted the green and white colors of the leek as early as the 14th century to distinguish their uniforms (perhaps in the Battle of Crecy.)
A 16th century reference to the leek as a Welsh emblem is found in the Account Book of Princess Mary Tudor. That it was well known as an emblem for Welsh people is also recorded by Shakespeare, who refers to the custom of wearing a leek as 'ancient tradition' and whose character Henry V tells Fluellen that he is wearing a leek 'for I am Welsh, you know, good countryman.'
Throughout the years, leeks have been associated with the practice of medicine. The famous Myddfai Physicians of Carmarthenshire used the vegetable to cure a variety of illnesses. It was highly regarded as a cure for the common cold, a protection against wounds in battle or being struck by lightning, a means of foretelling the future, of keeping away evil spirits and a tasty, healthy ingredient in cawl, the traditional Welsh broth. If placed under a pillow, leeks could help young maidens see an apparition of their future husbands as well as assist in alleviating the pains of childbirth.
Possibly one of the reasons why the daffodil is used as an emblem is that the word for daffodil and leek are the same in Welsh. The word for leek is CENHINEN and the word for daffodil is CENHINEN PEDR. This confusion means that both have been adopted as national emblems.
Can you help me trace my ancestors?
If you have Welsh roots, tracing your ancestors can be great fun and a highly rewarding experience. What's more, it isn't as difficult as most people think. In fact, there are so many organisations and societies whose expert help you can enlist. For example, a good place to start is The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth where copies of many records are kept.
Local and county libraries are useful, offering more localised information. Council Land Registry offices are also a good information source. click here for help and advice on tracing your ancestors.
Where can I swim with dolphins in Wales?
Bottlenose dolphins can be spotted along the coast of Cardigan Bay usually between May and November. However it is not advisable to swim with dolphins. Although they may appear friendly they are wild animals that should be treated with caution and respect. It is possible to undertake boat trips to view dolphins in the wild. The two main ports for such trips are New Quay on the Ceredigion coastline and St Davids in Pembrokeshire. Various companies offer boat trips of the beautiful West Wales coastline, which allow passengers to survey not only the resident bottlenose dolphins but also porpoises, seals and wild birds.
Can you tell me about the mountain which featured in 'The Englishman who went up a Hill and came down a Mountain'
The mountain which featured in the film 'The Englishman who went up a hill and came down a mountain' is called Mynydd-y-Glyn. This is situated near the village of Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant, Powys, in Mid-Wales.
Can I stay on Bardsey Island?
It is possible to stay on Bardsey Island. The island is administered by the Bardsey Island Trust and they offer various self-catering cottages and farmhouses for hire. Additionally it is possible to visit the island for the day. The ferry for the island departs from Porth Meudwy in Aberdaron.
Further information can be obtained from the Bardsey Island Trust:
Bardsey Island Trust
Tel: 01758 730740
Can you translate the National Anthem for me?
There are two English translations of the Welsh National Anthem:
The ancient land of my fathers is dear to me,
A land of poets and singers, famous men of renown.
Its brave warriors and patriots
For freedom lost their blood.
(My) country, (My) country, I love my country;
While the sea is a rampart to the pure, beloved country,
Oh! May the old language survive.
Translation by W.S. Gwynn Williams
The land of my fathers is dear unto me,
Old land where the minstrels are honoured and free;
Its warring defenders so gallant and brave,
For freedom their life's blood they gave.
Home, home, true am I to home,
While seas secure the land so pure,
O may the old language endure.
How can I learn Welsh in Wales or elsewhere?
A very useful website for learning Welsh outside Wales is:
Cardiff University - A Welsh Course. This website provides an online course in learning Welsh, as well as having a translation facility. And links to local courses. If you live in Wales and want to learn Welsh then a good starting point is the Website of ACEN which offers learning resources and handy tips.
To find out more travel and destination information for when visiting Wales use the ferryto.co.uk fast site search engine below.
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