An ancient land of high mountains and deep valleys, Wales is the perfect destination for a short break or weekend of walking
Home to majestic castles, quiet country churches and age-old farmsteads, the Welsh countryside is stunning. Explore on foot and you’ll also experience at close quarters braying seabirds, chirruping skylarks, and the magic of graceful red kites and buzzards floating on the fresh, clean air.
This country is surrounded by the sea on three sides, so it’s no surprise that its signature walk is the Wales Coast Path. But there are also three national trails that traverse equally dramatic landscapes. And we haven’t even mentioned Eryri (Snowdonia) and Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons).
While all the trails are long-distance paths, you don’t have to walk them in one go to enjoy the best they have to offer. Choose a series of day walks and you can create an unforgettable long weekend of walks, fine food and Welsh culture.
(On the rocks at Llantwit Major beach)
The 1,400km/870-mile Wales Coast Path (walescoastpath.gov.uk) runs from the outskirts of Chester to Chepstow and covers every kind of maritime landscape, from rugged clifftops and sheltered coves to wide-open beaches and winding estuaries. Explore fascinating towns such as Aberystwyth, drop into a cosy pub in Machynlleth or visit the medieval fortress of Conwy Castle. Further south, you’ll walk across Three Cliffs Bay on the Gower Peninsula, where on a sunny day the delicate headlands are more than a match for a South Pacific island idyll.
(Riverside Conwy Castle)
The Wales Coast Path links up with Offa’s Dyke Path (nationaltrail.co.uk/ trails/offas-dyke-path) to form a route of more than 1,600km/1,000 miles, roughly around the edge of the country. Offa’s Dyke Path is 285km/177 miles, and often follows the spectacular hand-dug bank and ditch built in the 8th century by command of the ancient Anglo-Saxon King Offa. Explore the riverside meadows of the Severn Valley, take in the view of Tintern Abbey from the Devil’s Pulpit or stride above the clouds along Hatterrall Ridge, running through the heather-clad uplands of the Black Mountains.
Base a short walking holiday along the route at historic towns such as Chepstow, Monmouth, Hay-on-Wye or Bishop’s Castle. For rugged, fractured beauty, take a hike along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path (pembrokeshirecoast.wales/ coast-path), where Atlantic swells have weathered elemental rock into blowholes and sea stacks full of razorbills and guillemots. Extending for 299km/ 186 miles from St Dogmaels to Amroth, this is a walk into a land of mystery and enchantment, with views of the Preseli Hills – said to be the final resting place of King Arthur and the heart of The Mabinogion, a collection of 11th-century folktales.
Try spotting porpoises from the huge rocky outcrop of Strumble Head, and admire the giant collapsed sea cave of Pwll y Wrach (the Witches’ Cauldron). In contrast, Glyndŵr’s Way (national trail.co.uk/trails/glyndwrs-way) traverses the moorland, farmland and forest of Mid Wales for 217km/135 miles from Knighton to Welshpool. Named after Owain Glyndŵr, who organised a rebellion against the English crown in 1400, Glyndŵr’s Way takes you through a working landscape, immersing walkers in a deep cultural footprint that runs from Neolithic times to the present day. You’ll notice farms everywhere. So often ringed by hedgerows and dotted with trees, these family farms are the basis of Welsh national culture.
(Striding out in Eyri (Snowdonia) / Following Offa's Dyke Path)
Here you can almost feel ‘hiraeth’ – a word with no direct equivalent in English, which is linked to a sense of longing and belonging. This deep connection to the land leads to food produced with care, while cherishing the environment. The moderate climate provides lush green grass and nourishes delicious produce. Enjoy Welsh lamb and beef, both of which have protected geographical indication, or sample cawl – a traditional stew of meat or fish. Try tasty cheeses such as Perl Wen or Caerphilly. And satisfy the appetite you build up while walking with Welsh cakes or bara brith – a rich fruit loaf.
Along the trails, many of the farmhouses provide cosy B&B accommodation, while elsewhere you’ll find characterful hotels, pubs and guesthouses, and the chance to camp or glamp amid nature. Another ancient Welsh word walkers will come to learn is ‘cynefin’. Originally a farming term used to describe the tracks worn into hillsides by animals, it has deepened to conjure a personal sense of place and familiarity.
You’ll find cynefin everywhere, from the hospitality you encounter, to arts and crafts such as Celtic jewellery and textiles. For the walker, this sense of place and deep time interweave with rich history and legends, adding up to a fascinating break. So pick a trail – any trail – and a break amid spectacular scenery is guaranteed.