As I mentioned in the previous post, one of our goals on this trip was to do a lot of walks (hiking), relax in some country pubs and restaurants, and enjoy the slower, tranquil pace of life in the country. The first place we picked to get started on our goals was Wales; Southern Wales to be more specific. With its rolling hills, rustic shorelines, beaches and mountains, it has always had a special place in our hearts. We wanted to find a location with good natural areas and finally settled on Brecon Beacons National Park. We spent three days in this lovely countryside. We hiked, walked, explored, ate and just enjoyed the serenity of Wales.
The most direct drive from Salisbury to Wales was actually a basic, straight forward drive along major roads and Motorways (UK equivalent of an Interstate). It routed us through major commercial areas and was all inland. As I mentioned, the shoreline of the British Islands has always lured us, so we “recalculated” our route to take us to the southern coast of Wales. Our main area of interest was the Gower Peninsula just south of Swansea. After driving through the Swansea metro area, we were on our way to Port Eynon, the southernmost point of the Gower Peninsula. It has a wonderful beach and was the site of D-Day landing practices and training. We grabbed a lunch of fresh fish-and-chips at a beach-side café, The Captain’s Table. It was a wonderful spot to sit, enjoy freshly caught fish and just take in the seaside.
We read about Rhosili and its National Trust sitealong the South Gower Coast. So being the explorers we are, we headed over to the other side of the peninsula to check it out. Wow! Was it worth the trip! At the very end of the town is a National Trust site and parking area. After depositing our pound in the Pay-n-Park we headed out to the tip of the peninsula. The entire area is all natural with rocky shores and nice walking paths. We took a 3.5 mile walking trailout and back to a Coast Guard lookout. The tip of the peninsula is “Worm’s Head”. It is only accessible at low tide and there are signs letting you know when you can walk out and when you will be able to return. Supposedly, seals populate the rocks in-between, but we did not see any this time.
Leaving the coast, we made a quick stop at what we thought would be our first castle, Oxwich Castle. It is not really a castle, more of an old oversized manor house that the owner made to look like an impressive castle. It was built in the mid 16thcentury, but only lived in for about 100 years. Even so, it was fun to walk around, explore and imagine what it must have looked like and what life was like living in it.
Our base was the town of Brecon, a small market town which serves as a gateway to the National Park. It is home to the Brecon Canal Basin, the Cathedral Church of St. John and plenty of nice pubs and restaurants. We stayed at the Grange Guesthouse and had wonderful hosts; David and Kathleen. The Brecon Tap is known for its meat pies. They are made fresh each day with a limited supply, when they run out, they are out. The pies were outstanding. We also found a great artisan ice cream shop, Llanfaes Dairy. Some of the really unique things we found were the Fairy Houses. Obviously built by children and left in small little hiding places.
The first full day in Wales was dedicated to walking. Our first trek was around the local town and up the hill to the Cathedral. Brecon Cathedral, The Church of St. John, was built in the early 13th century. The original Norman Font. from the 12 century, is still intact.
We spent two full days in the Brecon area. The first day, we hiked along the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. The canal was originally a trade route. Narrow cargo boats of coal, agricultural products, sand and other industrial products were towed by horses via a path alongside the canal. It is now part of the British canal system and used for narrowboats. The narrow boats as long houseboats; a kind of floating version of a motorhome. Starting at the Basin, our goal was 5 ½ miles down the canal to the Royal Oak. It was a great walk, flat and wide. The day was sunny, yet cool enough to enjoy a long walk. There were sheep pastures, stone arch bridges, and magnificent countryside views. We really enjoyed watching the boats navigate the locks. There is even an elevated aqueduct enabling the canal and its traffic to cross over the River Usk. We got to the pub right at lunchtime and had a great picnic out in their garden right along the canal. We watched the boats motor by and enjoyed a ploughman’s and a pint. The walk back was equally enjoyable. It was afternoon and the canal was busier with boats. We enjoyed watching a family of swans swimming and the baby lambs along the shore. We even got to watch a boat go through Brynych Lock, the northern-most lock on the canal. Truly fascinating. All hand operated. Big gates closing with levels, large hand cranked valves opening to let water fill, then alternating to drain it once the boat is in the lock, lowering it to the next level.
The National Park was, however, our main attraction for coming to this area. There are so many wonderful walks all through the park, and that is what we came here to do. The second day of our Wales visit started with some drizzling, then light rain. The first stop was the visitor center in the National Park to learn more about the park and select our walking trail. We decided on a hike at the southern end of the park in Waterfall Countryalong the River Neath near Pontneddfechan. We took the The Elidir trail 1.3miles to Sgwd Gwladus then 1.2 miles to Pont Melin-Fach. There are 3 main waterfalls along the 5 mile out-and-back route. Despite the light rain on-and-off most of the walk, it was wonderful. With the rain, there were not as many walkers along the trail. But there was certainly lots to see. The trail followed along the river, through a very dense forest, over small foot bridges and past cascades in the river and waterfalls. Yes, we got a little wet, but it was well worth it. We just geared-up in our rain suits and set out to walk, a little rain never hurt anyone.
Upon our return, we found a great place to eat in Pontneddfechan, Sgwd Gwladys Coffee, Bar & Lodge. After the damp rainy hike, a warm jacket potato with ham and cheese was just the ticket, along with a pint of course! J On our back to Brecon, we took a nice drive up the A4067 through the park. The clouds started to clear and the countryside was just beautiful. We made a short stop at Craig-y-Nos Country Park to stretch our legs and have a snack. Lovely.
Our trip to Wales turned out to be everything we had hoped for; good walks, good food, awesome coastlines and beautiful countryside. Next stop for us, our old stomping grounds, the Cotswold’s.