Wales Coast Path
‘What a wonderful thing: to walk the entire length of a country’s coastline, to trace its every nook, cranny, cliff-face, indent and estuary. How better to truly appreciate the shape – and soul – of a nation? Well, Wales has become the only country in the world where you can do just that.’
Lonely Planet, who rated the Wales Coast Path number one in their Top Ten Regions for 2012.
The Wales Coast Path is split into eight sections, and during its 870 mile course it takes in a Geopark, a Marine Nature Reserve, two National Parks, three Areas of Outsatnding Natural Beauty, 11 National Nature Reserves, 14 marinas, 14 stretches of Heritage Coast, 23 Historic Landscape Sites and 43 Blue Flag Beaches.
It all begins – or ends – on the Dee Estuary, strides along through the resorts of the North Wales coast, does a lap of Anglesey, then around the Llŷn Peninsula and down past Snowdonia. Next, it sweeps down Cardigan Bay and around the rugged cliffs of Pembrokeshire, before leaping across Carmarthenshire’s endless sands and great three-pronged estuary to the stunning beaches of Gower.
Swansea Bay leads on to the layer-cake cliffs of the Glamorgan Heritage Coast, past Barry and Cardiff Bay, and races through the Gwent Levels to the finish line at Chepstow. It’s not the end of the story, though: over time, the Wales Coast Path will lead to the creation of circular coastal routes to link the inland towns and villages.
This coast was made for walking, but there’s so much else to see and do along the Wales Coast Path:-
We’ve got some of the most picturesque and unspoilt beaches in the whole of Europe. Ask anyone in Wales and they’ll tell you their favourite – or more likely, give you a shortlist.
It depends on your mood, really. For sheer gobsmacking beauty, it’s places like Barafundle, Three Cliffs, and Llanddwyn that always come up. Surfers speak reverently of Porth Neigwl, Freshwater West or Llangennith, while sailors may opt for Abersoch or Dale. Then there are the unique pleasures of Mwnt with its chapel, the Blue Lagoon at Abereiddyi, the waterfall at Tresaith, the whistling sands of Porth Oer, and the stepping stones at Ogmore.
Or it could simply be that deserted, nameless cove you chance upon while walking the Wales Coast Path, and decide to drop down onto the beach for a swim. Perfect.
It’s no coincidence that the BBC’s Springwatch was based at the RSPB Ynys-hir reserve on the Dyfi Estuary. The Welsh coast and islands are famed for their wealth of wildlife, with internationally important populations of birds and marine mammals.
Cardigan Bay has the UK’s largest resident population of bottlenose dolphins, which you can visit on boat trips. Grey seals and porpoises are often seen here, while in Pembrokeshire’s protected waters you may also be lucky enough to spot basking sharks, orcas, fin whales, blue sharks, sunfish and turtles. The coastal skies are filled with birds: the nature reserves at Anglesey’s South Stack and Pembrokeshire’s Skomer Island are a good place to start, and you can cycle or walk (and even canoe in the summer) around the National Wetland Centre near Llanelli.
Abseiling, white-water rafting, kite-surfing, paragliding – the Welsh coast is the ideal place for adrenaline sports, with a huge range of year-round outdoor activities.
The UK’s best sea-cliff rock climbing is in Gwynedd and Pembrokeshire. The Llŷn Peninsula beaches offer kite buggies and kite surfing, while its sheltered beaches are a favourite with water-skiers and wakeboarders. Abersoch majors in watersports of all kinds: there’s expert tuition at Plas Menai, and the new Pwllheli National Sailing Academy opens in 2013.
Pembrokeshire’s ideal for surfers, sailors, windsurfers, and kayakers. Experienced divers can explore the Marine Nature Reserve around Skomer (novices can start at the National Diving & Activity Centre near Chepstow), while anyone can have a bash at the fabulous home-grown sport of coasteering.
Cardiff International White Water offers rapids in the capital, and you can take a high-speed fastboat ride around Cardiff Bay and out to explore islands in the Bristol Channel.
With so much coast to go round, you’ll never have a problem finding a spot to yourself. Even in high summer, you can walk for miles along some stretches of coast and not see another soul. This is true even in the populated south-east corner, where you can walk the Glamorgan Heritage Coast, with its spectacular multi-layered cliffs, or the fenland of the Gwent Levels, in perfect peace. You can go a step further and follow in the footsteps of the pilgrims to Bardsey Island – the island of 20,000 saints – off the coast of the Llŷn Peninsula, or to the seabird metropolis of Skomer, or to Flat Holm in the Bristol Channel. The islands are perfect for daytrips, but they’ve also got cottages and bunkhouses if you really want to experience some truly splendid isolation.
There are some special places that reveal themselves only at certain times of day – the sea lagoons and tidal islands. Standing on Worm’s Head, looking back across the causeway at Rhossili ... it’s an experience you’ll never forget.
You can find local delicacies all along the Wales Coast Path or at one of the many food festivals that take place throughout the year. The Conwy Feast every October attracts celebrity chefs, while the Anglesey Oyster Festival shows off all kinds of homegrown produce, such as Menai oysters and mussels, Aberdaron crab and fresh fish. Ceredigion celebrates local foods with the Cardigan Bay Seafood Festival, Aberystwyth Food Festival and regular farmers’ markets in this seaside town.
Pembrokeshire is another natural larder and the whole county joins in to celebrate Fish Week at the end of June/early July. Swansea and the Gower Peninsula produce a miscellany of good things, including salt marsh lamb, samphire, Welsh Black beef, laverbread, fresh fish and shellfish – most notably cockles.
For a small country, Wales really packs in the weirdly, wonderfully different. The fantasy village of Portmeirion brings a startling splash of Italy to the Welsh coast. August heralds the annual Coracle Races on the River Teifi at Cilgerran, where local fishermen show off their salmon and sea-trout fishing skills from these ancient craft. Every September, the lovely fishing village of Aberaeron celebrates its Mackerel Fiesta: stalls, bands and a parade – led by a 20-foot fish. No, really.
If you’re in Tenby for Christmas, you can join 600 swimmers for a dip on Boxing Day. Or try a dirty weekend with a difference at the Festival of Mud at the National Wetland Centre near Llanelli. Oh, and do be sure to join thousands of Elvis fans in Porthcawl for the Elvis Festival, a celebration of The King that includes The Elvies, the world’s leading awards for Elvis tribute artists. Horses Wales’s many coastal riding centres cater for riders of all ages and abilities, whether you’re up for a steady ride over bridleways or an exhilarating canter along a beach. Talacre Beach provides nearly 5 miles of safe riding along the sands, while at Morfa Conwy Beach there is riding and parking for horseboxes. Llangrannog has its own equine centre, and the Forestry Commission has designated riding areas in Pembrey Forest. On the beautiful Gower Peninsula, nearly all beaches are accessible by bridleway – Pennard and Cefn Bryn are popular destinations – and there’s excellent riding among the spectacular dunes around Ogmore.
Happy children make for happy holidays. It’s on page one of the Parenting Rule Book. The North Wales coast is awash with family attractions: old-school funfairs, tramways and cable cars, the Welsh Mountain Zoo in Colwyn Bay, and the Rhyl Sun Centre, with its water slides, tropical storms and a surf pool. There are waterparks at Swansea and Cardiff, which also have the big-city attractions of shops and child-friendly museums like the gloriously hands-on Techniquest science centre. Then you have aquariums at Rhyl, Tenby, and Brynsiencyn, steam railways, boat trips, castles to clamber over – and a few hundred great beaches.
We want everyone to enjoy the Wales Coast Path, so wherever possible, sections have been designed with mobility in mind. For instance, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park now has 70 Easier Access routes that cover more than 30 miles of path, and they provide beach wheelchairs. Many attractions, like the Newport Wetlands and the National Wetland Centre, provide mobility scooters. The flat 6-mile path around Cardiff Bay is perfect for wheelchair users, as is the 12-mile Millennium Coastal Park at Llanelli.
Hello, sailors. With 40,000 square miles of cruising waters, supported by 14 modern marinas, and many coves, inlets, and estuaries offering alternative moorings, Wales is perfect for cruising. While the waters are teeming with wildlife, the harbour towns are pretty lively, too, with around 150 annual regattas, festivals and other events along the coast. Wales is also growing in popularity as a cruise destination for bigger ships. We now welcome 20,000-plus passengers through our six cruise ports: Cardiff, Fishguard, Holyhead, Milford Haven, Newport, and Swansea.
Of the 200 or so golf courses in Wales, almost half of them come with sea views. Many of the best ones actually hug the coastline, offering some of the finest links golf in Britain or – let’s not be bashful here – anywhere in the world.
We’re not even going to attempt to say which is best. Royal Porthcawl or Royal St David’s in Harlech? They’re both world-class. Is the clifftop 13th at Nefyn more stunning than the 7th at Pennard, whose distractions include a Norman castle and Three Cliffs Bay? Are Machynys’s many manmade water hazards any less enchanting than those of Aberdovey, which has just one? (It is Cardigan Bay, mind…)
Don't forget to check out more of our Coastal Wales factfiles