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Before you read, some mental-picture enhancers for walking in Wales:
Old, moss covered grey rock, sheep marked with colored dots, bright green, sectioned countryside, tall trees with vines criss-crossing up the trunks
Wind whirring through the trees, Cows “moo”ing and sheep “baa”ing, streams trickling along, waves crashing, Wind rustling through grass-covered hills, footsteps on leafy ground
Fresh rain on pavement/fresh rain in the countryside, farms & livestock, salty sea air, pine tree forests
Luckily I had been to visit my Uncle in North Wales before, or I wouldn’t have known that we were about to embark on an 8-mile hike when he announced it was time to go for a “walk.” In America a ‘walk’ is a leisurely stroll, maybe along the beach, but at the mention of a walk here you must know to bundle up in warm clothes, lace up your hiking boots, and prepare for a trek (in the best of ways). To put this all in perspective, on my first day here we had just embarked on our walk and I, per usual, kept stopping to take pictures. Already ten meters ahead within the time it took me to get my settings right and take a single photo, my uncle told me, “ Come on Kimmie, we haven’t got time. We’ve only got three hours.” Three hours?! My friends and I go on 30 minute hikes at home and feel happily fit afterwards… but alas, we aren’t in California anymore. “Time to do things the Welsh way,” I thought as I reluctantly turned off my camera and trudged up the hill. I began to break a sweat underneath my warm hat, scarf, and 4 layers of clothing, which I kept putting on and taking off at intervals during the hike in desperate attempts to balance out my body temperature and the just-above-freezing Welsh winter weather.
You know you’re arriving in Wales when all the street signs start having a strange, seemingly vowel-less words written above the English directions. This is Welsh, one of the surviving Celtic languages. Although decently phonetic, it’s a pretty complicated language and I get a kick out of trying to pronounce some of the words correctly! I have been here in Wales a few times in my life, both in the summer and in the winter. Sure, the weather isn’t something to be too excited about, as it is pretty unpredictable and you never know whether the sun will come out or if it will stay grey and rainy and yucky all day. But I have honestly always enjoyed our walking in Wales, rain or shine, and am lucky to have family on such an amazingly beautiful coastline. I suppose beauty isn’t always the first thing people think of when they think of Wales, but I’m here to change that – the Northern Welsh coast is absolutely breathtaking, and I could stay here for months without even discovering all the natural beauty this area has to offer. Here are some of the best walks in North Wales suggested by their tourism board!
I wouldn’t say North Wales is an extremely rural area, but it’s definitely more secluded than a lot of Britain. Cities are mostly small with quaint city centers, local parks, and lots of walking trails heading up into the mountains or along the coast. Life seems to be more simple here, away from the commotion of a big city. Many houses have old-fashioned furnaces to heat the living rooms, and residents drive home along thin roads lined with greenery. Towns are separated by areas of forest, field, beach, rock, and mountain, all with different types of terrain within themselves to explore. It really is a perfect place to get away, experience nature, and have some great outdoor adventures with amazing views.
Walking in Wales: What to Expect
During my visits here over the years, our preferred mode of exploration has always been good, old fashioned walking. We would drive as well, but only to get to new places for another walk or to visit friends. I swear it’s been a long while since I’ve been in as good of shape as I was after spending just over a week exploring and walking around North Wales – sometimes eight or nine miles in a day! I’ve been in luck that my family knows all the good places to walk in Wales, as some would be super hard to find otherwise. Footpaths are always marked, usually with some kind of colored walking symbol fashioned to a pole, but can also be very hidden. There are trails to walk nearly everywhere in the countryside, but many start from a very uneventful small gate or path just off a main road. Some roads even continue into paths as they twist and turn up a hill. I guess it takes either an adventure or some research to locate trails- both of which are just as good!
These paths are usually maintained, but you do sometimes find a trail completely covered in pesky little spike bushes that seem to be pretty popular around here. My brilliant decision to wear thin leggings did not seem so brilliant when I was walking up a path like this! A few rogue brambles have also tried to reach out any grab my hat or jacket as I went by, sneakily trying to steal my clothes away. You have to be alert, but with a secluded area comes secluded walks, and it’s all part of the unexpected, fun journey.
If you’re walking in Wales in winter, hiking boots are a must-have. I thought my fashionable leather boots would be just fine, but I was very wrong. I borrowed a pair of hiking boots from a friend and became very glad I didn’t wear my cute boots out! Bundling up in winter is a must as well, as winds can get so high at times that I feel like I might blow over, especially at the top of a mountain. In summer, it all depends on the weather, but a normal jacket should do- with a hood because rain showers here know no season!
As you walk it is also usual to see old, broken down houses or rock piles that may have been in use once upon a time long ago. The Welsh call these abandoned houses ‘derelict.’ (Which I know is the proper word to use, but it reminds me of Zoolander every time. Cue mental images of trash can dresses on the runway, blue steel, mini-models of schools… here I am getting distracted again) Anyway, derelict cottages and houses are abundant in the woods and are always fun to explore for a good spook. It seems to me that when a structure is abandoned in Britain, it is slowly enveloped by its environment until it really becomes part of the nature. Bright green vines and moss slowly cover old stone cottages in the woods and sink them down to their leafy grave until they are no longer recognizable. Sometimes you can go inside and make out where the old fireplace or sink used to be, and it’s really interesting to look around.
Castles are another thing Britain has that are unique – I could pick out as many as 5 on the 1.5 hour drive from the airport. There is so much interesting history here, and each old castle or pile of stones you may see while walking has its own rich history behind it. North Wales was a huge hub during the Ancient Roman times and even as far back as the iron ages, and remainders of these times are everywhere. While on a walk near Holyhead mountain, we came upon a preserved area of an Ancient Roman village and were able to walk through their circular stone houses and workshops. I walked across an Ancient Roman Bridge over a river that was still standing (think around the time of Christ- 2000 years and these things are still here and standing!). I have walked on old Roman roads and through some mini-stonehenge-like stone circles on mountains, with views of where old forts used to stand at the peak of each subsequent hill along the coastline. There was one point we thought we were walking along an extremely long wall, and we went back and researched to find that this ‘wall’ stretching a quarter mile was actually in a relatively circular shape and was the remainder of an old Iron Age fort built to defend the coastline. Iron Age! That is even further back in BC times, if you forgot your 4th grade history like me. It’s crazy, especially coming from a country that is hardly 300 years old. The history here is so rich.
Streams run all throughout the hillsides and down to the sea. Trickling water is a common sound, and you can find running water on every single walk. But, if you add periodic showers of rain to water running through dirt, you get- you guessed it- mud. Think, the kind of mud that reluctantly releases your foot from its grip with a sloppy smooch each time you step, as it tries its hardest to keep your shoe down in its sticky abyss. Some trails get a bit muddy, especially along cliffs on the coast, but you can nearly always find a way to circumnavigate. It’s all part of the adventure!
Making your way down to the beach in North Wales, you can find a variety of coastlines. There are a few huge sandy beaches, but it is mostly rocky coast. Some of the hardest rock in Britain has been found here, hence the abundance of quarries and different rock mines you can explore and learn the history of. The rocky coastline here is amazing, though!
I’ve been to other countries where people will pay a great deal of money to see interesting rock formations and lush, cliffy coastlines, but here in Wales I have seen similarly amazing scenery and intricately patterned rock areas without a single soul to be seen around for miles. The beauty of Wales is extremely underrated and unknown, and I think the residents may like it that way.
Something that I found especially fascinating about Wales was how quickly the tide changes. I have never seen anything like it before! Huge amounts of water come in towards the land and go back out to sea so quickly; one minute the waves will be lapping at the roads, and the next it will be barren and muddy hundreds of yards out to sea. Each morning you can wake up and check whether the water is there or not, and a few hours later it will have already changed. At some beaches, the tide comes up so quickly that you can visibly see it rising! The channel between the Isle of Anglesey and the mainland in Wales literally goes from high tide to dry in hours, leaving boats and piers that had just been floating in high water left in a muddy swampland at its lowest points.
Anyway, I hope this is enough to provoke an eventual visit to Wales from everyone! This place has so many hidden treasures and natural wonders. And yes, I have described a few off-putting hardships of walking in Wales, but they are so minor compared to the sights you can see. This is exactly why I say North Wales is an adventurer’s getaway – you can’t get to the beautiful views without being ok getting a little dirty and offroading a bit. It’s all part of the experience.