To say I knew nothing about Wales was an understatement. I travel often and grew up with the tales of my traveling aunts, uncles and cousins that were often traveling through Europe, hiking in Africa or on archeology missions to the Galapagos and many places in between. Wales however was a place I had never heard any stories about. So close to the metropolitan city of London yet so wild and different.
Everyone’s MO is totally different. And me; I love adventure, nature, history and many more things. But when ranking what I look for in a vacation place that is how I score it. When I first looked up Wales I was taken to the Visit Wales website which is run by their tourism board. While perusing their site I came upon many fun looking activities.
Mountain biking, hiking and climbing in Snowdonia, coastal walks along rugged sea cliffs, diving with seals, birding and something called coasteering. All of those things sounded right up my alley. Not having any idea what part of Wales I would be going to, I ranked the things I wanted to do and came up with a list that included hiking in Snowdonia and taking the train to the top of the mountain. Walking the coastal path- voted one of the top ten walks in the world by Travel & Leisure and Coasteering. Coasteering was supposed to be some mixture of cliff jumping, swimming and sea cave exploration. As soon as I saw the photos of that it was at the top of my list.
My reason for visiting Wales was because my boyfriend and the film I had just been working on were to be filming in Wales, and I would tag along. Turns out the locations were nowhere near all the cool places I had researched so I decided on setting out to see wild Wales on my own. I did some research on the best way to get to where I could go coasteering and picked a few places on the map that looked like good in between spots. Tried to figure out transportation & train schedules and set off on the train from London. I have to say with Google Maps now featuring train timetables getting places and figuring out train times is so simplified.
My plan was to leave London and head to Swansea which was about half way to St. Davids(where Coasteering would be). I would overnight in Swansea and then head to St. Davids for the day. I would also go to Rhossili Beach and Worms head via bus from there.
Getting to Swansea was pretty simple. From London Paddington there is a direct train to Swansea called the GWR or you can take Arriva trains and change onto the GWR in Cardiff. It costs a little over $100 US for my roundtrip ticket. I had also found a rather inexpensive Inn right across from the ocean in Swansea for about $55 US a night.
There are two different ways I like to travel. The first and usual way is trying to know everything about where I’m going, what I’m going to do, as well as knowing the history, geography and activities that are available. Or I like to just wing it. This trip was mostly a wing it trip. Yes, I knew the stops and where to get off the train, but other than that my knowledge about where I was going I pretty much learned along the way.
Thankfully I had a sim card in my phone for England with 12gb of data, a big thank you to my boyfriend for that. So upon arrival in Swansea I pulled out my tele, typed in the address of my hotel and started walking. It was about a 20-minute walk from the train station to my hotel with lots of cafes, a mall and an old castle from 1100 BC in between. The street where my hotel was located was right along the ocean and as I was early to check in I went and sat on the beach for a few minutes while I waited.
After checking and dropping my bags I looked on Google Maps to see what was around. Nearby was another castle, a botanical gardens and hopefully something to eat. I decided on walking as I usually do.
Oystermouth Castle was located about 2 miles from my location, a long walk along the ocean as the tide goes out never bothered me. Unfortunately, I arrived at the castle minutes after it closed and was only able to walk around the outside so I enjoyed a few minutes relaxing in the large expanse of green that overlooked the ocean and castle.
There were many shops and restaurants in the area nearby the castle in a town called Mumbles. A quaint seaside village with boats strewn about awaiting the tides to come back, families getting ice cream and people enjoying the beauty of the day. I noticed while looking for dinner that one of the restaurants offered views of the lighthouse. Well, I had no idea there was a lighthouse, so I set off in search of it. After passing a few more ice cream shops, people biking and walking their dogs I arrived at a pier. In the distance was the lighthouse. At high tide it would be impossible to get close to it, lucky for me it was low tide, so I crossed the tidal flats and l climbed up the peninsula hill to see a 360 degree view of Mumbles sea shore, lighthouse and ocean. It was heaven. The rocky beach off to one side, lighthouse out on the point and boats awaiting their ocean return. Well worth the extra walk.
The next morning I got up early and caught the 6:53 train to Haverfordwest, where I changed onto a Bus that would take me to St. Davids. Everything went smoothly and I was in St. Davids by 10:00. St. Davids is probably one of the cutest towns I have ever seen. Arriving to the town hall I immediately saw the town square which had a farmer’s market. There were also several cafes, local artisan shops and a few adventure companies. My first stop was to see if anyone had boats going out to Ramsey Island that would be back before my Coasteering trip. Lucky for me there was a 11:00 am boat which meant I had fifteen minutes to see St. Davids Cathedral, grab a delicious flapjack- (American Oat bar) and get on the bus that would take me to the waterfront.
Everything is quite close together in St. Davids and if it’s not they have great public transportation to get you to any of the neighboring areas.
The Cathedral was this gigantic gothic structure that made me think of Friar tuck and Robin Hood. It has been around for more than 700 years. Anything over 200 is pretty much mind boggling to an American. If you are going to visit the cathedral give yourself 30 or 40 minutes as there is another building as well as all the cool old headstones to look at.
When I was done there I scrambled back up the hill and got on my bus- The Celtic Coaster that would take me two miles down to the harbor. The bus ride itself was quite entertaining as the road was only as wide as the bus with reeds and shrubbery 7 feet tall on either side. It was like driving through a corn maze.
Ramsey Island is famous among bird watchers, a huge bird and marine sanctuary it is home to several dozen species that live, breed and vacation on its rocky shores. The most famous of these birds is the puffin which unfortunately I had just missed. The boats hold about 12 people maybe a few less and take you on an hour long trip around the island and through some sea caves. It’s not just a bunch of birds there were lots of seals swimming around as well. There is even a place in the ocean off this island where the tides converge and it makes a mid ocean rapid.
After I returned to town it was time to get a quick tea before suiting up for Coasteering. I know I have really hyped this activity and you won’t be disappointed, I had a fantastic time.
I went out with TYF Adventures, a local adventure company that is eco-friendly and offers a wide range of activities including kayaking, rock climbing and more.
I suited up in a wetsuit with the other members of my group. We got helmets, life jackets, old sneakers and headed down to the coast via a trail from town. The experience of coasteering was really enjoyable and exciting. My fellow travelers were mostly people familiar with the area. A couple from Scotland on holiday, two women who had come to St. Davids for years on family holidays and two others that lived near London. The walk from town took us down past a holiday house for nuns, past an old cemetery and onto the cliffs. Our guide brought us to a suitable location and we climbed down the cliffs to the water’s edge. Then we jumped in and swam to some bigger rocks. Climbing in and out of the water and jumping off higher and higher rocks. We got to go through several areas where the waves push you through little channels giving you the sensation you are in river rapids, or possibly a washing machine. After a while swimming, jumping and floating we explored some sea caves. I swam first even though we had just been told about a giant male seal that sometimes lived in this cave. I lead on with gusto and hoped he wasn’t home. Luckily for me he must have been off looking for fish. Depending on the tides there are several caves that can be explored.
Our guide told us many neat things about sea life along the way as well. After more swimming, jumping and exploring it was time to climb back out of the water, and since I was now getting cold the timing was perfect.
After my exciting day I got dried off and planned to take the last bus back to Haverdfordwest which departed at 6:30pm. St. Davids has many cafes and restaurants and also a ton of shops with really cool artisan crafts. I did some more walking around, had a great dinner, evening tea and then headed back on the bus. When I got to Haverfordwest the train station was closed including the bathrooms. So keep that in mind if traveling after 5 through some of the smaller towns. I waited 45 minutes and then hoped back on the train to Swansea and made it back to my B & B for some welcome rest.
The next morning, I had planned to head to Rhossili which can be reached by local bus from Swansea. II was quite excited to see amazing weather when I woke up and even though someone tried to check themselves into my room while I was asleep, I was determined to have an amazing day at the UK’s best beach.
The bus ride from Swansea was the most memorable experience I think I will ever have on a bus. If you can imagine yourself inside a Disney movie, Fantasia perhaps that will be a good start. As we drove through the green rolling hills we passed sheep roaming about and frolicking on the hillsides. All the animals were sans fences and just roamed free. As we came over a hill two horses stood on the roadside nuzzling and necking each other surrounded by wandering cows, sheep and goats. Other tourists in cars amazed by the epic cartoon they had stumbled into had parked their cars and attempted to be part of the magic. And I hadn’t even arrived at the beach yet. I wish I had a good photo of this, but you will have to use your imagination.
Well the gods were really shining on me that day because not only had I just seen that amazing display, but the weather that day couldn’t have been much more perfect. When I arrived at the end of the line, I got out, walked a few feet and saw the magnificent peninsula that stood before me, as well as parking lot, ice cream shop and some welcome rest rooms.
Now when you think of the UK you probably don’t think about beaches and neither did I. However, England is a giant island so if there is one thing it has a lot of its amazing coastline. Rhossili was voted the best beach in the UK, and after seeing it, I would put it in my top five beaches in the world. It may not be a hot tropical palm tree lined kind of beach but it makes up for it in other ways.
High above you could see dozens of flying people enjoying this epic scenery from parachute. Of course the few Asian tourists were the first to hog the best place to take a photo. LOL
Instead of walking down to the beach however, I decided to explore what is known as the Gower Peninsula and Wormshead. This place is undeniably beautiful, it really captivated me and I could have spent the day laying in the grass with the wind gently blowing through my hair, sheep running around and sea lapping down below. I spent some time walking around, taking photos and enjoying the beautiful day.
Farther along the coastal walk and really only about a quarter of mile is a pathway that goes down the cliff to where you can cross the sea to Wormshead. At the top there is a small rangers station and a sign that clearly displays the times for the tides. You can only cross over to Wormshead when the tide is low, as the currents are fast and could easily maroon you or sweep you out to see if you aren’t careful.
The tides on the day I was there were later in the afternoon so I didn’t get to walk out to the island.
With the clock ticking I knew I couldn’t spend too much time enjoying the green pastures so I headed back towards the parking area for some lunch. There are three places you can chose from for lunch, ice cream or snack and I decided on The Bay Bistro which was on the back side of big building and had amazing views of the beach from the patio.
I ordered a Welsh cheese and vegetable platter with all locally grown and made products, finished off with a glass of wine and a welsh cake. Which was a surprisingly delicious flattened version of a scone with sugar sprinkled on it.
When I was done I soaked in the surroundings and walked back to the bus stop. The bus happened to be about 45 minutes late. But that gave me time to get into a long talk with a Brit who was extra concerned about our election here in the US. That’s another story which you can read about soon. The long delay made me miss my original train back to London and on top of that about 3 miles from Swansea it overheated and we all had to get out and wait for another bus. Luckily we got to the Swansea bus station 20 minutes before the last express train to Paddington Station left. I had already missed two trains so I made a bee line to the train station, barely making it on. Arriving in London to a classical orchestra playing at the train station was the toping on the cake to an amazing and unforgettable few days.
Recommendations from this trip- Travel by train, stay at guest houses and don’t forget your camera or raincoat.
Tips: If traveling by bus make sure you have planned out back up connections if things don’t go as planned and when on country buses I wouldn’t recommend scheduling flights close to the arrival of your bus or scheduling other transports that can’t be easily changed and rescheduled in case of delays.