Twisting coast-hugging trails and fairy-tale towns. Hidden beaches, ancient tombs, and history. Welcome to the romance of the only continuous trekking trail in the world that traces the coast of an entire country – the majestic Wales Coast Path. Completed in 2012 the entire path is 870 miles of the finest craggy cliffs, pristine waters, and lush greenery the UK has to offer. After a 15-mile day of mind blowing scenery imagine sitting down in a 17th century pub with a fragrant bowl of lamb stew and a 21st century craft brew, bringing together all the best of Wales’ past and present.
The economic success of both the Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail and the Isle of Anglesey Coastal Path, now both parts of the Wales Coast Path, spurred on the idea of developing a country wide trail and the Wales Coast Path was born. To help make it more manageable the Path has been divided into eight geographic regions: North Wales Coast & Dee Estuary, Isle of Anglesey, Menai, Llŷn & Meirionnydd, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Gower & Swansea Bay, and South Wales Coast & Severn Estuary.
Those who want to walk the entire Path should plan for approximately 80 days. Which includes roughly 70 days of walking and 10 resting and sightseeing days. Based on an average of 12 miles per day these estimates should be adjusted for personal speeds and possible weather delays.
Let’s not beat around the bush, Wales is wet. Always go prepared with gear for inclimate weather. May and June boast the most sunshine hours and least amount of rainfall. In the Spring look for migrant birds and Basking Sharks returning to the coast. Summer also brings excellent walking weather, as well as plenty of holiday seekers. For fewer crowds plan a September holiday.
While the majority of the Wales Coast Path hugs the shoreline and is well developed make no mistake that much of this terrain is rugged and remote. It’s possible to go for miles without seeing another soul and is best suited for experienced hikers. Though the Path is helpfully laced with distinctive waymarkers do be aware that there are some sections that lead inland around marshes and private property that can be trickier to navigate.
Several walking holiday outfitters organize luggage transfers and offer accommodation packages for several nights or even an entire thru-hike. The Welsh government and its partners have compiled an epically useful website for trip planning and have a downloadable app.
One of the major things that make this path so great is the variety of landscapes it passes through. From sunny meadows to wooded ravines, crossing high cliff-tops and skirting sandy beaches, there are walks to suit every taste. Two major highlights include trekking through the National Parks of Snowdonia and Pembrokeshire.
Don’t have two and half months to spend on the entire Path but still want to go big? Consider trying the Isle of Anglesey Coastal Path section. Why here? Well, three areas of the Welsh Coast have been dubbed “Areas of Outstanding Beauty” and one of them is Anglesey and its spectacular beaches. For a day trip discover the dramatic sand dunes the town of Rhosneigr on the Western shore which boasts two of the best walking beaches on the coast, Traeth Crigyll and Traeth Llydan.
Castles jam-packed with history sprinkle the shore and some of the best are in Snowdonia. The Menai, Llŷn & Meirionnydd section of the path boasts two of Wales most famous and magnificent castles, Caernarfon and Harlech. The trail in Harlech boasts one of the best beaches on the Ceredigion coast complete with views of the peaks of Snowdonia.
Another charming castle town worth a stop is Conwy and don’t miss the fairy-tale village of Portmeirion. The craft beer scene sweeping the world hasn’t passed Wales by either. Swing by the Purple Moose Brewery in Porthmadog to enjoy a post-hike pint.
Pembrokeshire is often rated the most picturesque section of the entire coastline. The hike from Broad Haven South to Skrinkle Haven (11 miles) is particularly stunning. It has one of the top ten best beaches in the world, Barafundle beach and the Lily Ponds at Bosherston. Shorter, but full of the drama of high cliffs, the two-mile walk from Martin’s Haven to Marloes allows visitors to explore Deer Park.
Be sure not to miss the Whitesands beach and the eclectic cathedral in St. David’s, the UK’s smallest city. Nearby Tenby is a colourful seaside town where the beloved local favorite Fecci’s Fish & Chips refuels hikers like champions. In May and early July consider a side trip to Skomer Island in Pembrokeshire Coast National Park to see the famous puffins.
Continuing south don’t miss Gower and Rhossili Bay. Rhossili Beach is rated one of the best surfing beaches in all of the UK. A popular walk includes hiking the length of the three mile long beach and ending up out on Worm’s Head Island with a dramatic natural blowhole. Connected to the mainland by a causeway that is only exposed before and after low tide make sure to plan in advance.
The Mumbles quirky seaside villages and diverse independent shops make it a great spot to pick up some souvenirs. Stroll Swansea’s famous promenade with a well-earned cone from Joe’s Ice Cream. For a picture-worthy view of the whole city hike up Kilvey Hill.
The walking gets more urban from here heading into to the capital of Cardiff. Enjoy a stroll around the Cardiff Bay Trail (6.2 miles) and learn about Cardiff’s rich naval heritage and see some iconic landmarks such as the Norwegian Church. While in town don’t forget to sample a few local favorites like a steaming bowl of fresh mussels, Welsh Cakes, and spot of rarebit.
Now in the home stretch to Chepstow where the trail ends, enjoy the beauty of the Severn Estuary. For a perfect picnic day trip plan the three-mile walk from Caldicot to Sudbrook and Blackrock for fantastic views over the estuary.
If hiking around an entire country on the bucket list then Wales is a perfect choice. From Chepstow hikers can link up with the Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail. Offa’s Dyke follows the border with England all the way north making it possible circumnavigate all of Wales.
Whether planning a truly epic, multi-month adventure or a weekend visit the Wales Coast Path should make every nature lovers to-do list.