Mini guide to activities in Wales
Hikers venture through Snowdonia National Park, home to Wales’ highest peak. (AWL Images/Getty)
Wales’s varied terrain lends itself to a whole host of activities, from the relaxing to the rather more vigorous. And whether you get on your bike, horse or surfboard, you are guaranteed a beautiful backdrop.
Abergavenny, which declares itself Wales’s capital of cycling, holds an annual festival to prove it (8–14 July 2013). This includes the Iron Mountain Sportif, with 20-, 50- and 100-mile courses through the Brecon Beacons, as well as a leisure route for families. The Beacons also have regular cycling trails and 14 graded mountain-biking routes.
Wales has six purpose-built mountain-biking centres, among which Coed-y-Brenin Forest Park near Dolgellau is the premier. Covering 3,600 hectares, it’s laced with 70 miles of trails divided into seven graded routes, from the MinorTaur to the Beast of Brenin. Find your way with old-fashioned waterproof trail cards or downloadable geocaches and MP3 audio files. You can hire bikes from £25 a day.
One of Wales’s most popular long-distance rides, the Celtic Trail is part of the National Cycle Network. A 220-mile route snaking from Fishguard along the Pembrokeshire Coast and ending at Chepstow Castle, it provides glorious views. You can tackle parts of the trail, but if you fancy attempting the whole thing, allow yourself four days. End points are linked by train (Celtic Trail; NCN route 4).
Powerful tidal currents create huge waves between the Pembrokeshire Coast and off-shore islands, making this one of the UK’s finest sea-kayaking areas for seasoned enthusiasts. Freshwater Bay and Newgale beach are favourite locations, where you can also explore coves and sea caves in calm weather. TYF, in St Davids, offers various kayaking adventures (half-day £58).
The Gower Peninsula, with its broad butterscotch beaches and pounding breakers, is home to the Welsh surfing industry. Hotspots include Caswell Bay, Mumbles, Langland Bay and Oxwich Bay but the most impressive beach, and most popular with surfers, is the three-mile sweep of Rhossili Bay. Access is via a path next to the Worm’s Head Hotel. Sam’s Surf Shack hires boards and wetsuits, and provides lessons (half-day board hire £12).
Wales’s excellent National Watersports Centre, Plas Menai, is three miles outside Caernarfon and has year-round water-based courses for all interests and abilities. The sheltered waters of the Menai Straits are ideal for learning dinghy sailing and windsurfing (plasmenai.co.uk; introductory courses from £140). Once you’ve got the skills, head to nearby Rhosneigr, on the Isle of Anglesey, which is establishing itself as a centre for windsurfing.
On a summer day Tenby’s beaches are packed with holidaymakers, but during the night and at dawn it’s fishing territory, with bass, mullet, flounder, mackerel and plaice on the menu. If you’re not up for working under the cloak of darkness, Tenby Fishing offers sea-angling trips to Caldey Island – ideal for beginners and families (£12).
At 1,085m, Snowdon is Wales’s highest peak. Six routes of varying length and hiking difficulty criss-cross it – Watkin Path (eight miles; eight hours) is the most challenging, involving an ascent of more than 1,000m on its southerly approach from Nantgwynant. The Snowdon Sherpa bus service connects all paths at the base, allowing you to ascend via one and descend using another.
Wales’s sandy beaches, rolling hills and dense forests are an attractive proposition for horse riders. The 28-sq-mile Gwydyr Forest, planted since the 1920s with oak, beech and ash, is home to Gwydir Stables, which arranges rides for all abilities. It has more than 30 horses, and everything from a half-hour ride (£19) to the Pub Ride (£50) – five hours with stops for a pint or two along the way.
Cardiff’s international airport receives flights from Edinburgh, Newcastle, Glasgow, Belfast and Jersey with Flybe and Eastern Airways (from £80). Fast trains run to Cardiff from Bristol (one hour), Birmingham (two hours) and London Paddington (two hours; from £24). London trains also stop at Newport, Swansea, Bangor and Holyhead. National Express runs services from most major UK cities. The Cambrian Mountains, Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia create a north-south divide – it’s quicker to duck in and out of England to get from the capital to the north.