The 870-mile cross-country route connects rugged landscapes with idiosyncratic market towns, giving Wales the first coastline that can be fully hiked on a formal path.

For years, the Welsh coastline has drawn visitors looking for a scenic refuge from their hectic lives. And a variety of hikes, ranging from an afternoon to a whole week, have made it easy for trekkers to explore the nation’s rugged scenery. No other part of the United Kingdom has as many pristine beaches and undeveloped seaside views.

Starting 5 May, visitors have a new route to tackle: the Wales Coast Path. Opened by local and national authorities, the path forges the longest continuous walking route to line the coast of any nation on Earth. It links up existing pathways, such as one passing over the cliff tops of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, with newly marked routes, such as a stretch of the Gower coast between Caswell and Limeslade.

Granola-loving diehards would have to walk the entire summer to cover all 870 miles of the Wales Coast Path, trekking near the shores of the Severn (Britain's longest river), across the Gower Peninsula, through the pebble beaches alongside the town of Aberystwyth, and on to the banks of the Dee River. But what a trek that would be! Four-fifths of the path is within view of the sea, officials say, because of inland detours at intervals. The Welsh beaches are wonderful, too, with more of them receiving top ratings for clean water and sound environmental management from the nonprofit Foundation for Environmental Foundation than anyplace else in Britain.

A starter hike
Just prior to its formal opening, I sampled some of the Wales Coast Path, tackling a nine-mile slice in the centre-west of the nation that is also known as the Ceredigion Coast Path. It connects the seaside towns of St Dogmaels, Ceredigion and Aberporth. 

St Dogmaels is a picturesque village that tops the Pembrokeshire Peninsula and is home to a farmer’s market, a 12th-century abbey and cobbled lanes. I picked up a sarnie (a British nickname for a sandwich) made of bacon and cheddar cheese before setting out on a brisk two-hour hike to the village of Cardigan. I thought I was moving at a good pace, passing old bridle tracks and pastures with grazing sheep, until a grey-haired couple speaking German soon left me far behind.

Given that it often drizzles in Wales, it is a good idea to pick up a laminated map of the relevant area from the Ordnance Survey, Britain's state mapmaker. When crossing small farms and fat hedges, it can be a struggle to spot the path’s markers.

Between the medieval town of Cardigan and the bayside hamlet of Tresaith, via Aberporth, brief pauses in the spring rainstorm allowed for wildlife sightings. At the isolated, bow-shaped Tresaith Beach, playful seals nibbled on a lunch of fresh fish near a waterfall. Along the path, I heard the twitterings of native Welsh birds, including the small red-legged blackbirds known as cloughs.

Though my breaks to commune with nature could be considered virtuous, they were in fact excuses to catch my breath. The three-mile stretch between the towns of Tresaith and Llangrannog can be slow going, due to several steep climbs and some uneven and marshy ground.

The next six miles, between the gorgeous village of Llangrannog and Cwmtydu Beach, cuts into the side of a sloping mountain, presenting an epic cerulean canvas of sea that is a brilliant vantage point for spotting bottlenose dolphins. Walking along, it was easy to see why director Ridley Scott used similar nearby cliffs as a backdrop in his recent movie, Robin Hood.

By the time I reached cave-walled Cwmtydu Beach, I was tuckered out and retired via bus to New Quay, a town four miles away with plentiful harbourside restaurants, such as Traeth, which serves up regionally-sourced duck. The short ride allowed time to contemplate the large-scale beauty of the path’s seascape and moorland.

Plan your walk
Planning your own hike, including overnight stays and optional bus rides between points, is easy. Use the official website for the Wales Coast Path, which links to regional websites with relevant details. For instance, the site links to a map for the 63-mile Ceredigion section of the path and includes details on a local “Cab-a-Bag” scheme, in which you can pre-book cabs to forward your luggage each night to your next B&B, at a maximum rate of £1.50 a mile.

The Wales Coast Path website also details the difficulty level of any leg of the hike. Some portions of the path are wheelchair-accessible, while others are intended for practiced long-distance hikers. The full route is open to walkers, but only selected, smoothly surfaced parts are open to cyclists, such as the pretty 12-mile portion shared by cyclists and walkers along the Millennium Coast near Carmarthenshire. To find routes, search for Wales on the online bike-route map from Sustrans, a charity promoting alternatives to driving.

Joining a group walk is straightforward. Best regarded in the hiking community are walks organised by the volunteer group Ramblers, which runs outings along slices of the path throughout the UK. Most outings are in the summer.

Holiday companies also lead hikes. Dragon Trails has a weeklong vacation package that includes guided walks along the Cardigan and Pembrokeshire stretches of the path, as well as packed lunches and B&B stays, from £362 per person between 26 May and 9 June.

Lodging is plentiful along the coast, and listings can be found at the official tourism website Visit Wales. For instance, the companies Pembrokeshire Coastal Cottages and Hoseasons provide self-catering accommodation. Rhodiad Mill, a converted mill with four bedrooms (giving children and parents plenty of privacy) outside the coastal village of St David’s, recently advertised weeklong rentals in late spring from £406.

Getting to the Welsh coast is a doable journey. London is less than five hours’ drive from Tenby and Haverfordwest, towns that are around the midpoint of the coastal path. National Rail and Virgin Trains run frequently from London to Tenby and Haverfordwest. If you prefer to hire a car for the last leg of the journey, try Station Self Drive, with car rentals for pick up at the train station in Haverfordwest. Vintage campervans can be rented, too, from companies like Celtic Camper.