Grey skies swiftly rolled in as the mini van ferrying us about on our Wales road trip pulled up outside the haunting shell of Weobley Castle, a 14th Century fortified manor house.
One of 641 castles in Wales, it might otherwise appear unremarkable compared with larger counterparts, but what sets Weobley apart is its hilltop position above the expansive and desolate salt marshes of Llanrhidian Sands.
Adrian, our enthusiastic See Wales guide was mid-story (just one of many interesting and entertaining historical tales he shared) when for the first time that day our small group interrupted him with excited cries of, ‘oh wow look at that!’.
Transpiring behind him on a scene set across flat salty lands, was the fervent galloping of about ten wild horses all heading towards a lone 4WD which must have meant ‘food’ to the motley band of brothers (pictured below).
The wonders of a Wales road trip
The scene was so darkly enchanting, we could very well have landed back in time Outlander-style, except for the vehicle that appeared out of place in such rugged old terrain.
As an Aussie adventurer, I now feel compelled to spread the good word about Wales, and why you should embark on your own Wales road trip.
On the travel grapevine I quite often hear of people’s love for England, or their desire to tour Ireland’s Atlantic way and Scotland’s mysterious valleys, lochs and mountains, but rarely do I hear about the drive to visit here.
Yet, I’m captivated.
Visiting Cardiff on your Wales road trip
While our last stop on this lovely day trip was Weobley, we’d begun at 9.30am in Cardiff, a city that – typical of our Wales experience – took us entirely by surprise!
A beautiful and contemporary place, complete with exquisite buildings, parks, waterways, a fabulous bay and castle, world-class university and sporting areas, among many other attributes.
Cardiff is an up-and-coming star of the region, and one of the fastest growing capital cities in Europe. Its ‘cool’ factor shines bright despite a long history dating back thousands of years.
Over 40 per cent of Cardiff’s population is under 30, which is probably why the place feels so fresh and vibrant.
Some of the Civic Centre and national museum buildings actually remind me of the grand Westminster dwellings situated around Victoria in London.
I was pleased for a bit of early morning sunshine last Sunday which meant I could snap a few digital mementos before meeting up with my tour group to head off on our Gower Peninsula adventure.
The Gower Peninsula in Wales
The Gower is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in South Wales that projects westwards into the Bristol Channel, and is brimming with mysterious old stone ruins, historical castles and churches, ocean-ways, green valleys, marshes, caves, beaches and soaring cliffs.
The following map shows where in the country we were, and I’ve highlighted some of the key stops we visited on the See Wales day trip.
Striking Swansea Bay
During the adventure we visited the charming Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea which celebrates the famous Welsh writer; drove through the Mumbles and stopped at Langland Bay where a cliff top walk was in order.
We were happy to brave a rather ferocious wind in order to make our way along the coast towards Caswell Bay, witnessing jaw-dropping natural landscapes one can only hope to experience in a lifetime.
2016 is deemed the ‘year of adventure’ in Wales, and visitors plus locals alike are encouraged to explore the Wales Coast Path, a walking/hiking route which has been developed to link all of the country’s most wonderful landscapes and points of interest.
Our half hour trek presented a small taste of what is on offer – and it is striking!
I’d spent the better part of this day trip around Wales’ extraordinary Gower Peninsula excitedly capturing photos and video, gossiping with fellow travel bloggers and gasping at the dramatic landscapes.
It happened to be a surprisingly sunny Sunday, and also the day before I was set to go back to work after a lovely break away exploring southern Wales.
When I wasn’t clicking to create digital memories, my mind was chatting incessantly with ideas on what I wanted to write about, as well as anxiously mulling over my to-do list and wondering how on earth I’d get back into the swing of work the next day.
Breathtaking, Rhossili Bay
As our mini touring coach gently bumped along a narrow country road, I finally realised that actually I didn’t need to keep the mental chatter up; in fact, I could simply gaze out the window and be wonderfully mindful about where I was and what I had the opportunity to do and see on this breezy April day.
Just when I decided to stop and smell the roses, so to speak, my eyes widened as we slowly rolled by a spectacular green field sprinkled with sheep and baby lambs skipping around. As the setting opened up further, I spotted a number of horses casually grazing on a hilly piece of land overlooking the sparkling sea. It was incredibly beautiful, and like scenery I’ve only ever seen in films like 2015’s Far From the MaddingCrowd (although I am aware it was filmed in England).
Being from Australia, I’m used to landscapes generally falling into the categories of country (inland), city or coastal, so to have pastoral blend with dramatic ocean views was a novel experience.
We drove into iconic Rhossili Bay (pictured above) for lunch – a genuine treat being that this beach is consistently voted within lists counting the world’s top ten (apparently something that has bothered the odd Australian travel journalist, but I’m happy to accept it as true)!
Rhossili village and Worm’s Head (pictured above) were the first spots to be designated as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the United Kingdom,.
If you have the chance to visit here I strongly encourage you to.
A number of nice pubs sit atop the cliffs so you can experience the true meaning of ‘meal with a view’, but do leave plenty of time for exploring. And obviously, don’t forget your camera.
Here’s a video snapshot of our fabulous day…
Wales road trip travel tips
Loved the location of the Holiday Inn in Cardiff – we had a nice room overlooking the castle and Bute park and I can’t wait to book a city break back here.
Up the road from the Holiday Inn is a very cool bar and nightclub called Revolution. We had a chance to enjoy post-conference drinks here and liked the music playlist and spacious layout.
See Wales is a great option if you’re wanting to explore without the hassle of hiring a car. Our day trip began and ended in Cardiff and took us to Swansea, the Mumbles, Langland Bay, Caswell Bay, Parc Le Breos ancient woodland and ruins, Rhossili and Worm’s Head on the west coast of the Gower Peninsula, then to Weobley Castle positioned above Llanrhidian Sands.
City Sightseeing red bus tours is a good idea for getting your bearings in Cardiff. If you buy your day pass on the ground it is usually valid for 48 hours so will double as your transport ticket around the city. The hop-on-hop-off coach begins its route outside Cardiff Castle every half hour, and ticks off the city’s must-see attractions including:
Doctor Who Experience
Cardiff Bay and Mermaid Quay
Craft in the Bay
Have you been to Wales? We plan on returning so if you have travel tips please leave them in the comments below.
There are several things Sarah and I have in common: our passion for dogs (we love all kinds), food (my favourite is Thai) and travel, and they pretty much follow in that order.
With the Easter holidays finally upon us we jumped at the chance to get back on the road and Wales was on the radar, particularly Tenby and travel around the southern coast. Dogs and Thai food an expected bonus.
We arrive by train (book on Trainline or National Rail three months in advance for the best rates), having travelled from London’s Paddington station, via Swansea and across the southern coast.
As always we were eager to explore our new surroundings and everything Tenby might hold for us. Sarah and I decided to base ourselves at Croyland guest house which is conveniently just a five minute walk from Tenby train station, a stone’s throw from the centre of town and the dramatic cliff-top ocean views of Wales’ stunning coastline.
Armed with our cameras we strode into town excited by what lay ahead. Within minutes of our departure we are confronted by Tenby’s iconic coastline.
The first thing that catches my eye is the sheer expanse of the sea which looks like a rippling blanket of aqua-blue embracing the coastline’s vertical rocky cliffs.
Tenby’s picturesque harbour can’t be missed. I’d seen it many times on postcards, pictures and advertisements, but there’s nothing like witnessing the real thing. Lean fisherman unload their haul while squabbling seagulls cry overhead, keen to scavenge whatever is left of the loot. We drink in our surroundings and click happily, capturing the scene which is dominated by the famous pastel tinted houses perched along the overhead hills.
The beautiful beach below reminds us of our fine sandy offerings back in Australia. I discovered it was during the Georgian and Victorian (19th Century) period that Tenby became popular with tourists because they believed the waters had therapeutic healing powers.
The appreciation of families and the abundance of happily barking dogs enjoying the cascading waves on the shore below was certainly leaving the impression that this place never fails to impress.
A foody aroma entertains our senses so we set off in pursuit of a meal. For lunch we eventually chose the cosy family-run Caffe Llew – homely and highly recommended! It’s situated just down from the 800 year old St Mary’s Church. Of course, we later discovered many pubs, cafes and restaurants offer meal and drink deals, and we didn’t have a negative dining experience here, so would suggest all are worth a try.
The medieval town of Tenby is encased by an imposing stone wall – a reminder of an earlier period when it was once fortified by the Normans. Its maze of narrow cobbled streets, colourful houses and medieval buildings is wonderful, and it’s easy to envy those who get to dwell here just a little bit longer.
Tenby truly tops our list of most charming seaside stops, and not only is the town itself well worth hanging out in for a few days, but it’s the ideal place to explore the surrounding southern coastal region of Pembrokeshire.
We’re used to using cards for everything, but we discovered more often than not in Wales (especially the smaller towns like Tenby) cash is king, so don’t be caught short because swiping ain’t going to get you far here.
Actually, we had great difficulty with coverage and internet in Wales (bit challenging when you’re a travel blogger). Let’s just say that you need to have an idea of where you’re trying to go, because it’s not really helpful if you’re relying on Siri and just as she’s explaining how to navigate the Google map you’ve got open, she gives you the silent treatment because your coverage has disappeared in the middle of the Welsh countryside.
Be organised here because while the train network is extensive, the timetable often has gaps of two to three hours, so you do need to be on time for connections. The upside though, is that they do have ticket facilities on board, so you can jump on at the last minute without fear of being penalised for not having paid the appropriate fare.
Despite its status as a tourist destination, you can’t hire a car in Tenby. You can however, source hire options in nearby Kilgetty, Pembroke Dock or Carmarthen. If like us you’re coming to the area by train, from Swansea or Cardiff you’re likely to pass through Carmathen on the train anyway, so could get off there and pick up your car then drive to Tenby. Alternatively, you could catch a train from Tenby to Kilgetty or Pembroke Dock as we did, and hire from there. Book in advance though, as this whole area is popular and a car is essential so they do book out.
Here’s a glimpse of our southern coast adventure and the kinds of places you can explore from a base in Tenby including St Govan’s Chapel, Stackpole and Carew Castle…
Grey skies and the rhythmic rumble of the train had us lulled into a calm, dreamy state – understandable coming into our third hour since boarding in London.
I enjoy the countryside in the UK and I’m a total advocate of train travel here because you have the chance to enjoy it to the fullest. I love how it’s possible to identify where a town begins and ends, interspersed between vast rolling green spaces, broken down ruins of centuries-old structures, and historical steeples standing proudly.
Onward, and I spied the pretty-looking outskirts of a city with homes neatly displayed upon the hillsides. As we crossed a romantic river with arched bridges stretching across the water and on into the distance, it occurred to me that it might be nice to stop here for a while and explore. I began to wonder where we might be and squealed a little with excitement as I pointed out to Cooper that we must have crossed over the border from England into Wales, because all of a sudden street, shop, train station and advertising signs all appeared in not just one language but two – the customary English and Welsh options evident across this country.
Next, to our surprise the conductor announced we had arrived in Swansea and it was time to alight. As it turned out, I would have the chance to explore this lovely little city more. Aptly too, Swansea was home to the world’s very first passenger railway service.
We were in Wales for our very first visit!
Wales’ second largest city and the twenty-fifth largest in the UK, Swansea lies within the historic county boundaries of Glamorgan. Once a prosperous market village with medieval roots, later gaining prominence as a spa town, and evolving successfully into the industrial revolution, Swansea enjoyed positive growth for many years. While remnants of this history remains, sadly much of the city centre was destroyed during WWII when Swansea suffered numerous devastating bombing attacks due to its perfect positioning as a military port. Perhaps this is why much of the city felt to me like it was quite new. However, it has undergone heavy redevelopment recently and rundown port-side precincts are now being turned into housing, university campus sites plus film and television studios (an emerging industry in Wales right now).
The best value option here is definitely the bus. For £4.20 a day (as at April 2016) you can hop on and off the local bus which offers a multitude of routes around the entire area.
Our best tip is to get yourself on a number 2 express (easy to find at the city’s central bus station) and head over to a gorgeous coastal precinct called ‘the Mumbles’. Imagine pretty houses, extraordinary views across Swansea Bay, boutique shopping, fish and chips, and a grand old castle called Oystermouth. The Mumbles is just 25 minutes bus ride from the city centre, and you can wander along the promenade up to the lighthouse, or discover where the clifftop walks begin and take yourself off on a windswept adventure.
Stroll in Swansea
There’s much to see and do in Swansea and most of it is accessible on foot. The main mall presents shopping, pubs and eateries of all types. This is a university city, so as you’d expect there’s plenty of great deals on food and beer to be had. We don’t mind the odd meal at Pizza Express or a stop-over at Aussie-themed Walkabout (both particularly good value if you’re taking advantage of UK-wide TasteCard or Gourmet Society 2-4-1 deals as we do), and it’s not hard to discover something to fit a tight budget and your unique taste.
Across Swansea there’s lovely open areas, parks, waterways, interesting historical architecture and even an old castle (although it’s not hard to find castles in Wales – apparently there’s 641 of them).
The city is well signed with regards to directing visitors to its most important attractions and facilities, so see where your feet and imagination take you.
Sleep in Swansea
We chose to stay at the Premier Inn on the waterfront. It’s positioned in a quiet, recently-redeveloped part of town overlooking the marina, and set below the hills decorated with locals’ homes that I originally noticed on the train. Book well in advance for a neat deal that includes a contemporary, well-appointed room plus breakfast. Conveniently there’s a Tesco Express with an ATM and a bus stop outside; the hotel is just a ten to fifteen minute walk from the city centre, a large Sainsburys supermarket and the enchanting museum dedicated to writer and poet, Dylan Thomas.
From Far from the Madding Crowd in Dorset to Frankenstein in Manchester, England staged one big, beautiful movie set in 2015, and crowds flocked to see where their favourites were shot.
VisitEngland’s Chief Executive, James Berresford said: “Our research shows that 40 per cent of tourists want to visit locations they’ve seen on the big and small screen [like Downton Abbey], so we know there is a huge appetite for ‘set-jetting’.”
VisitEngland teamed up with Creative England to select some of the biggest films to grace our screens in 2015, revealing to film buffs exactly where the action was shot…
INTO THE WOODS
The film adaptation of the eponymous Broadway musical Into the Woods features an all-star cast including Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick and Johnny Depp. Showing off a number of quintessentially English locations, the soon-to-be Disney hit was shot at Dover Castle in Kent, Waverley Abbey and Virginia Water in Surrey, the Ashridge Estate in Hertfordshire, Hambleden Village and Hambleden Barn in Buckinghamshire. The film follows the classic tales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel-all tied together by an original story involving a baker and his wife, their wish to begin a family and their interaction with the witch who has put a curse on them.
This live-action feature is inspired by the classic fairytale Cinderella and brings to life the timeless images from Disney’s 1950 animated masterpiece. English locations including the grand bridge at Blenheim Palace, Black Park in Iver Heath and the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich all help to set the scene for this childhood favourite. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, the film stars Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden and Helena Bonham-Carter.
A LITTLE CHAOS
Starring Kate Winslet, Stanley Tucci and Alan Rickman. The story centres on a female landscape-gardener who is awarded the esteemed assignment to construct the grand gardens at Versailles, a gilt-edged position which thrusts her to the very centre of the court of King Louis XIV. But the 18th century French palace and grand houses were actually shot in England at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, the Ashridge Estate in Hertfordshire and Cliveden House in Berkshire. Some of the cast stayed at the Grade I listed, luxury hotel and grand stately home, Cliveden House, during filming. With a garden central to the story, the production also needed some versatile outdoor space and found most of what they were looking for in Black Park, a country park next door to Pinewood Studios, which covers over 500 acres of woodland, heathland and grassland.
FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD
A new adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel, the film stars Carey Mulligan and Michael Sheen, with screen play by David Nicholls. Filmed predominantly in and around Hardy Country in Dorset; Mapperton House, Durdle Door, Lulworth Cove, Sherborne, Eype, Purse Caundle, West Bay, Beaminster and National Trust property Cogden Beach all play a part. Few authors have such strong associations with their local area as Thomas Hardy, and today you can explore two of the writer’s houses – his childhood home and Max Gate, the property Hardy designed himself and moved into with Emma after his marriage.National Trust property, Claydon House in Buckinghamshire, also features in the film, doubling up as Boldwood.
Based on Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel of the same name, the latest adaptation features an all-star cast. Daniel Radcliffe will star as hunchback Igor, whilst James McAvoy will portray Victor von Frankenstein. Filming locations included Manchester Town Hall, Chatham Historic Dockyard, the Old Royal Naval College, including King Charles Court, and the bank of the river Thames in Greenwich.
Have you ever set-jetted? Drop us a line in the comments to let us know where you’ve visited and what was filmed there. We’re keen to find this one being filmed in Scotland!…
More things to do in England
We’ve had a helpful piece shared with us via your-rv-lifestyle.com on 100 things to do in England – worth a browse if you’re heading over this way!
Images copyright to individual film distribution companies.
Welcome to Travel Live learn, where we are passionate about living a life full of great adventures. We are Sarah + Cooper: we know life's short, and we're here to encourage you to make the most of it! We have worked in media, communication and creative roles for many years, and have spent over 10 years living and working abroad. Our hottest content topics here are pet friendly travel, house + pet sitting, and designing a life as expats or digital nomads wherever in the world you want to be. Join our community of over 11,000 like-minded adventurers - find out more by signing up for the mailing list and our Facebook Group. Find us on YouTube too. NEW podcast now live: search 'Freedom and Four Paws' on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts or your fave podcast service provider.