Beyond the Leeks and Dragons: Get to Know the Real Wales
Published: Wednesday 12th Mar 2014
Written by: Betheny Ellis
Wales – Land of dragons and daffodils, leeks and love spoons, rugby, cheese on toast, mining, male voice choirs, and epiglottis-twisting town names.
Move away from the clichés however, and there is a real country to explore. It has the third best beach in Europe (ninth in the world), and more castles per square mile than anywhere else in the world. It has the world’s largest single span glasshouse and Europe’s largest electricity generating waterwheel. Rough Guides voted Wales the Best Place to Visit in the World 2014.
One thing that strikes you immediately about Wales is its geography. Within its 8,000 square miles Wales is blessed with three National Parks and five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, while 42% of the coastline of South and West Wales is stunning heritage coast.
Dramatic hills and mountain ranges stride across the majority of the country and the biggest of these, Snowdon, is the most visited mountain in the UK. You can climb the mountain by foot or by train, and when you reach the summit you are treated to some of the most amazing views in the whole of Britain. With all this rugged terrain, Wales is a paradise for walkers, climbers, and mountain bikers of all abilities.
Wales also has an amazing selection of beaches to visit. Its 750 miles of coastline means there are sands for all, from the watersport friendly beach of Abersoch to the huge Cefn Sidan in Carmarthenshire. Benllech on the Isle of Anglesey is set in a crescent shaped bay and is extremely accessible even for those with pushchairs or in wheelchairs, while Rhossili on the Gower Peninsular has a genuine shipwreck and three miles of golden sands to explore. Wildlife lovers should look to the waters of south-west Wales where they can spot a wide range of aquatic visitors including basking sharks, Atlantic grey seals, leatherback turtles, dolphins, and porpoises. Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion in particular are recognised as an area of international importance for bottlenose dolphins, and New Quay has the only summer residence of bottlenose dolphins in the whole of the UK. In the mid-west of Wales you can find RSPB Ynys-Hir, home to the BBC’s Springwatch for three years.
Golf is often more associated with the Scots, but Wales’ northern cousins certainly don’t have the monopoly on amazing golf courses. Celtic Manor, home of the 2010 British Open, is the marquee name in Wales, but you can pit your handicap against a variety of course types, including links, moorland, woodland, and mountain.
If you’re more of an urban being, why not try a city break? Cardiff has everything you could want on a city break: great architecture, great nightlife, great places to eat and to visit. Just down the road from the Welsh capital is Swansea, which is full of places to go including the award winning National Waterfront Museum, and Swansea Prom. The Dylan Thomas centre is the place to go to find out about Swansea’s most famous son, and LC Swansea is South Wales’ premier waterpark and leisure centre, great for a visit with the kids.