Diolch, Cymru!

Sammy Faircloth says ‘Thank you, Wales’ following an epic break taking in the sandy beaches, stunning seascapes and classic castles of the south-west

Illustraion by Louise Turpin

South-west Wales has long been a popular holiday destination, with its rugged coastline, miles of award-winning sandy beaches, charming towns and villages, plenty of open spaces, and castles, museums and galleries to explore. Along with my husband and two teenagers, I embarked on a caravan tour of this stunning region.

Glorious Gower

Our trip began at Gowerton Club Campsite, an immaculate site that is well situated for exploring both coast and countryside, and is close to Swansea if you need the buzz of a city. Once set up, we headed to the Gower Peninsula, which juts out into the Bristol Channel. Designated the UK’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1956, it is a popular destination for walkers, surfers and cycling enthusiasts. 

A trip to Rhossili Bay, on the west of the Gower, will not disappoint. The three miles of golden sands are a huge draw for the surfing community, whilst those 

who prefer to stay on terra firma will enjoy access to the Wales Coast Path. In fact, the route from Rhossili to Mewslade Bay has been voted one of the Ramblers Association’s Top 10 Walking Routes in the whole of the UK. If you are lucky, you might see some of the wild ponies and horses that roam here.

The most westerly point of the Gower is Worms Head. Although on a map it does look a bit like a worm, ‘worm’ in this case comes from the Old English word ‘wyrm’, meaning ‘sea serpent’, which is a far more magical image.

Worms Head is only accessible on foot for two-and-a-half hours either side of low tide, so ignore the signs at your peril. Do not attempt to wade or swim to it when the causeway from the mainland is flooded.

Moving anti-clockwise around the coast, we came to the delightful Oxwich National Nature Reserve, which is a haven for wildlife, with its mix of sand dunes, beach, woodland, and saltwater and freshwater marshes. The last time I visited Oxwich Bay was on a geography field trip when I was 17 years old; fortunately, it has not changed.

Continuing along the coast back towards Swansea, we reached Mumbles, the family-favourite spot. At 835ft long, Mumbles Pier was opened in 1898 as a terminus for the Swansea and Mumbles Railway, the world’s first horse-drawn public passenger train service. Today, it is home to an amusement arcade, games room, souvenir shops, lifeboat station and café. A short stroll along the promenade will bring you to Verdi’s Café and Ice Cream Parlour, which sells many delicious flavours of gelato.

Our journey back to the campsite took us across the stunning Gower Commons, an area of lowland heath. After so much exploring we had built up a thirst, so we stopped en route for refreshments at the Gower Brewery. The brewery offers tours for those who want to learn more about the brewing process, or you can simply visit the tap room for a drink, or make a purchase in the brewery shop if you’re driving. It sells locally-crafted gin as well as ales.

Our next stop, only a 30-minute drive west of Gowerton, is Pembrey Country Park Club Campsite, a well-equipped site that is popular with families – indeed, there is a brand-new play area for children. The site sits at the entrance of the country park, so it’s a short walk to its many attractions, which include a ski slope and toboggan run, adventure playground, crazy golf, miniature railway, cycle hire, walks and trails, and café, as well as the beautiful Cefn Sidan beach. It’s worth wandering down at dusk for spectacular sunsets.

Events, such as family fun days, theatrical performances and steam fairs take place throughout the year.

Castle country

Kidwelly Castle

Wales is home to more than 600 castles which, according to Visit Wales, is more per square mile than any other country in Europe. Armed with this knowledge, it would be remiss not to visit at least one during our tour!

Only five miles from Pembrey Country Park is Kidwelly Castle, an impressive Norman stronghold situated on top of steep earthworks with high towers, tall curtain walls and a fine gatehouse.

Comedy fans will recognise it from the opening scenes of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Managed by heritage body Cadw, members of English Heritage, Historic Scotland or Manx Heritage can get in for free, or at a reduced rate.

Moving into Pembrokeshire, a stop at Woodstock Certificated Location (CL) would offer a complete change of pace. Adults-only, it is a wonderfully friendly, peaceful site and well-cared-for by the fabulous Jan, who is an excellent artist. From here, a visit to Tenby, with its pretty, colourful buildings and harbour is an absolute must, and it was certainly one of the highlights of our tour. Even better, Tenby is considered the sunniest place in Wales!

The town is steeped in history, with medieval city walls and its famous five arches located along the south parade. Tenby Castle can been seen on Castle Hill overlooking the harbour and far down the coastline; all that remains is a tower.

At the foot of Castle Beach lies St Catherine’s Island. Originally home to a small chapel, a fort was built in 1867, housing nine guns and 100 men. You can visit the fort today, but opening times are subject to the tides and weather, so check online before you go. Continuing the historical theme, the oldest house in Tenby is the 15th-century Tudor Merchant’s House. Boasting original 15th-century furnishings and household objects, it gives you the chance to immerse yourself in the life of a middle-class merchant during a period when the town was a busy place of commerce. 

A rain shower threatened to upend our plans (we were well prepared with wet weather gear!), but thankfully we came across Tenby Harbwr Brewery, the perfect opportunity for a pit stop. It serves traditional Welsh produce and locally brewed ales – my husband was in heaven! There is also an opportunity to learn more on a brewery tour or simply purchase your favourite craft ale from the shop.

We continued west on our tour, setting up camp at Freshwater East Club Campsite, a beachside location within Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. From there it is only a short drive north to the magnificent Carew Castle and Tidal Mill. The castle is an eclectic mix of architecture, from a Norman fortress to an Elizabethan mansion. Carew Mill is the only restored tidal mill in Wales. Sadly, it is no longer working, although it is still possible to see the machinery and there are family-friendly interactive displays. Within the grounds is a rather fine 11th-century Celtic cross, believed to commemorate a fallen Welsh king; from here, there is a mile-long circular walk that is suitable for buggies and wheelchairs, offering superb views over the millpond.

Heading west to the county town of Pembroke, you cannot help but notice the impressive medieval fortification, Pembroke Castle, birthplace of King Henry VII. Flanked on three sides by water and with an 80ft-high keep, it was built to withstand heavy bombardment, but nonetheless has a tumultuous past. Uniquely, Pembroke Castle is the only castle in Britain to be built over a natural cavern, the Wogan.

Small But Mighty

Near St David’s Lleithyr Meadow. Photo by member Linda Baldwin

Heading towards the most westerly point in Wales, our next base was St David’s Lleithyr Meadow Club Campsite. Unfortunately, our arrival coincided with a storm – not the best time to be pitching our caravan!

This well-kept site is perfectly situated for those who enjoy coastal walks or watersports, yet it is also a stone’s throw from Britain’s smallest city – St David’s. A visit to the cathedral there is highly recommended; stepping into the nave will take your breath away as you take in the grandeur of the interior, with its ornate stonework, heavily decorated arches, timber ceiling and impressive rood screen that divides the nave from the choir and presbytery. 

A short walk from the cathedral brings you to the magnificent medieval Bishop’s Palace. Between 1328 and 1347, Henry de Gower built this grand palace for his own use, but also to entertain distinguished pilgrims. It certainly was an impressive structure, but the Reformation marked its demise and all you see today are the ruins.

A kilometre off St David’s Head lies Ramsey Island, an RSPB reserve. Thousand Islands Expeditions (see the Great Savings Guide at camc.com/greatsavingsguide) runs regular boat trips from the RNLI Boat Station at St Justinians. Birdwatching enthusiasts may get to see choughs, guillemots, razorbills and fulmars. If you are lucky, you may spot common dolphins, Risso’s dolphins and maybe even a whale.

Another trip, which has become extremely popular with tourists thanks to David Attenborough’s recent Wild Isles series, is to Skomer Island to see the puffins who have made it their home. Due to the demand for tickets you need to book well in advance.

Back on solid ground, and on to one of the best surfing beaches in Wales, Whitesands Bay; it is just a short walk from the Club site. Backed by the imposing craggy hill, Carn Llidi, this is a beautiful stretch of coast, but it can get very busy in the summer months with surfers, canoeists and bodyboarders competing for the best waves. 

Devil’s advocate

New Quay. Photo by member Terry Davies

Following the coast northwards, our penultimate stop was Shawsmead Club Campsite in Ceredigion. It’s a peaceful meadowland site that attracts watersports enthusiasts due to its proximity to Cardigan Bay. We decided to explore the picturesque fishing village of New Quay, where the boys boarded a sea-fishing trip with Epic Fishing Trips. They were not disappointed with their catch – between them they bagged eleven fish and a crab – and they brought two whiting back for our tea, so we ate well that night.

On another day, we treated ourselves to a trip back in time on a steam train from Aberystwyth to Devil’s Bridge. The train meanders from the coast to the Cambrian mountains, through valleys and forests, climbing 680ft (200m) in total. It truly is a spectacular voyage.

On alighting at Devil’s Bridge, you might visit the station gift shop, or maybe have a light lunch at the Two Hoots Tea Room. We were drawn to Sarah Bunton’s award-winning chocolate shop and stocked up on treats for our impending walk.

A short distance from the station lies Devil’s Bridge Falls. Club members receive a 20% discount on entry to this attraction via the Great Savings Guide. A short walk leads to a new viewing area that offers a great vista of the famous Three Bridges, where one is built on top of the other. 

If you have the time and fancy a more demanding circular walk, take the waterfall nature trail. This involves 675 steep stone steps, but is worth the effort as from the viewing gazebo you will be wowed by the 300ft Mynach Falls. After descending Jacob’s Ladder, a flight of 100 steps, there’s a narrow iron bridge that represents the start of the ascent back up the gorge. With various viewing platforms and a cave known as the ‘Robber’s cave’, there are plenty of opportunities to catch your breath and enjoy the splendour of nature.

If you’re in an adult-only group, Tyllyn Lakeside CL is a great place to end the tour. It’s a quiet, relaxing spot with stunning views over Pencarreg lake. Here you could enjoy a spot of fishing or kayaking – it’s the kind of place you won’t want to leave.

What an epic adventure it has been. Diolch, Cymru; thank you, Wales.

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