Try one of our four fantastic Welsh itineraries for a touring holiday to remember this yearView all itineraries
Lee Davey embarks on a seven-site tour of the south-eastern corner of Wales and into Herefordshire
Thanks to an abundance of historic sites, cultural attractions, festivals, access to adventure pursuits and stunning scenery, south Walesand the Wales-England border region are always popular destinations for tourists. Moreover, it offers campsites to suit all tastes. I recently took a break within a triangle marking Brecon, Hereford and Newport, and found myself navigating the region’s highest mountain, staying within the grounds of a National Trust property and kayaking along the River Wye.
Located in the heart of south Wales, the Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons) National Park is a rollercoaster of rugged peaks, rolling hills and picturesque valleys.
The park is a hiker’s paradise, although you don’t need to be among the super-fit to participate, as numerous trails fall into the ‘easy stroll’ category.
Depending on the route taken, the climb up Pen y Fan, the tallest mountain in south Wales, can be hard work. But it rewards burning calf muscles with breathtaking views from the summit. There are less strenuous ways to get to the top (you can read suggestions by typing ‘Pen y Fan’ into the search bar at visitwales.com), but make sure you check the weather forecast before you set off regardless, and take a look at visitwales.com/info/advice/national-park-safety-information.
The National Park is not just for walkers though: the rugged landscape lends itself to various outdoor pursuits, such as horse riding, mountain biking and caving.
My tour began at Rheld Farm Certificated Location (CL), a beautiful gem within walking distance of the town of Crickhowell, renowned for its high street full of independent retailers and eateries. It’s an excellent base for exploring the Usk Valley and the Black Mountains, the easternmost of the ranges within the national park. If time is tight and you can only manage one scenic point, it has to be the Sugar Loaf, the summit of which offers stunning views for miles around on a clear day.
Up next was Brecon Beacons Club Campsite to the west, on the edge of the market town of Brecon. It is understandably popular with outdoorsy folk, with the nearby hills and mountains dominating the view.
I had ‘packed’ my Honda Grom motorcycle for this trip, which allowed me to explore the local area while leaving my ’van set up on site. Granted, a 125cc machine may not be king of the hills, but it did allow me to access parts of the Beacons that might otherwise have remained undiscovered.
Breezing along the backroads, eventually finding my way onto the A40, I stumbled across Aberbran Club Campsite. Being just five miles west of Brecon, it is another great base for exploring the region.
Brecon is a picturesque market town – the market is held each Tuesday and Friday – and is also home to a monthly craft fair. I’m told the Jazz Festival in mid-August is popular with members staying at either of the two Club campsites.
You might also like to visit Carreg Cennen Castle while staying here. It’s at the western edge of the national park, so about an hour’s drive from Brecon, but the journey is worth it for the stunning views and impressive ruins. It is accessible via a short hike through the woods, and it’s an excellent spot for a picnic or a quiet stroll. And if you’re packing a picnic, it wouldn’t be complete without the local sultana-studded Welsh cakes or bara brith fruit loaf.
Back over on the eastern edge of the National Park, one of my first-ever caravan stays was at Pandy Club Campsite. I was hoping to rekindle great memories but, unfortunately, at the time of my tour, the site was closed for refurbishment. (Pandy is now open again – please see the panel on p34 for details).
Just 45 minutes’ drive from the Brecon campsite and close to the border with England, Pandy is another base for walking and other outdoor pursuits, the Black Mountains rising to the west and the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean lying invitingly to the east. I would recommend The Old Pandy Inn, just a few paces from the site entrance, or you could pop to The Skirrid Mountain Inn, which is reputedly home to ghoulish guests who have made the pub their home during the building’s 900-year history.
Across the border, picturesque Hereford is a historic city brimming with interest. One of the standout features is the medieval cathedral. This iconic building boasts a fascinating history and is home to one of the world’s oldest maps, the Mappa Mundi. Visitors can explore its grand interior, marvel at the intricate stained-glass windows and soak up the serene atmosphere.
The city is also renowned for its lively arts and culture scene. From art galleries showcasing local talent to theatres hosting captivating performances, something is always happening in Hereford to inspire and entertain. All of this combines with opportunities to sit on the banks of the River Wye or take leisurely boat trips on calm waters.
Two sites are within easy reach of this fabulous city. Once a railway station, Moorhampton Club Campsite is blessed with a suitably unique layout – the eagle-eyed will spot the sign by reception that once welcomed commuters and day-trippers. Bordered by the fields of a working farm, I heard little more than a tractor during my visit, and even the passing traffic on the nearby A480 – which makes access a breeze – didn’t intrude.
To the south-east of Hereford, Lucksall Affiliated Site (AS) boats a riverside location as well as an excellent bar-restaurant. Guests are welcome to fish from the riverbank, and canoes and kayaks can be launched from either end of the site. If you don’t have your own, they can be hired here.
I often travel with an inflatable kayak and, having paddled around various bodies of water in the UK and Europe, I can’t think of a more accessible site from which to launch.
As if to underline this point, a couple exited the river carrying stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) while I was enjoying a bite to eat, both beaming from ear to ear. Kayaks, canoes or SUPs are great ways to indulge in gentle exercise while getting a unique perspective on your surroundings.
The paddleboarding couple at Lucksall obviously agreed!
Just a short distance from Hereford lies the enchanting Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, where visitors can immerse themselves in breathtaking scenery during a gentle stroll, or by booking one of the numerous adventure activities that centre around the river.
Rock Point Certificated Location – a small, peaceful site set on a farm – is perfectly placed in order to discover the delights of the area. There’s the market town of Ross-on-Wye and the border town of Monmouth, for example, while Raglan Castle is an impressive-looking fortress. And the area around Symonds Yat, a village that straddles the Wye, is a joy to explore.
Back in Wales, Newport also boasts an impressive array of attractions. From the remains of Newport Castle (which can be viewed from the bridge across the River Usk) to the beautifully preserved Roman remains at Caerleon, history enthusiasts will find plenty to marvel at.
The city has undergone significant regeneration in recent years, with modern developments blending with its historic charm. The vibrant centre has many shops, restaurants and entertainment venues, catering to all tastes and interests. One of the city’s highlights is the waterfront area where the striking Transporter Bridge dominates the skyline.
Outdoor lovers can take advantage of Newport’s parks and other green spaces, from the tranquil Belle Vue Park with its ornamental gardens to Tredegar House Country Park, which boasts sprawling grounds and woodland trails.
The Club has its own campsite within the grounds of the latter – and it makes a great base for exploration. Visitors often make a beeline for Cardiff and events at the nearby stadiums, while the campsite is within easy reach of the Wales Coast Path. If you join the latter near Newport you could travel east towards Chepstow or west in the direction of Cardiff and beyond – further information is available at walescoastpath.gov.uk.
There are a couple more castles in the Cardiff area you might want to visit. Cardiff Castle is located in the heart of the city and dates back to the 11th century; it’s known for its impressive architecture and beautiful gardens. Definitely one to enjoy if you’re having a day or two out in the Welsh capital.
Meanwhile, located just north of Cardiff is Caerphilly Castle. One of the largest fortresses in the country, it featured an extensive moat and giant walls to keep raiders at bay. Visitors today can safely roam the castle’s many rooms and towers and learn about its fascinating history, including the gunpowder-damaged Leaning Tower – “even wonkier than that of Pisa” according to visitwales.com!
My whistlestop tour of south Wales and the border region featured stretches of jagged coastline and charming villages, buzzing cities, rugged mountains and an array of castles. And while the topography is perfect for outdoorsy types keen to explore by bike, boat or boot, there really is something for everyone.