There’s a towering, mountain grandeur in the Snowdonia National Park that simply doesn’t exist anywhere in England. The first successful Everest climbers trained here sixty years ago. The mountains dominate the landscape utterly.
But Snowdonia also has unexpected gems away from the mountains that we’ll come to later. Eighty miles south east the Brecon Beacons are the finest upland hiking country within three hours of London. This second Welsh national park is also cut-through by deeply forested river valleys and dramatic water falls. Its small towns like Brecon, Crickhowell or Llandovery are unspoilt and welcoming.
Then in the far west of Wales the Pembrokeshire Coast national park has all those intimate fishing harbours with their cosy, welcoming pubs; the rugged clifftop walks; the Preseli hills imbued with Celtic myth and mystery; and beautiful, historic towns like Tenby, St David’s and Pembroke.
It’s a trio of Welsh national parks which offer not only a huge range of challenging sports to adrenalin junkies, but they are also havens of peace and calm for the more contemplative visitor. There’s enough room for everyone because one fifth of Wales is national park … more than twice what England has. Whether you prefer to arrive by train or bus or come to Wales by car … the transport system will serve you well. By road in particular the three parks are served by motorways and trunk roads from all the great cities of England.
Sizewise – and size does count – Snowdonia is more than eighty miles north to south with just 26,000 year-round inhabitants. The Brecon Beacons are also eighty miles across and with a similar population and the Pembrokeshire park stretching across nearly two hundred miles of rugged coast and beaches has just twenty-three thousand local people.
Let’s pick just three memorable places that defy the stereotypes of each of the parks. In Snowdonia there’s thirty-seven miles of coastline. So drive a mile or so south of historic Harlech to Llandanwg. Stroll the water meadows and visit St Tanwg’s church in the dunes. People have worshipped in this idyllic place since the fifth century.
In the Beacons if you’re bored with caving or kayaking then the ruins of Llanthony Abbey are brilliantly evocative of medieval times – or if you’re a 21st century “techie” there are 180 geocaches for you to find through the park. All the Welsh national parks have a fascinating mix of manmade as well as natural attractions. The wars against England have left Wales littered with great castles; our heritage from the Industrial Revolution is spread right across the country.
Porthgain in north Pembrokeshire is a narrow little harbour village. Built into the cliffs are massive, disused stone hoppers from the quarry. There’s a magic desolation about them and when you’ve marvelled at them there’s an excellent fish restaurant and a cosy pub just moments from the seawall.It’s the basic purpose of national parks to preserve habitat, nature and the look of the manmade environment and now Brecon has gone even further with a fleet of rechargeable electric cars which visitors can hire.
The Renault Twizys have a range of fifty miles and a top speed of fifty. Charging points have been set up in pubs, cafes and hotels. They’ve been opening great swathes of countryside since they began operating in the summer of 2012.
Factfile…. The three Welsh national park websites all offer essential safety information like weather forecasts and tide times plus loads more …
For public transport into and around Wales go to http://www.traveline-cymru.info/