When we started out on our adventure, we had decided to use Wales as a route to Scotland. The plan was to hot foot it along the Welsh coast and take in a few highlights as a way to break up the journey. Scotland was the goal.
The beauty of our current lifestyle is that we can change plans if we want to – we have very few things set in stone and so long as we manage to meet those few commitments anything else is up for grabs.
So when we found ourselves taking longer than expected just to get through Permbrokeshire we knew that we were unlikely to make it to Scotland and gave ourselves permission to linger a little longer in Wales.
Coupled with this we were also finding out about our travelling proclivities. We didn’t really know how we would feel about travelling, whether we would prefer wild camping to campsites, whether we would want to drive long distances or short, whether we would stay in one place for a long time or move on daily. It turns out that we like moving daily (or every two days) but we don’t tend to move too far. Wild camping is great, and usually available in convenient locations for outdoor activities, but it is a nice treat to get the BBQ, table and chairs out every now and again in a campsite.
A few stats
Number of nights spent in Wales: 52
Number of different overnight locations: 37 (of which 9 were campsites and the rest were parking spots, most of which were free but some were paid; we were pleasantly surprised by the wild camping available in Wales)
Average ‘camping’ cost per night: £5.45
Average total spend per day: £57.56 (this includes all spend over this time, even if it was not directly related to our travels and is roughly in line with our budget)
Number of miles driven: I don’t know, we didn’t record it, something I’ve started to do.
Finding overnight locations in Wales
We mostly used Searchforsites to find wild camping spots, and UKCampsite to find campsites.
We also used our Ordnance Survey maps to find parking spots, usually looking for the picnic table icon that designates picnic spots. Some picnic spots have height barriers or are locked overnight, but the majority offer secluded parking that is away from town centres and residential areas and are usually near walking routes and bike trails. In addition the parking is rarely demarcated so there is no stress of trying to squeeze into a spot that is too small. Google maps street view was very useful for checking out parking spots in advance for anything that might stop us from being able to use it.
All of the wild camping spots we found en-route have been added to Searchforsites. You can also find our map of locations here.
We didn’t ever feel unsafe or threatened while wild camping, although we did spot some interesting car park based activities. Most people were friendly and chatty and only once in Amwlch did we get a negative reaction to parking for the night.
Driving in Wales
There are a lot of good, newly improved, A-roads in Wales which are great when getting from place to place. This is contrasted by a lot of single track roads leading to some of the more interesting locations. However, when compared to some places in Devon (i.e. the South Hams) there was nothing that really phased Paul and very rarely did I feel a need to suck in my breath and thereby try to make me and Bertie narrower – it doesn’t work, but it makes me feel like I’m adding value.
Our Sat Nav (Garmin Camper) was good at navigating us to avoid low or weak bridges but we found that it had a lot of ‘accessibility unknown’ roads which sometimes led it to recommend a route that wasn’t practical. Only on one occasion did we have a major argument with it, when it tried to send us down a cycle route. We found we often changed the route to one of our choosing after looking at our maps.
Where we knew we would be driving down long stretches of single track lanes we would use the Ordnance Survey maps and Google Street View to double check for access issues. But generally there were plenty of passing places.
There are some great public transport options to some pretty remote locations in Wales, which opens up additional options for getting to places or back from walks. We often think that if a bus can get somewhere then we will be ok, but the downside is the risk of encountering a bus in a narrow lane. Bustimes is a great resource for finding out bus timetables and maps of bus routes/stops.
It’s difficult to pick out the best bits from this trip, Wales has a lot of diverse opportunities for spending quality time outdoors, which is why we stayed there for so long, but here are some of the things we particularly enjoyed:
Wild camping near Dale in Pembrokeshire. This spot, with it’s view of the twinkling lights of Milford Haven and the ability to launch our Kayak straight into the bay, was ideal for us. Shame we didn’t catch any fish for our supper.
Spotting Puffins at South Stack on Holy Island, Anglesey. We have had some great wildlife experiences, but watching the puffins while listening to the cacophony of the many seabirds on the cliffs was awesome. This is somewhere I could have spent days and days.
Snowdon via Y Lliwedd. Parking at the Lookout carpark on a sunny evening with great views of Snowdon, getting the bus so that we could do a one way walk, and finding out that it’s not always the most popular routes that are the best.
Black Covert picnic spot. Finding our first wild camping spot that wasn’t on one of the online directories. Cycling into Aberystwyth along the Ystwyth trail and spending the evening walking the shorter trails alongside the river.
Coed Y Brenin. The beautiful gorge of the Afon Mawddach and the adrenaline thrill of some proper downhill Mountain Bike trails, our first for years.
Fairbourne to Penmaenpool in the Kayak, yet again the Afon Mawddach, but a very different side to the river which was broad at high tide and a myriad of small channels and dead ends at low tide. This was probably the wild camping spot where we encountered the most motorhomes, I think there were 5 at one point, so it didn’t feel very wild!
We had much fun trying to pronounce place names in Wales for bus drivers. It’s actually pretty phonetic as a language, so once you have all the sounds sorted it’s easy to pronounce. The problem is that we had a tendency to forget and use the English sounds, and also that the words were very slow leaving our mouths, making us sound as though we’d been slowed down to half normal speed. We were always understood though and only gently mocked. We used this guide.
We encountered lots of 3G/4G black spots, especially while wildcamping. But as we were moving nearly every day this wasn’t too much of an issue. We would just pull over in a layby once we found a signal. We didn’t find a lot of free WiFi, mostly because we didn’t venture near towns very often. Pubs were the best opportunities for a bit of downloading and an excuse for a pint.
Although we mostly focussed on outdoor pursuits, we also took some time for other activities. Castles abound in Wales, from ruins to castles that are still in use as family homes today. We saw a few, and I think my favourite was the ruined Dryslwyn. We also enjoyed the Botanic Gardens and finding events such as the Criccieth Food Slam.
There are plenty of places we would still like to visit in Wales, if we had more time we would have spent a couple of days in Cardiff (and taken in the Dr Who Experience), and also spent some time in the Mumbles – it was half term week when we were in the area and seemed a bit busy. I would also have liked to spend more time in the borders, and of course there are lots of places we would return to. So there will be no problems filling up another visit.