Wales of the Unexpected

Born in Cardiff in 1916, author Roald Dahl left Wales as a teenage boy, but Wales never left him. Here are just a few of the places we think he’d enjoy exploring.

Whistling sands

Beaches are supposed to just lie there and look pretty, but the sands at Porth Oer, managed by the National Trust, make a weird squeaking noise when you walk across them. This very rare phenomenon is caused by, um, science.  

Lord Hereford’s Knob

It’s a big mountain at the eastern edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park.  Its Welsh name is Twmpa. And that is all we have to say on the matter., aside from the fact that it was the subject of a song recorded by cult post-punk band Half Man Half Biscuit.  

An Italian village

Hidden at the foot of a wooded valley, where a river meets the sea, Portmeirion is an absurd fantasy made glorious reality. The architect Clough Williams-Ellis created it over a 50 year period between the 1920s and ‘70s. Roald Dahl would have loved it here.

Portmeirion, Gwynedd
Portmeirion, Gwynedd

Gold mines

The Romans didn’t come here for the beaches, you know. They came for precious metals, and you can still pan for gold at their old workings in Dolaucothi. The mines were voted Best Quirky Visit in the National Trust’s 2015 Special Places campaign.

Britain’s oldest tree

Several ancient British yews claim the title, but experts reckon the daddy of them all stands in the churchyard of St Cynog’s at Defynnog in the Brecon Beacons. It’s 5,000 years old – that’s older than Stonehenge or the pyramids.

Britain’s best beach

Rhossili Bay regularly gets voted the best beach in Britain, and in the world top 10. This immediately sparks heated pub debates among Welsh people who think it’s great but Barafundle/ Whitesand/Tresaith/Abersoch, etc, etc, are even better.

Rhossili Beach

Rhossili Beach

White-water rapids

Yes, we’ve got lots on our rivers. But these Olympic-standard rapids roar and tumble through the man-made course in Cardiff Bay, where indoor surfing (really) is also on offer. It offers an almost surreal experience considering the affairs of the nation are debated just a fe hundred yards away at the National Assembly for Wales.

A ginormous greenhouse

The world’s largest single-span glasshouse designed by world-renowned architect Lord Foster lies, like a crashed spaceship, in the middle of our National Botanic Garden of Wales in Llanarthne. It’s a remarkable place to visit, which inspires, educates and entertains in equal measure.

A Roman amphitheatre

The most complete Roman amphitheatre in Britain – a whopping 6,000-seater – is now the venue for our National Roman Legion Museum. The fortress at Caerleon was one of only three permanent fortresses in Britain and was the furthest outpost of the Roman Empire.

An underground trampoline

Actually, four huge trampoline-like nets, one above the other, in the vast underground cathedral of the Llechwedd slate caverns. Younger children between three and six years-old can also enjoy their own adventure at Junior Bounce.

Bounce Below

Bounce Below

French impressionists

In the early 20th century, sisters Gwendoline and Margaret Davies splashed the family fortune on a vast collection of world-class art. They bequeathed 260 paintings to the nation; you can see the best of them at the National Museum in Cardiff.

Dolphins and porpoises

The UK’s biggest resident pod of dolphins spends its summers in Cardigan Bay. Stand on the harbour wall at New Quay and you’re pretty much guaranteed to spot one. You can even adopt a Cardigan Bay dolphin through a conservation scheme run by the Sea Watch Foundation.