What I love most about Wales is that it’s so packed with adventure, in the truest sense of the word. I don’t just mean physical challenges: every time you turn a corner in Wales, you can discover a new landscape and a unique experience. I’ve lived here all my life, but I’m still exploring and finding corners of our country that blow my mind.
Whatever your taste for adrenaline, there’s a patch of coastline for you."
Explore the glories of Snowdonia
I can’t think of Wales without thinking of Snowdonia. I’m based in Cardiff, but one of my favourite places on the planet is Snowdonia National Park. It’s one of the greatest playgrounds for anyone who loves the great outdoors.
Cader Idris, at its southern edge, is my favourite mountain in Wales. People might assume my favourite would be Snowdon as that’s the highest, but Cader Idris is special to me. I have friends near Dolgellau, and you can just walk from there into the hills and lose yourself in the beauty of the surroundings. I also love the mythology behind the mountain’s name – 'the seat of Idris'. When it looms in front of you, it certainly does resemble the throne of an ancient giant.
Then there’s northern Snowdonia, a beautiful and sometimes brutal place. I’ve always been captivated by the age of heroic exploration in the early to mid-20th century, and Snowdon is central to Sir Edmund Hillary’s 1953 first ascent of Everest. It’s amazing to think that his team came here to Wales to prepare for their Himalayan expedition. To visit the Pen y Gwryd pub where all those explorers once stayed is to take a step back in time.
Go coasteering in Pembrokeshire
Coasteering was created in Wales. The word is an amalgamation of 'coastline' and 'mountaineering', and technically it’s about exploring the tidal zone between high and low water. What it’s really about, though, is just fun: pulling on a wetsuit, helmet and buoyancy aid and becoming a kid again. It’s so easy to do, and so accessible. Whatever your fitness level or taste for adrenaline, you’ll find a local provider and a patch of coastline that’s suited to you.
It’s as much about the scenery as the thrills. On a less than perfect day, the Pembrokeshire coastline can be an ethereal place when you see the islands off the coastline disappearing into a low mist. When the weather’s bluebird, it’s idyllic. You could be anywhere in the world. I have become friends with Greg and Lisa – the RSPB wardens at Ramsey Island, where we filmed part of Extreme Wales – and got to know the history of that part of Pembrokeshire. Linking it to the mainland is a famous stretch of rapids called the Bitches, which I’ve been lucky enough to kayak. Countless ships have come aground there, and one shipwreck led to a rat infestation on the island, decimating the sea bird population. This was the catalyst for a remarkable environmental project that has brought back the Manx shearwater population. It’d highly recommend making the boat trip to the island to discover the whole story.
Ride the trails
As a Welshman, I’m incredibly proud of the way we’ve used our skills and ingenuity to revive local communities through creating new adventures. We’ve reclaimed and reused land that has lain dormant since the decline of heavy industry, with attractions in North Wales like Zip World, Bounce Below and Surf Snowdonia.
The one that I personally love is the mountain biking at Antur Stiniog, near Blaenau Ffestiniog. They’ve turned the landscape left behind by the slate industry into some of the most exciting downhill riding in the country. You get to ride down expertly laid trails in this magical, almost prehistoric-like setting, with an uplift service to whisk you back to the top.
Of course, mountain biking isn’t all about descents. Between Snowdon and Cader Idris, you’ve got world-class cross-country mountain bike and running trails at Coed y Brenin. There aren’t many regions where you have so many great trails in such a small area – and whatever your ability in the saddle, there’ll be something there to satisfy your appetite for adventure.
Escape to Wales’ Green Desert
If you love immersing yourself in the wilderness, one of Wales’ best-kept secrets is the Cambrian Mountains. Wales has three incredible National Parks that are well recognised, and rightly so. But in this part of the country – referred to as Wales’ Green Desert – you can feel a million miles away from everything and everyone. In today’s society, when we’re always connected and plugged into technology, it’s a real sanctuary; yet it’s only a few hours away from Cardiff.
I fell in love with the Cambrian Mountains and the Elan Valley while filming Extreme Wales. There’s a road there, the B4518 between Cymystwyth and Rhyader, that the AA describes as one of the 10 most scenic drives anywhere in the world. I’ve cycled this part of Wales, ridden it on a motorbike and driven it. Every time, the Green Desert was mesmerisingly different and magical.
Not many people know this about me, but I’m a real bird geek – though I’d stop short of calling myself an ornithologist. I’m simply fascinated by birds of prey, and the Elan Valley is among the best places to see our national bird, the red kite. There are several feeding stations, such as Bwlch Nant yr Arian. I’ve been lucky enough to feed the kites there, which was both amazing and a little terrifying.
I could ramble on all day, but I’d rather you explore Wales’ outdoors for yourselves. Happy adventures!
Exploring the outdoors is fantastic fun, but please read up on the risks and make sure you are prepared.