Worth the extra mile
It sometimes takes that extra mile to make a journey worthwhile. One of the (many) great things about a trip to Wales is that you don’t have to stray too far to enjoy experiences that have been part of a community for as long as anyone can remember.
Take horse racing in Wales. The tradition ranges dramatically, from grand events to small community-based meetings. All epitomise the love affair that Wales has with its natural landscape and an aspect of country life that has been maintained for centuries.
The Welsh Grand National is a landmark point in the sporting year in Wales. It features the most recognisable owners, trainers and jockeys in jump racing and takes place at Chepstow Racecourse, an undulating 270-acre course on the outskirts of a historical town established in 5000BC.
Racecourses around Wales
Chepstow is within easy reach of the Severn Bridge linking Wales with England. The first race meeting was held here in 1926 and the Welsh Grand National takes place between Christmas and New Year. As you can imagine, there’s something of a celebratory nature to proceedings.
Golfers will testify to the attraction of teeing it up on an old links course and walking in the footsteps of the pioneers of the sport. That’s not unlike the experience you get from a day’s racing at Bangor-on-Dee Racecourse in the North East borders of Wales. The first steeplechase meeting was held here in February 1859 and the course has changed very little since then.
Bangor-on-Dee is the only racecourse of its kind in the country without a grandstand, but don’t let that put you off. The visitors’ facilities are excellent and the sense of community associated with the course seems to remain as strong as ever.
Ffos Las is a more recent addition to the racing portfolio of Wales, but has an equally colourful story to tell. The track was opened in 2009 and is based on the former site of the largest opencast coalmine in Europe. Not that you’d ever know. Carmarthenshire’s Gwendraeth Valley is now a picturesque rural setting.
The racing surface and the facilities are equally impressive and the proximity of ferry services to Ireland draws many of the most promising Irish horses and their supporters to race on the flat or over the fences of Ffos Las.
Other equine attractions
As well as a host of colourful point-to-point events in Wales, another equine attraction is Harness Racing, also known as Trotting. There are over 25 venues governed by the Wales And Border Counties Racing Association and the Llangadog Races have been held each Easter Monday for over a century.
Tir Prince Show Ground is two miles along the North Wales Coast from Rhyl. It hosts over a dozen harness races a year, alongside fairground attractions and amusement arcades.