When you think of walking in Wales, it’s Snowdonia that first springs to mind. And with good reason – our biggest National Park is all about high mountains, glacial lakes and dense forests. In other words, it’s perfect walking terrain. Everyone wants to bag Snowdon itself (you can cheat by catching a train to the top of our highest mountain) but there are dozens of other peaks within several distinct ranges.
Once they’ve tickked off Snowdon, seasoned walkers will head for the Carneddau, Glyderau, Arenig, Moelwynion or Rhinogydd ranges to enjoy splendid isolation on their own favourite summit. If you want to avoid the crowds, the best time of the year is spring or autumn.
The mighty Snowdonia tends to overshadow neighbouring areas, which fully deserve exploring in their own right. There’s the heather-clad moorland of Hiraethog around Llyn Brenig, and the Clwydian Range to the east. The Llŷn Peninsula has a spine of jagged volcanos (all extinct, thankfully), while Anglesey is great for geotrails and coastal walks. Talking of which, the Wales Coast Path runs around the whole coastline.
The south of the region is dominated by the Brecon Beacons National Park, which is made up of three distinct ranges. The actual Beacons themselves include Pen y Fan, the highest point in southern Britain. They’re flanked by the quietly magnificent Black Mountain range and, rather confusingly, the Black Mountains (plural) that fall away towards England. And if that’s not enough superb walking terrain, you can add the geological wonders of the Fforest Fawr Geopark.
And finally, there’s the middle bit: the vast, empty green spaces of the Cambrian Mountains. If you have a Garbo-esque urge to be alone, here’s where to come. Track down the sources of the rivers Wye and Severn up on Pumlumon/Plynlimon, roam the Welsh lakelands of Elan, or get lost (in your thoughts, we mean, not literally) in the wild landscape of Abergwesyn.
Walkers from around the world come to enjoy the 186-mile (300km) Pembrokeshire Coast Path, drawn by Britain’s most spectacular coastal scenery. It’s easy to break down into smaller chunks, thanks to a nifty coastal bus service. Less well-known is Pembs’ mountainous hinterland: try the Golden Road over Preseli, a Neolithic highway along the hills from which Stonehenge’s bluestones were hewn.
Of all the places to walk in Wales, the South Wales Valleys are the most underrated (at least, by visitors; locals know just how good they are). Rivers rise in the Brecon Beacons, and cut a series of deep valleys as they flow south to the sea. Their names became famous during the Industrial Revolution: Rhondda, Taff, Rhymney, Sirhowy, Ebbw. The collieries are gone, but the mining villages remain ribboned along the valley floors. What’s astonishing is how quickly the valleys have re-greened: the steep sides are thickly wooded, and crowned by ridge-tops of untouched moorland.
Far more well-known are the rolling rural landscapes of Monmouthshire, where Abergavenny and the Wye Valley are especially well geared up for walkers. When Cardiff folk fancy a ramble, they’ll often head out in the neighbouring Vale of Glamorgan, which has a fine stretch of Heritage Coast with an undulating farm/woodland interior.