Oh, London. London, England, is full of dynamite people and things to see and beverages to drink and the queen and…well alright, who doesn’t want to go to London. But there’s something just as good about a three hour drive west of the city. It’s a whole other country that’s lush, friendly and inexplicably exciting too.
Wales is too often overlooked. Yes it does blend into England and yes many people aren’t even really sure if it’s a separate country. What Wales does have though is a beautiful simplicity throughout their people and landscape.
Like any new place, most travelers want to dive right in and try a bit of everything. There are a few essentials though to make your Welsh experience really unforgettable.
Go walk the beaches. Not quite for tanning in the winter, but breathtaking nonetheless.
Beaches exist in places other than tropical islands and at stereotypical destinations. Wales has plenty of beaches, and is best known for sheer cliffs of massive, brilliant size. South Glamorgan boasts striking cliff walks that can be done from above and below. A view from either the top of the cliff or from the sand near the ocean have a 360 view of sea and sky, impressive at any time of year. Pretty pinks and purples emerge at sunset, looking good enough to pluck from the sky for dessert.
Step back into the past while visiting old castle ruins.
Anyone can fork over a big entrance fee for a beautifully restored medieval castle. But what really gives southern Wales character is its downtrodden, crumbling old castles of what used to be. In a small village called Ogmore for example, there are some very simple walls and rooms left of what used to be Ogmore Castle. The beauty of it is where your imagination can take you.
They may be just bricks now, but classic and dignified families used to habituate this place. It’s humble placement along a peaceful waterway leading out to the nearby ocean. By reading up on a little history, it’s been discovered that this castle had grand staircases and ordinate fireplaces way ahead of its time in the 1100’s. Standing in anything constructed over 400 years before America was even discovered is pretty darn impressive.
Only a couple hours away is another castle called Ragland. This one includes a moat and climbable towers with incredible views of the always-green countryside.
Good luck with the local language.
Now this is a treat. If you’re familiar with Europe, you may have been able to pick up a couple words in Spain, Italy or even France just by a few similar sounding letters. But take the word “Wales” for instance; in Welsh, it’s spelled “Gymru.” Give that one a try. Most bookstores in Wales carry phrasebooks and dictionaries of this challenging language. Although it’s not commonly used, especially in the south, some locals will still utilize it and the education systems regularly keep Welsh alive and well.
Sometimes the tourist traps are actually hidden local gems.
An old coal mine in southern Wales may not be what you’d think of to explore at first, but places that make local school kids fall asleep could be something totally new and different for a visitor to Wales. “The Pit” as it’s affectionately called was closed in 1980 and reopened three years later to the public. Donning the standard miner hardhat and safety belt, visitors venture a couple hundred feet underground to learn history and mystery of the coal mining business. The retired miners make the trip with their thick dialogues and love of the profession through clever stories and wit. Big Pit National Museum is in the town of Blaenavon, a 45 minute drive from the capital of Cardiff.
Have some local brews at pubs older than dirt.
When you have since 1383 to perfect a good tall tale, you know now in 2011 it’ll be one hell of a story. The Plow and Harrow’s humble beginnings connect them to monks and monasteries. Later on though, the pub was said to be the last home of dead sailors and afterwards ghosts of dead sailors that liked to rattle old tables and chairs, even to this day. Super creepy and brilliantly Welsh, that’s famous for elaborate histories. It may take a couple tried to find this one tucked inside the town of Monknash, but the lore alone is worth it.
Beer at any pub in Wales is always a staple, but don’t forget the hard cider. It tickles your nose a little less and has that great adult apple juice taste. Most pubs have a few on tap and the tenders are happy to advise on their favorites.
Enjoy your trip, and as a last cautionary tale: drive slow, for there’s sometimes more sheep than people! Pob lwc! Good luck!
–Eileen Cotter (CrookedFlight) is a Contributor to The Free George.
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