The Wales Coast Path is often missing from the hiker’s bucket list. Treks like the Inca Trail and Kilimanjaro have their rightful spots, but the path along the Welsh coastline, speckled with quaint towns, immersed in history, and blanketed with fairytale-inspiring landscapes, somehow hasn’t made the cut. Perhaps most hikers simply haven’t heard of it.
Completed in 2012, the Wales Coast Path connects eight sections of coastal hiking trails into one continuous 870 mile trek. I discovered it by accident: after previous plans in London fell through, I decided that I wanted to get as far away as possible from the city. I researched long distance walking paths in the UK and it was one of the first options popped up.
Though my decision to explore the Path was totally spontaneous, I absolutely hit the jackpot and fell in love with this little part of the world.
The Wales Coast Path follows the contours of the sea, taking you across the entire coastline of this small country. It wanders through farmers’ fields, woodlands, marshes, and small towns known for their ice cream stands and barbecue shacks. Although you are traversing modern-day Wales, you do catch a glimpse into the Welsh history as well, rife with stories of vikings, druids and saints. Most of the castles and cathedrals have plenty of historical information posted, but in the absence of signage, don’t be afraid to strike up conversations with locals you pass along the way; the Welsh were wonderful storytellers and generous with their knowledge.
Though you may get lost in the stories, you won’t get lost on trail; the path is incredibly well marked, even through the towns. Not having to scramble around for directions means that you’ll have more time to enjoy all that the Path offers: if the day is hot, there are innumerable beaches inviting you to take a private dip, and coves to look in for pirate treasures; if the day is blustery, you can set yourself in a centuries-old cafe with steaming tea and fresh scones with clotted cream.
In addition to the number of charming towns, the Path is known for its nature and wildlife, making it delight for ecologists, birders, geologists, and adventurers alike. You’ll likely spot red kites, cormorants, razorbills, and maybe even a group of puffins. I almost stepped on two fat adders sunning themselves in some freshly cut grass, and spotted dozens of active badger burrows. If the season is right, keep an eye out for dolphins chasing fishing boats out to sea, especially around Mwnt, a conspicuously pyramidal-shaped hill near the mouth of Cardigan Bay.
The limestone cliffs of Cemaes Head compare to those of Moher in Ireland, and the Worm’s Head Peninsula is only short of enchanted. Also not to be missed: St David’s Cathedral, the Whiteford Point Lighthouse, and the surfers at Whitesands Beach.
Finally, the adventure sport “coasteering” – exploring the tidal “impact zone” by a combination of cliff jumping, swimming, and spelunking – was created in Wales for good reason. The coastline is rugged yet picturesque, with clear turquoise waters that you’ll absolutely want to explore.
Because the Path follows the coastline, the walking is usually not strenuous, although some sections have deep gullies to climb down and back up (with quaint wooden bridges between). It’s easy to customize your route depending on your fitness level and available time. Some sections are even wheelchair accessible, and – if there’s a part you can’t or don’t want to walk – you can hop on a bus or shuttle. The public transportation system in Wales is enviable; even the smallest of towns offer connections. Just be sure to double-check the timetables as they are often infrequent.
Towns are usually less than 10 miles apart, so food and water is always easily accessible. Most sections have hostels and guesthouses on or near the path and there are occasional opportunities for camping as well. Although most of the people I met along the way were day-hikers either living or vacationing nearby, a few, like me, were taking a week or a month to hike a section or two. To date, only a handful of individuals have completed the Path in its entirety; doing so would take 2-3 months.
I discovered the Path by chance; let’s be honest, how many people pay attention to this little sliver of Great Britain? But Wales charmed me to my core: I was moved by the people, the culture, the language, and, above all, the landscapes. I’m certain that it will do the same to you. So go ahead, treat yourself to an adventure and discover the Wales Coast Path. You, and your camera, won’t regret it.