Walk (More than 500 Miles) on the Wales Coast Path
The Chinese proverb says a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Though it’s 130 miles short of 1,000 miles, the Wales Coast Path is a walk to remember.
When people talk about visiting the U.K., England, Scotland, and even Northern Ireland or Ireland (which is not part of the U.K. but never mind that) are often the destinations of choice; Wales is often overlooked. But there’s no reason to skip this gem of a country as it has everything an adventurous soul could ask for: wide sweeping vistas, plenty of castles to explore, unique camping opportunities, a new language to attempt, and you can even see the largest breeding colony of puffins in Southern Britain. And though it’s convenient to rent a car or take a bus or train, there’s a unique option for those who wish to take their time and really soak up the experience.
The Wales Coast Path, which opened in its entirety in 2012, became the longest continuous path along a nation’s coastline at the time. Connecting several established coastal paths, this wild and rugged trail path is 870 miles (1,400 km) long and hugs the cliffs and beaches of this western edge of Britain. Walking, hiking, or trekking an established path is becoming a popular bucket list item for travelers. Those with planning skills and several weeks may choose to tackle the entire path, but if your vacation days are limited, spending a few days or even a few hours on the Wales Coast Path is a fantastic way to stretch your legs, enjoy the view, and get a taste of Wales.
Where to Walk Along the Coast Path
With 870 miles to choose from, there are plenty of sections of the Coast Path to choose from, each with its own highlights. It’s truly difficult to pick just one best part of this coastal path through Wales!
The southern portion of the path takes walkers through three of Wales' largest cities (Cardiff Bay is right on the path!) but also includes magnificent views of the Severn estuary and Glamorgan's heritage coast, chock full of golden beaches and coves. Wander the Pembrokeshire section and you’ll see wildlife like puffins and shearwaters, as well as the unique creatures that live in rock pools in Wales’ only Marine Nature Reserve.
The North Wales coastal path passes over beaches, past castles, and through charming seaside towns—you’ll also have a chance to practice your Welsh. And, for unique bragging rights, you can hike around the entire island of Anglesey. These are just a few of the sections but wanderers can truly just head to the water and pick up the path.
Travel Tip: As with any sort of road or path, sometimes maintenance is necessary. Before you set off, be sure to check the list of temporary diversions so that you’re not thrown for a loop with a change.
What to Pack for Your Coastal Walk
When your plans include outdoor excursions, it’s important to be prepared for the elements. Wales enjoys much the same weather as the rest of Britain (i.e., it can be gray and damp) but the coastal path also offers up winds from the water. Layers are the way to go: Start with lightweight, breathable fabrics and build up from there—you’ll be adding and shedding layers frequently. A lightweight rain jacket is helpful for drizzle as an umbrella is mostly impractical; a warm beanie and gloves don’t take up much room and can be lifesavers when temps drop. Comfortable walking shoes are a must.
For those setting off on a day trek along a part of the Wales Coast Path, a small day pack is your best bet for carrying various layers of clothing, snacks, plenty of water, and a map. More of a minimalist? If you plan your stops correctly, you could even set off with just a waist pack. The coastal path is well marked but some of the towns are located further inland so if you’re looking to stop for lunch or a snack a map can be helpful to find your next pit stop.
If you’re tackling a larger section of the coastal path, you’ll need a larger (yet comfortable) backpack to carry provisions and camping gear if you choose to lay your head in one of the campsites that dot the path. Camping is not necessary though: There are plenty of bed and breakfasts and other lodging options for multi-day hikes.
Travel Tip: Hiking poles can be a welcome luxury on a multi-day hike. Lightweight and easily compacted for traveling, these poles not only help relieve the strain on joints but can also help you keep your balance on some of the wild and wooly terrain. Most of this path is not paved.
How to Plan Your Coastal Walk
As with most travel plans these days, the internet is a wealth of information on how to best plan your Wales Coast Path trip. In addition to maps and suggestions, this site also includes first-hand accounts from folks who have trekked the various sections and even the entirety of the path. Choose your ideal destination, make plans for proper provisions and protective clothing, and then be prepared for things to change. You might find a charming village where you want to stay for a few days; a bus ride to cut down some of the mileage might be just the thing for weary travelers. There’s no wrong way to explore this path. After all, half of the fun is when the unexpected occurs.
Travel Tip: If you’re looking for the most favorable weather for hiking in Wales, summer is your best bet. However, it can get a bit more crowded. Spring and fall are also lovely times of the year, but winter is best avoided.
By Katie Coakley on November 5, 2020
Katie Coakley is a Colorado-based freelance writer who writes about travel, craft beer, and outdoor adventures. The Coronavirus may have kept her state-side but she’s still traveling safely. See more of her work on her website or follow her on Instagram: @katie_on_the_map.