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A Castle Tour of Wales
Wales Has It All

Plan Your Route According to Your Interests

Part of the appeal of Wales is its variety. If you want challenge, it's there in the high mountains; if you want something easier, then stroll through mysterious moorland or along sandy beaches. Or you can plan your route according to your interests: historic villages, pubs, ruins, or prehistoric sites.

Of the four areas in Wales most popular for walkers, three-Snowdonia, Brecon Beacons, and Pembrokeshire-are national parks. The other trail, Offa's Dyke, weaves in and out of Wales along its border with England following the ancient earth dikes and ditches constructed by Offa, King of Mercia, in 784.

Mountainous Snowdonia National Park in northwest Wales (838 square miles), with its Roman forts and medieval castles, is a favored destination for walkers. The Snowdon Mountain Railway runs the peak of Mt. Snowdon (3,560 feet). Walkers can take the footpath to the summit and the narrow gauge rack-and-pinion railway for the return journey. The beginning of the footpath and the railway is at Llanberis. Less strenuous is the ascent to the eastern summit of Yr Eifl (1,000 feet) to view the ramparts and hut circles of an Iron Age village.

Mid-Wales and Brecon Beacons National Park is a land of high moors, plateaus, and forests crisscrossed with trails. The old drovers' road from Tregaron to Abergwesyn has dramatic views of the mountains and valleys at every turn along the way. A youth hostel is in a deep valley off the road.

The southern area of the park is particularly noted for waterfalls, caves, and gorges where water has eroded the limestone, creating surprises around every corner for walkers. One walk starts at the Porth yr Ogof showcave and traverses woodlands, streams, and riverbanks. Try the areas of the Mellte, Hepste, and Neath rivers for spectacular falls. More than 30 stone circles dot the landscape.

Castle lovers can follow the Carreg Cennen Walk, located near the western edge of Brecon Beacons Park. This 4-mile-long trail starts near Carreg Cennen Castle-sitting atop a steep 850-foot hill-and descends into the Cennen valley where it follows the River Cennen. According to legend, the Welsh hero Owan Lawgoch and his group of 51 men sleep in a cavern on the bank of the river waiting to fight for their country's independence.

If you want a more strenuous walk, try the 18-mile Three Castles Walk, a circular route that starts at Skenrith Castle, passes through rolling countryside to White Castle (seven miles), then six miles further on reaches the ruins of another castle in the village of Grosmont-a tiny, friendly village. The Black Mountains form part of the scenic backdrop.

In south and west Wales, the Pembrokeshire Coast Path's 180-mile route starts near Tenby and traverses a variety of terrains-dramatic clifftops, isolated beaches, far-reaching seascapes, and wide-open views as well as man-made features-small villages, seaside towns, and castle ruins-until its end near Cardigan. The entire route includes 35,000 feet of ascent and descent, quite a challenge for even the most experienced walkers.

Each spring, when flowers are in bloom and seabirds nest, the National Park leads a 2-week long guided walk of the Coast Path. Other guided walks along sections of the coast path are provided throughout the year. The islands of Skomer (boat trips available), Grasholm, and Skokholm are all bird sanctuaries. Nearby Ramsey Island sports a large gray seal population.

Carew Castle, set beside the tidal flats near Milford Haven, even has its own restored (not working) tidal mill. At the small whitewashed village of Dale you can experience what meteorologists say is the windiest place in Wales. Strumble Head, with its lighthouse, provides unrivaled views over the water. Stop in the tidy little town of Newport for supplies.

A hike into the Preseli Hills section of the National Park reveals unending views of Pembrokeshire and its coast, a feast for the eyes. This area of high, bleak hills was once the home of the ancient Celts. One of Wales' better known burial chambers, Pentre Ifan, dominates one hilltop. Other ancient burial sites are scattered in the hills along with sheep and the occasional farmhouse.

Offa's Dyke Path is one of 12 designated British National Trails. The Offa's Dyke Heritage Centre in the town of Knighton offers books and maps on the route as well as an audiovisual presentation on the history of the Dyke. The trail runs approximately 170 miles from Chepstow to Prestatyn along the Welsh-English border. The path crosses farming land covered with the ubiquitous sheep of Wales. The mists here, like on other trails in Wales, can come down quickly, creating a dangerous situation. It's always best to carry a compass.

There are sheltering villages and pubs all along the way. Iron Age forts, abbey ruins, and castles co-mingle with peaceful country views. Allow time for a stop in Hay-on-Wye, a town noted for its numerous secondhand bookstores. The atmospheric ruins of Tintern Abbey, are well worth a detour. The path crosses the village of Llangollen clustered around the River Dee. Take a canal boat ride if you have the time.

Trip Planning Info

Trains

The First Great Western train, which leaves every hour from London's Paddington Station, crosses southwest Wales to the west coast, with stops along the way. First North Western, Wales & West, Virgin CrossCountry, Virgin West Coast and Central Trains go to other parts of Wales.

Web Sites

British Tourist Authority: www.travelbritain.org; Wales Tourism: www.visitwales.com.

Information Centers

Tourism and Leisure Services, Pembrokeshire County Council, 19 Old Bridge, Haverfordia House, Winch Ln., Haverfordwest, Wales, U.K. SA61 2DN; 011-44-1437-763-330, fax 011-44-1437-766-008; www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk;

North Wales Tourism, 77 Conway Rd., Colwyn Bay, LL29 7LN, Wales, U.K.; 011-44-1492-531731, fax 011-44-1492-530059; croeso@nwt.co.uk.

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, County Offices, St. Thomas Green, Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, Wales, U.K. SA61 1QZ; 011-44-1437-764-6366; www.pembrokeshirecoast.org.uk includes information, maps and weather.

Offa's Dyke Centre, West St., Knighton, Powys, Wales, U.K. LD7 1EN; 011-44-1547-528753; www.offas-dyke.co.uk.

To order maps and go on a virtual tours of Wales, see www.britainexpress.com/wales/tour/index.htm.

Brecon Beacons National Park, 7 Glamorgan St., Brecon, Powys, LD3 7DP, Wales, U.K.; 011-44-1874-624437, fax 011-44-1874-622574; enquiries@breconbeacons.org, www.breconbeacons.org.

Snowdonia National Park: www.snowdonia-wales.net.

For a complete list of books and maps and where they can be purchased, contact the Wales Tourist Board, Brunel House, 2 Fitzaan Rd., Cardiff, CF24 OUY. A number of tour operators run walking holidays. Information is available from local Tourist Information Centers.

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