Watch Your Step: A Guide to Walking the Famous Wales Coast Path
While studying abroad a few years ago, I had the opportunity to go with the International Students Club’s coordinator (Tony), his wife, and another international student to Wales for a lively four-day walking adventure.
I had been in love with Wales since I was fifteen and found The Welsh Fairy Book in my local library, so of course I jumped on the opportunity!
The coast of Wales is famous for its Welsh history, Hollywood film locations, and natural beauty. The path in its entirety runs 870 miles, from Queensferry in the north to Chepstow in the south. Along the way are hostels, B&Bs, pubs, and other places to stay—so some people do actually hike the whole thing in a go!
But for those of us with less time (or, ahem, stamina), it’s easy to pop on and off. Which is what I did when Tony took me to the Pembrokeshire coast.
How to Prep
As with all trips, the best way to understand and enjoy what you’re seeing is to read up on it beforehand. I mentioned before that I love Welsh fairytales and mythology, and I had read several volumes before I went. Understanding the legends of the land I walked through gave me a new appreciation for what I was seeing, and I was able to share the stories with my fellow walkers on our journey.
I also picked up a book of local history when we first arrived in Wales. Throughout the trip, I returned to this short book to discover more about the Norman invasion and the people who once lived in this part of the country. My favorite discovery was Princess Nest, the Welsh ‘Helen of Troy’ who resided in Pembroke and whose brother was one of the leading rebels against the Normans.
If you’re a bird or nature lover, do some homework to see what’s in season and keep your eyes open during the hike. Sometimes you’ll get a rare sighting!
What to Bring
The short answer is: As little and as light a pack as you can carry, unless you plan on a few chiropractor appointments when you get home!
Wear sturdy shoes and carry a rain jacket or light sweater (especially if you’re there in fall/spring—you’ll probably need something heavier for winter!). Have snacks or a small meal with you, since sometimes towns are few and far between. Bring plenty of water.
The paths are clearly marked, but you probably wouldn’t be remiss to bring an old fashioned paper map or brochure—cell signal is spotty on the coast, and you might need it to find a shortcut.
And don’t forget the camera!
What to Expect
The coast path, like the coast itself, is a winding route of hills and valleys. There are some particularly brutal ascents. You can double-check the accessibility of your hike on the official website. I have been passed by joggers going up what I would dub “Mordor stairs” (cut into the side of a cliff), so clearly some people manage just fine.
This is Wales, so weather will be changeable. Check the forecast before you go, but always treat it with a grain of salt. Raincoats will be more useful than umbrellas, because the wind is often strong enough to blow an umbrella inside-out.
In addition to rare birds and plants, you’ll also be passing plenty of sheep, and the occasional cow or pony. If you keep your eyes to the water, you can spot seals during certain times of the year. Sometimes you’ll even see the occasional puffin!
Mostly, expect to be amazed! I’m not just saying that to work in a catchy cliché. This coastline is truly awesome, in the old fashioned sense—it fills you with awe. On a stormy day, the power of Welsh weather will remind you who’s boss. On a clear, sunny day, the grass is so green and the water so blue, your eyes will almost hurt with the color.