Hidden delights of the Dales Way
Emily Thompson describes the hidden delights of the Dales Way.
Wales is known far and wide as a land of mythology, poetry, rugby and song. Among the walking community, though, these attributes aren't vaunted as much as the nation's hills, mountains, coasts and national parks, which provide a haven for walkers of all abilities.
This should come as little surprise when looking at the facts. After all, Wales has an unbroken coastal path around its 870 miles of shoreline, and a large percentage of land area covered by National Parks, with the Brecon Beacons, Pembrokeshire Coast and Snowdonia accounting for nearly 20 per cent of the entire country.
Wales offers an accessible coastline, rolling hills and miles of protected land, which makes for little wonder it's so popular among walkers. With so much to choose from, though, finding the right walk can be tough, so here are a few of our favourites.
No countdown of the best walks in Wales would be complete without the Wales Coast Path (or Llwybr Arfodir Cymru). The 870-mile walkway made history when it was opened in 2012 by making Wales the only country in the world to open an unbroken path along its entire coast. It means that anyone in Wales can enjoy a leisurely stroll along Wales's world-famous coastline, wherever they are in the country.
The Anglesey Coast Path is one of the route's crowning glories, running for 124 miles along almost the entire coastline of this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The Offa's Dyke Path dates back to the 1970s and runs along the Anglo-Welsh border from Sedbury near Chepstow to Prestatyn. Of course, walkers can traverse the route in either direction, but heading south to north is the most common option as this provides better views because of the prevailing weather, whilst also keeping the sun at walkers' backs.
Whilst the path doesn't rigidly stick to the historic Offa's Dyke (built by ruler of Murcia King Offa to protect his kingdom from Welsh "heathens), it does take in the historic mounds, along with three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and no fewer than 20 hops across the border.
Walkers looking to tackle the 176 miles will typically need to set aside between nine and 12 days to complete the challenge. If even this isn't enough, however, it can be merged with the Wales Coast Path to provide a 1,046-mile route along the entire border.
The Brecon Beacons have a number of awe-inspiring views, but few come close to the majestic beauty of the waterfall walks near Pontneddfechan. A number of routes are on offer, all of which take in the splendour of Brecon's cascades and show just how it got the nickname of 'Waterfall Country'.
One attraction which never fails to amaze is Sgwd yr Eira (Falls of Snow), which have become renowned for allowing visitors to see a side to waterfalls they normally cannot - the back. A pathway runs behind Sgwd yr Eira which enables walkers to get right behind the falls and really take in the power with which they fall. Whilst susceptible to weather conditions (the path suffered long closures between 2007 and 2008), this shouldn't put people off making the journey, as what greets them at the end is unlike any other spectacle in Britain.
If that wasn't all, the waterfall walks don't just take in the cascading falls, but also scenic jaunts through thick forestry and even the chance to explore ancient caves.
This walk is a testament to the notion that not all walks in Snowdonia involve the famed mountain. Whilst climbing the highest peak in England and Wales will certainly not disappoint, there is also much to see in the numerous walks around Beddgelert, to its south.
One of the best is a six-mile route detailed by the Snowdonia National Park which starts in Beddgelert before following the River Glaslyn through Aberglaslyn Pass, then moving on to Cwm Bychan, Llyn Dinas and the Gwynant Valley. Aside from the majestic scenery on offer with this walk, there's also the chance - right at the very beginning - to visit the grave of a dog which gave the place its name.
The story of Gelert is one that has gone down in Welsh history.
Gelert was the trusty hound of 13th Century North Wales Prince Llewelyn. One day, the prince went hunting without his dog in tow, which in itself was rather unusual. When he returned, Gelert rushed to meet Llewelyn, but had blood around his mouth and on his coat. Fearing the worst, Llewelyn then rushed to the cot of his infant son, where he saw the crib and blankets covered in blood, with the boy nowhere to be seen.
In a fit of rage, Llewelyn drew his sword and plunged it through Gelert, killing the dog instantly. At that moment, Llewelyn heard the cries of his baby son from another room. He rushed in to find the baby looking a picture of health, sat next to the body a huge and fearsome wolf, which Gelert had killed.
So the story goes, Llewelyn was so destroyed by his wrongful slaughter of his long-faithful hound that he never smiled again. He buried Gelert in a fine grave and this site remains a popular cultural spot even today.
These, of course, are just four of a seemingly infinite number of walks through the glorious Welsh countryside. With an entire coastal path, 20 per cent National Park coverage and a rich cultural heritage, there are many more walks on offer for those looking to explore Wales on foot, but these are some of our favourites.