Glamorgan Heritage Coast lighthouse walk
Glamorgan Heritage Coast stretches for 14 miles along the South Wales coast. Starting at Ogmore by Sea, to St Athan in the east, following the Wales coastal path.
Visitors to South Wales have long held the historic county of Glamorgan in high regard. Twinning the urban centres of Cardiff and Swansea with the world-famous green, green grass of rural Wales, there is certainly plenty on offer. So what exactly should visitors to this famed part of the world do on their breaks?
Before that, a definition
Wales' geographical landscape has changed in recent decades. The historic counties of old were replaced most recently in 1996 by 22 new principal areas, one of which being the Vale of Glamorgan. This was markedly smaller than the Glamorgan of old, running only from Ogmore-by-Sea in the west to Penarth in the east; from Rhoose in the south up as far as the M4. For this article, though, we'll be casting our minds back to the administrative map of the 1940s, the more traditional view of Glamorgan, which covers Cardiff, the Gower, Pontardawe, Gelligaer and everything in between.
With an area outlined, we can now focus on the veritable array of things to do when visiting the area.
The Gower Peninsula tops countless lists when it comes to the best places to visit in Wales (if not Britain or even the world). In fact, the peninsula's Rhossili Bay was recently announced the best beach in Britain and third best in Europe, beating the likes of Woolacombke, Perranporth, Fistral and Sandbanks, as well as countless others around Spain, Italy and Greece.
Thanks to the Wales Coast Path, the first of its kind on earth, visitors can enjoy all the Gower has to offer from the waymarked path running around its entire perimeter. For those who prefer getting involved to watching from the sidelines, the peninsula's numerous beaches are great surf spots. Though idyllic in summer, the area's waters are cold and unforgiving in winter, so visitors will most definitely want to invest in some heavy duty kit before strapping on their leashes
It might just be a few miles from the more tourist-friendly resort of Porthcawl, but Ogmore-by-Sea certainly has more to offer the discerning, geographically-minded visitors. Famous across South Wales for its rolling sand dunes, many a school trip has been organised to Merthyr Mawr so pupils can see the quickly changing landscape from arid beach at the coast to dense scrub more inland. Even at its busiest periods, visitors should be able to find some peace and quiet, as Merthyr Mawr is one of the largest group of sand dunes in Europe, meaning visiting groups are suitably spread out. Film fans may also recognise the area as a key location for the filming of bank holiday favourite Lawrence of Arabia.
Whilst not as rural as some of the other locations on this list, the historic city of Cardiff is a must-visit for anyone heading to Glamorgan. Though only the Welsh capital since 1955, Cardiff has grown in strength and stature over the intervening years to become the cultural and economic hub it is today. Many visitors to Cardiff know little beyond the Millennium Stadium and surrounding bars - but there is certainly more to the city than that.
Bute Park, which spans some 56 hectares, runs from Gabalfa down alongside the River Taff to Cardiff Castle. Within its boundaries are three cafés, an education centre and a nationally significant tree collection. Cardiff's green space doesn't start and end at Bute Park, though, as the green space continues up through North Cardiff via Llandaff Meadow and Hailey Park. This means you can walk a linear route of around 7km without even leaving the parks. Towards the end, if you're willing to cross just a couple of roads and you can extend this to more than 9km, reaching Morganstown via the Long Wood Nature Reserve.
After all that walking, of course, you'll need some refreshment. Thankfully, Cardiff Bay's coffee culture is thriving, whilst there are countless independents scattered around Cardiff's famous arcades in which to rest and recuperate.
Though they may not be atop many must-visit location guides, there is no denying the history and culture of the South Wales valleys; once the epicentre of the Welsh mining industry. Arguably the most famous of Wales' mining valleys is the Rhondda, some 20 miles north west of Cardiff.
Making up part of the southern coalfield of Wales (the largest continuous one of its kind in Britain), Rhondda has a proud mining heritage, one that is still evident to this day. Visitors making their way up the valley past Trehafod, for example, will pass the Rhondda Heritage Park, with its red winding wheels still standing as a proud landmark of an industry now almost obliterated. Around the site, visitors can also stop in at a period village reconstruction or even take a guided underground tour, led by ex-miners who knew first-hand what the work involved.
The Park also hosts a number of events scheduled throughout the year, from talks and film screenings to local history days and family-friendly activities during school holidays.
Glamorgan - whether you look at the principal or administrative area - certainly has plenty to offer visitors, it's just a case of getting out and exploring it.
Top image and thumbnail from Geograph Project: Copyright Gareth James and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence