The best of the West and Wales (2023)

Jonathan Manning hugs the coastline of the Bristol Channel on a seven-site tour which samples the very best of North Somerset and the Gower Peninsula, including magnificent beaches, wild moorland and historic castles.

By Jonathan Manning | 23 December 2019

The best of the West and Wales (1)Anna Stowe/Alamy

Daybreak, day one, and with keener eyes and better weather I would be able to see the final destination of this tour around the Bristol Channel. As the gull flies, it’s barely 40 miles across the brine to the Gower Peninsula in south Wales, but by road it’s 150 miles from my current vantage point. That is Selworthy Beacon, high on Exmoor and a thigh-burning climb from Minehead.

Out across the channel all I can see are grey waves, grey sky and a drab, grey coastline. Inland, Exmoor tumbles away in a cascade of contours. Thick-coated ponies snort steam into the dawn air as they graze. It’s tempting to head away from the sea towards the warmth and comfort of villages but there’s a centrifugal force to this tour that will keep pushing me out to the coastline and the tidal waters of the River Severn.

I follow the path downhill, through gorse and woodland, until I reach Minehead’s attractive Higher Town. Narrow streets with characterful houses cling to the slope. Eventually, I reach the sea wall and pass a striking metal statue of a pair of hands holding a map which marks the start of the South West Coast Path. The trail hugs the coast for 630 miles, from here in Somerset all the way around the tip of Cornwall to Poole Harbour in Dorset. My journey, however, takes me east.

Minehead Club site is pretty and private, its pockets of pitches spread between trees. There’s no circuit road here, which adds to the calm in the cul-de-sacs.There is a mesmerising array of local attractions and events to enjoy close to the site. In October Exmoor hosts a three-week Dark Skies Festival for stargazers, while during the daytime walkers can explore the national park, with highlights including the stone slab river crossing of Tarr Steps or the high point of Dunkery Beacon.

Go to Minehead Club site

For campers who would rather let the train take the strain, the steam engines of the West Somerset Railway huff and puff their way for 20 miles down the longest heritage line in Britain, from Minehead to Bishops Lydeard.The first stop is Dunster station, from which a 20-minute uphill stroll leads to the gorgeous medieval village of Dunster. An ancient, open-sided ‘yarn market’ marks the start of a high street, where a film set-worthy array of shops, tea rooms and pubs line the wayside.

The best of the West and Wales (2) Aitken

At the top of the high street a road leads into the grounds of Dunster Castle, a magnificent National Trust property perched above broadleaf woodland. The views of the castle are splendid, while the panorama from inside looking out across the parkland to the coast is even more spectacular.

My next stop is Langlands Farm, a new Certificated Location (CL) that opened last September. Owner Geoffrey Barnett has been caravanning for more than 30 years and knows exactly what tourers want; a long, wide driveway to let new arrivals get off the road immediately, electric hook-ups, fresh water, grey water and waste disposal.

Go to Langlands Farm CL

The best of the West and Wales (3)VisitBritain/Jason Hawkes

From the site you can see Glastonbury Tor in the distance. There are 301 well-made steps to the top and from the summit it’s easy to see why so many people make the effort to scale them – the views over Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire from the foot of the 14th-century St Michael’s Tower are spellbinding.

Long-reaching vistas are available near my next stop, too: the vast, seven-mile stretch of dog-friendly beach at Berrow is just a 10-minute walk through the dunes from Hurn Lane Club site.

Go to Hurn Lane Club site

This is a lovely, family-friendly place, with a play park and basketball cage. Just down the road, squeals of excitement rise from the roller coasters and log flumes of Brean Leisure Park, while to the west the epic promenade of Burnham-on-Sea stretches along the Bristol Channel, offering mile after mile of smooth, traffic-free path for buggies and wheelchairs with views to south Wales.

Twice a day the sands are covered in a fast-advancing tide – the River Severn has the world’s second greatest rise and fall of tide – creating currents that restrict safe swimming, so please check local information sources for advice.

The best of the West and Wales (4)Loop Images Ltd/Alamy

The Grade I-listed Victorian pier at Clevedon, a few miles to the north, was once described as the “most beautiful” in England by Sir John Betjeman and with a golden sunset tumbling beyond the slender, elegant structure it’s hard to argue with the former poet laureate.

Barely 15 minutes’ drive in-land, Orchard Bank CL is tucked up a quiet lane next to some stables. The site is exceptionally well-equipped, with wide hardstanding pitches, electrics, water and Wi-Fi. A walk from the site to Cadbury Hill Fort serves up sweeping vistas over the local area, including Congresbury where there’s a fine selection of places to eat, while Bristol and Bath are within easy reach.

Go to Orchard Bank CL

Heading north along the M5 then west on the M4, I soon pass ‘Croeso i Gymru’ signs, and wind down the steadies at Tredegar House Country Park Club site on the outskirts of Newport. The site’s ‘dog walk’ is in the 90 acres of parkland that surround Tredegar House, a National Trust property that was still family-owned into the 1940s, giving the interior the upstairs-downstairs feel of a Downton Abbey.

It’s the proximity of Cardiff that largely account for the site’s high, year-round occupancy rate. “The bus from the site to the city costs just £3.70 return,” says site staffer Dave Moore. In addition to all the concerts, football matches and rugby events that take place in Cardiff, he reels off a list of attractions that includes the striking Senedd building of the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff Bay, the amazing St Fagans National Museum of History (a walk-through village of recreated buildings from different eras) and the Big Pit National Coal Museum, which commemorates the country’s mining heritage.

Go to Tredegar House Country Park Club site

Heading west to Swansea it’s great to see the celebration and preservation of mechanical machinery in the city’s free National Waterfront Museum. Behind the museum, yachts bob at Swansea Marina. I turn my back on the sea for a mini-pilgrimage to the birthplace of poet and national icon Dylan Thomas. The home where he was born and lived for 23 years turns out to be an unremarkable semi-detached house high in Swansea’s suburbs.

The best of the West and Wales (5)Swansea Council

It takes just a quarter of an hour to drive from Swansea to Gowerton Club site, where the ‘Teletubbies Hill’ by the entrance provides the perfect vantage point for dreamy sunsets across the estuary of the River Lliw. It is conveniently located for any camper who wants to park up and leave their vehicle, with an old railway line providing a traffic-free cycle route to Swansea (and on to the Mumbles), and a new railway line that whisks people to Cardiff in just 40 minutes.

Go to Gowerton Club site

Hopping behind the wheel, however, I follow the recommendation of site staffers Corinne and Darren Fisher and head to a new ice-cream parlour in Penclawdd – GG’s is doing a roaring trade despite the nip in the breeze. The parlour is set next to a pub and a fish and chip shop, so all essentials are covered, and there’s even a pharmacy next door for anyone who over indulges.

There are plenty of opportunities to walk it all off at the final stop of this tour, just to the west at Nant-y-Wrach Farm CL. Located on the edge of a salt marsh, where ponies graze freely, this is a blissful haven for birdwatchers.Beyond the extensive walks from the gate, the Gower boasts three of the finest beaches in Britain at Three Cliffs Bay, Oxwich and Rhossili Bay. I opt for Rhossili, where Lloyds Bank’s black horses galloped, and it exceeds my every expectation.

The best of the West and Wales (6)Swansea Council

Go to Nant-y-Wrach Farm CL

At one end of the beach, the peninsula of Worms Head snakes its way into Carmarthen Bay, a curled bracket around a mind-blowing three miles of flawless sand and breaking waves, flanked by a steeply-raked grassy cliff. A five-mile circular walk along Rhossili Down and back across the sand turns out to be the highlight of this outstanding tour. I’ve inadvertently saved the best to last!


Why is Wales so important? ›

Famed for its strikingly rugged landscape, the small nation of Wales—which comprises six distinctive regions—was one of Celtic Europe's most prominent political and cultural centres, and it retains aspects of culture that are markedly different from those of its English neighbours.

What does Wales have more with a total of 600? ›

With a total of 600, Wales has more castles per square mile than any other country in the world! Rugby is the national sport in Wales and the national team play their home games at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. The Welsh National Anthem is called Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau which means 'Old Land of My Fathers'.

What is more than just words? ›

The aim of More than just words is to provide a greater level of recognition among service providers that the use of Welsh language is not just a matter of choice but also a matter of need for many people. Service providers therefore have a responsibility to meet these needs.

Why did the Welsh government create the more than just words? ›

What is more than just words? 'More than just words' is the Welsh Government's Strategic Framework for the Welsh Language in Health and Social Care. Its aim is: to ensure that the language needs of Welsh speakers are met.

Why is Wales so beautiful? ›

Rolling hills

The hills and meadows of Wales are indeed green and plentiful, providing acres of beautiful scenery to discover. These vast stretches of untouched countryside are particularly impressive in areas surrounded by towering mountains, creating dramatic juxtapositions on the horizon.

What percentage of Wales is white? ›

On Census Day, 21 March 2021, 2.9 million usual residents in Wales identified within the high-level ethnic group category “White” (93.8% of the population, compared to 95.6% in 2011). 90.6% of the population identified as “White: Welsh, English, Scottish, Northern Irish or British” in 2021.

What is Wales main source of income? ›

Services. Financial and business services, government (including education and health services), hotels, restaurants, and trade account for more than half of the GDP and nearly two-thirds of employment in Wales. Most services are concentrated in Cardiff and other urban areas.

What is a bigger word for but? ›

While yet is an easy substitution for but to mean contrast, it isn't the only option. Some other useful words and phrases that can fill in this role include: • although, despite, however, nevertheless, nonetheless, notwithstanding, still, though, even though, on the other hand.

What's the longest word without a value? ›

The longest non-technical word in major dictionaries is floccinaucinihilipilification at 29 letters. Consisting of a series of Latin words meaning "nothing" and defined as "the act of estimating something as worthless"; its usage has been recorded as far back as 1741.

What is bigger than words? ›

In this expression, actions are more important than words. Or rather, what someone does has more value than what someone says.

Why did the Welsh not like the English? ›

Concerns over the decline of the Welsh language and its historical proscription have contributed to anti-English sentiment in Wales.

Why did Wales stop speaking Welsh? ›

During mediaeval times, the Welsh language flourished. But following Henry VIII's Act of Union, its use was banned and its official status removed. The Welsh language was replaced by English, at least on official matters, and oral traditions that had survived centuries were lost.

Why doesn t everyone in Wales speak Welsh? ›

Over the years, due to industrialisation, migration, and wars, Welsh had been progressively declining until the end of the 20th century when its position was stabilised thanks to education and legal reforms. One of the most interesting facts is that it's spoken as a first language in Wales, parts of England, and…

Why is Wales so important to England? ›

Since 1301 the heir to the English throne has carried the title Prince of Wales. Wales was incorporated with England in the reign of Henry VIII. It became a leading international coal-mining centre during the 19th century.

Why is Wales important to royal family? ›

The British Monarchy has a long and complex relationship with the Welsh nation. Kings have been born here, and Queens have enjoyed our hospitality and natural beauty.

What is Wales the best at in the world? ›

What Is Wales Famous For? Wales is known for its rich culture, lovely countryside, stunning coastal areas, and amazing adventures. It is also known for its heritage sites, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Blaenavon Industrial Landscape and Castles such as Conwy Castle and Caernarfon Castle.

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