Returning to Wales – what I loved Part I

posted in: South Wales, Wales | 4

We recently travelled to Wales for a two-week holiday. Ours was a momentous trip in as much as it was the first time Harri has returned to the land of our fathers since we moved lock, stock and barrel to Portugal in November 2018.

For this reason, we decided to treat this visit as a proper holiday. We booked a delightful two-bedroom cottage (Glebe Farm Cottage) with good road links to both Newport and Cwmbran, and hired a car so we could get around without relying on lifts. The weather was … well exactly what you’d expect in Wales in late May/early June – extremely changeable. While we managed to get out walking most days, we did have two days of rain.

Glebe Farm Cottage was idyllic (with a ski slope access lane)

Harri planned our hikes in Wales around our old haunts. There was the first walk we ever did together as work colleagues (when I struggled with an appalling lack of fitness), the one where we decided to take a chance on our relationship, the climb up our local mountain Mynydd Machen followed by a drink in the village pub at Rhiwderin, plus the yomp in the Black Mountains when we revisited the wonky church at Cwmyoy. It was wonderful, all of it, and a poignant reminder of everything we left behind to move to Portugal. I think we had forgotten quite how green Wales is in early summer compared to the Algarve (where we live on the coast). It seemed that every road, even the motorway, was lined with beautiful trees and vegetation of all hues of green.

There’s only one word to describe the Welsh countryside … GREEN!

Hiking in South Wales is very different to hiking in the Algarve. For a start, Wales is a lot tougher in terms of gradient and terrain, but there is also a lot more to contend with on the ground, as in uneven terrain, field boundaries, stiles and bogs. And don’t even get me started on bulls!

Now we’re back, I thought it would be fun to put together a list of what I love about hiking in Wales – and what I hate.

This first post highlights the positives. So in no particular order, these are some of the things I love most about hiking in my beautiful home country.


Okay, so having said the hiking back home is much tougher, one thing that helps tremendously is the abundance of shade. Whether it’s walking through forests or in sunken lanes, there are plenty of opportunities to avoid the full glare of the sun (the clouds also help!). We loved meandering along the trails under towering pine trees and marvelled at the huge intricate trunks of the beech in community woodlands like Blaen Bran. Of course, most Welsh hikers tend to view tree cover as a place to get out of the rain rather than the sun!


Finding shady footpaths was never an issue in South Wales

Rope swings

What can be more fun than swinging back and forth on a rope swing? Okay, so it involves clinging for dear life to a dangling rope while your buttocks balance painfully on a 30cm branch, but come on, haven’t we all risked life and limb for the sheer joy of feeling like a child again? We encountered this one in the woods close to Llandegfodd Reservoir, a stone’s throw from our cottage (with just a bull, a flooded lane and an abundance of brambles between our ‘home’ and the reservoir).

A rope swing awakens the child in all of us


Talking of reservoirs (although Llandegfodd seems to have been redefined as a lake), it was nice to see one that was full of water. The Algarve is known as a ‘drought prone’ region which means water levels can often be frighteningly low in local reservoirs. When we walked the Via Algarviana in 2015, the route followed the Barragem do Funcho for several miles. Nine years later, that same reservoir looks very different to when I photographed the glittering blue waters, with some of its ‘arms’ now water-free and accessible to hikers. There are much bigger reservoirs in Wales, of course, but Llandegfodd was our local one and it was good to see it looking so full.


Beautiful Llandegfodd Reservoir was just a stone’s throw from our cottage

Sunken lanes

While there are plenty of historic lanes throughout the Algarve, the region does not really have the climate required for the formation of sunken lanes, i.e. wet and soggy. To anyone who has never walked along one of these geological wonders, you are missing a treat. Stepping into one of these ancient paths, with the steep, earthy banks and huge exposed tree trunks on either side, evokes a real sense of awe. Just a word of warning: these moss-covered, stony thoroughfares often transform into gushing streams after heavy rain.


Sunken lanes are just magical albeit a bit wet underfoot at times

Old graveyards

I love graveyards, in part because they featured heavily in Buffy the Vampire Slayer but also because I find it strangely life-affirming to wander around reading the old headstones. It’s difficult to grasp that the people lying in those graves were once as alive as you and me, and a stark reminder that our time on this earth is short. Sadly, the ravages of time have left many of the eighteenth and nineteenth-century stone headstones leaning precariously with their inscriptions barely legible. Harri and I often enjoy our picnic lunch in graveyards – there is usually somewhere to sit and, of course, they are remarkably peaceful.

The old graveyard at Cwmyoy made a perfect picnic spot

Randomly placed benches

Which brings me onto benches. For years, Harri and I were obsessed with benches – I even wrote a blog about them. We could never understand the decision-making process behind the placing of so many of them. We have encountered benches facing military fencing, benches with ‘views’ of overgrown vegetation and benches which simply have no seats (just the ends). You can go mile after mile without passing a single bench and then there will be rows of them in a location where nobody wants to stop. It’s bizarre! Back in Wales, we had fun spotting more of these purportedly functional pieces of outdoor furniture which were anything but.

Another empty bench in a random location

Quirky cafes

Okay, there are plenty of great cafes in the Algarve, however most are traditional, i.e. located in buildings. I loved this unusual one in Bute Park, Cardiff.

What a lovely little cafe this is – though you’ll be hard-pushed to find a seat


I know Portugal has some notable viaducts (though the only one we’ve seen is Viaducto Duarte Pacheco in Lisbon), however our Welsh viaducts tend to be smaller and more accessible. Sadly, you can no longer walk across this one near Machen, but you can walk through one of its arches. There is a short three-mile trail which passes this way – the Machen Forge Trail.

Harri at the viaduct near Machen

Walking with family

It goes without saying that the main purpose of our trip was to spend time with our lovely families, so it was great when my daughter and granddaughter joined us on a long, flat hike from Monmouth to Symonds Yat and back. Sadly, we didn’t climb to the rock on this occasion, simply because it started to rain and none of us could ‘symond’ up the energy for all that climbing.

Imogen and Harri crossing the River Wye on Biblins Bridge


There is so much to love about our little piece of Wales that sometimes I can’t believe we left it all behind. For that reason, I’m going to leave this blog here and write a Part 2.

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4 Responses

  1. Ruth

    Lovely to read your account of walking somewhere different, but also familiar. Wales is beautiful and the rain is the price we have to pay for its greeness. I love sunken lanes too.

    • Tracy

      Hi Ruth, how lovely to hear from you after all this time. I hope life is treating you well. I’m delighted you enjoyed my post. It was hilarious at first. We were like Bridget Jones in that scene where she’s eaten the magic mushrooms, i.e. ‘Ooo, the colours.’ The height and colour of the trees everywhere we went was incredible. So beautiful.