The Cambrian Way
This spectacular route runs from south to north through the heart of the country, mainly following the A470. This five day itinerary begins in our capital city Cardiff and finishes in the Victorian seaside resort of Llandudno.
Day one (about 37 miles/60km)
Start in Cardiff. Just 20 minutes away there’s an unusual visitor attraction that’s all about making money – in the hands-on literal sense. The Royal Mint at Llantrisant recently opened its doors to reveal all about coins, how they are made, and why they make the world go around (The Mint supplies coins to 100 countries worldwide).
You’re soon in the South Wales Valleys. The Rhondda Heritage Park’s Black Gold Experience near Pontypridd recalls the days when the ‘home of coal’ fuelled the Industrial Revolution. Guided underground tours and interactive displays at the former Lewis Merthyr Colliery re-create the harsh, heroic world of the Welsh miner.
Iron, not coal, was the industry of choice at Merthyr Tydfil. Cyfarthfa Castle, a 19th-century mansion built by an all-powerful ironmaster, is now a museum and art gallery with diverse collections that include a replica of the world’s first steam locomotive and the work of two Merthyr-born fashion icons, Laura Ashley and Julien McDonald.
Overnight: Merthyr Tydfil
Day two (about 56 miles/90km)
A day devoted to exploring the Brecon Beacons National Park and the huge tracts of land cared for by the National Trust.
Explore the Beacons the easy way on the narrow-gauge Brecon Mountain Railway. Restored steam locomotives run from Merthyr’s northern outskirts to the foothills of South Wales’ highest summits, a return journey of 9 miles/14km.
Drive north, taking a short detour off the A470 at Libanus for the Brecon Beacons National Park Visitor Centre (panoramic views, exhilarating walks, local information and a tasty tea room).
The Beacons’ wide, open spaces are made for horse riding and pony trekking. Cantref Adventure Farm near Brecon offers a variety of treks, including a half-day Brecon Beacons Explorer.
Overnight: Llandrindod Wells
Day three (about 66 miles/106km)
Welsh Royal Crystal at Rhayader is Wales’ only hand-crafted crystal glass maker. See master craftsmen demonstrating their centuries-old skills on a workshop tour before visiting the shop, stocked with crystal pieces all individually mouth-blown and hand-cut.
Rhayader is on the doorstep of the Elan Valley lakes, a string of reservoirs created over 100 years ago. Call in at the Elan Valley Visitor Centre before following the scenic mountain road that threads through these lovely lakelands. You don’t have to drive to experience them. The centre provides bike hire and walking information.
You’re a little way off the A470 now, but it’s worth the detour. The snaking Cwmystwyth mountain road takes you to Devil’s Bridge. But where the devil is the bridge? The legendary medieval ‘Bridge of the Evil Man’ is hidden away in a deep, wooded gorge, accessible by a steep footpath.
If you’re here in late July don’t miss the Royal Welsh Show at Builth Wells. It’s Europe’s biggest, most colourful countryside jamboree.
Day four (about 61 miles/98km)
Shopping is made easy at Corris Craft Centre on the A487 north of Machynlleth. Its nine craft studios specialise in everything from jewellery to pottery, handmade chocolates to exceptional artisan gin (‘Best in the UK’: Great British Food Awards 2017).
Rejoin the A470 at Cross Foxes (its welcoming bar and grill is a modern take on the traditional coaching inn). Beyond Dolgellau, forest gives way to open, rugged moorland and mountain. At Trawsfynydd there’s a poignant memorial to Wales’ World War One poet, Hedd Wynn, who was killed in the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917. He died before knowing he’d won the greatest prize in Welsh literature, the National Eisteddfod Chair. You can see his ‘Black Chair’ at Yr Ysgwrn, his renovated farmstead, along with other memorabilia.
Another detour off the A470 takes you to Plas Brondanw Gardens near the village of Garreg. Along with Italianate Portmeirion the gardens were the creation of Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. His talent for working with landscape reached a high point here, ‘drawing its beauties into the heart of the garden’.
Day five (about 21 miles/34km)
Llanrwst, the historic ‘capital’ of the Conwy Valley, was once the domain of the influential Wynn family. Their ancestral home, Gwydir Castle, is a grand Tudor courtyard mansion with a palpable period atmosphere – and, apparently, quite a few ghosts.
Looking for some more gifts from Wales to take home? Then stop off at Trefriw Woollen Mills, a long-established working mill that manufactures Welsh tapestries and tweeds. Visit the mill museum before browsing the well-stocked shop.
Next, an unlikely new arrival in the Conwy Valley: the world’s first inland surfing lagoon. Surf Snowdonia is no novelty. It’s a big lagoon (around 1,000ft/300m long) with big waves that – unlike sea surf – are guaranteed to arrive, and keep on coming.
Finish your tour at Llandudno, our largest resort.