Going Igam Ogam
That’s the Welsh for ‘zig-zagging’. Taking the roads less travelled, following your nose, and so forth. It’s the best way to unearth the secret places that lie off the main highways.
Before heading off from Abersoch, you could easily spend a few hours (or days) driving around the tip of Llŷn to explore the peninsula’s wilder, Welsher north coast. Head past Porth Neigwl's (Hell’s Mouth) four-mile (7km) beach to Aberdaron, then up the coast. You’ll pass the ‘whistling sands’ of Porth Oer (they squeak when you walk on them), a peninsular golf course (it’s like playing off the deck of an aircraft carrier), a cracking beach pub at Porthdinllaen, and a quarrying village that’s become a major Welsh language centre at Nant Gwrtheyrn.
Instead of following the Mawddach Estuary to the sea, head inland to Dolgellau, take the A470 southbound, and pick up the A487 to Minffordd. This leads down perhaps the most spectacular mountain pass in Wales, with Cader Idris above you to the right. The hills are often lined with aircraft spotters: this is the Mach Loop, where jet pilots from the RAF (and many other air forces) test their low-flying skills, often descending to 250 feet (75m). The signs to Tywyn take you back to the coast.
Devil's Bridge, Ceredigion by Wales on View
The noir TV drama Hinterland/Y Gwyll is filmed around Aberystwyth, and takes full advantage of the spookily unpopulated valleys just inland – the kind of places that you’d never find without a little local knowledge. The pilot episode used Devil's Bridge as its crime scene (actually, it’s a lovely spot which you can reach by steam train). While you’re in the area, there’s excellent walking, cycling and red kite-spotting at the Nant yr Arian forest reserve.
Bedd Arthur, Preseli hills by Wales On View
The Gwaun Valley still celebrates New Year on January 13 - it refused to join the new-fangled Gregorian calendar in 1752 - with a pint at the Dyffryn Arms, known locally as Bessie’s, after its estimable landlady, who’s been serving jugs of Bass from the barrel for 60-plus years. The surrounding Preseli Mountains are littered with prehistoric monuments like Pentre Ifan and the hillfort on Carningli (it means ‘mountain of angels’). Stonehenge’s bluestones were hewn from these hills. Nobody knows quite how they got to Wiltshire (that’s one to ponder while drinking locally-brewed Bluestone ale).
Puffins on Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire
The Coastal Way ends at St Davids, but it’s well worth crossing the Landsker Line that divides Welsh-speaking North Pembs from the Anglophone ‘down-belows’ in South Pembs. You can’t actually see the line, but you can hear it: local accents get distinctly ooh-arr as you head along St Bride’s Bay. It’s a fabulous piece of coastline, so don’t ask us to pick favourites. Druidston, Marloes, Skomer Island, Barafundle, Manorbier … and we haven’t reached the perfect harbour town of Tenby yet. Make sure you do.