Help us do Wales right.
June 1, 2011 3:52 PM   Subscribe

A friend and I are planning a trip to Wales (we're both in the UK). The only thing she really wants to do is go to Snowdonia and do a bit of hiking, and the only thing I really want to do is go to Milford Haven, the town where my grandmother grew up. We also might want to visit a castle. How can we do this, without a car?

So, we're planning this trip for next weekend-ish (around the 10th through the 14th). Right now, my rough plan is for us to take the train from London to Milford Haven, where a family friend can put us up for a night and show me around the town a bit. We also have a friend who has done a bit of hiking in Snowdonia and who can give us some advice for the actual hiking portion of that leg of the trip.

My main question is how to get from Milford Haven to Snowdonia using buses and trains- I found this site, which has a really good journey planner, but I'm not really sure what town in Snowdonia will give us the best access to hiking. We're planning tentatively on doing the easy version of the hike outlined here. We both have a bit of hiking experience and are in pretty good shape.

I also kind of want to see a Welsh castle while we're there. The older, the better, and I'd kind of prefer a semi-ruin you can explore rather than one that's been updated and added to over the centuries to the point that it's more like a country house. This could be close to either Milford Haven or Snowdonia or somewhere in between- right now I'm vaguely leaning toward this one simply because it's near Milford Haven and open on Sundays.

Advice on places to spend the night would also be good, keeping in mind that we're students and would like to spend as little as possible. If you have advice on can't-miss stuff that's roughly on our route, that would also be great.
posted by MadamM to Travel & Transportation around Wales (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'll happily defer to anyone more knowledgeable, but my sense would be that combining Milford Haven with Snowdonia in a short trip from London would only work with your own transport--getting from south to north Wales on public transport is slow: traveline is suggesting over four hours just to get from Milford to Aberystwyth, and that's still ten miles short of the southern edge of the national park.

Combining Milford Haven with hiking through the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, however, would work perfectly--Milford Haven is in the middle of it. I haven't actually been there (yet), but my brother goes at least once a year and speaks of it with light in his eyes.

If mountains are your (friend's) thing, it would also be easy to go to Milford Haven then get the train back along the south Wales coast, break your journey somewhere between Swansea and Newport, and head north from there into the Brecon Beacons--I have been there, though not often enough, and it's great.

Not that I'd discourage anyone from visiting Snowdonia, which is also gorgeous. But if you only have four days and you have to get there and back from London, spending much of one day on coaches from Milford to Dolgellau seems like a waste--especially as getting back from there to London would take longer. If you've got no car and only a few days then I'd say either Milford or Snowdon, but not both. (I don't drive myself.)

No suggestions for a castle in south Wales, though. In Snowdonia, I remember being very impressed by Harlech and Carnarvon, but I was about six when I visited them (which is over 25 years ago, eeek).
posted by lapsangsouchong at 5:00 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have to agree with lapsangsouchong: the north-south divide in Wales owes a lot to the historic difficulty of travelling along that axis. (The only viable train route to Snowdonia is back east and up via Shrewsbury, and takes over eight hours.)
posted by holgate at 7:28 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I can't comment on the practicality of getting around in Wales without a car, but as for castles:

Pembroke Castle is a pretty good one. Some of the rooms have been set up with displays of castle life, but there's definitely no country-house feel to it, and there's plenty to explore. If memory serves, you can walk on some of the walls (disclaimer: it's been ten years since my last visit). Also, the main keep is round, four or five storeys high, and has great views.

You might prefer Carew Castle, also in Pembrokeshire, which I think is a bit less polished. It has some unusual extras (a Celtic stone cross, and a tidal mill). Traveline says it's about an hour from Milford Haven by bus, so about the same as Pembroke.

Further afield, other interesting castles in south Wales include Caerphilly (huge, has siege engines set up in the grounds), Raglan (not as old as the others, but well worth a visit; it's somewhat ruinous and lends itself to exploration) and Chepstow (the oldest stone castle in Britain, very ruinous, great cliffside setting). But to see any of those, I think it'd need to fit in with your planned route back to London - Traveline suggests they're all a good 3-4 hours from Milford Haven.

Be warned that while Cardiff is a practical place to break a train journey, Cardiff Castle is very much in the (insanely flamboyant Victorian) stately-home style. It's certainly impressive, and the insanely flamboyant interiors are quite fun, but it's not what you're looking for.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 6:24 AM on June 2, 2011

Thanks for the help! I'll definitely talk to my friend about doing Brecon Beacons instead of Snowdonia in the interest of making the most of our limited time. Any suggestions for hikes in Brecon Beacons that are particularly mountain-y?
posted by MadamM at 9:46 AM on June 2, 2011

In this recent thread where the OP was moving to Brecon (town from which park gets its name) there are a couple of useful links, and mention of Pen-y-Fan, the highest mountain in south Wales. An image search on Google is quite rewarding. But the links there to sites about walking in the Brecon Beacons might offer other ideas too. Getting up onto the Black Mountain (easternmost range in the national park) from Abergavenny or Crickhowell might be good too. There's a youth hostel in Abergavenny, and there are others in the national park too.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 12:20 PM on June 2, 2011

Hmm, the last three sentences there all ended in 'too': using preview can help cut down on that sort of thing.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 12:21 PM on June 2, 2011

So we didn't end up going- not enough time to book hostels and stuff- but thanks for the help and the interesting article about transportation in Wales :)
posted by MadamM at 9:04 PM on July 2, 2011

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