Wales has it all - poetry, history, culture, sport and scenery
On the western fringe of Cardiff is the Welsh Folk Museum at St Fagan's. All aspects of Welsh history and culture are captured here, with whole historic buildings having been brought in from all over Wales and rebuilt at St Fagan's. A great day out!
In recent years, there has been a huge improvement to the Docks area of Cardiff, with the development of the Cardiff Bay barrage to form a fresh-water lake. All around Cardiff Bay, new hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions have opened and blocks of expensive flats have sprung up as the area has boomed and shaken off its down-market past.
The magnificent new Wales Millennium Centre, another unusual architectural icon, has just opened its doors in Cardiff Bay. It provides a new home for Welsh National Opera and the Urdd, which is the Welsh League of Youth. This stylish new concert hall provides Wales with a much-needed large venue for cultural events.
West of Cardiff is the lovely Vale of Glamorgan with its rolling fields, opulent houses and attractive lime-stone built villages. Cardiff Wales Airport is at Rhoose, near Barry, just off the south-eastern corner of the Vale.
North of the Vale, and the M4, are the famed "Valleys" of Wales. This is the area of the South Wales coal-field, consisting of more than eighteen river valleys, running roughly north-south, crammed with towns and villages, with row upon row of stone-built terraced housing. Nearly all the coal-mines have been closed for several years now and the old spoil-heaps have become green again. Parts of the Valleys have regained their pre-Industrial Revolution look and offer lovely natural scenery. Big Pit Mining Museum is worth a visit to sample the area's coal-mining past. Valleys people are renowned for their friendliness and extrovert natures.
Just to the north of the Valleys and the Heads of the Valleys road, is the beautiful Brecon Beacons National Park, an area of outstanding scenic splendour. Indeed, the whole of Powys is a wonderful region of neat green fields, rolling hills and small country towns and villages. The wonderful Royal Welsh Agricultural Show, one of the finest agricultural shows in Britain, is held at Builth Wells, Powys, every July. The setting is superb!!
The large county of Powys, comprising the old counties of Breconshire, Radnorshire and Montgomeryshire, stretches for over 70 miles north-south along the English border. It is home to more sheep than people!! It also has several old spa towns where people flocked to "take the waters" in Victorian times. Apart from Builth Wells there is Llanwrtyd Wells and the most well-known of the spas, Llandrindod Wells, which architecturally, still has a very Victorian feel to it. It is a splendid base for exploring this relaxed uncrowded county of superb scenic beauty. It is not too far from the English Midlands.
About 40 miles to the west of Cardiff lies Swansea, the second city of Wales and the birth-place of the world-famous poet, Dylan Thomas. Swansea has a wonderful covered market ,selling local food delicacies like cockles and laver bread. The latter is an edible sea-weed and is fried with bacon for breakfast. Its appearance and odour puts some people off, but aficionados love it and swear by its health-giving properties.
The Marina area of Swansea is popular with both visitors and locals alike. The new National Waterfront Museum opens here in May 2005. It will feature the tremendous maritime history of Wales.
Swansea stretches in a curve around Swansea Bay; the western end culminating in the little sea-side resort village of Mumbles, birth-place of the late, great Sir Harry Secombe, a genuinely lovely man. The Swansea born Hollywood actress, Catherine Zeta Jones and her husband, Michael Douglas, have a home here.
Just to the west lies the wonderful Gower Peninsula, with its magnificent sandy beaches and rocky coast-line. This was the first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty [AONB] in Britain. A visit to Gower will amply clarify why this designation was made. The beaches at Langland Bay, Oxwich Bay, Rhosilli and Caswell Bay are superb.
Still heading west, the visitor enters the rolling, very green, county of Carmarthenshire; Sir Gar, in Welsh, the main dairy-farming area in Wales. This county, known as the Garden of Wales, is home to the Great Glasshouse, which houses the new National Botanic Garden of Wales. This is well worth a visit to view plants from all over the world!
The county town, Carmarthen, is a wonderful shopping centre. It attracts shoppers from all over West Wales. The Romans were here. They mined gold at Dolaucothi in North Carmarthenshire. They called Carmarthen, Maridunum, "the fort by the sea". However ships can no longer get this far inland, due to the silting of the Towy estuary.
The seven mile long sandy beach, known as Pendine Sands, can also be found in south Carmarthenshire. Cars once attempted the world land-speed record on this beach!
Carmarthenshire, like the whole of Wales, has several wonderful historic castles. Kidwelly and Laugharne have fine examples. However, the favourite with many, due to its location on a high outcrop overlooking the Towy valley, is the romantic, Castell Carreg Cennen. The views from the ramparts are magnificent.
In north Carmarthenshire, one finds the wild Cambrian Mountains, stretching for miles to the north into the neighbouring counties of Ceredigion and Powys. This great wilderness, once the last refuge of the graceful Red Kite [Barcud Coch in Welsh] in Britain [there are still hundreds of kites here] is known as the "Great Desert of Wales" due to its emptiness.
Unbelievably, there are people who want to erect over 220 gigantic wind turbines, 400 feet in height, across this wonderful natural, wild area.
They can have no love for Wales and its beauty! The turbines would be visible from a sixty mile radius. This wanton desecration must not be allowed to happen!!
There are also beautiful lakes, like Llyn Brianne and the Elan Valley lakes, in the Cambrian Mountains. The Elan Valley area, accessible via the town of Rhayader, has long been a favourite with city-folk seeking to unwind away from urban bustle.
The western-most county of Wales is Pembrokeshire, one of the main holiday areas of the UK, not just of Wales. Picture-postcard Tenby, with its pastel-coloured buildings surrounding the harbour, is one of the most attractive beach resorts in Britain. Its two beaches are magnificent. The neighbouring coastal resort of Saundersfoot is also immensely popular with its fine beach. The area has several major tourist attractions.
This county also has St Davids, officially a city, but little bigger than a large village in truth. It houses the magnificent cathedral dedicated to the patron saint of Wales. St Davids sits on the most western promontory in Pembrokeshire, with the sea on three sides. Ramsey Island lies just off-shore. It is a magical area. Whitesands beach near St Davids is beautiful.
The whole of the Pembrokeshire coast has been designated a National Park due to its attractive, rugged, indented nature. The geology varies tremendously within a few short miles and gives the coast its variety of rock formations, visible from the cliff path which encircles the county.
At Pembroke, one finds one of the most impressive Norman castles in Britain. It is remarkably whole. It was here that Henry Tudor was born.
Much later, in 1485, he marched from Milford Haven, gathering a Welsh army en route through Wales, all the way to Bosworth Field in Leicestershire and took the English crown, in battle, from Richard 3rd and thence became Henry 7th of England and established the Tudor dynasty.
To the north of Pembrokeshire, is the equally scenic, [but less crowded in summer], county of Ceredigion, formerly known as Cardiganshire, with its wonderful little beaches and equally rugged coast-line.
At the southern end of the county, overlooking the River Teifi, is the old market town of Cardigan. Its ancient castle witnessed the first ever Eisteddfod, a competitive festival of Welsh music and poetry, in 1176.
Eisteddfodau are held in village halls and marquees throughout Welsh-speaking parts of Wales. A week-long National Eisteddfod is a peripatetic event held alternatively in North and South Wales in the first week of August.
Ceredigion follows the sweep of Cardigan Bay, as one heads north, with little coastal gems such as Gwbert, Mwnt, Aberporth, Tresaith and Llangrannog offering the visitor delightful beaches in rocky enclaves.
At Gwbert 's Cardigan Island Coastal Farm Park [see www.cardiganisland.com], you can invariably view Atlantic Grey Seals, in the wild, at close quarters. At low tide, in summer, they frequently bask on the exposed rocks. Cardigan Bay's Bottle Nosed Dolphins also make frequent appearances here, as they hunt Atlantic salmon and sewin [sea-trout]. Rare choughs can often be seen searching for grubs in the short cliff-top turf. It is a fantastic place to view wild-life.
A little further north, New Quay is a popular harbour and beach resort and Aberaeron, with its pastel coloured houses designed by John Nash is a very attractive small coastal town.
The university town of Aberystwyth, with its long promenade and pier, is the largest town in Ceredigion and a busy shopping centre for Mid Wales. The important National Library of Wales is also located here.
North of Ceredigion, the terrain gets distinctly more mountainous and the road increasingly more winding and tortuous. The impressive mountain, Cader Idris, appears as a massive rampart blocking the route as one heads for North Wales. The scenery here, in the Snowdonia National Park, is outstanding. It is the most mountainous area in the whole of England and Wales and is an extremely popular tourism area, especially in summer.
Places like Llanberis, Betws y Coed and Dolgellau get packed out with tourists. The impressive castle at Harlech stands defiantly on a hill overlooking the sea. There are other, even more impressive, castles at Caernarfon and Conwy, especially. It was here that the Normans had their biggest struggle in conquering Wales, as the Welsh defied them from their mountain lairs.
The Italianate village at Portmeirion, designed by Clough Williams-Ellis is well worth visiting for its unusual ornate architecture.
The Lleyn peninsula is a beautiful headland pointing towards Ireland, with wonderful coastal villages like Abersoch and Aberdaron. Pwllheli and Porthmadog are very busy, popular coastal towns throughout the Spring and Summer.
On the north coast, Llandudno has fine architecture and a great choice of hotels over-looking a long sweeping promenade and superb beach. Colwyn Bay is also a very nice, pleasant resort with a great beach.
The coastal villages and beaches of the isle of Anglesey, across the Menai Straits, are also very popular. They throng with summer visitors, especially from Lancashire and other parts of North West England.
Further east, the Vale of Clwyd is very attractive, as is the wonderful Ceiriog valley. At Llangollen, there is a fantastic International Eisteddfod every summer, attracting choirs and very colourfully dressed traditional folk dancers, from all corners of the world. It is a joyous festival!
If every place was like Llangollen, there would be no more wars!!