Bordering on the Bristol Channel as it pushes inland, south Wales shares the River Severn with England, separated by its large breadth, and joined by two bridges. For many in the UK, crossing them can feel like the start of an adventure.
Whilst south Wales feels familiar because of Cardiff, there’s so much more to it than that. From wide open valleys to national parks and coastal walks – south Wales is a paradise for exploring the wild. Whether you’re there to find walks, to whip through the scene on a bike, or dip in the waters to wild swim, you’ll find a patch of south Wales to love, and visit time and time again.
How long: A whole day
Best for: Wild wanderers
Monmouthshire is criminally underutilised. As it’s between The Wye Valley AONB and the Brecon Beacon National Park, visitors get diverted east and west, missing the incredible stuff found in between. If you’re staying in the area, maybe at the incredible Woodlands Farm featured in our recent collab with Jack Harries, then head out on the Three castles walk. At 19 miles long, it could take around 5-6 hours to walk the whole thing! Even more if you factor in the time to explore the castles. So, if you have the full day free, this is worth the trek. For those on a tighter schedule, you can drive between them, taking in the phenomenal ruins with fewer blisters.
If you get the time on the same day, make a delightful pairing with a foraging course with Chloe at Gourmet Gatherings. Learning to forage with her grandfather and father, Chloe was raised finding food wherever she went in the wild. Now based in Monmouthshire, she takes groups along for a tour of the Welsh wilderness, seeking out wild spinach, salt marsh herbs, rock samphire and much more. From mushroom-based foraging, all-day foraging with a feast or even going out to source wild botanicals for gin – there’s a course for everyone.
How long: A whole day
Best for: The outdoor enthusiasts
It would be outrageous to not make use of The Black Mountains when they’re so close. Maybe you’ve been, maybe you’ve even climbed a mountain or two. But have you walked The Four Waterfalls Walk? Made up of Sgwd Clun-Gwyn, Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn, Sgwd y Pannwr, and Sgwd yr Eira, the route is a very achievable 4.5 miles, takes 3/5 hours depending on your pace and is considered an ‘intermediate’ route (as well as being dog-friendly!). There are a couple of spots to park, either Cwm Porth car park (CF44 9JE), or Gwaun Hepste car park (CF44 9JB), but both cost the same. You can theoretically wild swim in the initial set of plunge pools, but there’s a much better location to get in a little paddle.
From here, head back on yourself east, to Keeper’s Pond. If you’ve time, take the walk from Keeper’s Pond (Or Pen-Ffordd-Goch Pond) to Blorenge’s summit nearby. But if you’re pressed, a nice wild dip’s the perfect way to precede a meal.
How long: A half day
Best for: Diehard foodies
If you’ve just come off a dip in Keeper’s Pond, you’re likely in need of a bite to eat to refuel and warm up those bones. At just 20 minutes away, Abergavenny’s the perfect next stop on the list. You’ve got a few choices for a snack. If it’s just a light pick-me-up you need, a coffee and cake perhaps, then go straight to Fig Tree Espresso or Bean & Bread and have a well-deserved sit down. But if you’re thinking slap up meal, then head straight to The Gaff. Specialising in small plates, you order 6-8 dishes per couple, and they come as and when they’re ready. This is a place for relaxed dining, when you have some time on your hands, not a fast-food joint. Take an afternoon, sit back, and enjoy the experience.
Whilst you’re here in Abergavenny, it’s worth exploring. If it’s Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, you can hit up the Market Hall for the general market and Wednesdays are the flea market. Take a wander round the town, visit the independent shops, but most of all, don’t miss the chance to go to Sugar Loaf Vineyards. There’s a café and shop, to pick up some of the local produce, but even better – a self-guided tour that peruses the vines.
Where: Blaenau Gwent & Caerphilly
How long: A day
Best for: Avid hikers, and witches of all skill levels
From Abergavenny it’s a 50-minute drive down to Caerphilly, which sits just north of Cardiff. Caerphilly Mountain might not technically be a mountain, but it has all the best bits. A summit that overlooks the surrounding countryside – as well as a view of Cardiff Bay on a clear day, a satisfying upwards hike, and best of all, a snack shack. Started in 1957, this ‘mountain shack’ is the oldest snack bar in Wales and has a surprisingly good menu. With locally sourced, homemade burgers as well as hot dogs, and more – it’s the perfect end to an easy hike, with dinner and a view.
Once you descend, presumably so well rewarded you have to loosen the belt, you can head to Caerphilly centre for, well, a surprising range of things. If you’re feeling spooky – then perhaps pop along to Morbitorium, a museum and shop that has everything from antique lobotomy tools to haunted Ouija boards and mummified cats. You can take classes in taxidermy or witchcraft and pick up supplies for your spells in the shop. On more conventional terms, you might prefer a visit to Caerphilly Castle, which whilst still pretty gothic, has fewer occult overtones.