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UK for everyone: The best of Wales

17:00 AEST Thu Jul 26 2007

Wales is bordered by England to the east, the Bristol Channel to the south and the Irish Sea to the west and north. Its identity lies in the Welsh language, a highly evolved secular legal system and a distinctive literary tradition.

Two thirds of the population live in the south's valleys and coastal plain and there is a significant concentration in the north-east. The remaining areas are mostly rural, characterised by hilly and mountainous terrain.

Thanks to its size — 225km long and 100km across — it's an easy place to tour. It's just as you'd picture it — rolling moorlands, glaciated mountain areas, superb male choirs, tongue-twisting place names, Rugby Union, romantic castles, cheese on toast, old mining towns and warm people with lilting accents.

Wales offers a wealth of water and adventure sports, horse riding and fishing. They also host some fine festivals. It is a country that can be enjoyed on foot, by cycling or driving or by boat on one of the many canals.

Llangollen, a small town in Denbigshire, is home of the Pontcysllte aqueduct, claimed as the greatest engineering feat of its type in the world. It carries the Llangollen Canal over the valley of the River Dee between the villages of Trevor and Froncysyllte. It was completed in 1805 and is the longest and highest aqueduct in Britain.

On the outskirts of town is Valle Crucis Abbey in the Dee Valley. The "Crucis" (cross) in its name refers to the Pillar of Eliseg standing nearby. It stood for almost four centuries before the abbey was established in 1201.

Snowdonia takes its name from Mt Snowdon, which at 1085 metres is Wales' highest mountain. The Celtic language of Welsh is spoken by about 70 percent of locals. Snowdon's trails make the summit accessible to hikers of all abilities. Around half a million people climb it each year. They go on foot, in wheelchairs, on bicycles, crutches and even stilts, year round. Unfortunately, heavy erosion from the sheer mass of people is taking its toll on paths and ridges, making it the most magnificent yet most abused wonder of Wales.

There are rivers, lakes, waterfalls, forests, a beautiful coastline and ancient burial chambers to see in Snowdonia National Park. It's also a place of Roman forts, heritage-listed Norman castles, steam railways and relics of the country's mining heritage.

A two-hour drive through sheep-studded hills takes you to Oxwich on Oxwich Bay, part of the Tower Peninsula in Swansea. The pretty village has a population of less than 200 but has two castles, a National Nature Reserve, lots of bird and plant life and thatched cottages. It also has towering cliffs, shady woods and sand dunes.

The Oxwich Bay hotel is set in 3.2 hectares of private grounds at the western end of the bay. All rooms are ensuite and many have wonderful views of the beach. They serve everything from freshly brewed coffee to gourmet meals.

A couple of hours away is the area known as the Welsh Marches. This lies along the border of England and Wales. The term Marches was first used during the medieval period when the Kingdom of England expanded further into traditional Welsh territory and the Marcher lordships were set up. Today it is used to describe the counties along the border with Wales, mainly on the English side.

The Bell at Skenfrith is a wonderful place to stay. The 17th-century Welsh coach inn is in beautiful and unspoiled Monmouthshire overlooking the Monnow River and the Marches castles, an important Norman stronghold during the 13th-century cross-border skirmishes.

The Bell has eight guestrooms individually decorated. Most have a bespoke double bed with fine linen, down duvets and traditional pure wool Welsh blankets. Each has ensuite and Cath Collins toiletries. Flagstone floors, oak beams, antique furniture and comfortable sofas all go towards an enjoyable stay.

The Bell restaurant has won many awards and the menu changes regularly. They prepare special meals for children and in good weather guests can dine on the outdoor terrace.

If you do nothing else on your visit to Wales, try to hear the Cardiff Arms Park Male Choir. It was established in 1966 and has performed with many stars in venues such as the Royal Albert Hall and, of course, the Cardiff Arms Park.


Vroom Vroom Vroom has car hire throughout Europe starting at around $42 a day.

The Bell at Skenfrith rooms start at around $245 a double a night. Breakfast is included.

Llangollen Wharf 45-minute horse-drawn canal trips are around $12 for adults, $6 for children and $30 for a family of four. They operate from 11am between Easter and October.


The south-west of Great Britain.

For further information

Vroom Vroom Vroom
Ph: (07) 3256 3595
Fax: (07) 3256 3182

Oxwich Bay Hotel
Oxwich Bay
Gower Peninsula
Swansea SA3 1LS
Ph: (01792) 390329
Fax: (01792) 391254

The Bell at Skenfrith
Monmouthshire NP7 8UH
Ph: 44 (0) 1600 750 235
Fax: 44 (0) 1600 750 525

Llangollen Wharf
Denbighshire LL20 8TA
Ph: +44 (0)1978 860702
Fax: +44 (0)1978 860702

Ph: 1300 303 777

Visit Britain
Ph: 1300 858 589

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