Wales-bound hikers invariably make a beeline for Snowdon, Britain’s highest mountain outside of Scotland. But with annual visitor numbers cresting the 600,000 mark, and the Snowdonia Society raising concerns last year about the negative effects on the peak and its paths, it could be high time to turn elsewhere for a weekend of walking.
In fact, few places in Europe have better credentials for escaping the crowds than Wales. It is predominantly rural, with one of Europe’s lowest population densities – sheep outnumber people four to one here. And this is the only country on the planet to have a trail traversing its entire coastline: a stunning 1400km renowned for its sandy strands and stupendous cliff top scenery.
Inland, you could wander two days without crossing a single road in the unpeopled mynydd: mountainous uplands sparkling with waterfalls and rimmed by forests. History layers Wales too: this is the world’s most densely castellated nation, and the ancient strongholds and Neolithic monuments dotting the hills show how people have been drawn to the pathways of Wales since time immemorial.
So without further ado, here are five of the best alternative hikes in Wales.
1. The other mountain hike: Cadair Idris, Gwynedd
At the opposite end of Snowdonia National Park to Snowdon, mystery-steeped Cadair Idris might be the next-most popular mountain traverse in Wales, but the walk appears comparatively deserted. Idris himself was a giant, poet, philosopher and one-time ruler of Meironydd, the historic term for the surrounding hilly region. The ridge’s name means ‘Chair of Idris’ and has numerous associated legends. Purportedly, those who spend the night up here wake up either as a poet – or mad.
The view from the top encompasses the Mawddach valley falling away to the coast at Barmouth and, more magically yet, the glacial crater lake of Llyn Cau that the ridge enfolds. The summit, Pen y Gadair, is just under 900 metres but feels higher. Out-and-back routes are all around the 10km mark.
Insider tip: A little-taken route leads from Cadair Idris down to Llyn Cau, arguably Wales’ most beautiful mountain lake.
2. The coastal hike: Aberporth to New Quay via Llangranog, Ceredigion
People usually pick out the Pembrokeshire Coast Path as the standout section of the coastal path that wraps around the south, west and north of Wales, but the stretch through Ceredigion gives it a run for its money.
The Aberporth-Llangrannog-New Quay leg is heritage coast, recognised for its outstanding natural beauty and history. Linking three small, quaint coastal settlements, the 15km walk combines expansive sandy beaches, mesmeric rock formations and the island fort of Ynys Lochtyn.
Insider tip: One of Britain’s best coastal pubs, the Pentre Arms Hotel, provides beachside refreshment at Llangrannog.
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