Be Inspired By South West WalesPosted on: 19 March 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves
Home to rolling hills, coastline and stunning scenery, South West Wales has moved artists, poets, writers and musicians throughout the ages.
The untouched beaches of Pembrokeshire, the green fields and forests of Carmarthenshire and the beautiful coast of Swansea Bay and the Gower Peninsula have brought the best out of the likes of Dylan Thomas and Turner.
The region's landscapes and seascapes have touched the human spirit since the dawn of time. Celtic saints and pilgrims were drawn to its shores, early folklore spins tales of Arthur and Merlin and legends surround its many beautiful castles.
For those of you who want to know more about the region, here is an overview of the three main areas in South West Wales, each with its own unique delights.
When it comes to 'Location, Location, Location', Swansea is streets ahead of other cities. It sits on the grand, sandy sweep of Swansea Bay - just a stone's throw from the shopping centre, there's the beach and Maritime Quarter, the transformed docklands that has become a role model for other waterfront redevelopments.
It's a friendly place too, a city on a human scale. You'll hear the Welsh language spoken in the shops and on the streets. And in Swansea's famous covered market - which sells everything from Gower cockles to welshcakes - you'll have the best choice of fresh foods in Wales. Dylan Thomas, who wrote in English but was suffused by the rhythms and cadences of the Welsh language, is indelibly linked with his hometown, as you'll discover when you visit the Dylan Thomas Centre and its spellbinding exhibition or various sites on the 'Dylan Thomas Trail'.
Swansea's other asset lies along Swansea Bay. The Mumbles, a fashionable little sailing centre complete with charming, traditional pier, is the gateway to the 19-mile-long Gower Peninsula, Britain's first 'Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty'. It lives up to this description every inch of the way, from the sheltered sandy crescents scooped from its south coast to the mighty cliffs at Rhossili and - as an atmospheric finale - the haunting, wildlife-rich burrows and saltings of north Gower.
Natural beauty has also returned to the Afan Valley, the steep-sided 'Little Switzerland' in which actor Richard Burton grew up. One suspects that he would have been amused to discover that his back yard - nowadays known as the Afan Country Park - boasts world-class mountain bike trails that compare with those in his second home in California.
Dylan Thomas, when he wrote about Wales' 'fields of praise', was alluding to the countryside he knew best: Carmarthenshire's timeless landscapes, from the Brecon Beacons in the east to the greener-than-green oasis of rolling farmland that distils the country's reputation for natural beauty.
In the eastern corner you're in the Brecon Beacons National Park - the wild Black Mountain, to be precise, a rough, tough terrain of high plateau and hidden lakes enveloped by mist, myth and legend. But travel a few miles westward and the mountains soon subside into rich, rolling farmlands - classic Carmarthenshire countryside - dotted with whitewashed farms and welcoming little market towns.
Nineteenth-century traveller George Borrow, whose book Wild Wales is still a popular read, reckoned that Llandovery was 'the pleasantest little town in which I have halted'.
Llandovery lies, calm and content, in the lovely Vale of Tywi, a broad valley that runs through Llandeilo and Carmarthen on its way to the sea. To the north there's a second river, the Teifi, which carves an idyllic route through an equally beautiful but more wooded vale. And between the two there's nothing but countryside pure and simple, subtle and seductive - landscapes such as those of Grongar Hill, captured in the famous poem of the same name by John Dyer in the 18th century.
There's coast too - the grand sweep of Carmarthen Bay where you'll find the biggest beach in Wales (Cefn Sidan's seven miles of sand), the sleepiest, quirkiest seatown (Laugharne, for many people the alter ego for Llareggub in Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood), and Britain's most successful stretch of coastal regeneration at the Millennium Coastal Park, a hugely impressive £30-million 14 mile transformation of the shores between Pembrey and Llanelli.
With dramatic coastal scenery to rival Cornwall but without the crowds, the wild seas of West Wales provide the perfect setting for a holiday where you can breathe fresh air and unwind completely.
The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is the only coastal National Park in the UK. The coastal path stretches for 186 miles. Porthgain was a flourishing seaport exporting slate and shale in the 18th and 19th centuries, it is also where you'll find the Sloop pub and the award winning fish restaurant 'The Shed'. Walk along the coast path to the amazing Blue Lagoon at Abereiddy, a former slate quarry with unnaturally blue water, and look out for the seals.
Visit the UK's smallest city St Davids and its Cathedral, where you can enjoy a meal at the Refectory in the Cloisters. There's a thriving artistic community in the village-size city, so browse the art galleries in quaint fishermen's cottages if you want to take home a souvenir for your wall. In warmer weather be sure to sample a gelato made from local organic milk at The Bench ice cream parlour. Their unique flavours include seasonal specials, such as strawberries and champagne during Wimbledon.
Marloes, which looks out toward Skomer and Skokholm, is one of Wales' best-loved beaches. Its long sands are backed by spectacular red cliffs and eccentric rock formations. Surfers seek out Freshwater West where the waves are among the most reliable in the UK, while windsurfing to enthusiasts head to Dale. If it's safe swimming you're looking for, then it's worth trying Tenby.
Nature lovers can go dolphin and porpoise spotting at Strumble Head, Cemaes Head, Ceibwr Bay and Dinas Head.
To celebrate this historic culture, the South West Wales Tourism Partnership has launched a website that highlights all the the festivals, food fairs, theatres and art centres, craft workshops and galleries available in the region.
The events page of the website lists what's on where month-by-month. By using the specially created trip planner and interactive map, visitors can plan every aspect of their trip, from how to get there, what to do and where to stay. There is also a special offers page, providing details of special deals from all types of accommodation around the region.
South West Wales Tourism Partnership: www.inspirationalwales.com
Swansea Bay: www.visitswanseabay.com
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