South Wales is a place of extremes. If you head west past the urban buzz of Cardiff and the belching fumes of Port Talbot, you reach a rugged swathe of countryside. The area stretching from the Brecon Beacons in the east, to Pembrokeshire Coast National Park in the west, is dotted with castles, mountains and wild spaces where heather grows and wild ponies graze. Here are three of my favourite places to stop on a road trip through Wales, which all lie not too far from the end of the M4.
If you duck off the M4 at junction 45 and head through Swansea, Llangennith lies at the north-west tip of the Gower Peninsula. Last year the area celebrated sixty years since it was made Britain’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We stayed there over Easter in a shepherd’s hut close to Llangennith Beach, a three-mile bay popular with surfers and dog-walkers (dogs are allowed all year round).
To reach Llangennith, you follow a twisty narrow road (the B4295) where you have to scrunch your car into the gnarled hedgerow if you need to pass a car coming in the opposite direction. The highlight of Llangennith village itself is the four-star King’s Head Inn, where you can sup chocolate stout and tuck into a hearty pub lunch out on the back terrace. From the terrace on one side you’ll see PJ’s surf shop, and on the other a view over the sixth-Century church of St Cenydd, down to the sea.
As well as the dune-flanked Llangennith Bay, other highlights of the Gower Peninsula include Rhossili Beach, which is more sheltered from the fierce waves from the Atlantic than Llangennith, and the Gower Heritage Centre. You can read more about the area in this post by Tin Box Traveller.
Carreg Cennen Castle
If you head north-east, pick up the M4 again and travel on the A483 towards Ammanford. Beyond it you can follow a series of winding roads onto Black Mountain (not to be confused with the Black Mountains, further eastwards into the Brecon Beacons). The imposing Carreg Cennen Castle is set on a hilltop there. If you climb to the top of the limestone precipice where it sits (easier than it sounds – just watch out for all the sheep droppings), you’ll be rewarded with a stunning view over the valley.
Carreg Cennen has a long history, with some claiming there was a fortress on the site as far back as the days of King Arthur. Legend has it that one of King Arthur’s knights is sleeping under the castle, waiting for a signal to rise up and do battle. If you fancy having a poke around to see if you can find him, there’s a long, dark cave under the castle to explore, with torches available to hire from the visitor centre. The current castle walls date from the early 13th century and are mainly in ruins, so Carreg Cennen is more of a pit stop than a day-long excursion, but there are tea rooms where you can refresh yourself with a slice of bara brith before heading back onto the road.
Head west past Llandeilo on the A40 to the market town of Carmarthen, then take the A484 south to Llansteffan. Here you’ll find a briny estuary with a quiet beach, overlooked by a Norman castle. If you like your castles to have some substance, Llansteffan’s is relatively well-preserved, with staircases and turrets that make a good setting for a game of capture the castle. With a decent fish and chip shop on the estuary front, so you can have lunch overlooking the water, listening to the calls of the seagulls. Llansteffan is a good place to while away a few hours on a road trip – or even to stay for a few days.
Where would you stop on a road trip through south Wales?
You might also be interested to read my post on Kidwelly Castle, in Carmarthenshire.
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