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The hills of South Wales: an amateur hiker's dream

Ashley Chalmers

Contributor

For some, the word 'hiking' carries dramatic visions of heavy backpacks and heavier boots… and for plenty, that’s the ideal scenario. But if you’re more of a laid-back walker than an uphill climber, there’s a little pocket of the UK that might just be the answer. In a lush national park in South Wales, you’ll find a place where hiking proves it doesn’t have to be that serious. The stunning, rolling hills of the Brecon Beacons might look overwhelming to a novice, but appearances can be deceiving. Sure, there are plenty of trail options for hardcore hikers and thrill-seekers, but there are also quite a few long, meandering trails that come with views that pack a punch. If you’re lucky, some even offer ancient castle ruins, sprawling estates, and roaming sheep, or some combination of all three. These particular South Wales walks are perfect for both hiking newbies and parents looking to get their kids out on their first trails.

Pen y Fan

It’s not unreasonable that the phrase “highest peak” would send shivers down a new hiker’s spine… especially one that might be considering tackling said highest peak with small children in tow. But that’s exactly what you’ll find as you head up Pen y Fan—the highest peak in South Wales. On a gorgeous day, the trail leading up this stunning slope and its neighbouring peak, Corn Du (the second highest in the region), you’ll find yourself hiking among all ages and all abilities.

There’s a parking lot directly at the best of the peak, and it’s usually lined with food trucks. From here, you can walk out of your car and begin the hike almost instantly. The wide path moves at a gentle incline, and because the views get more and more stunning as you walk, you’re more than halfway up before you realise how far you’ve come. Naturally, this is when things feel a bit more advanced—but there’s no point in turning back now! If you’re not sure you can handle much more, then skip the detour to Corn Du and hightail it to the top of Pen y Fan. After a picture with the sign to prove to friends you reached the summit, you can take in the 360-degree views and breathe a sigh of relief.

There’s an option to walk down on a slightly steeper and narrower path, and it’ll eventually loop you back to the car park. But if you prefer the devil you know, there’s no shame in retracing your steps. Plus, now you know exactly where things ease up and when you can go back to walking at a leisurely pace.

Wye Valley Walk

The Wye Valley walk is an absolute treat because, with 136 miles of paths, it truly has something for everyone. Much of it is flat but rugged, leading you through woodlands and meadows. Some patches take you up rocky ravines, so it might require a bit more research before you decide where to begin. But if you choose right, you’ll wind through farmland and along rivers, on a path that easily allows you to amble along and take in the sights. It begins (or ends) in the shadow of the medieval Chepstow Castle, but you can easily start wherever on the trail most appeals. One leg of the walk takes you through cow-filled farmlands around the grounds of Llangoed Hall, an estate whose history dates back to the 17th century. Other stretches line the River Wye, where you can watch for otters and their pups, depending on the season. Wildlife enthusiasts will also enjoy watching for wild deer and peregrine falcons.

Melincourt Falls

For a truly flat path that pays off at the end, Melincourt Falls is an easy trek that will likely take you well under an hour (they estimate about 15 minutes each way). One thing to note is that the car park is actually across the street—if you walk into the woods that line the parking area, you’ll come to train tracks. But once you cross the road, you’ll find yourself walking through a forest that feels made for mythical creatures and fairies… or maybe we’ve just watched too much Fern Gully. Well before it’s in your sights, you’ll hear the crash of a 24-metre plunge waterfall, and it’s truly breathtaking once you make the final bend in the trail. You can’t go behind Melincourt Falls (a big attraction for some of the other local falls that require more effort), but if you dare to scale the slippery rocks, you can get pretty close.

Tretower Court and Castle

While you can buy tickets and treat yourself to a tour of Tretower Court, the paths that line the castle are also worthy of a stroll. Set in the village of Tretower, this medieval fortified manor house is a rare relic, dating back to the 14th century. It’s also nestled in a hillside, and depending on when you visit, the trails are lined by a field of sunflowers on one side and a pasture of sheep on the other. It’s as easy as a Welsh hike can get, with a dash of historical significance.

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