With 2020 being the most disrupted year for travel, I have lost count of the number of trips that have been cancelled. Gone was the dream beach holiday to Santorini and the ultimate adventure to trek the Great Wall of China, just to name a few.
Therefore, rather than waste my annual leave sulking at home, I decided to use this year as the one to make the most of what our country had to offer. With the weather remaining on our side, I decided to book a two part staycation to south Wales and the Cotswolds over the August bank holiday weekend incorporating some locations that had been on my bucket list for some time.
Day One – The Gower Coast
After the long drive arriving in the early afternoon, the first port of call was the Gower Coast. Just a 30 minute drive from Swansea city centre the Gower Peninsula is home to 30 beautiful beaches, cliffs and scenic coast line. The Area of Outstanding Beauty is popular with hikers, birdwatchers, sunbathers and surfers. With the Wales Coast path running around the coast line, here you can enjoy miles of coves, cliffs and salt marshes further north. Or if strenuous activity is not your thing, then you can simply enjoy the numerous beaches.
We spent some time following the coastal path from the National Trust carpark at Southgate, towards Pobbles Bay and the iconic Three Cliffs. Despite being a bank holiday, the area was relatively quiet and all visitors remained respectful in keeping their distance and even the weather behaving – offering us picture perfect views of the coast out towards the Bristol Channel.
Tired after our long journey, and with a busy day planned the following morning, we headed back to Swansea city centre to our hotel for an early dinner and bed.
Day Two – Pembrokeshire
Having always heard great reviews about the Pembrokeshire coast line and the surrounding areas I wanted include some of the sights into this trip.
Therefore, at the break of dawn (and to avoid the inevitable crowds), we headed further west and in just under an hour and a half we had reached our first stop of the day, the Green Bridge of Wales and Stack Rocks.
The dramatic natural rock arch and pillars can be found on the south west of Pembrokshire. Access to the area means driving through an army tank range. Generally the track is open most days, however it is advisable to check before you visit to ensure that you are not disappointed.
Both the Green Bridge of Wales and Stack Rocks have formed naturally due to years of erosion, as storms battered the coast pebbles have slammed against the rocks and over time, sand particles worn away therefore dissolving the limestone they are formed from.
In the case of the Green Bridge of Wales, erosion has been occurring on both sides of a small headland, caves formed which have extend further as a result, forming the arch that you see today. The arch also lost a considerable amount of rock to damage during the storm in 2017.
Venture a little further down the coastal path, still within the army range, and you will find Huntsman’s Leap. The deep, narrow gorge attracts many visitors and is extremely popular with climbers. At the time of our trip there were many avid climbers tackling the sheer drops and many standing aside watching them do so.
Just a short drive away you will find the National Trust owned Stackpole nature reserve. This area offers a wonderful stretch of coastline with beaches like Barafundle Bay, and lakes further into Stackpole Court itself. As most locations in the area, this offers the perfect setting for hikers and beach goers alike.
If you are a little more adventurous it boasts many activities including kayaking and coasteering. On this occasion we just followed the many walking paths the estate had to offer, before heading to our third stop of the day.
A short drive from the Pembrokshire coast you will find Carew Castle. The castle offers over 2,000 years of history, telling the tales of the knights of the realm. Due to the pandemic, visits to the castle are pre booked only. So if you want to explore the castle itself, then it is recommended to book in advance to avoid disappointment, especially during peak seasons. Alternatively, you can explore it from the outside as its stunning location is overlooking a 23 acre Millpond, and Tidal Mill, all linked by a mile long circular walk that is suitable for all the family. It also offers fantastic views back over to the castle itself.
The final stop on day two was Tenby. The picture perfect Victorian seaside town, with colourful houses along the sea walls, was heaving with tourists on the bank holiday weekend. With the glorious weather, many visitors were enjoying its charming streets and award winning beach. Here we stopped for a late lunch, ice cream and even some old fashion fun in one of the arcades. Tenby is one of those locations I would love to revisit during out of season as I imagine it would be stunning all year round.
After our stop in Tenby it was time to head back down the M4 and onto our second hotel, in Witney, ready for the Cotswolds the next day.
Day Three – Bibury and Bourton-on-the-Water
Having never spent time in the Cotswolds before, other than passing through, Bibury was at the top of my list for the final day of our whistle stop tour.
Described as “the most beautiful village in England” by William Morris, it certainly didn’t disappoint. On arrival it was clear to see why it’s featured on many lists of the most beautiful Cotswolds villages. With the historic 14th century cottages in Arlington Row, referred to as the most photographed cottages in the country, and the Arlington Mill surrounding the River Coln, this picturesque village is a photographers dream. The National Trust area offers free parking, along the main high street, tea shops, inns and even a trout farm, where you can pay a small entry fee and feed the fish.
Venture a short drive away and you will discover Bourton-on-the-Water, another pretty village that is dubbed “the Venice of the Cotswolds.” Here we simply enjoyed a stroll through the village, along the River Windrush, taking in its beautiful bridges and Cotswold stone houses. Being a bank holiday Monday, the village was full of brimming with tourists. Therefore, after a delightful afternoon tea and a stop at the old sweet shop for souvenirs we decided to beat the traffic and head off home.
If you had more time on your hands, or visiting with children, then there is plenty to keep you entertained in Bourton-on-the-Water. The Birdland Park and Gardens, the Model Village and Cotswold Motoring Museum (the home of Brum) are all within easy walking distance of the village. My only recommendation, come out of season when crowds are less of an issue.
Our whirlwind tour of south Wales and the Cotswolds was just what we needed to break away from the stress of day to day life. In the absence of our usual summer holiday, this gave us the perfect opportunity to explore a taster of each area, with a view to incorporate our favourite spots into another trip in the future.