Follow in the footsteps of the ancient Celts on an adventure of a lifetime in West Wales. Celtic Routes is an epic journey through the scenic counties of Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion. Feel enthralled by the wonders of our natural world – a region rich with wildlife, mountains and waterfalls. Feel inspired by the ancient castles and historic landmarks, and come alive exploring miles of pristine golden sand and spectacular vistas…
Celtic Routes is a newly launched touring route designed to inspire intrepid travellers to experience West Wales and Ireland’s Ancient East under their own steam, be that a day exploring one of the towns, a long weekend discovering a stretch of coastline, or a week-long action-packed holiday.
The Celtic Routes website (celticroutes.info) is designed with a diverse range of immersive experiences to make it easy for you to become the curator of your own Celtic Routes experience.
Naturally, some of these places are more well-known, but many of them take you off the beaten track on roads less travelled – helping you delve closer to the Celtic Spirit, exploring the outstanding land and seascapes, rugged mountains and ancient standing stones. Here are just some of the highlights of my own magical journey.
Carmarthenshire – Day One
Our first Celtic Moment was at Pendine Sands, where we stopped to visit the Cambrian Ice Cream Parlour. Taking a short stroll along the Wales Coast Path, we enjoyed our coffee and ice-creams while admiring the long stretch of beach from a dizzying height.
The vast stretch of sand is home to numerous land speed records and so it came as no surprise to watch thrill-seekers and racing land-yachts below – an activity involving sitting in a three-wheeled go-cart powered by wind through the use of a sail – travelling at speed just inches above the sand.
The areas you can drive cars on the beach are limited now, but Pendine Sands still holds a special place in the heart of many racing-car enthusiasts (the world record was broken here) – with plenty of petrolhead memorabilia adorning the walls in the cafes and bistros. Next year (May 2023) the beach will hold the tenth-year anniversary of the award-winning Hot Rod Races event – the world’s fastest and most exciting beach-racing competition.
You could easily spend a few days here, feeling the wind in your hair on an invigorating horse ride along the beach perhaps, or hiring a sea kayak or paddle board from Chad and Olly’s Beach Hut.
In the afternoon we made our way to the delightfully peaceful town of Laugharne, synonymous with poet Dylan Thomas. Set in a picturesque location on the estuary where the River Taf flows into Carmarthen Bay, the views might even be familiar from your TV screen (the location was chosen for the filming of Keeping Faith, a BBC drama series starring Eve Myles). We parked and checked-in at Brown’s Hotel before wandering through the centre of Laugharne. Just behind the hotel is SeaView, a pretty pale-yellow house where Dylan and wife Caitlin once lived, now a B&B.
There’s a great community spirit to Laugharne, quaint gift shops, lively pubs and a local chippy – Castle Fish Bar, offering cockles harvested from Carmarthen Bay. In the centre of Laugharne is the Grist, marked by a Celtic Cross, where Methodist leader John Wesley is said to have preached to the townsfolk. (The name reflects the fact that a former grist mill was located here.)
Crossing the bridge over the River Coran is when the stunning panorama comes into focus – glistening waters and a shimmering harbourside lined with colourful old fishing boats and the ‘brown as owls’ castle, where Dylan would write away high up in the ramparts, majestically perched on the headland above.
There are birds wading on the water edge, and blankets of green headland from the Gower Peninsula in the distance – it’s a wonderful moment to pause and catch your breath.
At low tide we were able to follow the coastal trail all the way to the best-loved attraction in Laugharne: Dylan Thomas Boathouse, where Dylan lived with Caitlin and their three children, Aeronwy, Llewellyn and Colm.
The house is now a visitor museum, shop and tea room, and contains Thomas memorabilia and some of the original furniture, including Dylan’s father’s desk. You can also take a tour of the Writing Shed perched above the Boathouse where Dylan wrote much of his poetry and also his famous radio drama, Under Milk Wood.
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The Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk: a 2-mile route to the edge of Sir John’s hill – the same walk Dylan famously took on his 30th birthday – with a series of benches inscribed with lines from Poem in October, and information panels telling the history of the area.
Where we stayed
Brown’s Hotel We couldn’t have asked for a more welcoming, cosy and atmospheric boutique hotel for our first night in Wales. It is easy to see why Brown’s was Dylan’s favourite too – he drank there most nights, playing shove halfpenny, darts and skittles, and even called in for tea and breakfast most mornings. In fact, he was there so often that he would even give the hotel phone number out as his own. The hotel is clearly proud of their literary legend, with his poems and quotes adorning the walls. Brown’s is today owned by Nigel Short, who also runs Penderyn Whisky, so the bar is always well stocked. The restaurant – Dexter’s at Browns – is named after the breed of cattle which makes up the hotel’s own herd, which is reared on nearby Llywn Farm. (Prices from £95 for one night; browns.wales)
We headed to Colby Woodland Garden for our weekly dose of Parkrun – a 5km running event that takes place at 9am every Saturday across hundreds of locations in the UK. Set in a tranquil secret valley, this hidden woodland garden has a rich industrial past and is owned by the National Trust, and makes a lovely day out.
In search of some more Welsh history, our next visit was to Dinefwr Estate and Castle just outside Llandeilo, where Lord Rhys once held court and influenced decisions about Wales. You need to allow around two to three hours to explore this stunning 800-acre estate. It’s a beautiful walk through bluebell woods to get to the castle, where your effort is rewarded by 360-degree views overlooking the Tywi Valley and open countryside from the castle walls. Be prepared before you set off though, as there are no refreshments.
Back in the estate, surrounded by a National Nature Reserve, we spent just over an hour exploring the wonderful 18th-century Newton House and reading more about the history of Dinefwr. Here you can join a guided tour, watch the roaming deer from the fountain garden – where often there is live music – and don’t miss the binoculars in the upstairs stone balcony orangery for a better view of the does, stags and their fawns.
We spent the rest of the afternoon pottering about in the colourful, picturesque market town of Llandeilo, scattered with an array of small independent shops, galleries and cafes. We chatted to ceramic artist Ann Goodfellow, owner of Ivy House as we marvelled over the work of local artists, and enjoyed Welsh coffee cakes at DIOD’s, where there is a relaxed Scandi-Welsh vibe.
On our way back to Brown’s we stopped in Carmarthen and enjoyed dinner at The Warren, where the chef has recently been awarded Chef of the Year from The Food Awards Wales for his honest and wholesome food.
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Aberglasney Gardens, with a unique cloister garden and formal walled gardens dating back to Elizabethan times – you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d wandered onto the set of a period drama.
Pembrokeshire – Day Three
The sun was shining so we decided to make our way to the stunning wide, south-facing, uncrowded blue-flag beach of Amroth. Driving through the quaint village evoked the first of many “would you live here?” tests, to which “yes” was the unanimous reply. We went for a blissful dip in the sea and relaxed for a while on the uncrowded beach.
The New Inn, a 16th-century pub with coastal views serving home-made food and local fresh fish was the perfect spot for lunch and to watch the windsurfers. We spent the afternoon at Minwear Woods where we took a peaceful Sunday afternoon stroll. There are a selection of walking trails – we chose the 1.5 mile Minwear Walk, taking around an hour.
You might also enjoy
Walking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path (Amroth marks the southern start), or during low tide walking 3 miles from Amroth to Saundersfoot.
Where we stayed: The Grove, Narberth
The Grove is one of the most luxurious hotels in Wales, nestled in the heart of Pembrokeshire with views to the Preseli Hills. Stay in the elegant house or one of its charming cottages and enjoy sitting outside in the manicured lawns by the pretty flower borders and meandering stream. Inside is equally as exquisite; bedrooms are luxurious havens with original features and full of character. There are two restaurants: the fine dining Fernery, which has been awarded three coveted AA Rosettes, and the more relaxed and informal Artisan Rooms. For guests in need of pampering there are deep cast-iron baths and in-room massages. One mile down the road, the market town of Narberth is full of interesting independent shops, including Ultracomida – one of the best delis in the country, with a small dining area at the back it’s a delightful spot for a continental lunch. (Prices from £245 per night, grovenarberth.co.uk)
Just as we thought the beaches in Wales couldn’t be any more beautiful, we discovered Barafundle Bay – pristine golden sand and crystal-clear waters, backed by dunes and pine trees.
Owned by the National Trust, Barafundle Bay is only accessible by foot (it’s a half-mile walk from the car park over Stackpole Head). This secluded location certainly adds to its charm – it’s easy to imagine you’re the only person in the world here; being off-the-beaten-track, it’s not unusual to have the beach all to yourself. It comes as no surprise that Barafundle has been voted many, many times as one of the best beaches in Britain and the world.
Next we explored Carew Castle and Tide Mill, an enormous stone castle in a picturesque location next to the mill pond that powers the tide mill, once a powerful stronghold and a grand Elizabeth mansion. The tour guides here are brilliant, full of fascinating anecdotes and little-known facts. In the afternoon we headed to Tenby ambling the busy streets, gift shopping, eating ice-creams and admiring the pastel-coloured buildings and three glorious beaches – there’s also no shortage of restaurants, cafes and pubs to refuel.
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Taking a boat ride to Caldey Island to see the Cistercian monastery. The monks make and sell their own lavender perfume and shortbread and you can purchase their own postage stamps and currency in the post office.
From Marloes Sands on the West Pembrokeshire Coast, we hiked along the coast path to Martin’s Haven, taking a short detour inland to Runwayskiln coastal kitchen for a delicious alfresco lunch, and arriving at Martin’s Haven just in time for our boat trip to Skomer, Skokholm and Grassholm islands.
As a Site of Special Scientific Interest, this trio of neighbouring islands is a haven for spotting many fascinating species, including puffins, razorbills, gannets, guillemots, manx shearwaters, grey seals, dolphins, whales and porpoises – another unmissable experience.
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Continuing further along the coast path from Martin’s Haven, with St Bride’s Bay to your left, and stunning views of the Solva Coast, St Davids Peninsula and Ramsey Island.
Where we stayed: Twr y Felin Hotel, St Davids
A former windmill and Wales’ first modern art hotel, featuring contemporary design throughout, Twr y Felin Hotel is decorated from floor to ceiling with colourful abstract artwork – chosen to evoke the Pembrokeshire landscape. The creativity doesn’t end there either, the chefs in award-winning two Rosette restaurant Blas are renowned for their flair in the kitchen – with guests and non-guests dining there alike.
Bedrooms are luxurious and uncomplicated, with private terraces and balconies. More time and I would have opted for one of their complementary therapy experiences: Qi Gong Meditation or Reiki. They also offer a range of natural holistic treatments in their calming treatment room, as well as yoga and coastal foraging. (Prices from £180 per night for two sharing, twryfelinhotel.com.)
From the hotel it is a short stroll into St Davids, Britain’s smallest city, where you will find plenty of cafes, pubs and the Cathedral. The city has a trendy ‘surf’ vibe, with a mixture of independent shops – including unsung hero with its underground skate cave, funky custom-made boards and Steve the barista serving excellent coffee – or for the more well-known stores there’s Crew Clothing, Joules and FatFace.
If you enjoy the water and being outdoors you have come to the right place – with TYF adventures (they have a booking office in the high street) at the heart of the action – coasteering, kayaking, surfing, climbing, wild swimming – you name it.
The trendy new place to be is Grain, a lively restaurant in the heart of the town serving stonebaked pizzas and award-winning Pembrokeshire craft beer. Or, head to the National Park Visitor Centre and Landscape Gallery located opposite the hotel, which provides all the information you could possibly need for exploring the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.
Twr y Felin also makes a perfect base for exploring the Preseli Hills. For the most epic 360-degree views – on a clear day reaching as far as Snowdonia and Ireland – head to the hill top of Foel Drygarn. Then, from the village of Mynachlogddu head towards the Bluestones Monument (where some of the stones from Stonehenge originated), to Carn Bica then follow the path down to Bedd Arthur (Arthur’s Grave) a small stone circle claimed by local folklore to be the final resting place of King Arthur.
You might also enjoy
Jumping off the harbour wall in high-tide in the village of Solva – for views there’s the Gribbin coastal walk, or head to The Royal George Inn for a hearty and well-earned pub meal.
Ceredigion – Day Seven
The coast is an absolute must-see in this region of West Wales. Cardigan Bay is home to Europe’s largest pod of Bottlenose Dolphins, and many of Ceredigion beaches are secluded coves that can only be reached on foot or by boat. One of our absolute favourites is National Trust’s hidden cove, Mwnt – picture postcard perfect with a little whitewashed chapel and several steps down to the shore.
Aberporth, once an important village for herring fishing, is another wonderful beach. We stopped here and walked the coast path (one mile) to Tresaith, named after the River Saith, which cascades as a waterfall over the cliffs to the beach. Another National Trust beauty, Penbryn can only be reached by meandering through some woods. Our beach crawl concluded at Llangrannog, where we enjoyed homemade food and sea views at The Pentre Arms.
Where we stayed
Penbontbren Holiday Cottages Pretty in pale pink, the 1800’s chocolate-box farmhouse Y Ffermdy, was where we stayed; a self-catering cottage sleeping seven with its own three-acre garden.
Low-beamed ceilings, a huge inglenook and exposed stone walls, and antique furniture gives it a snug and homely feel. Stacked with books and board games, there’s a conservatory and the choice of two sumptuous sitting rooms to unwind in, as you play or read.
Hosts Richard and Kathryn (who moved to Wales acquiring their business during lockdown) were extremely welcoming and helpful with information, including providing map print outs, about the local area.
On the farm there are also six luxurious B&B suites (5 star), including the Garden Suite, with its own private terrace. (Prices from £572 for four nights and £1,001 for a week, rarehideaways.co.uk.)
We spent our last morning in New Quay where we enjoyed breakfast while dolphin spotting. We spent some time exploring the walled garden and farmyard lake at National Trust’s Llanerchaeron, an elegant Georgian villa, designed by architect John Nash in 1790, before making our way to the colourful town of nearby Aberaeron.
After mooching around the harbour and independent craft shops we stumbled upon The Hive by the waterside, serving fresh fish and seafood. I recommend their homemade honey ice cream (there’s a Turkish Delight version too).
You can’t tick Ceredigion off your bucket list without seeing the beautiful Cambrian Mountains and taking a visit to the world-famous tourist attraction Devil’s Bridge Falls. We choose the 45-minute nature trail walk with views of the 300ft Mynach waterfall. If you are a keen hiker then don’t miss the Pumlumon trails too, with more spectacular landscapes and climbs to the peak of the Pumlumon Mountain.
Travelling through these three incredible counties there is excitement and intrigue at every turn along with a tremendously Croeso Cynnes Cymreig, (warm Welsh welcome), so whichever Celtic experiences you pick along your journey you can’t go far wrong. From lush rolling countryside and dramatic mountain ranges to the many idyllic unspoilt beaches, Celtic Routes delivers an adventure from start to finish. Memories are made on this route and the Celtic Spirit is infectious.
Find out more
Jessica was hosted by Celtic Routes, a cross Irish Sea tourism partnership comprising the coastal communities of Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, Wicklow, Wexford and Waterford. These regions have joined forces to deliver a selection of curated travel experiences in order to encourage visitors to Ireland and Wales to discover the Celtic Spirit by offering a number of immersive and authentic Celtic experiences. To find out more visit celticroutes.info and also take a look at visitwales.com to help plan your trip.
Text by Jessica Way