By Rachael Funk
The small country of Wales is a wonderland bursting with outdoor adventure, fascinating legends, and lots and lots of sheep. Like...a LOT of sheep. Those who are already familiar with the destination know that the country’s 8,000ish square miles are studded with gorgeous castles (over 600 of them, for everyone keeping score at home) and has laid claim to the longest town name in Europe.
But are castles and unpronounceable names really enough to make your vacation a success? The answer is “yes,” but for the unconvinced, here’s some of the other awesome stuff you’ll find in Wales.
B&Bs for days
The Welsh countryside doesn’t really “do” chain hotels. Instead, you’ll find charming boutique hotels, scenic B&Bs, and even an ultra-romantic inn or two. The rural setting of Wales’ farmland and the dramatic sea views along its coastline are reason enough to ditch the franchised hotels for a few nights to immerse yourself in the quiet beauty of sharing a mug of tea with your host before padding off to bed.
Sheep for days
You didn’t think I was going to leave you hanging on the sheep thing, did you? Wales has a population of about 3.1 million people. In 2017, the country’s sheep population surpassed the 10-million mark for the first time since 2002, making the ratio of sheep to people in Wales roughly 3:1. You’ll see tons of these docile creatures on your trip, but please leave them alone. They need to concentrate on growing wool and reaching peak deliciousness.
The world’s most delightful sports
Make no mistake - Wales is filled with fun-lovin’ folks who know how to have a good time. Though you may associate Wales with the serenity and stillness other travel destinations can lack, it would be a huge mistake to overlook the absolute joy of the charismatic and audacious sports that originated there. Here are some of our favorite gems from the brilliant minds in Wales:
A quintessentially Welsh sporting event, you’re not going to find authentic bog snorkeling anywhere else in the world. When you’re ready to switch it up from hiking, biking, and mountain climbing, take a quick jaunt to Llanwrtyd Wells in Mid-Wales to join in the fun.
To briefly summarize, bog snorkeling involves strapping on a diving mask and snorkel (and a wetsuit and flippers), plunging into a 200-foot-long trench scooped out of a muddy peat bog, then swimming through the murky water as fast as you possibly can. Participants have to rely mostly on their kicking power since conventional swim strokes are banned. If you’re playing for fun instead of playing to win, there is a Fancy Dress Section you can enter in full, shameless costume. In this division, the attention isn’t so much on speed as the wacky and inventive costumes people proudly wear to swim the bog.
You guessed it - this three-part challenge begins with an eight-mile run, followed by a single length of the bog, and is capped off with a 12-mile bike ride through the mountains. Ahhhhh, they love the smell of bog water in the morning!
Man v Horse
This sport started in 1980 and grew into an internationally acclaimed event. In this marathon, runners on foot compete against horses and their riders on a 22.5-mile multi terrain course. The runners will bound across steep inclines, rocky surfaces, water crossings, and more. Horses and their riders are timed, with the fastest horse setting the time to beat. Then, the runners attempt to beat the time of the fastest horse. Though the course was changed in 1982 to provide a more even match between human and horse, only two humans have outrun the horses in almost 40 years.
Real Ale Wobble
A non-competitive sport that appeals to experienced bikers and casual riders alike, the Real Ale wobble involves a scenic bike ride through the Welsh mountains. Riders will stop at checkpoints called “pint stops” throughout the course to down a beer before hopping back on their bike and proceeding to the next pint stop. This occurs in November, in conjunction with the Mid-Wales Beer Festival.
One of the best ways to take in the stunning scenery of wales is by steam train. Hop onto a vintage train to relax in an observation cabin as you chug through the charming countryside. There are tons of trains and tons of routes to choose from, so don’t limit yourself to only one ride or you’ll miss out!
Wales isn’t just gorgeous above ground! Take a trip below the earth to explore ancient caves and abandoned mines. Venture through the tunnels and caverns which burst with history, folklore, and adventure. Guided tours will uncover the mysteries of these beautiful and revered underground marvels.