A Guide to South West Wales

Home to Britain’s smallest city, St David’s, miles upon miles of rugged, unspoilt coastline and even the western fringes of the Brecon Beacons National Park, South West Wales offers visitors both incredible outdoor experiences and a chance to understand more of the country’s dramatic history within its castles and mines. 

Divided into four distinct areas, South West Wales is formed of Swansea, Neath Port Talbot, Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire. Here, we’ve picked out each area’s top highlight – we hope at least one of them will inspire you to take a staycay to this dramatic part of the United Kingdom. 

Clyne Gardens, Swansea

Houseplants and horticulture have become very popular in recent months, so why not get some green-fingered inspiration at the one-of-a-kind botanical utopia that is Clyne Gardens? Originally cultivated by plant enthusiast (and millionaire) William Graham Vivian in the grounds of his castle during the 1860s, the garden was mostly influenced by his nephew, Algernon. Like his uncle, Algernon had a passion for all things botanical and even funded plant collecting expeditions overseas, amassing a huge variety of unique and tropical varieties that thrived in this wet (it is Wales after all) yet temperate location.

Wandering the winding paths, you’ll find yourself on an adventure. Snuggled amongst the swathes of rhododendrons and the boughs of the tallest recorded magnolia in Britain, you’ll find the authentic red Japanese Bridge spanning a suitably silent pond and even the quaint Joy Cottage, built as a hideaway for Algernon’s daughters. As well as being an avid plant collector, Algernon doted upon dogs, and you’ll find numerous headstones littered around the grounds in commemoration of their furry friends.

From the gardens, you can enjoy stunning panoramas of Swansea Bay – the best views can be seen from the gazebo, which Algernon (also known as ‘The Admiral’) positioned specifically so that he could watch the ships entering the bustling harbour below. Although peace and quiet reign supreme in this lush jungle, Clyne Gardens is actually in the midst of Swansea’s bustling city centre, making it an excellent spot for those who like the best of both worlds on their getaways. 

 

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Baked Bean Museum of Excellence, Neath Port Talbot

Have you ever loved something so much that you wanted to dedicate your whole house to it? Well, that’s what Barry Kirk (who officially changed his name to Captain Beany by deed poll) did in the early 2000s: he transformed the living room, bathroom and kitchen of his humble council flat into an exhibit for all things baked bean-related! You may snigger, but this joyous oddity was the fourth most-visited attraction in Neath Port Talbot in 2018.

So, what can you expect on a trip to the Baked Bean Museum of Excellence? Well, the Captain reckons he’s spent thousands of pounds in honour of these tinned orange morsels, with over 500 items crammed into this petite shrine – we’re talking original tins, promotional posters and other bean-inspired memorabilia. Captain Beany won’t nail his flag to the sticking place when it comes to choosing his favourite brand of bean (we’re Heinz people through and through), but he certainly knows a factoid or two when it comes to discussing this savoury kitchen cupboard staple. Although there’s no gift shop, popping into the nearest cafe or corner shop is sure to satisfy your cravings for this tomatoey treat. The only question is, how do you like yours: lathered on toast, plonked on a jacket potato or with some McCain’s Smiley Faces?

 

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Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Pembrokeshire

Honoured with the accolade of ‘one of the best long distance trails in the world’ by Lonely Planet, the renowned Pembrokeshire Coast Path is a must for those visiting this dramatic part of Wales (although we don’t blame you if you don’t tackle the whole thing at once!). Placed almost entirely within Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, this 186-mile trail reaches from St Dogmaels in the north to Amroth in the south, and takes in stunning seascapes, rural panoramas and numerous beaches (58 to be exact!).

Taking on this behemoth is no easy challenge, with even the most experienced of walkers averaging ten days or more traversing the path – it’s said that there is 35,000 feet of ascent and descent along the trail, a height comparable to scaling Mount Everest itself! If all that sounds a little strenuous (you are on holiday after all!), the path has been divided into 15 sections of around 10 miles, so that even casual hikers can make the most of the stunning maritime route. On your adventure, keep an eye out for some truly amazing wildlife: from Atlantic grey seals to curious puffins and even porpoises, this shoreline offers nature-lovers plenty of opportunity to get the binoculars out! We can feel that sea breeze in our hair just thinking about it…

 

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Dinefwr Castle, Carmarthenshire

We just couldn’t complete this list of must-sees in South West Wales without including a castle, and luckily Dinefwr ticks all the boxes! A much fought-over edifice overlooking the equally unpronounceable River Tywi, this now-derelict Grade I-listed building was once the stronghold of Lord Rhys who commanded much of ancient South West Wales in the 11th century. During his reign, the castle enjoyed a period of relative calm and prosperity, but infighting amongst Welsh families left the fortress weak to attack, and it fell to the bombarding English forces in 1287. Despite attempts to win the castle back (there was a huge siege in 1403), Dinefwr Castle remained in the hands of the English, and in the 15th century it was largely rebuilt, with the castle keep later being modified into a summer house in 1660.

Today, the strong stone walls and battle-wearied fortifications are all that remain, but the views from this hilltop spot make the steep ascent entirely worthwhile. A restored wall walkway amongst the battlements allows visitors to admire the strategic vantage point that the castle enjoyed, while the great circular keep that dominates the castle pays homage to Wales’ ancient and turbulent history. Take a packed lunch with you on your journey into the past and, whatever you do, don’t forget a raincoat!

 

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We hope our rundown of South West Wales’ highlights has given you a flavour of the varied delights you can discover in the area. We’ll see you there, tucking into the baked bean dish of your choice…

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