Adventures in wild Wales: the best secret spots to visit

Wales abounds with natural wonders, dramatic landscapes and an epic history that’s matched by its many myths and legends. Author of Wild Guide Wales shares his pick of the best coves, forests and natural wonders to visit in this awe-inspiring land

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Wales may be a small country, but the opportunities for adventure are immense. Author of Wild Guide Wales Daniel Start shares seven of his favourite places to visit

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Abereiddy Blue Lagoon, Pembrokeshire

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Once a quarry, Abereiddy now attracts kayakers and cliff divers to its vivid blue waters

This spectacular turquoise lagoon was created when the coastal slate quarry closed and the narrow connecting wall was blown up to connect it to the sea. The water rises and lowers with the tide and the old winching tower provide three levels for jumping. Further along the coast path is the beautiful sand beach of Traeth Llyfn and the rock arch of Penclegyr which the adventurous can swim through.

• GETTING THERE: Abereiddy (SA62 6DT) is signed from the A487. Park at beach and follow coast path 300m north to lagoon. Do not jump from top tower at low tide. Bottom platform safe at all tides. Grid ref 51.9379, -5.2087.

Llanddwyn Island, Anglesey

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The lighthouse at Llanddwyn is built to last – its walls are more than 6ft thick

About 570 million years ago during the Cambrian era much of Wales lay beneath the ancient Iapetus Ocean. Volcanic islands were common, with lava spilling out of vents on the sea floor. Some of this pillow lava is still visible around the neck of Llanddwyn Island, a narrow isthmus studded with sandy inlets that is set against the vast tracts of Newborough Warren and forest.

There are several beautiful coves and an awe-inspiring backdrop of mountains and sea. There is an old lighthouse and pilot cottages for the seamen who used to guide the slate ships through the Menai Strait. The ‘island’ was also home to St Dwynwen, patron saint of lovers, so seek out the remains of her chapel, and visit her holy well. Beyond lie miles of wildness along Traeth Penrhos and Malltraeth Sands.

• GETTING THERE: In Newborough, turn opposite post office (Church St, signed Llys Rhosyr) past LL61 6SG then toll road £2 to shore and car park (fee charged). Follow beach/forest track north west 1 mile and cross to the ‘island’. Best coves on south east side. Grid ref 53.1382, -4.4096 `

Waterfall Woods, Brecon Beacons

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Lower Ddwli Falls is one of many beautiful waterfalls on this short stretch of river

Coed y Rhaiadr, literally the ‘waterfall woods’, are the sublime handiwork of the Mellte and Nedd rivers meeting contorted seams of limestone, sandstone and gritstone, and you’ll not find a more impressive network of forest lidos and falling water anywhere in Britain. There are canyons to swim through, waterfalls you can climb behind and emerald-azure pools nestled in great moss- and fern-bound amphitheatres.

In the higher reaches whole sections of river flow underground through great river caves, in one part leaving a dry river canyon that last felt water flowing an ice age ago. The waters re-emerge through further mysterious caves, such as White Lady cave in the Nedd valley. The graceful arc and large pool of Ddwli on the Nedd Fechan is probably the quickest waterfall swim to reach. Further on, Horseshoe Falls is also great fun and has a big, deep jump.

• GETTING THERE: Entering Pontneddfechan from B4242, follow road up left at the Dinas Inn 1¾ miles, then left towards SA11 5UR, to find Pont Melin-fach bridge and car park on L after ¾ mile. Walk downstream ¼ mile for Upper Ddwli. It’s another lovely ¾ mile on to Horseshoe Falls (51.7720, -3.5949) or 1¼ to Lady Falls. Grid ref 51.7771, -3.5876

Bird’s Rock & Castell y Bere, Southern Snowdonia

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Castell y Bere was built more than eight centuries ago to protect Prince Llewellyn the great’s cattle country

To the west of Cader Idris is the Dysynni, a secluded valley with Bird’s Rock, a rocky knoll giving magnificent views, and Castell y Bere, a ruined castle encircled by twisted oaks. The famous outcrop provides a fantastic vantage point down the valley, and in the Iron Age was fortified. It is famous for the cormorants that nest here – unusual as they are so far from the sea. The Dysynni river below is lovely for a swim.

Castell y Bere just along the valley was built for Llewellyn the Great in the 1220s, the castle fell to Edward I in 1283 and has remained a ruin ever since. Its position, also high up on a rocky promontory, offers handsome views back down the valley to Birds’ Rock, and the extensive ruins are fun for children.

• GETTING THERE: In Abergynolwyn, turn off B4405 at Railway Inn. After 1⅓ miles, turn left for Bird’s Rock or right for  for the castle (dir LL36 9TS). Grid ref 52.658, -3.9713

St Dyfnog’s Holy Well, Denbigh

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The sacred waters of St Dyfnog’s Holy Well were famed in the Middle Ages for their healing powers

The whole of Denbighshire is well endowed with holy sites and St Winifred’s Well, the ‘Lourdes of Wales’, has been attracting pilgrims for some 1,300 years. St Dyfnog’s is one of the wilder well – steps lead down into a sacred, rectangular pool, a short woodland walk behind the church (which has a Jesse window, saved from Cromwellian destruction by being buried during his rule). Beware, the water is freezing – legend has it the saint’s penance was to stand in it!

• GETTING THERE: Off A525, the church is opposite the King’s Head, Llanrhaeadr, LL16 4NL. At the back left of the graveyard a path leads up the stream 300m. Grid Ref 53.1592, -3.3778

Abercwmeiddaw Binocular tunnels, Corris

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The bizarre tunnels at Abercwmeiddaw are a relic of the slate industry

Centuries of slate mining have left extraordinary features all over the Welsh landscape. These double bore test tunnels, high on the hill side, were cut by a machine patented by George Hunter in 1864. Below is a long a tunnel that exits in deep forest. Beyond the pit, continue further up the main path to discover the manager’s house ruins.

• GETTING THERE: About a mile north of King Arthur’s Labyrinth A487 (SY20 9RF, home to Corris Mine Explorers 01650 511720/07721 043136), turn right 100m before SY20 9BW and Corris Uchaf. At T-junction, find wide double-gated track and park. Follow this up on a zigzag track to reach ruined dressing sheds. 200m further along is the main pit on right: descend then climb up to binoculars opp, or bear right and descend to bottom of pit for main tunnel. Grid ref 52.6666, -3.8555

Nantglyn Pulpit Yew, Denbigh

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The Nantglyn yew is immense and unbelievably ancient

Some of the yew trees of Wales are said to predate Christianity – often the fourth and fifth century missionary saints chose existing sacred yew grove sites to establish their new churches. At Nantglyn a stone pulpit and steps have been built into the yew’s hollow trunk and you can still climb up and preach, just as John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, is said to have. The tree is said to be as much as 2,000 years old.

• GETTING THERE: Nantglyn is three miles southwest of Denbigh, and St. James Church is just north of LL16 5PL. Grid ref 53.1469, -3.4903 / SJ 004 621.

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• All pictures courtesy Daniel Start

About the author and his book…

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Daniel Start is author of Wild Guide Wales and the Marches: Hidden Places, Great Adventures and the Good Life (Wild Things Publishing, £16.99). The book has details of over 600 secret adventures and 500 wilder places to eat and sleep in Wales, Shropshire and Herefordshire.