2016 is slowly coming to an end but I haven’t written about two of my adventures yet: travelling to Wales in August and Scotland end of September/ beginning of October. They are equally worth visiting although I have to admit that I have a real crush on Scotland and planning to return as soon as possible. One of the reasons is probably the fact that I had a bit more time to explore the land of kilts up in the North. Wales has a lot of beautiful corners as well and I was lucky enough to catch some good weather days before heading to Green Man Fest in the Brecon Beacons near Cardiff.
Here’s my take on the wonderful places I’ve visited in Wales and Scotland, in chronological order.
Cardiff is the capital of Wales and quite small. It has a few nice corners and architectural treasures to discover. Besides that, it is the twin city of Stuttgart since over 50 years. That’s how I got to know some wonderful and inspiring people there who helped me to view the city from a different angle. Thanks Jen, Neil and Rob, I’m looking forward to my next visit!
I had one week to discover Wales before the music festival and decided to split it between Pembrokeshire, the most Western part of Wales, and Barmouth on the Southern tip of Snowdonia in the North. Wales seems small on the map but it can be a bit tricky to get around with public transportation, especially in the remote areas. Nevertheless, I spent a bit of time in scenic Tenby, one of the towns you’ve probably seen in many advertisements for Wales. During the summer months, it’s full of (mostly English) tourists but definitely worth a visit. If the weather is good, you can even go for a swim on the wide beach.
I made the best of my full day in the area and hiked from Lydstep, a village near Tenby, to Freshwater East on the Pembrokeshire Coast Trail. It was a sunny day, the trail is well maintained and the views are breath-taking! All in all, I walked approx. 25 km that day, enjoyed nature and the water and ate tons of sweet blackberries along the way.
Snowdonia (at least a glimpse)
Fast forward after a night in Swansea (not very spectacular although the beach is huge), I hopped on a train to Barmouth, a popular beach town on the Southern tip of the Snowdonia National Park. The train connection is okay but long. It took me a day to get to Barmouth because of train problems and I needed to change trains in Shrewsbury which is already Western England…
Anyway, I arrived in Barmouth and stayed in a small hostel/ B&B in the mountains with a splendid view over the bay and access to the backcountry hiking trails. The town itself is quite touristy but bearable if you stay off the beaten tracks. I really enjoyed hiking and wandering around, especially because of three exceptional sunny days. Incredible! Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to discover more of the National Park which seems a wonderful place. I definitely want to go back to do a longer hiking tour in the mountains as well as discovering Anglesey island in Northern Wales. Who’s in?
While heading to the four days Green Man Fest in the middle of the Brecon Beacons, I only got a glimpse of the wonderful National Park and the picturesque villages. Story of my visit to Wales! The lush green hills make for a stunning surrounding and most likely a great hiking experience. Definitely on the list for my next visit!
Green Man Fest was relaxed with great bands and musicians and a lot of side art projects during the four days. And a very good cider bar. Mmmh. And of course we had the obligatory rain for festivals in Britain.
See you again soon, Wales. You’re amazing!
Due to some business commitments, I could only fly to Edinburgh at the end of September. I didn’t know what to expect up in the North at that time of the year but oh my, what a fantastic surprise! Besides a few rainy days in the first week, I had one full week of sun because Scotland got into a sunny period of two weeks. Fabulous! I would’ve extended my trip if it wasn’t for the silent retreat in Austria in October.
Edingburgh and Glasgow
At the start of my trip, I stayed two days in Edinburgh and one at the end. Definitely not enough time to discover this multifaceted city. Yes, it’s crowded with tourists but mainly on the High Street and the castle. Obviously, there’s much more to discover in Edinburgh. My favourite place is Carlton Hill from where you have a splendid 360° view over the city and the Firth of Forth. Besides the old town and Arthur’s Seat, there’s also the new town with lots of architectural treasures and pubs to discover. I did the Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour as well, a great way to discover the city through the eyes of some famous Scottish authors.
Glasgow is very different and much more industrial on the first sight. It didn’t help that rain was pouring down when I arrived. The city was dreadful grey and wet. So I jumped on a train to Balloch on the Southern tip of Loch Lomond which is only an hour away from the city. It was still grey and rainy there but good to discover a bit of the loch. As I had plans to go the Scottish Highlands the next day, I didn’t have much time to discover Glasgow.
Oban, Fort William and Ben Nevis
Oban is situated half way between Glasgow and the Isle of Skye and a nice little town to hang out for a bit. It’s also a good starting point for a tour of the Isle of Mull, Lismore and many more. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to hop over. What I had time for though was a tour at the local whisky distillery. It was super interesting and their whisky is really good!
From Oban, I hopped on a bus to Fort William which is the perfect starting point for hiking up Ben Nevis (yay!) and the surrounding area. The town itself is not very spectacular but has a few nice walking trails and rings a bell for any Outlander fan. Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in Scotland and the UK and it was an exhilarating experience to hike up the top on a sunny day with splendid views over the Scottish munros (mountains). I got there just in time to enjoy the view for an hour before the clouds blocked it. All in all, you should calcute 7 to 8 hours to make the round-trip and have some time on the top. Start at 9 am in the morning, the clouds seem to multiply in the afternoon. It isn’t a very difficult hike but can be challenging at times. Apparently, the trail is really crammed with people during the summer months but on a Saturday in late September, it was enjoyable. I’m a hiking fan now!
Isle of Skye
After Fort William, I went to the famous Isle of Skye, not only to tick it off my Scotland list but also to see what all the fuss is about. It’s definitely a wonderful place to visit! I stayed in Portree, the island’s main city and joined a one day tour to discover more of it. Not cheap but a must if you rely on public transportation during your trip. We went to the fairie pools (yes, that’s also a thing in Scotland), to Neist Point on the West coast, the Old Man of Storr and several other sights. The Isle of Skye is particularly interesting in terms of geological development and has played a sad part in the highland clearances after the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Thereafter, the Scottish clan system was abolished, the land occupied by English landlords, the local people driven into slavery for the new land owners or they left for the mainland. During that time, most of the forest on the island was cut down which is the reason why it looks so barren. On a more cheerful note, the island might be interest for whisky fans as well because of the well-known Talisker distillery.
Unfortunately, I had only one afternoon left to discover fabulous Glencoe. But what an afternoon! Splendid views in every direction even as I didn’t hike the trail to famous Glen Etive (better accessible with a car) but spent the afternoon in the Glencoe river valley, enjoying the evening sun. A fabulous area for all nature lovers, as is Scotland in general!
There are so many places left I didn’t have the chance to visit yet but are on my must-see list for next time: amongst them is the North Coast 500 Road from Inverness along the coast and fjords as well as the Orkney and Shetland Islands. See you again very soon, my dear Scotland!
I’d love to hear from you in the comments if you’ve been to Scotland and/or Wales and where.
© All photo rights belong to Kathleen Fritzsche.