Around the world in eight Wales days

Over the last few years there have been many reasons not to travel overseas. Our post-pandemic, climate-aware, cost-of-living-crisis times have caused many of us to explore more widely the UK and all it has to offer.

They have also brought about great change in the travel writing and outdoor writing industries.

Which is why I chose to write the below submission for the 2022 National Geographic Travel Writing competition on the topic of Wales rather than anywhere further flung.

I didn’t win any prizes.

But I did enjoy the writing challenge. And the opportunity to celebrate a beautiful country I can visit on an adventure by train, in my campervan.

Or just by walking across a bridge.

A whole world in Wales

Summer 2022

The best travel experiences are unexpected. I originally designed our round-Wales road trip to reduce our mileage and climate impact. It surprised us by taking us around the world.

The Yukon on Llyn Clywedog

Llyn Clywedog is a quieter sister of the Elan Valley reservoirs. As our practice paddle smoothed us up the creek from the sailing club, the meditative bow ripples steadied my nerves. By the time we turned to face the wider reservoir it wasn’t just my canoe that was Canadian, I was paddling along the steep, pine-clad slopes of a Yukon lake.

The New Zealand coast on the Mawddach Estuary Trail

New Zealand’s Bay of Islands boasts subtropical beaches, yacht charters and Maori culture. But my strongest memory is of its smell. Crossing oozing waters, the wooden walkways between Paihia and Opua lead you through steamy mangrove thickets. The salt marsh aromas of Wales’ Mawddach Estuary took me right back.

Tyrolean pastures on the Llŷn Peninsula

I could almost hear the ‘tong tong’ of Kuhglocken-clad cattle grazing. Except I wasn’t in the Austrian Tyrol. I was sunbathing under the glowering gaze of Gryn Goch on the Llŷn Peninsula. I didn’t lounge for long. In the opposite direction the sea was calling.

A Faroe Island near Aberdaron

Vertical cliffs topped by unfeasibly green grassland have allocated the Faroe Islands a rank on my travel bucket list. Perhaps it should have been no surprise to find, as we gazed over the edge of the Wales, that a miniature Faroe Island had drifted a thousand kilometres south. After all, Ynys Enlli does mean ‘island in the currents’.

The edge of Iceland at Llyn Eigiau

Iceland has wild interiors. As a younger woman I was dissatisfied by the accessibility of these areas, my older self has discovered pleasure in hovering along the edge of epic landscapes. As we struggled against the weather up the track to Llyn Eigiau, I had no intention of venturing further into the Carneddau. But the experience took me back to my first edge experience around Iceland’s Ring Road.

Borth’s petrified forest

It seems unlikely I’ll ever visit Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park but I was thrilled to find a reduced version on the beach between Ynyslas and Borth. As if the idea of a forest stuck in time wasn’t enough, the knowledge that shifting sands and the vagaries of Welsh weather could render it invisible at any moment made the discovery all the more exciting.

An English castle at Skenfrith

Just a kilometre inside the Welsh border, the village of Skenfrith looks determinedly English. I have long wanted to capture a castle by swimming its moat. At Skenfrith Castle I came very close in the effervescent waters and deep pools of the Afon Mynwy.

Welsh ruins at Cwm Penmachno

Even the shortest round-the-world journey ends at home. I haven’t seen a location more Welsh than the Rhiw Bach ruins. Perched above the remote Machno valley, this village was home to slate quarrymen and their families. A tough life but the fallen slate roofs also whispered of moments of domestic contentment.

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