Wales Coast Path: Information and Advice

Southbound

Start: Chester, North Dee Cyclepath

Finish: Old Wye Bridge, Chepstow

Distance: 870 miles (1,400km)

Total ascent: 100,414ft (30,606m)

  • North Wales Coast (78 miles)
  • Anglesey (133 miles)
  • Llyn Peninsula (123 miles)
  • Meirionnydd Coast (57 miles)
  • Ceredigion Coast (71 miles)
  • Pembrokeshire Coast (175 miles)
  • Carmarthenshire Coast (62 miles)
  • Gower (64 miles)
  • South Wales Coast (114 miles)

What is the Trail Like?

The Wales Coast Path is not just a physical journey. It is a journey through over a millennium of geological, geographical, social and cultural history. It is extremely multi faceted, and also immensely varied in its character. From large cities to remote and rural cliffs, from long, sandy beaches to saltmarshes, from dunes to forested hills. You pass Iron and Bronze Age ruins and are able to see millions of years of geological history in the building of the cliffs and the hills and plains of the land. Castles, lagoons, rock stacks, burial chambers. There’s more than enough to make up for the static caravans, churned up bridleways and Milford Haven,

I found that each of the eight sections of coastline had their own personality and each was surprisingly different from the others. When I asked others who were familiar with the trail what their favourite parts were, everyone answered differently. These are the best answers, because it means that you’ll never feel that the best is over; that another recommended favourite is still to come.

How Challenging is the Trail?

Whilst I have normally answered this question succinctly in previous write ups, due to the length of this trail I am separating the answer into the individual coastline sections and answering for the four main components of what many people anticipate as challenging.

North Wales Coast

  • Terrain: Easy, unobstructed terrain without significant or strenuous ascent or descent. However there is a lot of road walking, which many find incredibly hard wearing after a fair distance.
  • Navigation: Navigation is straightforward and the path clearly defined throughout. There are markers for both the Wales Coast Path and the North Wales Coast Path. It would be very hard to lose the path entirely.
  • Resupply: There are multiple places each day to resupply.
  • Water: Natural water sources are few and far between and I would recommend expecting to fill up your water from indoors sources.

Anglesey

  • Terrain: Varied but generally easy to moderate. More farmland leads to more mud, and the path itself isn’t always defined as anything more than a direction. No strenuous ascent or descent.
  • Navigation: Navigation is straightforward and the path clearly defined throughout. There are markers for both the Wales Coast Path and the Anglesey Coast Path. There are areas where the path is not defined in the ground but, in my opinion, it is still easy to follow. It is also easy to detour or divert if need be. However, it would also be slightly easier to get lost, though this would be unlikely to have any major consequences.
  • Resupply: There will be at least one place a day to resupply. The shops will be on the smaller and more local side, so be aware of opening hours and do not expect huge ranges of stock.
  • Water: Natural water sources are more abundant than North Wales, but I would still recommend filling up at taps when you get the opportunity. There is a lot of farmland on Anglesey so water is likely to be contaminated, and therefore should be filtered and treated before drinking.

Llyn Peninsula

  • Terrain: Varied. There begins to be longer ascents and descents between cliffs and valleys, prone to muddiness in parts with a number of farming fields to get through. There are many areas that are far more prone to erosion and the path itself is sometimes incredibly worn. Ultimately easy to moderate with long stretches of flat walking on wide and easily discernable paths.
  • Navigation: Clearly waymarked throughout with the Wales Coast Path marker and yellow tipped posts. At times the path is shared with the Pilgrimage Path. This being said, I feel this is one area where regular adjustments are made because of erosion, and therefore the path can be less clear at times, with sudden diversions or unclear alternative routes. Be prepared to plan your own alternative routes in the case of high tide or path collapse.
  • Resupply: Depending on your daily sections, there will be at least one place to resupply in each day. These will usually be small and local shops so be wary of opening hours and conscious of a limited stock. If push comes to shove, there are regular bus services that quickly cover the area and it is always a possibility to take a bus to Pwllheli to restock and return to where you left off.
  • Water: After Trefor, there are regular natural water sources. Due to the agricultural landscape, filter and treat your water before drinking.

Meirionnydd Coast

  • Terrain: More easy than moderate. Whilst it is easy, it is also frustrating, as the path chops and changes around seawalls, saltmarshes, roads, footpaths, cyclepaths and fields in order to navigate around the railway. For the first time on the trail, there’s the opportunity for long beach walks and the path utilises a number of dune systems so be prepared to walk on loose sand and shingle. There are hills at the start and the end, none are significant, but weather changes can definitely make them strenuous.
  • Navigation: For the same reason that the terrain is frustrating, the navigation is also. The piecemeal, patched together nature of the path here means that, unlike other areas, the path cannot simply be assumed to be the one closest to the sea. It is waymarked with the same frequency as the prior coasts, but a map is definitely useful to have close at hand.
  • Resupply: There are daily opportunities for a decent resupply.
  • Water: It is possible, with decent map reading and forethought, to fill from natural water sources the whole way, but it is not so easy that you can just assume it will be a given. Plan ahead. Due to the density and proximity of the farms, filter and treat your water before drinking.

Ceredigion Coast

  • Terrain: Mostly moderate. The path undulates more and more with only the lowland areas reliably flat. Much of it is exposed, and there is not easy shelter from the wind. For the most part, the path crosses large fields without definition (though the expectation is to follow the edge).
  • Navigation: Easy. The one time I became frustrated was on attempting to leave Aberystwyth. It is waymarked with markers for both the Wales Coast Path and the Ceredigion Coast Path and, ultimately, is very common sense.
  • Resupply: There will be somewhere everyday for you to resupply. This can range from large supermarkets to village shops.
  • Water: It was easy to find natural water sources along the Ceredigion Coast, as it is cut through with many channels. There is still a visible amount of sheep farming present so make sure to filter and treat your water before drinking.

Pembrokeshire Coast

  • Terrain: Moderate to frequently challenging. There is a lot of undulation over paths that vary from narrow and exposed to slippery and steep to those that are short scrambles. For most of each day you will be walking upwards or downwards. This is definitely the part of the path that requires the greatest fitness and stamina. Whilst very few of these undulations are individually difficult or strenuous, the amount of them can make the trail very tiring. The majority ventures over clifftops and cliffpaths so a degree of exposure is also experienced without easy shelter.
  • However, this is also the part of the trail with the most dedicated maintenance. So, for good or for bad, there has been a lot of effort to place in steps. Depending on your height, this is not always a benefit.
  • Navigation: Navigation is easy. It is waymarked by both the Wales Coast Path and Pembrokeshire Coast Path markers. Even without paying attention for those, most of the path is common sense. That all being said, the day I was trying to leave Pembroke Dock was the day I checked my map most all trail.
  • Resupply: The path can be incredibly slow going at times, and I would advise against only carrying for one day at a time in case you do not make your expected miles. The local shops in the villages the path passed through here had the most limited stock of all the coastlines. Resupply is definitely something to be planned and not assumed.
  • Water: Easy. Natural sources are plentiful. Whilst there is less visible farming, still filter and treat your water before drinking; if for no other reason than this is the most remote area of the whole WCP and therefore the most inconvenient place to get a jippy tum.

Carmarthenshire Coast

  • Terrain: Varied, but generally easy. It was, by far, the muddiest coastline, especially in the areas where the path is shared with bridleways, which makes much of it a trudge. Like the Meirionnydd, it it a patchwork and can get incredibly frustrating. Even more so since it does not follow the coast itself; it follows the estuary. There is no significant ascent and descent, but the path definitely has its strenuous moments, mainly due to it being the least maintained of all the coastline paths. There are stretches of roadwalking, which may come as a relief after all the mud, but tracks and farmpaths are clearly suffering from a lack of upkeep.
  • Navigation: It did not appear to be waymarked with the same frequency as the prior coastline paths, and a map was definitely a requirement (especially as it isn’t necessarily common sense). It would be fairly easy to get yourself off trail accidentally, as I did a couple times, though consequences will not be significant and it would be relatively straightforward to find your way back to the coastpath.
  • Resupply: There are large supermarkets in Carmarthen, otherwise you can resupply from local shops which range in size from very small to mid sized. There will be an opportunity to resupply every day.
  • Water: Moderately easy. Natural sources are available, but should be planned for (i.e. identified on a map), and I would advise filling up with indoor taps when you have the opportunity.

Gower

  • Terrain: Relatively easy, and fairly flat with a few ascents over headlands and walks through dunes. It is mainly along saltmarshes, through fields, and by a few cliff tops, though I would not describe any of it as strenuous.
  • Navigation: Easy. Waymarking is generally clear though keep your wits about you to be able to discern the correct high tide routes if need be. The path itself is usually defined.
  • Resupply: A small to mid-sized shop will be passed every day.
  • Water: Easy. Natural sources are relatively frequent, but should be found on the map first to gauge your distance to them.

South Wales

  • Terrain: The Wales Coast Path is back now to being a very urban path with a fair amount of roadwalking. It is an easy coastline, and straightforward, without significant or strenuous ascent or descent. Where it isn’t urban, you are generally walking along grassy clifftops or on embankments over wetlands, neither of which are precarious though both can become exposed in poor weather.
  • Navigation: Easy. Waymarked throughout, and also has many defined, purpose built paths. This is with the exception of finding your way out of Cardiff where, I discovered, the description in the guidebook was the most accurate.
  • Resupply: Large supermarkets almost every day. On other days there are small, local shops.
  • Water: Most of your resupply here is going to be from taps due to the amount of towns and cities passed through. Do not rely on natural sources, there are not many obvious ones.

What is accommodation like?

Whichever way you would choose to go about it, accommodation, be it in campsites, hostels or hotels is incredibly easy. In summer. In summer, all these things are around, open and available in abundance. With the exception of the more popular small tourist towns and villages like Tenby, Rhossili and St. Davids, I am quite sure you could book on the day and not have much trouble finding a room due to the sheer volume of seasonal hospitality available.

For an extensive and thorough list of various guesthouses, bunkhouses and campsites available, go to Walescoastpath.info

For campsites, campsite.co.uk and pitchup are the go-tos. Annoyingly the price isn’t always listed before booking, and I would advise that you go and check out the tariff on each campsites website first as the price can fluctuate wildly from £8 to £30. Also be aware that the ‘open all year’ filter doesn’t actually guarentee that those listed will actually be open all year. Most of them are fibbing, and many just won’t respond.

There are a number of ‘Nearly Wild’ camping sites (nearlywildcamping and Cool Camping) along the path, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Both of these require a membership fee, yet have far fewer spaces to offer and suffer from the same issue with the filters as the formal campsites. I did buy a Nearly Wild Camping membership for around £25 and it was a total waste.

For Hostels on the path, The Independent Hostel Guide lists a fair few. Be warned that, as of writing this, many have gone either temporarily or indefinitely to being group accomodation only. The YHA is also worth a search, though be aware that when I walked the path in winter, absolutely none of them were open.

If, like me, you go out in winter, it’s all going to be much harder. Due to so many places not updating their websites to reflect the seasn, if you do wish to stay indoors on a few nights or find an official campsite, it can be a long slog and I would definitely go against my own form here and recommend using booking apps to prevent yourself going on a wild goose chase. In terms of campsites, just don’t expect any to be open.

If you are going to try it in winter, you are pretty much going to have to wildcamp.

Can I Wildcamp?

Legally, no. In theory, yes.

This is far, far easier on some of the coastline paths than others. I would say that on the North Wales Coast, the Meirionnydd, and the South Wales Coast, be prepared to book rooms. Long stretches of dense population or roads makes these areas far less suitable for wildcamping and unless you are planning ahead to come quite far off trail in order to wildcamp, you’re likely to run into a fair amount of end-day stress trying to find a pitch.

Be sure to check the direction and speed of the winds and account for it in trying to find sheltered pitches. The prevailing winds in the UK come from the west, and, well, for the most part you will be right on the west-most side of our island.

If you are going to wildcamp, please be absolutely vigilant in following the code. Those that do not abide by it risk turning local sentiment from accepting, interested or even supportive, into being strongly and vigilantly against the practice. And no one can blame them.

  • Where possible, obtain the landowner’s permission
  • Preferably camp solo, or with a single tent.
  • Camp in the one space for only one night. Return for a second at the maximum.
  • Pitch up as it is getting dark, leave early
  • Choose a space that is out of the way of main paths, is unobtrusive and discreet. Be aware that where you choose to pitch is not an area of protected growth or where ecological restoration attempts are being carried out. An area of only grass is definitely preferred.
  • No fires. Definitely no fires sourced from trees in the area. Even if you are going to use an official campsite where you are allowed a fire and need wood, don’t go chopping into standing trees.
  • Leave no trace. Understand that this encompasses more than just picking up your litter, it means leaving no impact. Nothing that will cause damage to the ground or surroundings, or disturb the environment (no fires, no music, pitch somewhere clear and unprotected). If you need the toilet, bury your waste and pack everything else out, this includes loo roll and female sanitary items. If this all sounds like effort, no fun and kinda icky to you, please don’t wildcamp.

What Guidebook and Map do I Bring?

There are two main guidebooks on offer. I brought along the Cicerone guidebook by Paddy Dillon and found it more than adequate. The Cicerone format is very easy to use and convenient to carry. In it, Dillon separates the trail into the eight coastlines and his proposed sections for each one. It can easily be used by long distance hikers, either looking to do the trail in one go or LASH it, or by day walkers.

Another guidebook that came highly recommended, but which I did not order or look at myself, is the The Wales Coast Path: A Practical Guide for Walkers by Christopher Goddard and Katherine Evans.

If you are looking to walk the trail all in one go, then I advise strongly against using the official guidebooks offered on the Wales Coast Path website. These are completely unsuitable for long distance hikes, and would require you buying a lot of books and spending a lot of money and somehow carrying them or arranging some complicated postal thing to have the right one at the right time. It isn’t worth it.

Likewise, I would advise against the Wales Coast Path app. It is clearly quite high spec with a decent budget behind it but runs more like a powerpoint presentation with a totally useless map. When questioned about it in app reviews, the response was that it was made for families to use, but I imagine that multigenerational groups are amongst the smallest demographics for anyone undertaking even just a couple day walks of the path. Honestly they’ve made a right hash of every part of their online presence and should be ashamed. The demographic that all their vision completely missed out was actual hikers. It’s almost a success how shambolic it is.

So don’t use their guidebooks, or use their app, and stay far away from the online map because, seriously, it will get you in trouble.

Whilst you do have the option of ordering paper maps, I worked out this would require me to obtain 22 Ordnance Survey maps and cost me £160. It isn’t like me to advise against paper maps, but when you’re needing them to walk 870 miles, that’s a lot of maps and a lot of weight. If you are determined then I suppose you could arrange a new map to be delivered somewhere near where the previous one runs out. If you aren’t happy about going out on trail without a paper map, I recommend only buying them for the Meirionnydd and Carmarthenshire, as the rest is so clear and easy to follow that it might end up being regrettable.

I downloaded the map from the Hiiker app. I also have the OS Maps app. I had the route loaded on my Garmin GPS, and, of course, Paddy Dillon’s route instructions and mini maps in the Guidebook so I was hardly without navigation. Whatever form of navigation you choose, make sure you have multiple aids, and whilst a coastpath is really very easy to follow, a compass is always a must for me. On a trail this long you don’t know when your visibility could be compromised by incoming coastal weather, A small compass that clips to your backpack weighs about 20g. Bring a compass.

Can I Cycle the Route?

You can certainly cycle parts of it, but not many. It is primarily built as a footpath and very few of the coastal or more rural areas were made with mountain bikes in mind. If you are looking for a cycle route around Wales, this isn’t it.

What Other Reports and Resources Would I Recommend?

Charles Hawes is the G.O.A.T of WCP reports. He set out north from Chepstow the day it opened and sectioned hiked the entirety over the next three years. Whilst this means that parts of it are out of date, and it doesn’t necessarily contain all the information that all-in-one hikers are looking for, it is still absolutely worth looking at. He is one of the very few (apart from yours truly of course, of course) who has documented each day of his walk thoroughly (with far superior words and pictures than myself). It is very much a personal blog, and it is incredibly enjoyable.

Martyn Howe from Trail Planner has a four part blog on his experience of the WCP if you are looking for something more to the point. He also walked in sections starting in Chepstow.

Tim and Laura are still walking. They are section hiking starting from Chester, but do not let their current incomplete status put you off; they have compiled very thorough reports on the local history as well as places to stay and where to eat and drink. They are currently halfway through the Meirionnydd and anticipate the whole thing will take them three years to complete.

However, in terms of accounts that follow people backpacking the route in one go, those are scant and often not particularly thorough. I will mention Hannah who has a charming blog, and now a book (soon a film) about her journey around Wales with Chico the Donkey. I know you’re probably not considering bringing a donkey. But just in case.

I also know that Emma Schroeder has completed the Wales Coast Path, but she is currently over 100 days behind in keeping up her blog as she circumnavigates the UK. However, her blog is all very funny and very sweet without ego, and her photographs are taken with a true eye for oddities. Perhaps go over there and give her a nudge.

If you are looking for very specific information on each coastline section, I really think reaching out to their various tourist information centres is your best bet. Ultimately there’s just too many miles to cover and keep up to date in any one place.

For other useful sites, look to the LDWA for a (somewhat analogue) roundup, with various links to accommodation and other informative sites. It is worth checking out the Wales Coast Path site just to get a feel for the path and perhaps some information on flowers, but that’s about it.

For weather, I use the DarkSky app due to it being hyperlocal and continuously updates. I also look at the MWIS. Despite the coast path not being in the mountains, it is worth keeping an eye on the weather through them as the positioning of the coast can easily make you a piece of cannon fodder for the worst and most sudden of meteorological changes.

Please feel free to contact me through my about page or on my Instagram with any questions. Good luck in all your journeys, may I wish you fair winds and following seas!

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