The Welsh coastline is full of vibrant and diverse communities. We took a trip to six different locations to learn more about these different groups of people and the places they live.
People have been an integral part of the Welsh coastline for thousands of years, shaping their lives and communities alongside environmental and historical changes over the centuries.
From castles to quays and forts to fishing, communities have evolved from militaristic — defending their homes and villages against invaders — to shipping hubs — exporting coal and steel worldwide.
Long stretches of beach along the Atlantic Ocean offer opportunities for surfers, while dramatic cliffs provide hideaways for puffins, cormorants and other wildlife.
Beyond the history and natural beauty, the southern coast of Wales, over 200 miles long, is home to a rich tapestry of diverse and unique communities.
Locals give us a glimpse of their lives, and explain how they live, work and make the most of life on the coast.
Explore the areas in the story below with insights from those who call it home, and see what makes Wales’ coast so special. Start at St David’s and make your way east towards Cardiff.
“That was lucky!” my dad said as he burst through the front door. “What?” I replied. “The roof that blew off next door only just missed my car.”
A few days before, driving down a hillside revealed a beautiful sea view. The first real glimpse Pembrokeshire’s potential. Seeing Newgale beach bathed in sunshine I was excited to be headed back to St Davids, which is only another 15-minute drive.
St Davids is a coastal village that, thanks to its cathedral, boasts the title of Britain’s smallest city.
We carried on through picturesque St Davids to St Justinian’s harbour just outside the city. It was all blue sky and calm seas as we parked up and walked down the steps of the harbour past ice-cream-eating holiday makers, bird watchers and hikers on the cliff path.
After a catch-up with my cousin who was working at the harbour, two people rowed ashore in a small steel dingy. The skipper and crew of the Gower Ranger: the ferry boat across the one-mile channel to Ramsey Island Nature Reserve.
As we stood chatting in the amazing Easter sunshine, I asked the skipper about ferry trips over to the island later in the week.
“I wouldn’t count on it,” he replied.
The frank response owed to Hurricane Hannah, that unbeknownst to me was due hit headland in the coming days.
Six or seven on the Beaufort Scale is going to make passenger trips unlikely, storm force ten winds with a sea state going past the coastguards’ category of ‘very rough’ to ‘high’ guarantees you won’t be going to sea.
Pembrokeshire’s coastal national park is an area of outstanding natural beauty, and if you’re lucky enough to get good weather there’s few better places to spend your holidays.
I would recommend checking the forecast beforehand though.
When I visited Rhossili Beach last fall, I was able to explore the cliffs and beach. The day was beautifully sunny, reasonably warm, and only a light breeze — not enough to warrant the extra layers I had brought along.
This second trip was slightly different.
Sunny…sort of. Warm…not exactly. Breezy…more like gale-force winds.
Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but it is one thing to stand on a cliff edge and feel the wind swirl around you, and something else entirely to set up an expensive piece of equipment and leave it to fend for itself in the wind.
Prepping for a trip across Wales in April, we were not naive enough to assume that we’d have fabulous days along the way, but I was crossing my fingers that the wind, at least, would be less.
See, the best way to set up a 360 camera is to use a monopod instead of a tripod (less to get in the way of the all-seeing cameras), but a distinct disadvantage of a monopod is the lack of stability in even the weakest of breezes.
Combined with uneven ground and wind strong enough to cause us to stagger when caught unaware…taking an image of the breathtaking view along Rhossili Cliffs seemed more likely a quick trip down for the camera.
So, we did what we do best: improvise.
Backpacks and camera bags became loadstone for the base of the camera, we moved it back to a higher spot nowhere near a cliff and dove into patches of nettles to avoid being caught on camera.
We all held our breath during the two and a half minutes it took to record a video and snap a couple pictures, then rushed out of our hiding spaces to check that the camera was still upright and intact (spoiler alert: it was).
Though we were able to borrow a friend’s car for most of the trip, the stretch to Swansea was easier done by public transport. So, three of us planned to take the train and let’s be honest, for an international student who is not familiar with Welsh railways, it was quite an exciting and eventful experience.
We all know two kinds of people when it comes to travelling. One who makes sure they are at the airport or railway station hours before the actual time and the other half who reach right on time to just scrape through and get right before the train or plane leaves. I will shamelessly admit that I am the second type of person and this habit gave me a really memorable experience this trip.
The train was supposed to leave at 8.05am from Swansea. Even though I woke up on time and made my way out of the house as fast as I could, it somehow was 8.02am when I got off the bus.
I started sprinting my way all across the roads to the station, where I was confused whether to buy a ticket from the counter or the electronic kiosk. Once I got my ticket, I ran to platform three, where the train was already about to leave.
The next scene in my mind is a slow motion of me jumping onto train, as the train door closes behind me. Let’s just say that it was one of those dramatic scenes in a movie which decides the fate of a character.
Even though I thought everything was fine now, I soon realised that this was two trains stuck together and that my friends who were already on the train (as I mentioned above, they were kind who are always early while traveling) were not on the same carriage, but the train in front of me.
My first time on Welsh railways was a crazy experience that I feel I will remember forever and a small tip for you all: do get to the station at least five minutes before the train leaves.
Swathi Subhash Nair
Wales is not a particularly large country, so growing up here has meant that I have been to all of these locations many times. You would think that this would make it easy for me to remember where castles are for example?
It turns out this is not the case as on my way to go film at Kidwelly castle I managed to drive pretty much all the way to Llansteffan. In my defence, both locations have incredible castles but in reality, are not very close to each other.
It was only after I got lost trying to get to Llansteffan that I saw a sign back the way I came pointing to Kidwelly that I realised my mistake. So in fairness, my sense of direction got me lost but also put me on the right track.
Now I could recommend getting a bus to any of the locations to avoid getting lost on the way but frankly with the advent of google maps that just seems redundant. I will say this though, the buses are efficient and pretty cheap but Wales is stunning and driving around the country roads is a good way of seeing this.
As the driver for our three-day road trip, I feel equipped to talk about the peaks and troughs of travelling along the South Wales coastline. Nearly 200 miles on a motorway would surely cause little problems for a relatively new driver like myself (I got my first car this month and haven’t stopped mentioning it), but the further West you go, the more winding and narrow the roads become.
My main pearl of wisdom for any aspiring road-trippers is if you are in Pembrokeshire, and on twisty, turning roads, maybe just slow down as you approach corners. I’ll never forget the moment a very large Range Rover came bustling round the corner, with my trusty guide, Hannah, adopting the brace position in the passenger seat. She was convinced this was when she’d meet her doom.
Swathi, however, was snoozing away in the back seat, somehow managing to drift off despite our close call with death. So, I couldn’t have been that bad a driver, right?
Another tip for drivers is to make sure you stop plenty of times along the way – especially if you see a quaint little cafe that serves fish and chips. As the token West Walian on our trip, I was eager to show the best this part of the country had to offer. And if you’re anywhere near Tenby, you’re no further than 30 seconds away from a chippie at any given time.
When you’ve finished filling your stomachs and are ready to get back on the road, my final tip is to make sure you’ve curated the perfect playlist for your road trip. I decided to stay on-brand and play some Catatonia for my fellow travellers (Cerys Matthews did live in Pembrokeshire, after all), but anything that keeps everyone’s energy up is a good idea. Unless you’re Swathi, who soon after we drove away from the cafe, drifted into a heavy slumber once again.
As someone from the Valleys, Cardiff Bay has always been a haunt of mine. But, I have a confession to make: I’ve never really been that excited by it. I’ve always thought of it as our rainier answer to the French Rivera, or that place you inevitably end up spotting in the background of every single BBC Wales production.
Yet, surrounded by international friends, I’ve come to appreciate the Bay through fresh eyes. For example, seeing the joy on Hannah’s face as she recites interesting facts about Welsh coal to me (did you know it burns 1 degree higher than most other coal? No, me neither). Or Swathi’s sheer delight the moment she realises she’s stood in yet another Doctor Who filming location.
I’ve come to realise that what’s special about Cardiff Bay is that it’s where our city, and the whole of Wales, meets the rest of the world. In the nineteenth century, that was through the thousands of ships that passed in and out of its waters every year; now, it’s through our cultural contributions to the world.
Doctor Who? Check. Roald Dahl? Also check. Dame Shirley Bassey? Hell yes, check. The more you wander around its streets, the more you feel the Bay’s international heartbeat. So, next time you’ve got the chance, hop on the train (or the aqua bus) and explore the Pearl of the Taff for yourself.