Light-headed from a swig of fine Welsh whiskey, I decided to turn off the lights and rest my aching muscles after an incredible day of mountain biking. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I was surprised to see a million stars twinkling in the night sky outside my window. Just 2 hours from the city of Manchester, by the majestic Lake Vyrnwy, I sat under the Milky Way, spotting constellations and shooting stars, and thanking *my* stars that I ended up in North Wales – definitely the most underrated part of the United Kingdom.
I have to confess that Scotland and Northern Ireland had stolen my imagination as I planned my blogging trip to Britain, but as luck would have it, I wound up in Wales on a wild adventure trip. Wales Tourism Board cheekily gifted us a pack of relaxing salt foot soak, sure that we’d need it by the end! Seriously, I should’ve known by their sense of humour that this was going to be quite the trip.
I’m saving the adventures (think surfing, canyoning and coasteering) for another post, because first, I need to share all the other reasons I unexpectedly fell so in love with Wales:
Welsh culture and language: Just fascinating!
Given India’s colonial history with Britain, I was surprised by how little I knew about Welsh culture. In 5 short days, I was as fascinated by the country’s dramatic past (and the ancient castles that bear witness to it) as by the innate friendliness with which locals interact with each other. The Welsh language, part of the Celtic group of languages, is mind-boggling. For starters, Wales is called Cymru in Welsh and pronounced kh-um-ri; ‘how are you’ in Welsh is Sut wyt ti? The bilingual road signs while driving through the country sure kept me entertained!
Wales also has a village whose claim to fame is the world’s longest name, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch – which translates to “St Mary’s Church in the hollow of the White Hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio near the red cave!”
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I always imagined Scotland to have Britain’s most breathtaking scenery, but my only glimpse of the Scottish Highlands outside of Inverness (I know I need to go back and explore more) didn’t inspire me as much as the rugged mountain scenery and vast green meadows of Snowdonia National Park. We saw more sheep than people, and I experienced the most vivid dreams in that pure mountain air.
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Welsh towns are right out of a storybook!
My first Welsh town was Conwy, a UNESCO world heritage town built within the walls of a 13th century castle – and despite being a tad touristy, I loved its old medieval-era houses and even spotted an organic community garden that welcomed anyone to pick fresh vegetables for no cost. But what I loved more were the countless little towns we drove through, stopped for lunch in, and killed some rainy days – cobbled streets, old stone houses, cool pubs, so much to love!
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I casually asked a local what the most popular festival in Wales was, expecting the answer to be Christmas or perhaps a music festival. Turns out, the biggest festivals in the country are centred around poetry, literature, writing and an inward search for a national identity. I imagined them to be much like the ‘poetry on tap’ nights we had back in college, only on a bigger, more festive scale. Beyond The Border, an international Storytelling festival in Wales is one for the bucket list!
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An adventurous soul
Northern Wales is on its way to becoming Britain’s adventure capital and I can tell that adventure is ingrained in the local spirit. Every rare car that crossed us had a kayak on its roof or mountain bikes in its trunk; every other local I chatted with had been on or was planning to embark on some epic adventure (one guy was getting ready for a cross-country kayaking expedition!). The mountain biking and surfing centres we visited encouraged kids to start training as early as 6 years… imagine if we did that in India 😉
But the real ode to Wales’ adventurous soul? They’ve created a whole new adventure sport called coasteering! The idea is to hike along the coast, jump off cliffs into the sea, swim to secret coves (so what if the water is 6 degrees?), scramble up rocks and get upto more craziness… all in the name of a casual sport.
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Epic night skies
I think my real “OMG, I love Wales” moment happened the night I sat alone on my balcony, under the most incredible night sky I’ve seen this year, second only to Ladakh; it sure quashed my notion of Britain as merely dull and rainy!
North Wales: Travel Tips
Visa for Wales: Indian passport holders need a UK visa to enter Wales, and I had a somewhat challenging time scoring one (Read: How I Manage Visas on My Indian Passport as I Travel Around the World). The process is the same as applying for a Schengen / Canadian visa, but VFS UK in India doesn’t have a reliable helpline for status updates. Since I didn’t opt for a fast-track visa, it was a nail-biting wait till the day I was to fly out; I’m glad I scored it on the 11th working day. Give yourself plenty of time or go fast track.
How to travel to and in Northern Wales: We took a flight from Inverness to Manchester, from where the Welsh border is about a one-hour drive. Much like the Schengen zone, there are no immigration checks within the UK. We did a road trip through Northern Wales, though some of it can be covered by public transport.
Where to stay: I loved my stay at Lake Vyrnwy Hotel & Spa, for its bird’s eye view over Lake Vyrnwy and the dark night skies. The next time I go back, I’d love to stay at little B&Bs all along the Welsh countryside.
Vegan/vegetarian food in Wales: I had a bit of a tough time finding vegan food in Wales, but mostly because we were on a pre-decided itinerary and ate at hotel restaurants. In some towns we stopped along the way, I came across cafes and pubs with a few vegan/vegetarian options. See Happy Cow and Eat Out Vegan Wales for ideas.
Has Wales made it to your UK travel wishlist?
I wrote this post as part of the #FindYourEpic blogging trip in Northern Wales, hosted by Visit Wales and Visit Britain. Falling in love with Wales was easy!
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Welcome to my blog, The Shooting Star. I’ve been called a storyteller, writer, photographer, digital nomad, instagrammer, social entrepreneur, solo traveller, vegan, sustainable tourism consultant and environmentalist. But in my heart, I’m just a girl who believes in the transformative power of travel.
Sounds amazing. I’ve only been to Cardiff, definitely need to return
Awesome, I need to go to Cardiff and South Wales!
Awesome one!! What amazing photography…
I am planing for a bhutan trip solo.How can I plan it and how much time do u think is good enough to visit bhutan?
I haven’t been there yet, but in the mountains, the more time the better always!
I haven’t been home in so long, this post actually makes me look forward to travelling my own country one day! Perfect 🙂
Oh wow, lucky you to have grown up in such a cool country!
Do read below
I read about you.. But I also read the true story
” INTO THE WILD “..
( also a movie in the same name )
So no need to gave up home, job, friends or anything…
Because as sited by the traveller in the above described passage true happiness can only be found by sharing with your friends, family, co- workers, not by travelling alone.
Man is indeed a social being & happiness in the roads seem bright at first but thirst at last. So no need to run away from home. Because all searches of happiness only ends at the starting point.
No way I try to put down your endeavor & neither to loose your spirit. But I am telling you what I believe so that you too can enjoy lasting happiness..
I guess we all have different definitions of happiness… that’s what keeps our lives interesting!
Shivya, this is amazing!!! I know basically nadda about Wales, so this was incredibly informative. I love learning about culture and the lived experience of a place from fresh eyes. Thanks for sharing with us and allowing us to live it with you!
Thanks Mack! I was in the same boat before I got to Wales, and was really pleasantly surprised. Hope you make it there someday!
Hey, Shivya. Nice to know your thoughts on this trip. Just curious, why did you have trouble with the visa if you were visiting on an invite by the Wales Tourism Board?
It was primarily because the visa office here in India has no reliable helpline for an update on the visa status (unlike most other visa application centres). When I called the UK office, they had outdated information and told me (incorrectly) that there was no way my visa would be processed in time for my trip!
Mesmerizing night skies indeed. I wonder how it’d take for a non-welch person to pronounce the name of the village. I’m planning to visit Wales next year and this post will definitely come handy. Thanks a bunch!
That’s awesome Mamta, you’ll love Wales, especially the north. Don’t miss Snowdonia and its epic landscapes and adventure sports! Pronouncing the name of that village – kudos to anyone who can get it right :p
Preparing for my trip to India next week I found you via Pinterest…
I am in Chester just across the border and love that you are awed by Wales and sharing your thoughts and experiences.
Funnily the image I chose to pin your site I now find is of you by Lake Vernwy!
Where to next? Can you fit in Anglesey? My favourite
What a small world Emma! Let me know if you need any recommendations for your India trip 🙂
I’m in Central America now, but will definitely be looking to go back to the UK maybe post winter; I’ll try to make it to Anglesey then!
Yes isn’t it!Thanks I will. First 2 weeks exploring silk, Champa and Varanasi then meeting a friend in Gujarat, (textile focus to trip ), about a week left open for opportunities ! Noticed where you are after writing, must be fantastic and varied. I’ve spent a lot of time in Caribbean but S American continent on the list.
I don’t really want all the mail I seem to have generated so forgive me if I lose contact by accident, but will looking at your blog
If you like Wales, you should check out the hilarious show Gavin & Stacey on Netflix. One of my favorite shows of all time was about a Welsh chick and an English guy’s relationship. So funny, and there aren’t too many episodes.
It sounds wonderful Shivya. I went on a walking holiday there years ago over Christmas and remember days of walking the endless rolling hills and me and three guys cooking Christmas dinner together in a beautiful old stone cottage – probably in one of those villages you drove through.
‘Nice one Shivya!
I’ve been to Wales a few times and the National Parks are just so beautiful with mountains, hills, and the sea. Wales was also where I learnt how to ride a horse properly. Don’t ask! ‘Lovely, lovely people too especially with their sing-song accents lol!
I loved that “OMG, I love Wales” moment..In fact, I repeated it myself here sitting in my study room in India reading your Blog. And Loved that pic of that Night Sky..Really..OMG..!!! 😀 <3
Thanks Shivya for a very pleasant read, or should I say “Diolch yn fawr”.
The Welsh Tourist Board should arrange a return visit as a means of saying thanks for a well written piece. The street scene is in Dolgellau, rather than Conway, and it of the Cross Keys Pub – my local. There re many unspoilt medieval towns up here in the North.
Really enjoyed reading this. As an American of Welsh descent I’ve done my best to learn about my culture, but decided the best way to really connect with it is to eventually move to Wales. Reading pieces like this help me realize I’m making the right choice.
Diolch (thank you) 🙂
Now I really need to go to Wales. Wales is on the top of my travel list. Thank you.
I am so glad youloved Wales. It is really underappreciated generally and it feel like a hidden gem when you discover it! DFull of poetry and romance I find!