In spite of the rain, South West England and Southern Wales truly are beautiful places to visit- perhaps even some of the most stunning locations in the entirety of the United Kingdom. Full of culture and oodles of history, a road trip here is the perfect place to spend a long weekend. Soak up the sights, learn all about the history and try lots of local delicacies (read: all the cheese!), here’s how to spend three days in England and Wales.
Day one: South West England
Exeter: The historic town of Exeter lies on the River Exe and comes complete with a large cathedral, Roman ruins and an award-winning museum. If you love a bit of magic, then it’s worth noting that JK Rowling studied in Exeter and so you’ll find plenty of Harry Potter inspiration throughout the city.
Wells: One of the very smallest cities in England and Wales is that of Wells, a tiny city lying in the foothills of the Mendip Hills. Settled since at least Roman times, here you’ll find plenty of cobbled lanes, a large cathedral and all of the ecclesiastical history you could ever wish for!
After all, head to Wells and you’ll be able to wander around the Liberty of St Andrew (ancient city walls), the Bishop’s Palace (a medieval palace you can visit for a fee), Vicar’s Close (a pretty little cobbled lane full of old houses and beautiful architecture), and of course, the cathedral itself.
Cheddar Town and Gorge: Cheddar is not only home to the iconic British cheese (a must-eat while you’re in the UK), but also home to an attraction of steep hills and winding valleys known as ‘Cheddar Gorge’. “Like something from outer space” is the term I’d use to describe the massive gorge that cuts its way through the hills just outside Cheddar.
The cheddar gorge caves were also the site of plenty of Upper Late Paleolithic human activity (12,000-13,000 years ago), meaning that the oldest complete human skeleton ever found in the UK (dating back 9000 years) was found here in the early 1900s. Head to Cheddar Gorge to see some amazing geography and learn about prehistoric men in the Museum of Prehistoric Men at Cheddar Gorge.
Cheddar Gorge Valley and Village, a colour photolithograph taken in the 1890s, via Wikipedia
Weston-Super-Mare: The old seaside resort town of Weston-Super-Mare is located in Northern Somerset. It’s one of the oldest seaside getaway spots in the UK and is a must-see if you love fish and chips, old piers and friendly locals. If you want to head for the best fish and chips in town, then I highly recommend Papa’s Traditional Fish and Chips of Weston-Super-Mare. All fish served is freshly caught and there’s plenty of options for us non-meat eaters as well!
Weston-Super-Mare circa 1935, Overlooking the pier and beach via Wikipedia
Day two: Welsh adventures
Tintern Abbey: The ancient and romantic ruins of Tintern Abbey are all that is left of a once thriving 12th-century religious community. Founded by Walter de Clare in 1131, the Monastery was tragically dissolved during the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII in the 16th-Century. Today, you can wander around its ghostly ruins and imagine what life must have been like for the monks in South Wales all those centuries ago.
Monmouth: Located in Monmouthshire, the ancient market town of Monmouth is where you’ll find the first town in the UK transformed into a ‘Wikipedia Town’. Nicknamed ‘Monmouthpedia’, throughout the town you’ll find little plaques with QR codes. You can scan these on your phone and a Wikipedia page will pop up, informing you all about its history and provenance of the location you’re at. Asides from the Monmouthpedia plaques, you’ll find plenty of little stores, a covered medieval bridge and the ruins of the Castle where Henry V was born.
Raglan Castle: Beautiful and mysterious, Raglan castle is one of the best castles in Wales, if not the UK. Located just outside the charming town of Raglan, the ruins of this late medieval castle can be explored, walked around and most definitely photographed. The castle has a rich history, dating back all the way to Norman Times and its location along the A40 means that it can easily be combined with a trip to nearby Monmouth or Abergavenny.
Hay-on-Wye: Of all the things we did during our three days in England and Wales, our visit to Hay-on-Wye was probably my favourite activity. The ‘town of books’ is one of those ‘must-see’ Welsh destinations and no road trip of three days in England and Wales would be complete without at least a brief perusal of its many bookshelves. Even the ruined castle has been converted into one giant outdoor bookstore!
Pengennfordd: On our second (and final) night of the road trip, we stayed overnight in Pengennfordd, a charming hamlet in the very heart of the Brecon Beacons. Our room for the night was located in Castle Cottage and came in at a very reasonable £30 for two. (And no, this post wasn’t sponsored or anything- we just really enjoyed our stay- especially when it started snowing in the morning!)
The stay also came with the exclusive use of the outdoor hot tub and its own ensuite. If you’re looking for something a little more adventurous, then the couple who run the property also have a real-life Hobbit house you can rent out instead. Within an hour’s walk of the cottage, you’ll also come across the highest castle ruins in England and Wales- well worth the uphill walk in my opinion!
Day three: A taster of the Brecon Beacons
Tretower Court and castle: On our way back towards England (and the toll bridge), I saw something flashing across the countryside, just outside of the car window. A castle! “We have to stop,” I cried as if we hadn’t seen enough castles already, and so we pulled up the car and stepped out to explore the charming village of Tretower.
Filled with small cottages, little chapels and winding lanes, the real star of the village is its ancient manor house and castle ruins. The Court House and Castle at Tretower have been inhabited for well over 900 years, meaning that there’s plenty of history to see and it has to be said that the castle ruins are particularly romantic.
Crickhowell: This independent town is all about supporting local businesses and small start-ups. As a result, you won’t find any large chains here, nor will you be able to shop for many non-local products. Situated between Abergavenny and Brecon, Crickhowell comes complete with a castle, a medieval bridge and plenty of countryside to explore.
Abergavenny: The ancient town of Abergavenny lies on the fringes of the Brecon Beacons and is a town steeped in history and legend. Here, you’ll find the ruins of a castle, lots of independent boutiques and plenty of friendly locals. You could easily spend a couple of hours here, enjoying a coffee, wandering the small stores and visiting the ruins of the medieval castle. And so that’s what we did, and it was the perfect end to our three days in England and Wales!