The best ‘secret’ places are the ones you stumble across yourself. But here are some lesser-known places along The Coastal Way that we’ve discovered on our own stumblings, and we think you’ll like them.
Bardsey is the ‘island of 20,000 saints’, who are supposedly buried here, far outnumbering the current population of living souls (just four). Bardsey has always been a place of refuge, retreat and pilgrimage. You can do it as a day-trip, or stay in one of nine self-catering cottages, which is the best way to see thousands of nocturnal Manx shearwaters ghosting back to their burrows. We call this place Ynys Enlli, which means ‘the island in the currents’.
Or to give it its correct Welsh title, Porth Neigwl. But we can see why it got the nickname. The gaping jaws and four-mile sands face straight into the Atlantic sou’westerlies, which made it a nightmare for sailors of old - but it’s heaven for surfers today. Surf schools run daily courses here; the waves get progressively bigger as you move northwards along the beach. Local surfers reckon that Llŷn’s best barrel is next-door at Porth Ceiriad (but on big-sea days, it’s definitely best left to experts).
Shell Island (Mochras in Welsh) has one of the biggest camp sites in Europe, but the reason campers love it so much is that it’s always possible to find a private nook among the dunes, woods and meadows which still gives it that ‘wild camping’ feel, even though it’s got all the mod cons. The winter storms wash up a fresh supply of shells every year, so it’s practically impossible to walk on the sands without treading on some of the 200-odd species that you can collect here.
Ceredigion’s longest beach runs for three miles (5km) up from Borth to the sand dunes of the Dyfi Ynyslas National Nature Reserve. The ebbing tide reveals the gnarled stumps of a 5,000-year-old forest. This, according to local legend, is Cantre'r Gwaelod (the ‘lower hundred’), an ancient kingdom that was swamped when the gatekeeper Seithennyn got drunk and forgot to shut the flood gates.
Queen Victoria once owned Ynyshir Hall as her coastal retreat. Its grounds are now a RSPB reserve, and the house is Ynyshir (they’ve dropped the ‘Hall’ bit), a Michelin-starred restaurant-with-rooms. The food is extraordinary: chef-owner Gareth Ward’s intricate taster-menus mix local and international flavours with considerable panache.
Pwll y Wrach
The ‘Witches’ Cauldron’ is one of the Pembrokeshire coast’s most startling sights: a giant crater formed by a collapsed cave, connected to the sea by a tunnel. The coast path takes you directly over the arch; kayakers (and seals) take the subterranean route to land on a shingle beach inside the crater.
Newport plays it deliberately discreet and low-key, so it’s not immediately obvious why this little estuary town is North Pembrokeshire’s most desirable holiday spot. Llys Meddyg (it means ‘doctor’s court’) is a restaurant-with-rooms that has its own smokehouse, a cocktail menu that’s based on its own herb-infused spirits, and runs various food-related courses (foraging, fish filleting and smoking, butchery).
There’s been a woollen mill in this little wooded valley since the 17th century, when local farmers brought their fleeces to be spun into yarn and woven into blankets. Owned by the same family since 1912, Melin Tregwynt still makes fabrics in the traditional way. So far, so quaint – but it’s their very contemporary eye for design that has made them a favourite of hip hotels and fashionistas.
The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is an old slate quarry that’s been picturesquely swamped by the sea, leaving a turquoise lagoon in its place. The Red Bull Cliff Diving world series has visited three times, but anyone can enjoy it – it’s a five-minute walk (or kayak) from the car park in Abereiddi. There are usually coasteering groups mucking around here, plucking up the courage to do the 12m leap from the top.
The Bug Farm
The entomologist, insect farmer and TV presenter Dr Sarah Beynon runs this working farm, research centre and visitor attraction just outside St Davids. The Bug Farm has plenty of serious scientific messages about ecology and sustainability, but it’s also a huge amount of fun, especially if you’ve got kids. The café’s menu includes lots of edible insects, naturally.