I studied abroad in Wales back in 2009 a semester before graduating with my undergrad degree (I know—I’m basically ancient!), and I still look back on that experience as one of the absolute best times of my life. It came at a really crucial time for me, and while I remember feeling homesick my first day (my sister Emily and I had traveled for two weeks through Europe, so she left me in Cardiff to head home on her own), I had the funnest and most jam-packed weeks of travel that summer! I made the most amazing friends, fell in love with Wales, and got to spend 7 weeks exploring Wales, England, and Scotland in a 15-passenger van. It was the best, and I have been wanting to return to Wales ever since. When Americans go over to the UK, Wales usually get skipped or forgotten altogether. BIG MISTAKE, people! You are missing out on some of the UK's best-kept secrets. Two things about Wales: 1--there are more castles per square mile than anywhere else in the world. 2--the sheep:person ratio is 3:1. Those stats alone should persuade you!
I wish we could have had a couple weeks to do some justice to the incredible country and people of Wales—I really want to spend some more time up in north Wales—but we just had a few hours there. I was happy to take what I could get though!
We made a quick stop in Bristol on our way there—Brandon needed a raincoat, so we grabbed one at Primark—before heading on to St. Fagan’s. St. Fagan’s is a place we visited on study abroad, and it is a majorly cool museum! It’s the Museum of Welsh Life and is almost entirely outdoors. You get to see how the Welsh (the original inhabitants of Great Britain) lived throughout the centuries. I highly recommend it, especially because it’s FREE!
We spent time walking the paths, admiring the buildings, and trying to keep the boys happy!
They had some really cute vintage shops that my mom obviously couldn’t resist. She bought us some delicious stroopwafels (which I affectionately dubbed “toffles” on study abroad since I had no idea what they were called), and we continued on our way.
We walked toward the castle (yes, there is even a castle within the museum!), and discovered that area not to be very stroller-friendly. But we played by the stream and ponds, letting Jonah run up and down the hill and Micah play near the ducks.
Next we made our way through the incredibly stunning Wye River Valley toward another favorite site from my study abroad: Tintern Abbey. This place is seriously magical. Despite being a victim to Henry VIII’s vendetta against the Church, the abbey is beautifully intact, despite missing a roof and floor, of course. It’s set in the Wye Valley at the bottom of a hill, next to the Wye River. I so wanted to take out the drone, but they have pretty strict drone laws there.
The boys loved running around the abbey (probably not the most reverent activity). Forgive the picture overload—I couldn’t not!
We were cutting it VERY close for our last stop. We made it with 2 minutes to spare before the ticket counter closed. The last stop of the day was Puzzlewood in Coleford (technically in England). THIS PLACE. It feels like another world once you enter the forest. JRR Tolkien roamed there and was inspired by it in his vision of Middle Earth. It’s also the location for a number of film sets (Star Wars included). We visited some of the animals (the rooster was a huge hit) before heading into the woods. We were literally the *only* people in the woods, and it was right as the golden light of sunset was shining through the thick trees. I can’t imagine it having been better than it was for us!
I had no idea how long the trail would be! If I could go back and redo it, I'd definitely wear the boys. Carrying them got to be very tiring, and they had to be monitored *really* closely if we let them down at all. We happened to go when there had been no rain for a couple days, but if you go when it's rained more recently, it will be VERY muddy.
It’s beautiful right as you enter, but the deeper we got, the more mystical and beautiful it became. Such a cool place! I could have spent hours in there.
If you have the chance, most definitely go to Puzzlewood! We all went home exhausted but feeling very fulfilled from a beautiful day!