If you’re here to walk, then where in South Wales you want to walk is likely to influence when you come. If you’re walking the coast path, then summer is clearly the best time in terms of weather, but you will be reckoning on loads of other people doing the same, and it can get murderously busy, particularly on the more popular sections of the path like Pembrokeshire – notwithstanding the fact that it’ll be much harder to find accommodation during this period.
For this reason the best time to tackle the coast path is late spring (April/May), not only because of the thinner crowds but also because of the profusion of flora, with wildflowers coming into bloom across the clifftops. You may also see dolphins and other cetaceans gambolling off the Pembrokeshire coast.
September, too, can be a lovely time; the crowds have largely dispersed and the weather is probably at its most reliable, though most of the birds have gone by this stage. The great thing about the coast path of course is that in theory you can walk it any time of the year, so if you’re feeling particularly hardy – and don’t mind the biting winds – then winter is always an option.
The Brecon Beacons is a slightly different proposition: winter and early spring are almost certainly out of the equation, with snow often remaining on higher ground until well into March. Therefore, late spring and early summer is the optimum time to walk, though the weather can change drastically at any time so thorough preparation is paramount; the Brecon Beacons are very exposed, so heat can be just as much of a factor.
As for inland South Wales, again late spring and early summer (before the school holidays) is a good time, as the weather is at its most reliable and everything is open. The Valleys are not exactly a tourist hotspot, so go any time of year and you’ll pretty much have the run of the place.
If you’re here specifically to see wildlife, late spring and early summer is the best time. Puffins, for example, start to arrive on Skomer in late March/early April, along with most of the migrant fauna (guillemots, razorbills, Manx shearwater).September/October is prime pupping time for the colonies of Atlantic grey seals.
Public holidays and festivals
In early March, you can start shedding a few of those winter calories attending the superb Crickhowell Walking Festival, nine days of exhilarating treks around the Brecon Beacons, alongside talks and other events. At the end of the month, the focus switches to Laugharne and all things Dylan Thomas courtesy of the Laugharne Weekend, three days of readings, film and music.
Towards the end of May, the behemoth that is the Hay Literary Festival rolls into this small town, or more accurately an enormous field just outside town. Attended by the most celebrated names in the industry as well as actors, comedians and musicians, this ten-day gathering seems to get bigger every year.
In July, Caerphilly’s famous cheese is celebrated in all its crumbly glory in the rollicking Big Cheese Festival up at the castle, featuring historical re-enactments, a monster tug-of-war, and more cheese than you can shake a cocktail stick at.
August and it’s time for Green Man, whose setting in the heart of the Black Mountains, combined with a consistently first-class line up, as well as a strong focus on art and science, ranks it among the favourites on the British festival circuit. Tickets are invariably snapped up within days of going on sale.
The big one in September is the Abergavenny Food Festival, usually around the third weekend in September. One of Europe’s premier gastronomic events, it’s attended by a who’s who of culinary greats, with talks, tastings, masterclasses and much more in venues including the Victorian market hall and castle grounds.
Nothing in South Wales – or anywhere in Wales come to think of it – compares to Porthcawl’s Elvis Fest, the largest festival in the world (how many are there?) dedicated to ‘The King’. Some 30,000 ‘Elvies’ descend on this small seaside resort for a riotous weekend of singing and strutting, with official shows staged at the town’s Grand Pavilion. It really is a sight to behold.
Founded by prominent Welsh DJ Huw Stephens, the Swn Festival is Cardiff ’s big annual music hoedown; there’s no specific date but it usually takes place in early/mid autumn, its raison d’être to showcase emerging acts across multiple city-centre venues, but mostly those in and around Womanby Street like Clwb Ifor Bach.