Heart of Wales Line

Hiking the Heart of Wales

The Heart of Wales Line has trundled slowly and scenically between Swansea and Shrewsbury for over 150 years. Now, it’s providing fun for walkers too. Completed in 2019, the Heart of Wales Line Trail is a 225km hiking route that shadows the tracks, wending between stations and through miles of wonderful Welsh countryside.

Almost half of the trail lies within Carmarthenshire, stretching from waterside Llanelli to tiny Cynghordy, in the Afon Bran valley. On its way, it takes in Beacons and Fans, droving villages, ruined castles, moorland, farmland and endless ripples of green.

Although a bit of planning is required – trains run only four or five times a day (only twice on Sundays) – the railway provides easy access for hikers. “The line and the trail just fit,” says Les Lumsden, who devised the route. “Travelling by rail, going slow, walking between stations – it’s a marriage made in heaven.”

Walking the rails in a weekend

Two days is plenty for combining coast, castles, moors, valleys and gin on a fine walking weekend.

On Saturday, stride between Pontarddulais and Ammanford (14km), along the wild Graig Fawr ridge; from here, there are views of lush valleys to the west, the Brecon Beacons to the east and sparkling Loughor Estuary to the south.

Ammanford lies north,where Coaltown coffee’s, The Espresso Bar is located, set in the heart of the Old Victorian Arcade in Ammanford. From here, ride the train to pretty Llandeilo, for a detour to Dinefwr Castle, G&Ts at the Ginhaus and a night at the cool Cawdor Hotel.

HoWL trains don’t start until midday on Sundays, so start walking straight from Llandeilo. It’s 16km to Llangadog, via the hilltop ruins of Carreg Cennen castle and Carn Goch Iron Age hillfort. In Llangadog, raise a real ale in the Goose & Cuckoo while you wait for the train.

A week’s rail walking

Got a week? Walk the lot. Carmarthenshire’s section of the trail is around 100 varied kilometres, easily doable in a week.

Or pick and choose. The 11km Cynghordy to Llandovery stretch offers some of the best views, across the Carmarthen Fans and the Brecon Beacons, and ends in the old drovers’ town. Indeed, Llandovery makes a good base – stay at The Castle and refuel at the Old Printing Office.

The following leg, from Llandovery to Llangadog (19km), offers more imposing Beacons views as it inches down the Tywi Valley; take the train back to Llandovery or stay at Llangadog’s Red Lion pub.

Combine these mountain-sunk stretches with the walk from Pontarddulais to Llanelli (19.5km). Here, the trail follows the River Loughor towards the salt marshes and the sea, revealing a different side of Carmarthenshire.

For further information and routes on all the walking trails visit the Heart of Wales Line Trail website.

Unmissable pit-stops by Sarah Baxter

Best view – Cynghordy

It’s very difficult to pick one lookout along this wild adventurous stretch of the HoWL Trail, which gazes right at the Brecon Beacons.

Best eatery – St. Elli's Bay Brasserie, Llanelli

Come visit the newly refurbished café, bistro & suite on Llanelli’s North Dock. The ideal beach-side spot for coffee, cake, dinner and dessert.

Best place to sleep – Castle Hotel, Llandovery

Lord Nelson once stayed at this comely old coaching inn, where rooms range from modern-cosy to spacious-luxe. The food’s good too.

Best coffee – Coaltown Coffee, Ammanford

Try Coaltown’s hand-roasted, sustainably sourced beans at its on-site Roastery Canteen or its Espresso Bar in Ammanford.

Best rail wonder – Cynghordy Viaduct

This curving, 18-arch feat of engineering carries the HoWL across the beautiful Afon Bran valley, just north of Cynghordy station.         

Best community cafe – Myddfai Centre

Profits from this homely cafe help sustain isolated Myddfai; the cake is good and there’s the option to detour to legend-laced Llyn y Fan Fach lake.

Best birding – Llanelli Wetland Centre

This estuarine sanctuary is a-flap with life, including the world’s rarest goose and, in season, up to 50,000 over-wintering waterbirds.

Best campsite-Erwlon caravan & camping

A family run park set in the foothills of the Brecon Beacon and nestled alongside the river Gwydderig are their Riverside pods. A warm welcome awaits.