I haven’t been to Wales in a long while and having bought my new car a long time ago, it was overdue a nice driving weekend on the fantastic Welsh roads. We actually made the Devil’s Bridge trip over a month ago and being in the throes of nicotine withdrawal (you can read more about how I gave up smoking in my smoking article), I wasn’t in the best frame of mind for the adventure. Nevertheless, we persevered and this should give you lots of awesome information about this odd little landmark as well as some personal Welsh recommendations if you’re looking to have an adventure there!
One thing we did discover was that Devil’s Bridge is not for the faint-hearted!
Last Minute Decisions and a Late Drive into Wales
Both me and Izzy had watched the show Hinterland, which is a dual language (Welsh and English) show that follows a detective and his team through a series of rural murder investigations. While the story isn’t ground-breaking, the acting is very good and even better the picturesque, dark and brooding Welsh backdrop makes for a bleaker and more beautiful environment than a Swedish murder drama.
Izzy was adamant that we had visited many of the places used in the show but I was sure we hadn’t been to Devil’s Bridge itself. This resulted in me impulsively deciding that I was going to Wales for the weekend and Izzy volunteering to tag along to capture pictures for the blog and keep me company. I was feeling a little glum as it was the first trip that I would be making without the ability to ask Blair (he contributes to the blog as well) to join me as he had just moved to Canada, so I was feeling glad of the company.
We set out at two, although had planned for a midday departure, but as usual traffic around Chelmsford was backed up (they really need a full ring-road bypassing Chelmsford) so we were running late. The actual journey time was four hours by the satnav estimate but we weren’t in any real hurry so it was after dark when we crossed the Severn Bridge.
In front of us was a car driving erratically in excess of eighty miles an hour with its hazard lights on. I flicked the cruise control on the Merc at seventy and watched the blinking lights disappear dangerously on. Most bridges in the UK have speed cameras in the rafters and Blair had recently been caught on the Dartford crossing, so seventy seemed plenty.
Crossing over into Wales, immediately the roads got better, the cruise control came off and we opened up the taps on a straight blast down to a hastily booked hotel in Swansea. My preconceptions of Swansea were that it would be run down but it was reasonable, and the hotel was comfortable and clean and that was it for a rather uneventful drive to Wales.
The Brecon Beacons and a Bit About Wales
We awoke the next morning to a pleasant and sunny day in Wales. For those of you that haven’t been to Wales before, there are a few things that you should know.
- All the signs are in both Welsh and English – This is a Welsh government initiative to make the Welsh language more prevalent in Wales.
- Most of the Welsh can’t speak Welsh – The funny thing about the dual language road signs is that most of the Welsh don’t understand Welsh. By census stats, it is estimated that around 20% of Welsh people speak Welsh but I would hazard a guess that it is far less and some people put down they spoke Welsh when in fact they didn’t (the same way that I am adamant that I am fluent in French).
- Welsh Roads are the best in the UK – The road network in Wales is well funded, well maintained and well signed. The sharp bends are always preceded by the word Araf (Slow) and often preceded by red tarmac to further highlight you need to slow down. Speed cameras are used sensibly and sparingly and speed limits are applied sensibly. In other words, Welsh authorities trust its populace to behave responsibly – and it pays off because aside from the holidaymakers towing caravans, the other drivers are better in Wales.
- Wales is more beautiful more often than any other place in the UK – much of Wales is rural and much of it is beautiful. Of course, the argument could be made that certain parts of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland are more beautiful than the best parts of Wales, but none of the other countries are as consistently beautiful. Wales is gorgeous.
We booked our hotel in Llandrindod Wells as it was the cheapest (with a good rating) hotel we could find online. This meant we had plenty of time to reach the hotel from Swansea and then spend the afternoon at Devil’s Bridge.
Reaching Llandrindod Wells from Swansea meant traversing the Brecon Beacons national park (not quite as nice as Snowdonia) which was awesome with the sun shining and big sweeping roads that were unusually quiet. I suspect there are some hidden treasures in the Brecon Beacons but I haven’t stopped there so that will be one for a future trip. Llandrindod Wells is a central Welsh town that is not too far from the border with England but is also not too far from any given point in Wales.
The town is pretty well catered for by Welsh standards, most places in Wales have little more than a pub and a couple of local shops. Few towns have supermarkets and I suspect many Welsh people have a small trek to make for each weekly shop. Llandrindod Wells had a supermarket, a high street and lots of local amenities and facilities. It would be a great place to base yourselves if you’re on a family holiday.
Devil’s Bridge – The Myth
Devil’s Bridge itself has a nice little legend behind it which I have written in a sister article to this. The main reason I wanted to visit Devil’s Bridge was because of the TV show Hinterland, much like I wanted to visit Barry Island after watching Gavin and Stacey.
The term hinterland means;
- The remote areas of a country away from the coast or the banks of major rivers.
- An area lying beyond what is visible or known.
The term directly translates into the Welsh language as Y Gwyll. Given its immediate proximity to a river and close proximity to the coast at Aberystwyth, I doubt it is the former meaning in relation to the TV show and more the latter.
Driving to Hinterland
Truth be told, setting off from Llandrindod Wells we really were driving towards something that was unknown. Neither I or Izzy quite knew what to expect and on a sunny, early summer’s day, the landscape looked alien to the bleak landscape shown in the TV program.
There is one road from Llandrindod Wells to Aberystwyth and it has some rather precarious bends on it. In the daylight, I was able to open up the engine with careless abandon and little regard for my speedometer. Later in the evening/night when we had ventured to Aberystwyth after dark for dinner, I was a lot more cautious. Even in broad daylight, get the braking point wrong or carry too much speed into a corner and you will be humbled by the road.
Devil’s Bridge is a small turn off the main road that takes you further into rural Wales but doesn’t feel too rural road-wise. Welsh roads are really good even when you’re out in the sticks, in stark contrast to the roads we encountered in Devon on our visit to the abandoned village Hallsands.
Devil’s Bridge – A Fantastic Place to Visit
We arrived in Pontarfynach (Welsh meaning bridge on the Mynach) AKA Devil’s Bridge just after one in the afternoon and that was perfect because as we approached a bend that took us down into the actual village there was a café.
For anyone visiting Devil’s Bridge, this will give you some really useful tips. The first is to make sure you stop for a bite to eat and something to drink at the Woodlands Tea Room. It sits nestled above the village of Devil’s Bridge and is genuinely one of the warmest and pleasant places I have happened upon. The staff are welcoming without being overbearing, the menu is your typical Welsh fare and all very reasonably priced and the pace is relaxed and leisurely.
We had a panini each at the Woodlands Tea Room and used the break to have a little rest from our adventuring (after all, I had been on the road a lot over the past 24 hours). While Izzy sipped her tea, I took a lazy look around the souvenir shop that half fills the Tea Room. Though clearly designed for tourists, nothing felt cheap or rushed. It was clear the owners were very proud of their little corner of the world and we were glad of it, even if it was for an hour or so.
After the Woodlands Tea Room, we drove further down the hill towards the village. On a left-hand bank of the hill is the perfect place to park and from memory was either always free or was free because it was the weekend. From there it was a gentle stroll down to the turnstile gate where the Devil’s Bridge trail is.
The second tip for anyone visiting Devil’s Bridge is that the trail itself is heavy duty. When we reached the gate, the lady informed us there were two routes, one being cheaper and taking around ten minutes, the other being a bit dearer and taking forty-five minutes. Both routes give the opportunity to take a picture of the famous Devil’s Bridge. I am absolutely certain, whichever route you take you will be short of breath by the end of it.
Devil’s Bridge Trail
As you might have guessed, the next tip is not to do the walks unless you are willing to do some exercise. Climbing down the ravine is fairly straightforward although there are a couple of places where you need to watch your footing. Climbing back up the ravine is a different matter; it is very steep and in parts it is slippery.
We took the Waterfalls and Nature Trail (the long one) and although it was enjoyable, it was knackering in the sun. It cost about £4 per person for the long walk and for 50p you can purchase a guide which is well worth it (if not to read, just to help support the attraction).
The bridge itself is unusual, not only for its namesake and the funny legend behind it but also because it is three bridges built on top of each other. Whereas normally a new structure would replace an old structure, this bridge incorporated the old into the new each time it was developed. What is left is a very clear three-tiered bridge with three distinct bridges making the overall bridge.
Devil’s Bridge in Summer
The next tip is that if you’re planning on visiting in spring or summer months you should be prepared that you might not get very good pictures of the entire structure as foliage gets in the way. The downside of visiting in autumn or winter would be that it is like very slippery underfoot, probably even treacherous in winter.
Aside from the bridge at the top, the trail does give some truly breathtaking views over the gorge and the waterfalls also make for good photo opportunities. Part way down the trail is a set of stairs called “Jacob’s Ladder” (continuing on the biblical theme I guess) which is a series of one hundred continuous steps. If you’re not so good with heights then the steepness of this might not be very comforting.
At the bottom is a bridge which again is not something I would recommend for people who don’t like heights. Izzy is fine with heights normally, but she got very agitated crossing the bridge at the bottom. Probably because it didn’t feel a hundred percent safe and it was also a fair way down to the riverbank below.
Climbing back up is the complete opposite of the way down. There isn’t much to see and anything you could see, you have seen it better from viewpoints on the way down. Going back up is arduous and you will be grateful of the little flat viewpoints and occasional benches just for the little moments of respite they give.
When you do make it to the top, you really feel like you have accomplished something.
Devil’s Bridge Village and Famous Welsh Chocolatier
Upon exit from the nature trail, there is a hotel with a bar and open terrace, full of weary tourists refreshing themselves after their hike. They must be rubbing their hands with glee with each person they see enter as it will likely result in a sale the other end.
We didn’t stop at the hotel; I still had my drink left over from the Tea Room and Izzy wanted to head into the village to use the toilet.
After a brief toilet stop, we reconvened and checked out the chocolate shop. We both made a small purchase from the “award-winning Welsh chocolatier”. The chocolate was good quality, but the constant signage through the village about the award-winning Welsh chocolatier did somewhat raise expectations. After the sweet treat, I was left thinking either there aren’t many entrants in Wales to chocolate contests or that the level of competition isn’t fierce.
The chocolate was good but no better than premium chocolate that can be purchased at any supermarket. With that in mind maybe the prices could be a bit more competitive as it wasn’t cheap. I was however very impressed with the cleanliness of the chocolate making area (it is visible from the shop) and I would hope that in the modern marketplace the owner is building a successful online business rather than relying on footfall to Devil’s Bridge.
Across the road from the chocolate shop was some kind of railway attraction that I would have ordinarily been keen to investigate a little further – I later found out there is a steam engine that runs from Aberystwyth to Devil’s Bridge. But I wasn’t feeling great after the hike and the nicotine withdrawal, so we made our way back to the car.
Final Thoughts About Devil’s Bridge
That is where I will leave this article and it kind of sums up the overall trip to Devil’s Bridge. Feeling peculiar in a peculiar place. I would say that this trip is great for families if you’re not planning on doing the trails and are making use of the steam engine and chocolate shop. If you’re planning on doing the trails I would advise leaving the kids at home and braving it without them as I can imagine it would be difficult going especially with young children. There were points where I felt unsteady or unsafe and I am a physically fit young guy, it would be amiss for me to recommend it to families.
We did, as I mentioned, head into Aberystwyth for the evening and a spot of dinner and it was a lovely place to stop. The thing I really noticed is that in the evening in these Welsh towns, people of all ages go out to socialise and enjoy themselves. The high street was busy with folk of all ages. Back in Essex, the older folk tend to lock themselves away in the evening and in many ways I really liked that about Wales. There is a really strong sense of community wherever you stop and the atmosphere is far more relaxed.
Maybe the legend is true and the Devil hasn’t stepped foot in Wales since. Returning back home where people live as though they are one wrong step away from being stabbed (when they aren’t, it’s irrational fear), you get the sense that Wales has retained a lot of innocence. I like that a lot and I like Devil’s Bridge almost as much.
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