The track in the Caltopo file is our route and it differs from the official WPC route in numerous places. Some of these differences are where we went off track to resupply or find campsites. In many other places we deliberately left the WPC to improve the walking experience. In particular, we walked miles of beaches where the official WPC went inland. The official route is designed to be passable at the highest tides and often goes inland or stays on roads to avoid beaches that are inundated at high tide. As the tide only reaches its maximum twice a day, most beaches are passable most of the time. Since maximum high tides only occur a few times each year, even at average high tides, beaches were often walkable. Whenever we had the opportunity, we walked the beaches instead of staying on the posted route.
The WCP also goes inland to the first bridge crossing to avoid any section of beach where a creek or small river crosses the sand to reach the sea. We easily waded many of these creeks and this allowed us to significantly extend our beach walking. Unless recent rains or high tides increase the flow of these creeks, they are all safely crossable. It was clearly obvious to us which creeks could be safely waded and which were unsafe to cross. We were never more than knee deep, and in most cases there was little current when we crossed.
Prior to our hike, using the British Ordnance Survey maps, James was able to map a few trail alternates to segments of WCP road walking.
We elected to walk from north to south. The guidebooks we have seen are written this way but there is no reason to favor either direction. Both endpoints, Chester and Chepstow, have frequent rail and bus connections to the rest of Britain. For our interior segment connecting the Cardigan and Amroth endpoints of the PCP, we used OS maps and OpenStreetMap to create a route using local footpaths. This mostly worked satisfactorily, but in a few places our mapped paths were so overgrown that they were functionally impassible. We improvised routes around these areas, sometimes on roads and sometimes by crossing fields. The southern third of our interior route followed the Landsker Borderlands Trail, a waymarked and maintained path that was entirely passable.
Reaching Chepstow a few days prior to our scheduled flight home, we elected to continue along the coast by following the shore of the Severn River Estuary further inland. We crossed the Severn from Chepstow to its south bank and walked a portion of the partially waymarked and mostly maintained Severn Way to Glouchester. It was interesting to see the enormous Bristol Channel narrow down to the tidal Severn that by Glouchester had become just a narrow free flowing river.
Obtaining food and water was easy. The longest stretch without easy access to stores or cafes was about 30 miles. Stores range from tiny Post Office shops with minimal supplies to enormous Tesco superstores. Most stores have curtailed hours on Sundays. Our Caltopo map includes a folder with many store locations as of 2018 walk.
By far the best cafe bargain is the English Breakfast. These are enormous meals consisting of some combination of eggs, sausages, ham, beans, mushrooms, potatoes, tomatoes, and toast. The full version of these meals usually cost between £5.50 and £7.00. They are are almost always served all morning and are sometimes available all day. Substitutions of one item for another was usually possible.
Most pubs only serve food between about noon and 2:00 and again after 6:00, although you can get beer or tea most of the day.
We wild camped most nights on this trip. In order to take showers and do laundry, we spent three nights in private campgrounds and four nights in Airbnb accommodations.
Finding campsites was never difficult and we had issues with people objecting to our presence only once. Ironically, we had asked for and been granted permission by a farmer to stay on his land, but inadvertently were setting up on a neighbor’s pasture; they happened by and asked us to leave. We crossed a fence to the proper field and all was well. As is usual, we practiced our stealth camping techniques to minimize the chances of annoying anybody.
We camped in pastures, in the dunes above beaches, in woodlots, on headlands, on levees just above the high tide line, in public parks, and once in a golf course shelter. Most sites were quiet, comfortable, and with privacy and views. A few sites were exquisite.
We met one person thru-hiking the WCP and a half dozen people on week long inn-to-inn hikes. We passed one or two tents set up in areas outside of formal public or private campgrounds. There were a lot of people on the trail, especially near caravan parks, villages or trailhead parking lots, most of whom appeared to be on short walks with their dogs and/or children.
Few people we spoke with seemed to be aware that there was a footpath around the entire coast of Wales.
Big sandy beaches near caravan parks and villages were very popular and busy with holiday merry-makers having fun. The ocean is cool, around 16˚C, but people were in the water in large numbers, often wearing wet suits. Although we never saw large waves, we saw boogie boarders at many beaches and surfers at a few beaches. Small sailboats were abundant in the calm bays. We also saw kite-boarding on a few occasions, practiced with what appeared to us with a very high level of skill.
The weather during our trip was amazingly good. We only had a single half-day of heavy and prolonged rain, which we sat out in a cafe. While the first few days of the trip were a bit warm, temperatures during the remainder were nearly always 55˚ to 70˚ F; perfect walking weather. We had some sunny days, although overcast or partly cloudy skies were more common. There were some drizzly spells, but other than our single rainy day precipitation was never heavy or long-lasting.
This contrasts with our 2009 Wales trip in which we had many days of substantial rain and wind. Rainfall is heavier in the mountains than on the coast, none-the-less the summer of 2018 was abnormally hot and dry in most of the UK.
Land birds were less common than we expected. Perhaps it was because we were in the post-breeding season when passerines are molting and quiet. We were fortunate to see 125 species, which is higher than our other UK hikes. One of our favorite birds, the Eurasian Oystercatcher, was abundant along the entire coast; we once saw a group of well over a thousand of them at a high tide evening roost.
We saw one possible new life bird: a Bar-headed Goose. This very attractive bird has uncertain status in the UK; it may have been a true vagrant, a species undergoing range expansion from the continent, or there may be a tiny established population stemming from escaped birds from collections.
Pet dogs are abundant on beaches and on trails. Thankfully, it is the social norm for owners to collect and dispose of the poop. Unfortunately, it is the social norm for dogs to run loose and a significant percentage of these animals are not trained to behave in public; many owners have no control over their animals at all. We have had more unpleasant dog encounters in the UK than anywhere else we have walked.
Biting insects were not a significant issue.