Going Whole Hog in Wales

Izon is a Toronto-based freelance writer. She can be reached at http://www.izon.com

The Hairy Hog, a backpacker bus service that operates two- and five-day tours of Wales, has changed its departure point. Passengers no longer hop aboard in Bath, England. The new starting point is Cardiff, capital of Wales. This allows the tour time to be spent exploring Wales, rather than getting there.

Hairy Hog tours are designed for young, independent travelers. Trips run year-round even though some tourist services close for the winter starting in mid-October.

The company offers an economical way to see many highlights of Wales with a guide. Organized walks and activities are scheduled for up to 20 passengers. Itineraries are flexible: If the group runs into bad weather or a special event is happening, changes can be made. Overnight stops are made at youth hostels, where passengers can enjoy local pub grub or keep their costs to a minimum by preparing their own meals at the hostel.

Hiking is still a major draw, but travelers also can find activities such as pony trekking, surfing and sea kayaking. Although Wales is only about 170 by 60 miles, there are 46 Hostelling International hostels, plus independent backpacker accommodation services. These facilities make it much easier for travelers to explore the country's mountain ranges and crashing waterfalls, Roman ruins, Celtic monuments and castles.

Hairy Hog tours are led by local guides who are familiar with the legendary tales of Wales. A two-day tour, called the "Hoglet," costs about $80. It leaves Cardiff on Saturdays and visits Brecon Beacon National Park, which is known for its sweeping hills and stunning waterfall region. It also visits the Wye Valley. One of the strangest little villages of this valley (right on the English border) is Hay-on-Wye. What makes it special is that in 1977 a local bookseller proclaimed himself king and declared independence from Britain. Nobody's taking it too seriously, but it's brought lots of attention to the village.

The five-day tour, called the "Whole Hog," is about $200. It leaves Cardiff every Monday and covers the entire country, including all three of the national parks--Snowdonia in the north, the Brecon Beacon in the south and Pembrokeshire Coast, with its dramatic coastline, in the far west.

On the Hairy Hog tours, hostel accommodations are booked but are not included in the price. The groups stay at independent and HI hostels. Bedding is provided. The nightly fee averages $13 to $16 per person, per night.

The Hairy Hog picks up passengers from the Cardiff Backpackers Hostel, tel. 011-44-1222-345-577, at 8:30 a.m. and Cardiff YHA, tel. 011-44-1222-462-303 at 8:50 a.m.

For more information, contact Hairy Hog, 98 Neville St., Riverside, Cardiff, CF1 8LS Wales; tel. 011-44-1222-666-900, fax 011-44-1222-666-464.

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