A Week in South West Wales

I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog this week because we’ve been away. I wasn’t going to put anything up about our adventures but we’ve had such a lovely time I just had to share. As always though, it’s been a bargain filled, fun packed week

Day 1 – St Fagans, Cardiff. FREE to visit £5 to park

This place had been recommended to me by one of the followers of the blog and I’m so glad she got in touch. In fact, it was because of her recommendation for this place and the Big Pit museum that we even started looking at Wales for our holiday.

The beautiful gardens at St Fagan's
The beautiful gardens at St Fagan’s

St Fagans is an open air museum all about Wales’ history and covers from the Iron Age up until relatively recently. They have taken historically important and interesting buildings from all over Wales and rebuilt them, brick by brick, on site. They also have lots of craftspeople in the various buildings makings real goods you can buy as well. There is a weaver, clog maker (clogs are not what you think they are apparently), baker and they also had a craft fair on where you could get involved in making things yourselves. Middle child used a laithe to make a spinning top and eldest child made his own ring.

There is also the castle side of the site which includes the castle (more of a manor house really), beautiful gardens and woodland area. This side in particular has a lot of steep slopes and it was knackering pushing the pushchair around but it was great. You’re not allowed to take pushchairs into the historical buildings so we had taken the sling.

It was such an awesome day out and we were there for over 5 hours. It’s only 2 hours-ish from Oxford so I will be putting a full review up in the future. It was such a great find and I’m really suprised they don’t charge.

www.museum.wales/stfagans


Day 2 – Pembroke Castle. £28 for 2 adults and 2 children

I loved the film Me Before You and when I noticed it was filmed here I decided to add it to our list of places to visit. About 5 minutes after I walked in there was a man grumbling and saying he should tell everyone outside not to bother because it wasn’t worth it. That man was either talking about somewhere else or is an idiot because this place was fab!

Pembroke Castle
Pembroke Castle

As well as its Hollywood appeal there have also been some really imporant historical events in and around the castle. Henvy VII was born here and one of the owners was instrumental in negotiating the Magna Carta. Whilst large parts of the site are ruins there is still an awful lot that is intact and that you can explore. You can go up most of the towers and walk the castle walls, it’s just that all of the glass is gone in the majority of room and a lot of the walls are missing bits. They also have a MASSIVE map of Wales and all its castles in the middle of the castle which is very cool. The castle is built on an ancient cave which you can still climb down to and was very impressive.

They often do events for the school holidays and, on the day we went, they had a living history event going on. There were various re-enactors who were cooking medieval food for you to try, kitting people out in armour and weaponry and telling you all about the people who lived in the castle. Towards the end of the day they also had a battle, TBH this final bit was a little bit am-dram and we’ve seen a lot more professional groups, but it was really good fun.

To get the best out of a visit you do have to explore all of the towers etc and there are a lot of spiral staircases to navagate. Again, we’d taken the sling for smallest child but it was a bit nerve-wracking in places going up and down the uneven stones steps. Before we left for the day we took a lakeside walk around the outside of the castle. It was relatively gentle and a nice way to finish our trip.

https://pembrokecastle.co.uk/


Day 3 – The National Botanic Gardens of Wales and british birds of prey centre
Blue Peter badge holders get in FREE. We paid £23 for for 2 adults plus £3.50 per person (including the bigger kids) for the Birds of Prey Centre

I’d chosen this place because of the Blue Peter badges and it was fantastic. We started off at the birds of prey centre because we had the opportunity to fly an owl. All four of us (smallest child is a bit small to fly owls just yet) had the opportunity for an owl to come and land on your arm and hold it for a while. It was an awesome experience and something I’ve never done before. The Birds of Prey Centre itself is very small – I forgot to count but they’ve got about a dozen aviaries. We had a quick look round and watched the flying show (always a hit in our house) and were done.

The theme of the weekend we visited was all about health and wellness. There were various related activities going on throughout the day but we got to take part in circus skills (Turns out I can literally spin plates whilst looking after the kids), watch a running duck/sheepdog show (hubby LOVES Indian running ducks. Properly LOVES them!), do some zorbing (£3 for 7 minutes) and listen to abrass band inside the glasshouse. This was a truly magical experience.

The Glasshouse at the National Botanic gardens of Wales
The Glasshouse at the National Botanic gardens of Wales

The glasshouse deserves a special mention because it’s incredible. If you’ve ever been to the Eden project it’s similar, but a more relaxed environment and a more comfortable humidity. Because they only have the one glass house instead of a few they cover a wide range of geographical areas in the one place. There’s a little pool in the middle with some koi carp and stepping stones. Except they’re not actually stepping stones and bigges child fell off because they gaps were too big and he got very soggy feet!! The only negative about this bit was that the disabled loo / baby change was gross.

The butterfly house was a bit of a let-down too. We’ve been to ones at Blenheim Palace and Whipsnade Zoo and those were great. This was just a bit “meh”. There weren’t really that many butterflies around to be honest.

There was a ton of stuff to do here and tickets are valid for a week. We easily could have done a return visit the same week if we’d had the time because, despite being there all day, we didn’t actually see everything.

www.botanicgarden.wales


Day 4 – Pembrey Country Park. Free entry. PArking £5.50

This is another place that had been recommended to us. We didn’t acutally visit any of the country park itself but there is lots to do; skiing, cycling, walks, archery and more. Have a look at the website for the full list. The reason we didn’t do any of this was because we were distracted by the beach. All 8 miles of it. And it’s incredibly wide as well. I’d seen from the website that there are shipwrecks on the beach (you can actually see them on Google maps).

We got to see three of them. The first one seemed quite close but I swear it was like a magic trick where every step you took, it moved further away. We got there in the end, but it did seem to take hours. Along the way we did lots of beach combing – they have jellyfish washed up on the beach that were a couple of feet wide, we found the shell from a spider crab, tons of clam shells and loads of other stuff. As we always do we collected littler along the way as well. The kids had an awesome time.

The shipwreck was fascinating and we spent a fair old while looking around. When we got to the first one you could see another one in distance. We decided to carry on walking towards that one. It was quite a bit further along but a much better shipwreck. We may have all been knackered after walking for a total of about 4 hours, but it was a really good day.

The three shipwrecks we discovered at Pembrey Country Park
The three shipwrecks we discovered at Pembrey Country Park

The one thing I haven’t mentioned is the Hawk fighter jet that kept flying overhead the entire time we were on the beach. Turns out that Pembrey Sands is one of five areas in the UK where students can practice air-to-ground bombing and so fly very low to the ground (as low as 250ft apparently). We thought it was really cool that even as we walked along the beach the planes always seemed to fly right over our heads. Turns out they were genuinely using us as targt practice!!!!!!!!

http://www.pembreycountrypark.wales/


Day 5 – Llansteffan Castle and beach. FREE

Wales is a beautiful, very green country. The reason it is so green is beause it rains. A LOT. Day 5 was the worst of the weather and for some reason that meant it seemed like a good idea to scale a mountain and investigate the local castle. It was the kind of fine rain that doesn’t look too bad until you’re out in it, and then you get soaked in an instant. Thank goodness for pac-a-macs!

It’s mostly ruins (there’s certainly a lot less left than at Pembroke) but there are still places where you can climb onto the first floor and have a look around. The views from up here are stunning. So I’m told. Not that we could see very much at all in the murk and mizzle.

Llansteffan Castle and Beach
Llansteffan Castle and Beach – our own version of a castle on the hill
Inside Llansteffan castle.
Inside the castle

There are however lots of information boards dotted around and awesome bits like being able to look down the portcullis slots and murder holes. We were there for an hour, but if the weather had been better I think we would have stayed for a lot longer and had our picnic up there. Despite the weather it was a nice, free way to kill some time until the weather improved.

www.llansteffancastle.com

When it did finally stop raining in the evening we went for a walk along the vast beach. The car park is free and there are toilets as well. The beach is humongous! You do have to be careful though. It’s a strong tidal estuary with sand bars and mud flats. Make sure you check the tide times before you do.

As long as you don’t drown, it’s a great beach. There are little rock pools to investigate, more of the massive dead jellyfish and more cockle shells than I thought possible (the estuary is actually on cockle beds so there are millions of them under the mud). Becauseofthe size of the beach it seemed deserted even when there were other people there.


Day 6 – The National Showcaves Centre for Wales.
Blue Peter badge holders get in free. We paid £15.50 for each adult and the kids would have been £12 each

Wow! Just Wow! The show caves are stunning. If you’ve been to Cheddar Gorge these are at least as impressive. There are two main caves; Dan yr Ogof and the Cathedral cave. There is also the bone cave which was hard to get to and, quite frankly not worth the effort. They found 42 bodies up there and knowing that is about as interesting as it gets. If you’re tall or have a bad back don’t even bother to try. You have to crounch down to “walk” along the runway to the entrance.

inside the National Showcaves for Wales
Just one of the many beautiful formations inside the caves

The show caves are so beautiful that the photos cannot really do them justice. Smallest child loved all the water everywhere and the boys thought it was fascinating too. If you are in the area I cannot recommend them highly enough. Sensible shoes are required as it’s uneven and a bit damp. No pushchairs are allowed but I was more than able to get around with the carrier.

As you go onto the site you drive past the farm and Shire Horse centre (which has 3 shire horses in as far as I could see) and you’re greeted by not-quite-life-sized dinosaurs. They seem a little bit random given you’re there to see the ancient limestone caves but actually they’re really good fun and there are loads of them all over the place. They also have a fossil hut, an iron age village and you can pan for gold.

The farm was a little bit pants, but it really is an add-on rather than the main attraction. There are some pigs, lots of Llamas, some sheep, ducks and geese and a few horses. It was a good enough wind down at the end of the day and we were there for abou half an hour. The boys also went in the playbarn for a little while. It was “decent” according the biggest child but they weren’t in there for long as there was nothing for under 3’s so smallest child couldn’t go in.

You did need something other than the caves to do otherwise it wouldn’t be that much of a day out and they’ve done a good job with the added extras, even if they wouldn’t work as stand alone attractions.

www.showcaves.co.uk

The dinosaurs at the National Showcaves
The dinosaurs that are dotted around the site

Day 7 – Paxton’s Tower (Free) and Dinefwr Park (Free for NT members £22.00 for a family ticket) and dinefwr CASTLE (Free)

This was a hell of a busy day! We started up at the Tower because we’d seen it across the valley when we were at the National Gardens and wanted to explore. It’s in quite a remote location but there’s a free car park next to it. Believe it or not, this was built as a banqueting hall. As dining rooms go it is pretty impressive! It’s open 24 hours a day and you can walk up to the first floor where the views are unbelieveable. We were only there for about 30 mintues but it was a lovely pit-stop on the way to our main day out. There are no loos.

Paxton's Tower
Paxton’s Tower – a very elaborate dining room!!

We then went to Dinefwr park. I wasn’t 100% sure what it would be like but it didn’t disappoint. The house itself was really good. None of the stuff is original so that means you can touch, pick up, sit on and open everything. And so the kids (and hubby) did! We all had so much fun trying on the clothes and learning about life above and below stairs.

Because we went during half term they had a little bug hunt within the house and you could make your own bug hotel, which the boys both did. We then took part in a guided bug hunt with the fabulous Wendy. She took us up into the deer park with a couple of explorer backpacks and showed us her favourite bug hiding places. We were up there for ages and the boys had a brilliant time. As we were walking back to the visitor centre hubby declared that this was one of the best NT places he’d been to. I’d agree.

Newton House at Dinefwr park
Newton House at Dinefwr park

We then decided to walk up to the Castle that can be seen from across the entire estate. It had been described to us as a lovely walk. It hadn’t been described as a nearly-kill-you-on-the-way-up-because-it’s-so-long-and-steep walk!! As it turns out it absolutely is worth the hike up to the top (N.B. – I wouldn’t want to take the pushchair up there but I did see a couple of people with them). The views from the top were breathtaking. Again, it is a ruin but there are many bits where you can climb up the towers and walk along the walls. I think we were at the castle for about 45 minutes, plus the trek up and down. We could easily have stayed for longer if we wanted to have a picnic up there. There are no toilets though. There are some at the edge of the estate at the bottom of the hill but those were closed when we visited.

Part of Dinefwr castle
Dinefwr Castle

Despite being on site for most of the day we really did only scratch the surface of this place and there was a lot more to explore on a return visit.

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dinefwr

https://cadw.gov.wales/daysout/dinefwrcastle/?lang=en


Day 8 – Llansteffan beach and then home.

I’ll be honest I was a bit worried that the weather was going to make this holiday a bit crap but it really didn’t. We had a fantastic time and I would absolutely recommend the area. I’m not sure if we’d go back to the same area again because there isn’t tons to do, I think we did most of the best bits, but I would go back to Wales again. Despite the rain. oh so much rain. And the wind. Honestly, I’m not sure how we didn’t lose at least one child in a gust of wind!!

Total day trip cost £106.00 for the entire week!

Given how much we did that is an absolutely bargain. Once again our NT membership and Blue Peter Badges saved us money – £57.00 this time

I also have to give a massive shout-out about the accommodation. The bungalow we stayed in was very clean and very comfy. 3 large bedrooms, washing machine, dishwasher, BBQ, Hot tub and garden. We loved it and it only cost us £550 for the entire half term week. It really was exceptionally good value. You can see the cottage for yourselves here: https://westwalesholidaycottages.co.uk/2-rock-cottage

Advertisements