A warmer, more accessible alternative to the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales, the Valleys serve up UK nature at its finest – wildflowers, winding forest trails and home-grown vegetables. We tested the area’s reputation as a top European destination for fresh air activities and left supremely satisfied, if a little achy.
Climbing, biking, caving, pony trekking and all-ability rambling, there was lots to keep us busy, confirming that the Valleys an ideal weekend break for families who want to experience some fresh-air fun together.
Along with adrenaline the Valleys serves up a rich cultural platter – Caerphilly Castle revealed the medieval magic of Welsh Marches kingdom, while the old mining sites gave us a practical lesson in the industry that shaped modern Britain. Although it must be said that, all this mental and physical exercise wouldn’t have been possible without the constant supply of prime Valley lamb, locally-churned Gorwydd Caerphilly, and Welsh hospitality.
Who is it good for? If you want to take full advantage of the Valleys outdoor offerings we suggest only bringing children eight years and over. However, the area does offer something for everyone, especially foodies so we’d also recommend it as a brilliant option for a multi-generational weekend away.
The Valleys are a warm candle glow, to the bright lights of Cardiff and Swansea. A combination of the activities below makeweekend break that’s good for the soul.
Renowned in the cycling circuit as the UK's top mountain biking destination, Bike Park Wales is a myriad of trails which run through Afan Forest Park and Cwmcarn Forest.
Our favourite path was Blue Belle. Ideal for beginners, it wound us gently down the mountain and had incredible views over the hills. If you’re a beginner make sure to do a few laps of the training route to get yourself in gear and also take the time to stop and watch the pros jump huge ramps. If you’re not keen on cycling uphill there’s a bus to the top of the mountain and a tasty cafe to reward yourself. Bikes and full safety equipment are available to hire on site, price dependent ontype.
A relic of the area’s busy mining history, Big Pit, the jewel of the Blaenavon heritage site, is definitely worth an afternoon. Don hard hats and safety lights and journey underground with the guidance of a former miner. This may sound a little daunting for young ones but the professional mine guides are extremely good at making everyone, especially children, feel at ease. The first hand perspective of a miner’s life is fascinatingand the museum has a well considered balance of practical involvement and learning that will keep all ages entertained.
This largest fortress in Britain (after Windsor) Caerphilly is the quintessential medieval castle, hence being the back drop for TV series Merlin. Gloriously intact, it sits on the edge of the water and casts a commanding eye across the valley. The rounded turrets hark back to the castles romantic past, days of Camelot knights and round tables, while the inside caters for the modern visitor. There’s lots for families to do and a whole program of events so make sure to check before your visit. We’d also recommend leaving a few extra hours to explore the castles tumbling grounds.
Summit Centre, run by the nationwide Rock UK organisation, is the Welsh International Climbing centre and just about the best place to try your luck at scaling a wall. With over 180 indoor climbing routes, as well as caving and archery on offer, the centre really does have a challenge for everyone. On top of its facilities, one of the major attractions to Rock UK its highly experienced staff who are incredibly patient and encouraging – even with scaredy-cat beginners.
Probably the best way to take in the true splendour of the Valleys is by getting out of your car and going for a walk. And, whether it’s a leisurely lap of Llyn Tegid (Wales’ largest natural lake), or a hike to the panoramic iron fort at Penycloddiau there are tons of paths to choose from. To really get the most from your walk, download a guide from the tourist office.
Snuggled in the 16th Century Llanyrafron Manor this independent tea room and catering company run by Julie Nelson serves up the most delicious afternoon tea we’ve ever tasted. Grown in the garden of the Manor, the produce is fresh, seasonal and tastes exceptional. It’s also quite a bargain.
Top of our order list were the homity pie, the very generous ploughman’s platter and the cupcakes. Delicious.
How to get there: Driving from London to Merthyr Tydfil, the edge of the Brecon Beacons national park, takes around 2 hours 55 minutes.
Though it is best to have a car the area is still very accessible by train – trains run daily from London Paddington to Merthyr Tydfil via Cardiff and take around 3 hours 15 minutes. Book online at thetrainline.com.
Where to stay: Centred in the forest the Nant Ddu Lodge and Spa makes an ideal base for a Brecon Beacons trip. They serve a delicious breakfast that will easily prepare you for your adventures and the swimming pool and spa facilities are particularly lovely after a hard day mountain biking.
Price: A family room starts at £130 per night, £10 per extra child including breakfast. Children under five stay free.