Margam Country Park

Margam Castle as viewed from the park

With 800 acres of parkland, roaming deer, an abandoned castle, a ruined abbey, a farm and two of the best children’s playgrounds I’ve ever come across, Margam Country Park makes for a great day out. Situated not far from the south Wales coast and close to the industrial town of Port Talbot, Margam Park is easy to get to from the M4.

I hadn’t been to Margam Park since I was a child, but had fond memories of its incredible playground and was keen to revisit it as an adult. So earlier this summer, on a baking hot day, I hopped in my car for a road trip and was not disappointed.

I arrived at Margam Park bright and early, which meant it was fairly quiet when I got to the estate. Being the castle-lover that I am, I immediately made my way to Margam Castle (more a country house than a traditional castle) for a look around.

Margam Castle

Built in the 1830s, the enormous Tudor Gothic mansion (above) was the former home of the wealthy Mansel Talbot family, who were responsible for much of the area’s industrialisation and who helped introduce the railways to south Wales.

In 1974, the castle was acquired by Bridgend County Borough Council, but just three years later, a devastating fire gutted the mansion and today only small parts of it are open to the public.

The grand staircase inside Margam Castle

I popped my head inside the door and found myself inside the great hall, at the centre of which was a very grand staircase (above). The hall featured a small, informative exhibition about the Mansel Talbot family, which was interesting as I didn’t know anything about the family, and I learned a lot about their lives and how influential they were.

The ruins of the 12th century Cistercian abbey at Margam Park

From the castle, I strolled down the hill to the ancient ruined abbey (above). The Cistercian Abbey was built in 1147 and like so many monastic buildings in England and Wales was dissolved by Henry VIII during the reformation. Very little remains of the abbey, but it’s nevertheless an impressive structure with a few intriguing nooks and crannies to explore.

Beyond the ruined abbey is the Abbey Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, a small parish church, that’s still in use today. The church isn’t part of Margam Park, but you can go inside from the grounds of the estate and have a look around.

The Orangery at Margam Park

From the church, I walked to the park’s Orangery (above), an enormous Georgian structure that dates back to 1790. At that time it was built, it was said to be the longest orangery in Britain. You can’t go inside the building (it’s mostly used as a wedding venue now), so I had a pleasant stroll around the gardens that surround it instead.

Pig lying in the mud at the farm in Margam Park

Having seen all there was to see in this part of the park, I made my way back towards the castle and then headed south through the parkland to the estate’s farm. The farm is home to a host of animals, including the usual suspects such as pigs, cows, sheep, goats, chickens and even turkeys. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a live turkey before, so I was fascinated by them and spent quite a bit of time watching the birds strutting around their pen. 

From the farm, I set off to explore the rest of the park’s extensive grounds and planned to head up to the Pulpit, a viewpoint on a ridge overlooking the estate, as it’s said to boast fantastic views over the south Wales coast. But as I began walking up the path to take me to the top of the hill, I turned a corner and stumbled across a large herd of deer, many of whom pricked up their heads as I strode into view.

A herd of deer lounging in the grass in the foothill of Margam Park

Fallow deer have lived at Margam Park since at least Norman times and the deer, along with red and Pere David deer, freely roam around some 500 acres of the park. I visited the park in June, during fawning season, and as such I’d passed a number of notices warning visitors to keep their distance from the deer as the parents were very protective of their young.

As soon as I turned the corner, the stags in the herd turned to look at me, eyeing my every move. Not wanting to agitate them any further, I decided it was best to turn around, rather than continue up the path as it would have brought me even closer to the deer.

While it was incredible to see the deer in their natural habitat, I was a little intimidated, too, as the stags clearly weren’t pleased to see me and I had no desire to find out what happens when a herd of stags charge at you.

Stags in the grass at Margam Park

Despite not making it to the top of the ridge, there was still a great chunk of the park left to explore and I spent the rest of my visit sticking to the more widely populated paths to avoid disturbing any more deer.

I had a lovely day out at Margam Park – I’d forgotten just how splendid it was – and it’s now firmly back on my list of local places to visit for a weekend stroll. It’s huge and there’s so much to see and do, you can easily spend a whole day there. A real gem of a country park.

Info

Margam Country Park, SA13 2TJ
Open daily 10am-6pm (April to August), 10am-4pm (September to March)
Free entry, but there’s a £6 car parking charge for cars
margamcountrypark.co.uk

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Dyffryn Gardens – Summer 2019

View of Dyffryn House from the lily pond

This morning I paid my annual spring/summer visit to Dyffryn Gardens. Situated in the Vale of Glamorgan, just outside Cardiff, Dyffryn Gardens is run by the National Trust and is home to a grand Edwardian manor, surrounded by some 55 acres of botanical gardens – and it’s one of my favourite places for a weekend stroll.

Italian Gardens at Dyffryn Gardens

I’ve visited the gardens a couple of times already this year, but this was my first visit during the summer when the flowers were in full bloom. I like going back every year to see what the groundspeople have done to the gardens as they never look the same from one year to the next.

White gladioli at Dyffryn Gardens

There was a lot of colour in the gardens this year, and following on from last year, the planting seemed much more natural and less formal that it has in previous years. I had great fun photographing the many flowers in the gardens – some of which were spectacular. Here are some of my favourites from this year’s visit:

There were lots of bees, dragonflies and butterflies buzzing around the gardens, too, and it’s safe to say I got a bit carried away trying to photograph them:

The gardens were as lovely and as welcoming as ever, and I really enjoyed my visit. If you’re ever in the Cardiff area, I highly recommend Dyffryn for a day out. And if you’re interested in how the gardens have looked in previous years, take a look at my blog posts from 2017, 2016 and 2015.

Info

Dyffryn Gardens, St Nicholas, Vale of Glamorgan CF5 6SU
Adults £10.90, children £5.45
nationaltrust.org.uk/dyffryngardens

Tyntesfield

Tyntesfield House in Somerset

If I was ever to write an Agatha Christie-style 1920s murder mystery, I’d set it at Tyntesfield, a gloriously Gothic manor surrounded by acres of land in the middle of the Somerset countryside.

It’s the sort of place where you could imagine cocktail-drenched parties full of bright young things taking place and then a dead body or two inconveniently turning up in the library or the billiard room…

Tyntesfield House in Somerset

In short, Tyntesfield was my kind of place. The manor house is the former home of the wealthy Gibbs family. It was bought by William Gibbs in 1844, who in the 1860s had the architect John Norton turn it into the Victorian Gothic masterpiece it is today.

The estate was taken over by the National Trust in 2002, following the death of Richard Gibbs, the last member of the family to live there. Today, visitors to the estate will find not only the aforementioned mansion, but an arboretum, multiple gardens and woodland to explore, as well as a couple of cafés, a shop and an imaginative children’s playground.

Tyntesfield House in Somerset

Having decided it was the perfect place to take my Mum, we turned up somewhat sweaty and bedraggled after an unexpected trek through the nearby woodland, so we immediately made our way to the café. This being a National Trust property, the café did not disappoint – think cakes, scones and hearty traditional fare, such as baked potatoes, soups and sandwiches.

The rose garden at Tyntesfield House

Rested and sated, we set off to explore the estate. Tickets to the mansion are timed and you have an hour from when you buy your ticket to go inside the house, so we slowly ambled through the arboretum in the direction of the house, stopping to admire the rose garden (above) along the way.

The library at Tyntesfield House

When we reached the house, we cut through the courtyard to the entrance, where we were greeted by a friendly volunteer who warmly welcomed us inside. There’s a natural route through the house, which we decided to follow, stepping first into the library (above), which is home to some 3,000 books collected by the Gibbs family.

In the hall, a talented young man was playing the piano and the sound reverberated throughout the house, adding to the Gothic, murder-mystery vibe. All the rooms were fully furnished and they were decorated in that slightly shabby, thread-worn style I associate with the British aristocracy, which gave the mansion a lived-in, family feel.

A few of the rooms were cordoned off (one was being renovated, another was storing items from the house), but you could still take a peek inside, which was nice and meant you didn’t feel you missed out on any parts of the house.

The cosy fireplace in the Billiard Room at Tyntesfield House

One of my favourite rooms was the billiard room (above), where, with its cosy fireplace, large billiard table and comfy-looking seats, you could imagine the family and their guests retiring after dinner for a game of billiards and a heated debate over a glass of port.

Having toured the ground floor, we made our way upstairs, where we looked inside a number of bedrooms (complete with an abundance of floral wallpaper and bedding) and a small bathroom that boasted a fabulous old medicine cabinet filled with lotions and potions.

Our tour of the house ended in the adjoining chapel (above), a suitably Gothic affair. Rumoured to have been inspired by the magnificent Saint-Chapelle in Paris, it was a grand place of worship for a country house in Somerset.

Inspired by our visit to the house, we continued our way through the estate to the kitchen gardens. The area around them is home to an orangery, a small café and a children’s playground, as well as several greenhouses, and herb and vegetable gardens.

Pineapples growing in pot plants in the greenhouses at Tyntesfield House

The kitchen gardens were superb and there was much more to them than I’d  anticipated. I was amazed to find pineapples growing in one of the greenhouses as I’d never seen a pineapple plant before and hadn’t expected to come across one in a pot in Somerset (above).

In a nice touch, you could also pick up some tulip bulbs to take home with you and there was an honesty box alongside them where you paid the price you thought they were worth.

Tyntesfield is the sort of place where you can let your imagination run wild. I found it hugely inspiring, and by the end of my visit, I was itching to sit down to write a whodunnit. I loved our day out at the estate, it’s one of the best country houses I’ve visited (and I’ve been to a lot) and I’m already planning my return visit.

Top tip

While it’s perfectly possible to get to Tyntesfield by public transport (the X6 bus runs from Bristol bus station), and the National Trust encourages this with money off vouchers for the café and shop, avoid doing so on Sundays and bank holidays as the buses don’t run, or if they do, they’re sporadic and unreliable.

And definitely don’t get on the X9 bus from Bristol as we did unless you want an hour-long walk along a hairy, verge-less country road or to cut through the woods not quite knowing where you’re going (also as we did). There’s a good possibility you could end up stranded and having to call a bunch of taxi firms (a number are most unhelpful) to come take you home.

Info

Tyntesfield, Wraxall, Bristol, North Somerset BS48 1NX
£16.50 adults, £8.25 children
nationaltrust.org.uk/tyntesfield

London – Kew Gardens

One of the many weird and wonderful flowers at Kew Gardens

I was in London in the spring catching up with friends, when one of my friends suggested we spend the day at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. I love Kew Gardens and hadn’t been there for years, so I was more than happy to revisit one of my favourite London haunts.

Home to more than 50,000 species of plants from all corners of the globe, the world-famous gardens date back to the mid-18th century, when King George III’s mother, Princess Augusta, established a botanical garden at Kew. In 1840, the gardens were handed over to the state and they’ve been open to the public ever since.

One of the many flowers at Kew Gardens

Kew holds a special place in my heart because I vividly remember visiting a park in London that had an amazing pagoda as a child. For years, I wasn’t sure if it was real or if I’d imagined it, and it was only when I visited Kew as an adult that I was able to put two-and-two together and realised it was home to that pagoda.

The Palm House at Kew Gardens

We began our visit to Kew with a trip to the Palm House (above), a large, elegant, slightly rundown Victorian greenhouse that’s home to plants from tropical hot spots all over the world. It was fascinating being able to compare the similarities and differences of the various plants, and I got quite excited when I realised I recognised a few of them having seen them in the wild (such as the cacao tree from Costa Rica).

The jade vine inside the Palm House at Kew Gardens

I enjoyed learning about some of the bizarre plants that call the Palm House home, such as the tree with its roots growing above ground. One of my favourite plants was the jade vine (above), an eye-catching jade green plant that stood out from the many palms surrounding it.

There were lots of helpful information signs about the plants in the Palm House, from which we learned some unexpected facts. For example, we were surprised to learn that the Palm House is home to the world’s oldest pot plant – a South African palm that dates back to 1775!

View from the balcony inside the Palm House at Kew Gardens

After walking all the way around the Palm House, on both the ground floor and the upper balcony that spans the edge of the greenhouse, we headed back outside and strolled through the gardens until we reached The Hive (below).

The Hive is a 17m-high aluminium structure that’s designed to recreate life in a beehive and is a wonderful piece of engineering. It was somewhat eerie standing in the middle of it, and it made me realise how lucky I am not to be a bee, having to endure something similar on a regular basis.

Looking up at the roof of the Hive at Kew Gardens

From The Hive, we walked to the Princess of Wales Conservatory. This large indoor greenhouse is home to a variety of rockeries, and houses plants that would normally be found in dry tropical environments, including deserts. It’s full of orchids, succulents and cacti, as well as other less well-known plants, and we had a great time learning about the unusual flora and pointing out curious specimens to each other.

Orchids inside the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew Gardens

After the delights of the conservatory, we continued our way through the gardens until we reached Kew Palace (below). Although it’s situated in the grounds of Kew Gardens, the palace is run by a different organisation, Historic Royal Palaces.

The small, red brick palace was built in the 17th century by Samuel Fortrey, a silk merchant, and fell into royal hands during the reign of George II. But it’s his grandson George III and George III’s wife Charlotte of Mecklenberg-Strelitz who are most closely associated with the palace. It was here that George III recuperated when he was laid low by his mental illness.

Kew Palace

Inside, the palace is decorated and furnished in the Georgian style, as it may have looked during George III and Queen Charlotte’s day. Thanks to its small rooms, it has quite a homely feel and is more like a posh manor house than a grand, splendid palace. It’s quite easy to picture a family living here once upon a time.

Given its small size, it didn’t take long to walk around the palace, and afterwards, we popped inside the nearby Royal Kitchens. The 18th century kitchens were, unsurprisingly, where the servants used to prepare food for the royal family.

The downstairs rooms where the food was made were large and bare (there’s not much to them, so they’re rather dull and uninteresting), while the upstairs rooms housed the kitchen offices. These were a little more interesting as there was more to them – for example, you could see the books where they logged the food they bought.

Rhododendron in flower at Kew Gardens

From the palace, we set about exploring the rest of the gardens and made our way through the grounds to the Rhododendron Dell. I always associate rhododendrons with Agatha Christie novels (they always seem to crop up in them), and thanks to my mother’s persistent teaching, they’re one of the few plants I can identify. As it was spring time, many of the rhododendron were in bloom and we enjoyed a lovely stroll amid the pretty flowering plants.

Syon Park across the River Thames from Kew Gardens

At the other end of the Dell, we stopped briefly at a gap in the trees to take a look at Syon Park (above, the magnificent London residence of the Duke of Northumberland) on the other side of the River Thames, before carrying on through the tree-lined trails until we reached the Great Pagoda (below).

The Great Pagoda at Kew Gardens

The impressive structure was built in 1762 as a present for Princess Augusta. Having not been to Kew for a few years, I hadn’t realised you could now go inside the pagoda, and we briefly considered doing so, until we saw how long the queue was. As I didn’t have long left until my train back to Cardiff and there was more we wanted to see, we decided to skip it – but it’s at the top of the list for my next visit!

The recently restored Temperate House at Kew Gardens

Our next stop was Temperate House (above), a delightful glass behemoth that recently reopened after five years’ restoration work. Dating back to 1863, it’s the biggest Victorian greenhouse on earth and boasts some 10,000 plants from temperate zones all over the world, including Mauritius, the Himalayas and New Zealand.

It’s a fantastic structure and we took our time looking around the greenhouse, marvelling at the huge variety of flora on show and learning about the many plants that live in temperate zones.

From Temperate House, we ambled through the Cherry Walk – a small, pretty spot that was lined with blossoming cherry trees – before finding ourselves back at the entrance. I really enjoyed our day out in Kew Gardens. It’s a beautiful, relaxing park, and with so much to see and do, there’s something for everyone. It’s a delightful place that never disappoints and it’s well worth visiting if you’re in London.

Info

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Open daily
£16.50 adults, £14.50 concessions, from £4.50 children
kew.org

The Royal Mint Experience

The Royal Mint Experience

Last year marked 50 years since The Royal Mint moved to Llantrisant, a small town in south Wales to the north-west of Cardiff, and two years since its visitor experience opened its doors.

The Royal Mint Experience consists of a 45-minute guided tour, which includes a look inside the factory where the coins are minted, after which you’re free to wander around the museum at your own pace.

A mini covered in pennies at The Royal Mint Experience

Our tour began with a brief introductory video about the Mint, before we followed our guide into the factory where he explained how they mint the coins and showed us some of the rarest coins currently in circulation in the UK. We were then taken into a room, where from behind a glass screen, we could see the factory floor and watch the coin production process in action.

A box of £1 coins at The Royal Mint Experience

I hadn’t realised that The Royal Mint produces some five billion coins each year, minting coins not only for the UK, but for countries all over the world. Only £2, 50p and 10p pieces have unusual, collectable designs on them. The rarest 50p piece features the pagoda from Kew Gardens – only 20 per cent of the coins are still in circulation because the other 80 per cent have been kept by coin collectors.

The guided tour was fascinating, I learned a lot and it made me realise how little I knew about the coins I handle on a daily basis, and how much work and thought goes into producing them. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and did an excellent job explaining the production process. There were a couple of serious coin collectors on our tour who asked the guide some tricky questions, but he answered them with ease.

Posters advertising the introduction of decimal coins in the UK at The Royal Mint Experience

After completing our factory tour, we were free to walk around the experience’s museum and I spent ages looking at everything. The museum featured displays about the Mint’s history, from its origins in the Tower of London to its later homes on Tower Hill and at Llantrisant.

There were lots of very rare coins on display, too, including an elusive 1933 penny (only six or seven were made), the first coin minted at the Llantrisant site, as well as coins from the reign of Elizabeth I and Sir Isaac Newton’s seal (he was master of The Royal Mint for almost 30 years until his death in 1727).

A display of facts about coins at The Royal Mint Experience

The Royal Mint makes coins, medals and blanks (the pieces of metal minted into coins) for lots of countries, including the Philippines, Costa Rica and Jordan, and there was an informative display about the many countries the Mint has worked with over the years.

A display about how coins are designed and modelled at The Royal Mint Experience

Other interesting displays included a section that explored the design process in detail (I learned that some coin designers choose to have their initials engraved on the coin, which I hadn’t noticed before), a section featuring a series of fascinating facts about coins and another that looked at the medals the Mint has manufactured over the years.

The Royal Mint made all the medals for the 2012 London Olympics (below) and the museum lets you handle replicas of them. It turns out that the Olympic gold medals are much heavier than the bronze and silver ones, with the silver medal also weighing more than the bronze.

London 2012 Olympic medals on display at The Royal Mint Experience

All in all, we spent a good two hours at The Royal Mint Experience and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit. I came away armed with so many facts about coins that I bored my family and friends stupid with my new found knowledge. I also made a mental note to start checking my change from now on.

Tips

We visited the Mint bright and early on a Wednesday morning because between 10am and 2pm each Wednesday, you can swap a 10p piece for one of The Great Coin Hunt Quintessentially British A-Z 10p pieces. It’s a collectable series of coins that feature a different letter of the alphabet on the one side and a design linked to something intrinsically British (for example, M is represented by a Mackintosh raincoat and B by James Bond) on the other. So if you’re interested in picking up a collectable coin during your visit – Wednesday’s the best day to do so.

Info

The Royal Mint Experience, Pontyclun CF72 8YT
Open from 9.30am every day
Adults £13.50, children (5-15 years) £11, children under five are free, senior citizens £12
royalmint.com/the-royal-mint-experience

Hay-on-Wye

The clock tower in Hay-on-Wye

One of my favourite places to visit in Wales is the small market town of Hay-on-Wye. Straddling the Welsh-English border, and flanked by the River Wye and the Black Mountains, the attractive town is probably best known for its many bookshops and annual literary festival, which has attracted the likes of Salman Rushdie, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton over the years.

When I was growing up, my family and I used to make an annual pilgrimage to Hay, usually the week after Christmas, where we’d wander around the town, browsing in its shops (Hay used to be home to an amazing jigsaw shop, which has sadly closed) and scouring the shelves in the many bookshops on the lookout for interesting and unusual tomes. This year, for the first time in a number of years, we decided to carry on the family tradition and paid a visit on New Year’s Eve.

Millionaire shortbread at The Granary in Hay-on-Wye

We arrived in the town at lunchtime, and after parking the car, strolled down to The Granary Café and Restaurant for tea and cake. The café sells home-made traditional fare such as soups, jacket potatoes and toasties, and always has a good selection of cakes (above). The only downside is it’s often heaving, and on the day we visited, it was as busy as I’ve ever seen it, with the queue almost out the door. Luckily, we were able to get a table, and despite the huge queue, were served relatively quickly.

The Murder and Mayhem bookshop in Hay-on-Wye

Refreshments over, it was time to hit the bookshops, and as an avid bookworm, I made a beeline to my favourite bookshop, Murder and Mayhem, on Lion Street. The small second-hand bookshop specialises in murder mysteries and features classics from the golden age of detective fiction from the 1920s and 1930s, American hard-boiled detective fiction, as well as popular modern crime writers such as Ruth Rendell and Ben Aaronovitch’s River of London series.

I love raking through the shelves in the upstairs room and spent ages picking out books. I ended up with a massive pile that included one of Dorothy L Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries and a British Library Crime Classic by Mavis Doriel Hay. I also picked up a Lew Archer mystery by one of my favourite hard-boiled authors Ross MacDonald and a few novels from the Crime Masterworks series, including Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver. All in all, I was very pleased with my haul.

The Hay Cinema Bookshop in Hay-on-Wye

Laden with books, we strolled through the town, browsing in the many clothes shops, bookshops and food shops, before finishing up in another of my favourite bookshops, the Hay Cinema Bookshop, so named because it’s housed in an old cinema. The cavernous shop sells all manner of books and it’s great fun browsing the shelves, not knowing quite what you’re going to find. I ended up buying a couple of novels by Graham Greene and Alexandre Dumas that I haven’t read.

By now, we were thoroughly bookshopped out, so decided to make our way home. And I’m now armed to the rafters with enough books to last me until next Christmas.

Looking ahead to 2019

The Monastery at Petra

New Year’s Day is that time of the year when I like to look ahead to the forthcoming year, and make a lot of travel and blogging predictions that probably won’t come true.

Last year, I made a number of predictions and a surprising number materialised. I passed my driving test and bought a car, I made it to Brittany (below) and spent four days in the glorious city of Porto. I also blogged about my trip to Costa Rica and the area around Poitiers in France, and wrote a couple more travel guides (Jordan and Edinburgh).

The Cote Sauvage on the Presqu'ile de Quiberon in Brittany

Predictions that failed to come true included buying a house (still on the cards for this year but Brexit has a lot to answer for), lots of blogging plans and trips to far flung destinations.

What’s coming up in 2019?

On the travel front in 2019, I’m off to Malaysia in March, as well as the Loire and possibly Paris in June. I’d then like to round out the year with a city break somewhere in Europe, and now that I have a car, spend some time exploring parts of the UK I rarely visit. Any tips on where to go, what to eat, etc, in Malaysia, the Loire, Paris or the UK will be greatly appreciated.

In March, I’ll be spending a fortnight in Malaysia, starting in Borneo, where I’m hoping to see lots of incredible wildlife (orangutans! tarsiers! sun bears!) and spectacular geology, before moving onto the Malay peninsula, where I’ll be taking in Kuala Lumpur, Malacca and Georgetown, before finishing in Langkawi.

In June, I’ll be touring the Loire region of France for a week, where I expect I shall gorge myself silly on splendid chateaux, patisserie, cheese and wine. I’m also toying with the idea of flying home from Paris and using that as an excuse to spend a few days in the French capital. I’m not the biggest fan of Paris, so we shall see whether that happens.

Regular readers may have clocked that I’m ridiculously slow at blogging my trips (thankfully I keep super detailed diaries while I travel), so if you’d like to keep up-to-date with my comings and goings, check out my Instagram (@thislittleoldworld).

The Douro River at dusk in Porto

Because of the above, I’m also really behind on blogging a number of my big trips, so first up this year will be a series based around my week long trip to Jordan. I’ll also hopefully get around to blogging about my city break in Porto (above) and my 10-day long stay in Brittany. I’ll probably also put together a couple more travel guides (Cuba is likely, as is Vietnam). If anyone has any preferences, let me know in the comments.

Thank you!

Finally, I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who has read, liked, shared or commented on my posts over the past year. I write my blog for my own amusement, so I’m still gobsmacked that other people take the time to read and comment on what I write. It’s very much appreciated and I really enjoy reading your comments.

I’d also like to thank a number of other bloggers whose blogs I read on a regular basis and who provide a lot of travel and food inspiration. I’m forever reading other people’s posts and thinking I have to go there or try that restaurant/dish. So thanks for the inspiration!

Happy New Year! Have a wonderful 2019!

Bx

Dinefwr

Newton House seen through the trees from Dinefwr Deer Park

Nestled among the trees and woodland of the Carmarthenshire countryside, Dinefwr is a grand estate boasting a medieval castle, a stately home and a 100-acre nature reserve that’s home to a host of wildlife including deer, otters and badgers.

Looking for somewhere to stop on my drive back to Cardiff from Pembrokeshire, I stumbled upon Dinefwr, and as it was almost at the half-way point between the two, I decided it would be the perfect place to stretch my legs and have a spot of lunch.

On arriving at the estate, which is maintained by the National Trust, I parked my car and made my way to the information hut to get a map from the friendly staff. There are a number of walking trails around the estate and I chose a route that would take me up to the castle, then through the nature reserve to Mill Pond and returning via the deer park.

Dinefwr Castle

I set off from the car park over a field and entered the Castle Wood, following the woodland path uphill until I reached the castle (above). Perched high on a hill overlooking the River Tywi, Dinefwr Castle was once the home of Lord Rhys and the princes of Deheubarth, the ancient kingdom of south-west Wales.

Only the outer shell of the castle, which is maintained by Cadw, remains, but you can walk all the way along the ramparts and they offer spectacular views of the Carmarthenshire countryside, the River Tywi and Dinefwr Park (below). The big round tower is still intact, too, and you can climb to the top and walk around it. There isn’t a huge amount to Dinefwr Castle, but what remains is in excellent condition and it’s a lovely place to explore.

View over Dinefwr Park and beyond from the top of Dinefwr Castle

From the castle, I headed back down the hill, cutting through the woodland, and continuing to follow the path over a field until I came to the deer park entrance. I passed through the metal gates into the park and followed the boardwalk through Bog Wood until I came to the picturesque Mill Pond.

Wooden sculpture of a bird of prey in the deer park at Dinefwr

From there, I carried on walking through the deer park, and was surprised and delighted when I saw two young deer sprint past me on the path ahead. I hadn’t expected to see any deer, despite the park’s name, and was thrilled to see not one, but two of these magnificent creatures.

Deer just visible on top of a hill in the Deer Park at Dinefwr

I continued through the deer park, and as I neared the metal gates at the end of the path, I looked to my left where I saw a row of deer relaxing on top of the hill (you can just make out them out in the photo above). Most were lying down, but some were standing around or eating.

It was an incredible experience seeing so many deer so close. I thought the deer would keep themselves hidden, away from the footpaths, and so hadn’t expected to come across any. The only other place I’ve seen deer is in Richmond Park in London, so seeing the deer made my visit to Dinefwr quite special.

Newton House in the grounds of Dinefwr

Feeling elated from my encounters with the deer, I continued on the path towards Newton House (above), the stately home at Dinefwr. The house was closed so I couldn’t look around, but The Billiard Tearoom inside was open, so I stopped there for lunch. The tea room sells a variety of soups, light lunches and sweet treats, and the staff were incredibly warm and welcoming, and made my visit all the nicer. Starving, I wolfed down a steaming bowl of red thai squash soup, followed by a slice of toffee gateau.

View of the inside of Dinefwr Castle from the ramparts

Dinefwr is an exceptional place, full of history, wildlife and beautiful scenery, and having lived in Wales most of my life, I can’t believe it was my first visit. Seeing the deer in the deer park was particularly memorable, and as I was walking around, I was already planning my return visit. I may only have just discovered Dinefwr, but it’s a place I’ll be returning to again and again.

Info

Dinefwr Castle
Free
Open 10am-4pm every day
cadw.gov.wales/daysout/dinefwrcastle

Dinefwr Park
Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, SA19 6RT
Adults £7.60, children £3.80
www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dinefwr

 

Ceredigion coastal path – Gwbert to Mwnt

The sandy cove of Mwnt in the distance, spied from the Ceredigion coastal path

Earlier this month I was in Pembrokeshire, west Wales, for a wedding. The morning after, feeling a little delicate, I decided I needed a healthy dose of sea air to blow the cobwebs away and so embarked on a seven-mile circular walk from my hotel in Gwbert to Mwnt.

Gwbert is a tiny village perched high on the cliffs overlooking Cardigan Bay. The Ceredigion coastal path (part of the Wales Coast Path, a free to access footpath that runs along the entire Welsh coastline) passes through the village. Having done a spot of research online, I found that if I followed the path to the north, I’d end up in the picturesque sandy cove of Mwnt, just three-and-a-half miles away.

The wild and dramatic Ceredigion coastline from Gwbert

Before I set off, I paid a quick visit to the clifftops at the end of my hotel’s grounds to have a look at the spectacular stretch of coastline I was about to explore (above). Joining the coastal path, I walked firstly uphill along a wide country road, and then followed the signs over a stile through a series of (at times muddy and wet) farmers’ fields.

View of Cardigan Island in the distance from the Ceredigion coastal path

The path through the fields took me right down to the shore where I had good views of nearby Cardigan Island (above), and from here, I followed the jagged, curving pathway along the edge of the coast, through fields and quarries, and along narrow clifftop pathways.

The path was mostly well-trodden, but it was muddy, slippery and perilously close to the cliff edge in parts. The signs warning that clifftops could be deadly did not help reassure me and I was very aware that if I tumbled at certain points, I’d fall straight over the edge of the cliff onto the craggy, forboding rocks below.

Looking down on the sandy cove of Mwnt from the Ceredigion coastal path

After around an hour or so, I finally spied Mwnt’s compact sandy beach in the distance (above). And as I got closer to the cove, the path became increasingly muddy, rocky and slippery, and there was one section where I struggled to keep my footing. But I soon made it down to the beach where I enjoyed the beautiful views over the coastline I’d just walked (below).

View of the Ceredigion coastline from Mwnt

Being November and a little drizzly, the beach was unusually quiet (it’s often heaving on a sunny summer’s day) with only a few other walkers around. I spent a little while at the beach looking out for any signs of seals, pups or dolphins, which frequent the area, and then headed up the hill to the small Church of the Holy Cross (below), which overlooks the cove.

The lonely Church of the Holy Cross in Mwnt

From there, I headed inland up a long, winding, uphill road, where at the top, I turned to the right, and walked back to Gwbert via the roads, passing the tiny village of Ferwig along the way. My return journey wasn’t anywhere near as scenic or as pleasant as the coastal path, but it was a much easier, more sure-footed walk. And some three hours after setting out, I arrived back at my hotel where I collapsed on my bed with a warming cup of tea and some ginger biscuits.

I really enjoyed my walk along this incredibly scenic stretch of the Ceredigion coastal path, it’s a great route and the views over the coastline are breathtaking. It was the first time I’ve deliberately walked a good stretch of the Wales Coast Path, and having completed this walk, I’d like to explore more of it.

Tips

  • Take a map – there’s no phone or internet signal in this part of rural Wales and while the coastal path is well signposted, the road signs are sporadic and there are a number of junctions that aren’t marked.
  • Take plenty of water and snacks – there are no cafés or shops en route.
  • There’s a small toilet at Mwnt that’s open all year-round, but bear in mind these are the only facilities along the walk.
  • Wear waterproof hiking shoes with good grips – the coastal path is muddy and very slippery in parts so good footwear is essential.
  • Be aware that once you join the coastal path at Gwbert there’s no way of turning off it until you get to Mwnt.

Info

Get more information about the Wales Coast Path.