Walking along the hillside, I drank in the landscape that gave little clue of the coal mines that once covered The Valleys of South Wales. The countryside is green and covered with forest, the air fresh, the streams bubbling clear and rich in wildlife, providing a playground for walkers and mountain bikers. But you don’t need to scratch far below the surface before the stories of The Valleys start to come out, of the mining communities that lived in the terraced houses and the pits that provided employment from the “Black Gold”. Many of the old mines have been turned into nature reserves, outdoor activity centres or visitor attractions like the ones that I visited over a weekend in The Valleys. I heard so many fascinating stories from this part of South Wales, and with no more bridge tolls to cross the Severn Bridge, there’s never been a better time to visit!
1. The Welsh Mining Experience at Rhondda Heritage Park
Our first taste of the Valleys of south Wales was at Rhondda Heritage Park, where we’d come to try the Welsh Mining Experience, in what had previously been the Lewis Merthyr colliery. In its heyday at the turn of the century, Rhondda was the heart of the South Wales coalfield, with a population of 150,000, producing hundreds of millions of tons of coal each year. Although this colliery closed in 1983, the industrial heritage is a big part of the area’s recent history, and many of the former mining sites have been regenerated and landscaped to make walking trails, nature parks, outdoor activity centres and visitor attractions like the one we were visiting.
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Our guides for the Black Gold Underground Tour were Peter and Phil, both former miners who had worked at the colliery and could tell us their stories first hand of what it life was like as a miner. We reached the two former mine shafts through the Trefor and Bertie Engine Houses, where the huge wheels that took the miners down into the pit and the coal up to the surface were turning.
Walking through the engine houses we heard about some of the characters who shaped this mine, like the Marquess of Bute who became incredibly wealthy from the “Black Gold” as well as his business interests in the railways that transported the coal and the shops and pubs that made money from the miners. In Victorian times wives would also work in the Welsh coal mines to help their husbands, bringing children as young as six into the mines to open the doors for the pit ponies.
Before going down in the mine cage like the miners, we donned our helmets and learned about the dangers of explosions from methane gas in the mine and how the canaries were used as an early warning system. As we progressed along the tunnels, Peter and Phil explained how they might have a long walk to reach the coal face, their lunch held in metal Tommy boxes to stay clean and not get eaten by the rats “as big as terriers”. The cats who lived down here were never fed since they had to catch the rats for food instead!
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It was dusty, dangerous work, yet there was a strong community and camaraderie in the Welsh Valleys, with a huge sense of loss when the pits closed down one by one. Only a handful of mines have re-opened, run by the miners themselves, which could still earn a good living for those who had a share in them. Our tour ended with an audio-visual experience of sitting in the open train carriages, which shook as they transported us virtually through the tunnels and up to the surface.
In reality the doors opened and we stepped straight out into the yard, where the last dram or truck of coal to be taken from this mine still stood under the tall chimney stack. Back in the visitor centre we were able to visit replicas of the old fashioned shops, which now sell Welsh gifts and chocolate, as well as visit the Coal Mining Museum upstairs telling the history of the mine and Rhondda Valley. I’d highly recommend this experience as one of the top things to do in South Wales, giving a fascinating insight to life in a coal mine through the first hand stories of the miners who worked there.
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Anna from SayingYesis, who was part of our group told me;
“Beautiful Rhondda Heritage Park is an assemblage of different bits and bobs that have made Wales what is today; everything from the Italian influence (who knew?) to the impact of the mines – speaking of which, being able to learn all about the mining industry and actually go down into a mine myself was definitely one of the highlights, especially for a history nerd like me”.
More info: The Welsh Mining Experience at Rhondda Heritage Park Website | Read Tripadvisor Reviews | Facebook | Address: Lewis Merthyr Colliery, Coed Cae Road, Trehafod, CF37 2NP | Open daily 9.30am – 4.30pm except Monday (reduced hours in winter) | Black Gold Underground tour £6.95 Adults, £5.75 Children, Family ticket £19 | Free access to Cafe Bracchi, gift shops, playground, museum
2. Caffe Bracchi at Rhondda Heritage Park – Lunch at a Welsh Italian Cafe
After our visit we stopped for lunch at the Caffe Bracchi within the Rhondda Heritage Park, which is an atmospheric place to have tea and cakes or a light lunch, even if you are not visiting the rest of the Rhondda Heritage Park. The café has recently reopened after being taken over by The Chocolate House, who also have one of the old shops in the museum, and is styled as a cosy Welsh Italian café.
There’s a strong tradition of Italian families migrating to The Valleys in Wales in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially from the Bardi region of Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy. They set up cafés and ice cream parlours known as Bracchi’s, all around Wales, and we loved the traditional feel of Caffe Bracchi, with china on the Welsh dressers and delicious cakes on display under their glass domes.
More info: Caffe Bracchi | Opening times as Rhondda Heritage Park
3. Llancaiach Fawr Manor – Step back in time to the 17th century
My afternoon was spent visiting Llancaiach Fawr Manor in the South Wales Valleys, a semi-fortified 16th century manor house that was built with thick walls for easy defence, during the turbulent times of the Tudor monarchs. In 1628 the Pritchard family extended the house to reflect their growing wealth and status and in 1645 the house was visited by King Charles I who came to gather support for the Royalist cause, since civil war was then raging in the English lands. Our visit to the manor house took us back in time to 1645, when Edward Pritchard lived there with his wife Mary and two daughters, with around 30 servants to maintain his household. Entry to the manor house was by a Letter of Introduction and our guides were the servants and members of the household who addressed us just as they might have spoken to a visitor in the 17th century.
In the hallway of Llancaiach Fawr, we met dairy maid Rachel, who would milk the cows and make cheese and butter for the family. In the kitchen she showed us the spinning wheel used to make the yarn, carded and spun by women which was knitted into garments by men. Rachel explained how the cider was fermented using rotting dead rats (why waste a better cut of meat?), the cheeses kept fresh by wrapping in nettles and the favourite dish was crow pie, complete with the claws of the bird sticking out of the pastry. We saw a cone of sugar which the Mistress Mary Prichard enjoyed, although it was known to cause problems with the teeth, due to the worms living in the teeth which might burrow out to make holes and give toothache as soon as they smelt the sugar!
Upstairs some of the other servants showed us the bedrooms, where Mistress Mary’s dressing table was laid out with powdered lead as face powder, a lipstick made of cochineal stained pigs fat, and perfumed water to keep the plague away. Since Master Edward Pritchard was Justice of the Peace, he would hear cases in the courtroom where children convicted of minor offences might be sent to the army as punishment and a nagging wife could be forced to stand outside her house wearing a metal contraption known as a scold’s bridle.
Naturally being a wealthy household, there was an indoor privy for the use of the family, with a sponge on the end of the stick used in lieu of toilet paper, hence we were warned not to get the wrong end of the stick! This house has so many fascinating stories to tell and there are also Llancaiach Fawr ghost tours by candlelight, to hear the tales of the house and strange happenings that have been experienced by staff and visitors over the years.
Hearing all the stories of life in the 17th century really brought the visit to life and after our tour of the manor, we also visited the kitchen gardens, orchards and formal gardens, as well as looking around the exhibition for more information about society and the family history at this time. Llancaiach Fawr Manor makes a fantastic day out in South Wales for families and history lovers, enabling you to travel in time and peek into the past.
More info: Llancaiach Fawr Manor website | Read Tripadvisor Reviews | Facebook | Address: Gelligaer Road, Nelson, Treharris, CF46 6ER | Admission to manor house: Adults £8.50 Child £6.95 Family £25 | Free entry to visitor centre, cafe, exhibition and garden | Open daily except Monday 10am – 5pm
4. Gellihaf House for a Welsh afternoon tea
Our treat of the day was a traditional afternoon tea at Gellihaf House, near Blackwood in The Valleys of South Wales. This pretty Arts and Crafts House was built in the 1930s on the site of an older farmhouse and is run by Catherine and Howard Smith, who completely renovated the house and opened it as a boutique B&B a year ago.
Our tea was served in the dining room on delicate bone china, in a traditional but cosy atmosphere. Catherine makes everything herself, from the sandwich fillings (you choose from seven different options) to the miniature cakes and warm scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam.
Be warned that portions are generous and this is a meal in itself, so come hungry in order to do the tea justice – you’re unlikely to need much else to eat for the rest of the day! When the weather is fine, tea can be served in the gardens on the former tennis court with views over the valley, and you do need to book in advance.
5. Where to stay in The Valleys
Gellihaf House Boutique B&B
After our delicious afternoon tea, Catherine showed us around the rooms at Gellihaf House which would be a beautiful place to stay in The Valleys if you like to stay in luxury but with a homely atmosphere. There are three guest bedrooms named after local valleys and rivers and all are comfortable and elegant with antique style furniture and pretty cushions and curtains that pick up the Arts and Crafts theme.
The luxury continues with modern bathrooms with large bathtubs and rainfall showers, high quality mattresses and Egyptian cotton bed linen. The B&B has clearly been a labour of love, with great attention to detail to ensure every comfort for guests, and the loft space is currently being converted to make a suite of additional bedrooms that would be ideal for a family or group of friends. Although I didn’t stay at Gellihaf House, I think it would make a great base to explore all the places to visit in South Wales, with parking on site, a friendly, homely feel as well as elegant and luxurious interiors.
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More info: Gellihaf House website | Read Tripadvisor Reviews | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Address: Gellihaf Rd, Blackwood, NP12 2QE | Reservations: email@example.com Tel: 01443831518
Rhondda Heritage Park Hotel
I stayed for a night in this comfortable and modern hotel which was built in the 1990s and makes a good base for touring The Valleys, with plenty of car parking space. The 3 star Heritage Park Hotel is close to Pontypridd and right next door to the Rhondda Heritage Park, where we started the day. It’s a popular choice for conferences and weddings as well as leisure visitors like us.
The bedroom was comfortable and modern with a cosy dark green colour scheme and adjoining en suite bathroom. The staff were friendly and welcoming, with a bar area to relax in the evening and a hearty cooked breakfast in the restaurant the following morning. Although the building is modern, there were nice touches to bring in the local character of the area, such as the big pit wheel on display outside and the timbers that had been reclaimed from an old warehouse and used as beams in The Loft restaurant.
6. Dinner at Casa Mia – where to eat in Caerphilly and The Valleys
We ended our busy day in The Valleys with dinner at Casa Mia, a friendly restaurant in Caerphilly specialising in Mediterranean dishes. On a Saturday night the restaurant was buzzing, and we tucked into home cooked pasta; mine was a tasty lasagne. There’s a strong Italian heritage in The Valleys as many Italian families migrated here in the early part of the century, opening shops and restaurants as well as their famous ice cream parlours.
The restaurant is on the first floor with wide glass windows, giving us a panoramic view of Caerphilly Castle, which is floodlit at night. The atmosphere of the restaurant and staff was very helpful and friendly, and they can accommodate different dietary requirements with a vegan menu and gluten free pasta available as an option.
7. A tasting of local beer and cider from South Wales
As part of our dinner we tried some of the local beer and cider brewed in South Wales. I love supporting the artizan food businesses whenever I travel so if you’re in The Valleys look out for these real ales and ciders in the shops and pubs.
Tudor brewery – A family run brewery based in The Valleys, we tried their hoppy Skirrid Welsh Bitter, malty dark Black Rock and light, citrusy Tudor IPA.
Mad dog brewing – We loved the quirky personality of the company with beers like the Now in a minute Welsh Red Ale with malty flavours of chocolate and citrus.
Williams Brothers cider – a family run business based in Caerphilly using traditional methods to make cider in South Wales. We tried their Splanky, a fresh and fruity medium cider which has been voted champion cider of Wales.
Hallets Cider – Traditionally made ciders from a farm in Caerphilly, with lots of ciders available on draught and we tried their Hallet’s bottled cider made from a blend of aged cider and the new season’s cider.
Untapped Brewing Company – Real ales with no additives from their brewery in Raglan, we tried the Whoosh, a straw coloured pale ale with zesty, fruity flavours.
8. Walking in the Blaengarw Valley
On Sunday morning we were off to try one of the walks in the South Wales Valleys, that reach out from Blaengarw near Bridgend. The starting point for all the walks is the small car park and visitor centre at Parc Calon Lan, named after a famous Welsh hymn Calon Lan, that was written in Blaengarw, and is often sung at Welsh rugby matches. This valley was once a mining community, but since the last pit closed in 1985, the Garw valley has been regenerated with marked trails for walkers and mountain bikers.
We were met by our knowledgeable guide Karl, who is the park ranger and was involved in laying out the walking trails. He now maintains the park as well as running the visitor centre, where you can find walking leaflets and a cup of tea when it’s open. The flat path alongside the Garw river runs from Blaengarw to Bettws and is one of the popular places to go in South Wales for weekend bike rides, as we passed lots of cyclists heading that way.
Where the visitor centre now stands was once the colliery washery, where the coal was washed of dust before being transported, soaking into what was then known as The Black River. Now the water is crystal clear and a series of weirs and lakes have been created to encourage the brown trout that spawn here. Crossing the river, we walked up up the hill towards a natural quarry and skirted along the slope with fine views over the valley. Below us were the neat terraced houses in rows along the valley, built to house the miners and their families.
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We paused a little way up at a bird sculpture, The Keeper of the Song, carved out of a single log and one of the sculptures created in a community project for the Garw valley. A little further was the site of the coal tips from the Ffaldau Colliery, with nothing now to show but a flat green field.
After admiring the views we continued through the woodland and down a gravel track, once the route up to the colliery ground. Embedded in the path we noticed the occasional coil of metal cable, the remains of the aerial ropeway that was used to carry the coal waste up the valley from the mine. At the bottom, we returned along the footpath beside the river, pausing to watch the rapids from the small bridges. Although the valley now is a green and pleasant playground for walkers and mountain bikers, it’s fascinating to scratch below the surface and discover the industrial heritage that is so bound up in the recent memory of these valleys.
More information for the Garw Valley walks from Blaengarw
Pick up a leaflet for the three marked walks around the Garw valley at the Parc Calon Lan visitor centre
Garw Walk 1 – This 11km circular walk takes 3.5 – 4 hours on the wooded west side of the valley, before crossing the valley and up on the side to return via a disused tramway. This is the route we took although we only did the first half of the walk.
Garw Walk 2 – This 9kn walk takes 3-3.5 hours takes you around the head of the valley along the old drover’s route, before skirting back through forest and open paths on the western slopes of the Blaengarw valley.
Garw Walk 3 – This 11km circular walk takes around 4-4.5 hours taking you along the ridge of Mynydd Llangeinwr before descending to return through Blaengarw valley along the river path.
All the Garw Valley walks start at Parc Calon Lan, Blaengarw, Bridgend CF32 8AU
Read more about The Valleys Walking Festival: A scenic walk in the South Wales Valleys
9. Tondu Farm House for Sunday lunch and community activities
After the morning’s walking we were looking forward to our lunch at Tondu Farmhouse, which is tucked away up a long drive in beautiful countryside, with views over the valley. The farmhouse is run as a social enterprise with a forest school, support and training for the local community, wellbeing courses and an apartment/ bunkhouse that is rented to groups. Best of all they run The Woodland Bistro, which is a pizzeria and restaurant, open to cater for guests staying there, special functions and for Sunday lunch.
Before lunch we had a look around the nature garden and gorgeous views over the countryside, as well as the four bedroom bunk house (although none are bunk beds) which offers simple accommodation for large groups with 12 beds and two bathrooms. In the Woodlands Bistro we were served in the welcoming white-walled restaurant, manned by staff who are training in hospitality skills as part of the Tondu Farmhouse community programme.
Our hearty Sunday lunch of roast beef or pork was just what was needed with seasonal veggies, roasties and gravy, followed by homemade apple pie and ice cream for pud. I highly recommend booking for Sunday lunch if you are exploring The Valleys. If you need a place to stay for a group of friends or extended family, this would be a great place to enjoy relaxing in the lovely countryside and gardens to connect with all the outdoor activities and nature around Tondu Farmhouse.
10. Caerphilly Castle – a Welsh Castle full of history
Caerphilly Castle is one of those proper Welsh Castles, the sort where you expect to find a knight in shining armour or a damsel in distress. It’s been used as a location for the TV series Merlin and stands solid against the world, with towers, battlements and walls so thick you’d attempt to breach them at your peril. The castle is surrounded by a moat which is crossed by a drawbridge, the main way into the castle. This was the final stop of our weekend in The Valleys of south Wales. I’d seen Caerphilly Castle floodlit at night time from Casa Mia, but was keen to see it in the daytime for some photos too.
The castle was built in the 13th century by Gilbert de Clare, Lord of Glamorgan in order to protect the lands of south Wales from Welsh baron Llywelyn ap Gruffudd who controlled lands in north and mid Wales. In the 18th century the castle was bought by the Marquesses of Bute, and the fourth Marquess used the wealth of his coal mines to restore the castle, repairing the stonework and removing buildings that had been built close to the walls. Caerphilly remained in their family until it was given to the state in the 1950s and is now managed by Cadw, which runs a number of historic buildings in Wales.
From across the lake we could spot the leaning tower which leans at an even steeper angle than the leaning tower of Pisa. Inside the walls you can see the huge wooden siege engines that could break down even the thickest of castle walls, visit the communal toilets in the guardroom and see the Great Hall and the lord’s private apartments in the tower.
After a quick photo stop along Crescent Road to see the castle from the west side, we drove around to park beside the Visit Caerphilly tourism centre, which has lots of information on things to see and do in the area. There’s a statue of the famous magician and comedian Tommy Cooper, who was born in Caerphilly, wearing the famous red fez that he used in stage performances. We wandered around the castle walls, watching the ducks and geese and enjoying the late afternoon sunshine. It was late on Sunday afternoon, and I was heading back across the Severn Bridge, so there wasn’t time to visit properly and look around, but I’d love to return another day. Caerphilly Castle is also a great choice if you are looking for day trips from Cardiff, that are easy to reach by car or rail.
11. Parc Slip Nature Reserve – nature restored to an old mine
There are lots more things to do in South Wales, so I asked the other bloggers who were visiting at the same time for their recommendations on what they enjoyed.
Amanda of The Boutique Adventurer told me;
Parc Slip Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve is 300 acres of stunning land in The Valleys and the area was originally an opencast coal mine. In keeping with the wonderful work of the area to turn the key mining sites into interesting and different tourism attractions, it was turned into a nature reserve in 1989.
The reserve offers a range of habitats including grasslands, woodlands and wetlands. There are hides to sit and watch the wildlife on ponds as well as 10 kms of walking path for people and dogs. Cyclists and horse riding enthusiasts are served by a 4km path.
The reserve is always changing with the seasons. Come summer there are fields of wildflowers and sunflowers. In the spring the meadows are filled with primroses and daffodils. In keeping with its seasonal offerings, the Reserve offers regular events and activities that highlight what is blooming at the time.
The visitor centre is home to a wonderful coffee shop that has some delicious cakes. There is a lovely outdoor decking area that is perfectly suited to cake and coffee and a lovely view! The reserve itself is open every day all day free of charge.
Read Amanda’s article about her visit to The Valleys: Places to visit in South Wales
Emily from Kids and Compass told me;
Parc Slip Nature Reserve is a remnant of The Valleys’ coal industry. For years there was a productive coal mine on this site but since the mine closed down the area has been returned to a much more natural state. Now Parc Slip is a haven for all sorts of wildlife, including some rare native species.
Parc Slip is great for families who’d like to take peaceful walks – there are miles of trails with lots for kids to enjoy – including following the coal mine themed sculpture trail. It’s also ideal for birdwatchers as there are several hides scattered across the reserve and the area attracts many different species of birds.
During our visit we took a guided tour from the visitor centre, and the kids had a great time hunting for some of the more rare wildlife in Parc Slip. We managed to find a great crested newt and some lizards, but sadly no snakes! The cafe at Parc Slip serves snacks and drinks and has a lovely setting next to a pond so you can spot wildlife while you’re having lunch!
Read Emily’s article: Explore The Valleys – the best days out in South Wales
More info: Parc Slip Nature Reserve Website | Read Tripadvisor Reviews | Free entry to nature reserve, visitor centre and cafe | Visitor centre and cafe open daily except Monday 10am – 4pm and daily in summer | Address: Parc Slip Visitor Centre, Fountain Road, Tondu, CF32 0EH
12. Ride a Fat Bike in the sand dunes at Porthcawl
Julianne of Part Time Passport told me;
I can’t think of many better ways to spend a sunny Sunday morning than cycling along the coast, miles from it all. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to experience a completely different side to South Wales, from the back of a fat bike.
What on earth is a fat bike,I hear you ask? Well, head to Porthcawl Bike & Surf Hire and you’ll soon find out what all the fuss is about. These shiny mountain bikes with GIANT tyres are perfect for gliding along the sand dunes, which stretch along the stunning coastline of South Wales.
Starting at Sandy Bay in Porthcawl, the route takes you along endless stretches of sand and over hilly dunes, all the way to Newton Bay, known for its dramatic black rocks and rugged coastal scenery. There’s no better way to experience this beautiful part of South Wales, if you’re looking for a good balance of adventure and relaxation, with a dash of adrenaline.
Read Julianne’s article: Fat Bikes in Porthcawl – a perfect day out in Wales
Lisa from Travel Loving Family told me;
The highlight of my weekend in the Valleys was riding fat bikes along the beach in Porthcawl. They are referred to as ‘fat bikes’ due to the extra wide tyres which were originally designed to ride on snow and then modified to ride on sand. They were brilliant for riding along the sand by the ocean and particularly for navigating the sand dunes.
My group and I spent a few hours exploring the coastline and stopping to take photos. The sun was shining, the sky was bright blue and it was an utterly brilliant way to spend a Sunday morning. I would recommend this activity for anyone with a fairly good standard of fitness, including kids who can ride without stabilisers as they have a few fat bikes for kids too.
Read Lisa’s article: Weekend in the Welsh Valleys – Discovering best days out in South Wales
If surfing is your thing, you may also like to check out the Coney Surf website for surfboard hire and surf information at Porthcawl.
13. Strike a coin at the Royal Mint Experience
Lesley from Places with Ed told me;
The Royal Mint Experience is aimed at older children and families who want to find out about the interesting history of coins and how they are made. I’d never really thought about it before but found out about all the different metals and processes used including washing them thoroughly! You even get to strike your own coin to takeaway as a souvenir.
Along with the Royal Mint Tour, there is a museum at the end and some interactive exhibits for children to draw. There is also a very interesting display showing all the coins from across the world that are made at the Royal Mint.
Jess of Mum Under Pressure told me;
The Royal Mint Experience is based in Llantrisant in the Rhondda Valley in Wales. Once the decimalisation of the currency was announced in 1966, there was a need for a larger mint. James Callaghan, the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time helped with the decision of moving coin production to a Welsh Valley, to create work for communities that were suffering due to coal mine closures. The first coin was struck by the Queen at The Royal Mint in Llantrisant 17th December 1968.
I visited with my 4 children aged 12, 9, 8 and 5. We were all captivated by the ‘secret’ tour around The Mint. The sheer enormity of the production process was clear to see. The highlight of the tour was to see through the glass windows onto the factory floor. Coins for over 60 coins across the world are created in the building, 24 hours a day. The children also had the opportunity to strike their very own 50p to take home.
After the ‘secret’ tour, we were able to hear, see and learn more of the history behind The Mint. The kids loved the interactive activities and we had a great afternoon. Definitely somewhere for kid, parents, aunties, uncles and grandparents.
Read Jess’s article about the visit: A family day out in the Rhondda Valley
More info: The Royal Mint Experience website | Read Tripadvisor Reviews | Open daily from 9.30am – 5pm (last tour around 4pm) | Adult £13.50, Child £11, Family £40 (reduction for online booking) | The tour takes you behind the scenes to show you how the coins are made and involves and initial airline style security check | Photos are restricted in some parts of the Royal Mint Experience such as the tour
14. Rock UK Summit Centre – for climbing and outdoor activities
Zoe at Splodz Blogz told me;
I try to take every opportunity to test my adventurous spirit, so joining an hour’s climbing at Summit Centre Wales, was right up my street. Our hour-long session was more give-it-a-go than a full-on lesson, just a bit of fun with no pressure to succeed.
We had one instructor for our group, and as none of us were belay qualified, we each had the chance to climb just twice. The walls are 18 metres high, with a huge variety of pegs, holds and boulders to use to reach the top – it was fun to watch other centre users make their way up the walls like pros! I was very pleased to reach the summit on both of my climbs.
It’s not difficult to understand why climbers speak of the wall being their meditation; the physical effort was certainly there, but add to that the amount of problem solving that comes with it (especially being short), and you have something that gives brain and brawn a workout. I have to admit the climbing used muscles I haven’t asked much of in a while, and the following day I was feeling it, but it was a satisfied kind of ache.
Aside from the climbing, the Rock UK outdoor activity centre in Wales put on all kinds of activities for adults and children, including a man-made caving system and an aerial adventure course – the latter of which looked like a lot of fun. There is also archery, bushcraft, kayaking and raft building. There was also a very nice café (I recommend the millionaire’s shortbread…), and a bunk house to cater for residential trips.
More info: Rock UK Summit Centre | Read Tripadvisor Reviews | Climbing Walls open 10am – 6pm weekends | Address: The Old Drift Mine, Trelewis, Treharris South Wales, CF46 6RD | 60 minute taster session from £35 for 2 people as part of a group
15. Pit Pony Sculpture at Parc Penalta
Jemma of Have Kids Will Travel told me;
Wales has so many green spaces but Penallta Parc in Hengoed is one that hides a special homage to the pit ponies. It’s not visible when you first enter the park but you will notice some undulating hills in the distance. As you cross the green expanse and get closer, you start to make out the form. The hills become hoofs, legs and a head until you see the whole horse sculpture carved into the land around you.
The Parc sits on the site of an old colliery which is a perfect place for this memorial. Pit ponies were used down the coal mines and lived mostly underground, working eight hours a day hauling coal around the network of tunnels. The sculpture was practical by design to provide some shelter from the wind. Mick Petts the designer strengthened the connection with coal by making the sculpture from it along with stones, soil and shale.
As keen walkers, we saw many trails that led off from the sculpture that we’re keen to explore on our return. The kids however loved running up the horse, exploring its stone eye and hiding in its ear. It makes the perfect accompaniment to a trip to Llancaiach Fawr as a way to let the kids stretch their legs and explore the pony.
More info: Parc Penallta and the Pit Pony earth sculpture | Address: Penallta Rd, Ystrad Mynach, Hengoed CF82 7GN
16. The Valleys Walking festival – walking in the South Wales Valleys
If you’d like to try some more walks in south Wales, The Valleys walking festival is an ideal way to take a guided walk without having to do much planning. The festival is held every September and you just sign up for one of the many free ticketed walks, then let the guide lead you and explain some of the things you’ll see along the way.
On a previous visit to The Valleys tried the walk “In the footsteps of Glanffrwd”, named after a local 19th century historian, which took us jumping streams, discovering waterfalls, standing by the still waters of a reservoir and having a well earned break for Welsh teacakes!
The programme offers something for everyone, with challenging treks, easy strolls and special interest walks, and they can be anything from a couple of hours to a full day’s walking. If you’d like to try one of the walks yourself in September check out the different walks on offer and sign up onThe Valleys website.
Read more about The Valleys Walking Festival: A scenic walk in the South Wales Valleys
Information for visiting The Valleys in South Wales
Hotels – Looking for a place to stay? Check prices and book these Hotels in South Wales
Tours – Looking for a tour? Check out these tours in Wales
Guidebook – Need a guidebook? We recommend the Rough Guide to Wales
By Car – The Valleys of South Wales are an easy drive from many places in the West of England, making it possible for a day trip, especially since the Severn Bridge no longer has any bridge tolls. Approximate distances to Rhondda Heritage Park where our weekend started are; Cardiff 35 mins / 15 miles | Bristol 1hr 15 mins / 55 miles | Gloucester 1hr 30 mins / 75 miles | Cheltenham 2 hrs / 78 miles.
By Train – If travelling from London or other parts of the UK, you may like to take the train to Cardiff and then pick up a hire car to explore The Valleys of south Wales for a few days.
By Air – If you are visiting from overseas, Cardiff Airport offers many direct flights into Wales, and you can pick up a hire car at the airport to explore The Valleys. Some parts of The Valleys are on the rail network – check out the National Rail map for Cardiff and south Wales for more information and book using Trainline. When travelling by public transport a good source of information to plan your journey is Traveline.Cymru
This article was sponsored* by The Valleys who provided the hotel stay, meals and experiences mentioned.
* More info on my policies page
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