“Nearly every hill, field and river in the Valleys has a story or legend attached to it”
For a small country Wales is big on nature. The three National Parks and five ‘Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ cover almost a quarter of the country and with over 500 lakes, 732 miles of coast and 15,000 miles of rivers – there’s lots to explore. Your holiday cottage in the Swansea Valley is ideally located for touring the countryside. In addition, visitors are free to roam 120 acres of beautiful countryside on the surrounding farm, rich in native Welsh wildlife.
Drive south for 25 minutes to find the Gower Peninsula, the first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the UK, with stunning scenery and unspoilt Blue Flag beaches. The Brecon Beacons National Park is 15 minutes north, where visitors can walk the 520 square miles of national park including mountains and moorlands. Seek out a cosy country pub in one of the nearby market towns. Explore the Great Forest, or ‘FForest Fawr’ Geopark!
If you are a birdwatcher, visit the Cwm Clydach RSPB Reserve, or further afield is the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. The islands off the coast teem with bird life – Grassholm Island has 30,000 pairs of gannets – the fourth largest population in the world.
As Britain’s only coastal national park, the Pembrokeshire Coast boasts some of the finest coastline scenery in Europe, and you can enjoy the view from Wales’s longest footpath – the 186 mile Pembrokeshire Coast Path.
You may have heard that Wales can be quite wet, but did you know that your cottage is actually on the doorstep of ”˜Waterfall Country?’ The Vale of Neath’s secret landscape is well hidden, yet its waterfalls number nine in total. They have proved inspirational to many artists including Turner, who painted Aberdulais Falls, now owned by the National Trust.
And if the Vale of Neath is all waterfalls, then Afan Argoed Country Park is all mountains. The green green slopes of the Afan Valley rise for more than a thousand feet and are known locally as “Little Switzerland”. Among the trees are marked footpaths, nature trails and some of Britain’s best mountain biking.
And don’t forget about the Afan Forest Park, Margam Park and its Stones Museum, Craig Gwladys Country Park, Dare Valley Country Park, and the Glamorgan Wildlife Trust’s Parc Slip.
Wales’ finest rhodedendrons live and grow in Swansea’s Clyne Gardens. The 19th century landscaped gardens were laid out by the Vivian family, and contain one of the UK’s finest collections of rhododendron and internationally recognised collections, together with an extremely varied bog garden, home to giant elephant rhubarb and American skunk cabbage!
If you’ve done the beach thing, what about the dune thing? The sand dune of Merthyr Mawr on the Glamorgan Heritage Coast is the second largest in Europe. Rising to over 200 feet, you can run, trip or try your hand at surfing them.
As for parks, the most genteel spot in Neath is Victoria Gardens, created in 1898 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. Neatly manicured ornamental trees and colourful flower beds surround a central bandstand. The gardens also contain the Gorsedd Circle of standing stones used in the proclamation ceremonies of 1918, 1934 and 1994 when the National Eisteddfod was held in Neath.
There is also Gelli Aur Country Park, Dinefwr Park, Singleton Park, Roath Park, and Pembrey Country Park.
Ten minutes drive from your holiday cottage will see you going underground – in the largest collection of subterranean caverns in western Europe – Dan Yr Ogof Showcaves. Ogof Ffynnon Ddu is Britian’s deepest cave descending 1,010 feet and continuing for 26 miles, the second longest in Britain.
The National Botanic Garden of Wales was the first major botanical gardens to be created in the UK for over a century. It accommodates the world’s largest single span glasshouse, 312 ft long by 180 ft wide, glazed over with 48,000 sq ft of glass on 568 acres of parkland near Carmarthen.
The steep limestone cliffs north of Merthyr Tydfil are the only place in the world where you’ll see the tree known as Ley’s Whitebeam. Only 16 trees are known to exist and the species is critically endangered.
Featured on the BBC series ‘Aberglasney – a garden lost in time’, Aberglasney is an exceptional survival of a 16th/17th century garden of which most other examples survive only in historical documents. With its mysterious structures splendidly restored, a visit to this historic garden in the beautiful Towy Valley is an experience not to be missed.
The Gnoll Estate is close to Neath town centre. It is an early 18th century landscaped garden and offers great fun and relaxation. Take a stroll around the lakes or amuse the children in the play area and adventure playground.