The South Wales Valleys located just north of Wales famous capital city Cardiff. The South Wales Valley’s often get an undeserved bad wrap, being labeled as ugly industrial mining towns.
Well I’m here to explain why, after spending three days in the glorious part of Wales, nothing could be further from the truth. In this post I will explain the reasons why you must visit and details of what to see and do for families visiting the area.
South Wales Valleys For Families
Bedwellty House & Park
Our first experience of the Valleys warm hospitality, after a long drive in the car. We arrived at Bedwellty House & Park to indulge on a traditional Welsh cream tea. It came complete with little finger sandwiches, fairy cakes and even penny sweets for the girls, everything was very fresh and delicious, we stuffed ourselves, not knowing whether we were going to have room for dinner.
Luckily the girls were eager to have a run in the immaculate park grounds, which were beautiful autumn leaves scattered amongst the band stand and walled gardens made a perfect place for a quick game pf hide and seek, they had endless fun exploring the beautiful park.
Soar Chapel Bed and Breakfast
After a delightful afternoon we headed to our quaint and unusual Soar Chapel Bed and Breakfast located just outside Ebbw Vale, in a small village called Beaufort.
The cosy Soar Chapel B&B is a family run business, the building was converted from an old chapel, with the large windows and high ceilings still evident, however on walking in the door, it was like walking into a warm family home. Lesley and her family made us feel so welcome, the high light for us was the delicious Welsh breakfast served every morning.
After a quick shower at our delightful B&B we headed out to our dinner venue, a local unassuming pub: The Farmers Arms – Rhymney which we had been told had the most delicious food which we were very keen to sample.
It was Wednesday night and we were surprised to see the pub full, but took this as good sign and must be reflected in the standard of the food. Once we were seated we of course ordered the Welsh Rack of Lamb, which I can honestly say is the best lamb we’d ever tasted, amazing flavour and perfectly cooked. The friendly owners of the pub were on hand to answer any questions we had. We discovered the talented chef behind our delicious rack of lamb was only 23 years old an a real up and coming talent.
Owl Sanctuary Festival Park Ebbw Vale
Feeling perfectly set up for our second day in The Valleys after eating another full Welsh breakfast. Our first stop was the inspiring Owl Sanctuary Festival Park Ebbw Vale run by Malcolm Jones who is the owner and founder, Malcom opened it in 1992 to care for injured and abandoned birds.
Malcolm and his volunteers are generously giving their time to care for injured and abandoned birds that can’t be released into the wild. It was fantastic learning experience for the girls who were able to hold a newly acquired falcon that was given to the centre as un-wanted pet.
The setting of the owl centre is at Festival Park, which not only has the most stunning backdrop over the Welsh hills, but there is also a shopping centre and adventure playground for the kids, whilst watching the kids play in the playground, enjoy at coffee at costa whilst taking in the views.
The Brecon Mountain Railway
After a fun morning at the owl sanctuary we headed to The Brecon Mountain Railway which we were all particularly excited about. It has been a long held dream of mine to take the girls on real steam engine and we couldn’t have asked for a better day or a more authentic and old-fashioned train.
The train was built in the 1930’s and ended up in South Africa where it was de-railed and thought a write off, then shipped to Liverpool in the 1970’s and rebuilt to be used to bring limestone to the furnaces of Merthyr Tydfil.
Isabella and Maya weren’t disappointed either they were making lots of references to Thomas the Tank engine, and it’s likeness. The best part for us, were the carriages with original wooden benches and huge windows perfect for viewing the rolling welsh hills.
There is even a small outside area at the end of each carriage, that allowed us to step outside whilst the train was moving and smell the coal burning and watch steam rise above the track, it was exhilarating and so much fun for the girls.
The whole journey takes about 1.30 minutes including a 35minute stop on the way down where there is cafe and kids playground which is always welcoming sight for us parents, so we at least had time to sit and enjoy the view with little or no interruptions.
If you are feeling energetic and adventurous you can get off the train at the top and do a bit of hiking, then get the last train back at 4pm back, just be sure to let the driver know what you’re doing.
Cyfarthfa Castle Museum and Park
Although we were all feeling a little exhausted after the railway we headed to our last stop Cyfarthfa Castle Museum and Park which use to be an elegant family home of the founders, which I’m glad we didn’t miss.
The museum was the highlight, it gave us a fascinating insight to the industrial past of the area, and how Merthyr Tydfil became the iron capital of the world in the 18th century. The girls loved learning about how people use to live, in two room workers houses that had been recreated.
The artwork was fantastic and at most exhibits included activities for the kids which was great to keep them interested. We didn’t have time to see everything but if you visit there are formal gardens, a lake, children’s play area and a model railway, not to be missed.
Caerphilly Castle is a medieval fortification in Caerphilly in South Wales. The castle was constructed by Gilbert de Clare in the 13th century as part of his campaign to conquer Glamorgan, it’s the largest castle in Wales. The castle dominated the town of Caerphilly, sitting in the centre surrounded by a beautiful park, filled with Canada geese at this time of year, plus a beautiful lake and intricate moat system surrounding the castle.
The castle looks like it was picked from a fairytale and captured our girls attention the moment we stepped on the draw bridge. Both were immediately drawn to the smoke rising from a liar, home to Caerphilly’s dragon including two baby dragons. The girls were both intrigued and mesmerised, trying frantically to work out whether the dragon was real or not.
The castle is perfect to explore with children with lots of narrow corridors and look outs. Plus plenty of interactive screens and games to recount the history of the castle.
The most fun part for our whole family was Gilberts maze, the girls were especially amused when we found Gilberts lavatory in the maze complete with sound effects! After fun filled morning exploring the castle, we would recommend heading to the visitor centre for lunch, filled with delicious local produce and it has the best view of the castle.
Thinking Nomads Verdict
We had an amazing three days in The South Wales Valley’s which included stunning scenery, fascinating industrial history combined with warm hospitality from close nit communities. Who are doing a fantastic job at attracting and welcoming tourists to the region after the decline of the coal, iron and steel industries.
I hope I have explained why the Valley’s doesn’t deserve the bad wrap and given you a host of reasons to visit. We visited all the above attractions in three days spent in the Valley’s.
The highlights for us were the Brecon Mountain Railway and Caerphilly Castle. We feel like we have only just touched the surface of South Valley’s, we will definitely be back in the near future to keep on exploring this magical place, steeped in history and myths.