National Picnic Week 2015 runs between Saturday 13th and Sunday 21st June.
To celebrate, I’ve been working with Higgidy – who make amazing pies and quiches, which are perfect for picnics if you are bored of soggy sandwiches – on their Little Higgidy Picnic Guide. This showcases some of the best picnic spots across the UK, alongside some great recipes and picnic tips.
I’ve written about Bute Park for their guide, as it’s one of our favourite picnic spots here in Cardiff. I’ve also put together this guide to 13 fab places to have a picnic, in and around Cardiff – all of which are free to visit. How many have you been to? Are any of your favourites here? Where else would you add to the list?
1. Bute Park
This really is one of the most important outdoor places in Cardiff. Bute Park is 56 hectares (that’s 75 football pitches) of pure beauty that makes you forget you are in the heart of the city. Originally built as the private garden to Cardiff Castle for the 3rd Marquess of Bute between 1873 and 1901, it was given to the people of Cardiff in 1947 by the 5th Marquess – and what a gift. Our favourite area is around the Secret Garden Café – my children love climbing the trees, playing dens and looking at the wooden carvings. Plus you’re right next to the café for ice creams and toilet stops. There’s some great paths for scooting and cycling along, both in the park and alongside the River Taff, as well as plenty of wildlife to spot. This is one place we never tire of and we can regularly spend the whole day here.
2. Heath Park
One of my friends said to me recently that the playground is the least interesting thing about Heath Park. And – even though it’s a good-sized, decent playground with separate areas for younger and older children – she definitely has a point. There are woods to explore, a wildlife pond, a pitch and putt golf course, a sensory garden area, and huge grassy fields perfect for games of rounders, cricket or, of course, picnics. The only downside is that there are no toilet facilities, other than in the golf kiosk, which seems to open sporadically. The tennis courts are currently being re-built, and it’s also worth visiting on one of the days the miniature railway is open, as it’s such a fab day out.
3. Roath Park and Lake
Roath Park is such an iconic Cardiff landmark – I’ve already written on my blog about why I love it so much. Built on former bogland, countless generations of Cardiffians have fed the ducks here, walked around the lake, rowed on one of the boats, had an ice cream and slid down that amazing slide. My advice is not to even attempt picnicking around the lake itself, unless you want to be sitting among bird poo and attacked by swans and seagulls. Instead, head down to the beautiful botanical gardens and pitch up among the flowers and trees. There’s good toilet facilities, a cafe and an ice cream kiosk, as well as plenty of parking. Just a word of warning though; it does get incredibly busy on sunny weekends and during school holidays.
4. Victoria Park
Victoria Park really is such a fantastic place to visit; it’s easy to see why it’s one of the most popular parks in Cardiff. Named after Queen Victoria in celebration of her 60 years on the throne, it’s a grade 2 listed park with a Victorian flavour, as seen its cast iron bandstand and canopy (sadly not the originals any more). The children’s playground is brilliant, not to mention the children’s splash pool, open usually from the end of May until the start of September. You can also see a statue of one of the park’s most famous previous residents, Billy the seal, not to mention all the flowers and trees. There are toilet and baby changing facilities too.
5. Llandaff Fields
Acres of grassy fields, a large playground with separate areas for younger and older children, and woods to explore, Llandaff Fields is a brilliant place all year round. Its spacious fields make it perfect for meeting up friends, while my children seem to love the long pathways around the edge of the park the most as they are great for cycling or scooting along. There’s plenty of parking around the park (although it can get busy) and, if you’re still hungry after your picnic, you can also stop for a drink or something to eat at Café Castan, at the entrance of the park.
6. Forest Farm and Glamorgan Canal Local Nature Reserve
I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t even know Forest Farm existed until a year or so ago! Tucked away in Whitchurch, this local nature reserve is a real hidden gem in North Cardiff. You can walk the paths alongside the last remaining stretch of the former Cardiff-Merthyr Canal, spotting birds including herons and kingfishers. The woods consist mostly of beach and oak trees, with some of them over 200 years old, and are home to all kinds of wildlife.
7. St Fagans National History Museum
I’ve already written on my blog that I think St Fagans is possibly the most important place in Cardiff for children to visit. More than 40 buildings tell the story of the people of Wales and how they lived in days gone by, from farm cottages and chapels to a miners’ institute, bakery and cobblers. My children love the Victorian school and the Rhyd-y-Car terrace of miners’ houses. There are plenty of fields in which to picnic, as well as a number of wooden benches too. As with all museums in Wales, St Fagans is free, although donations are gratefully accepted towards the museum’s upkeep, and you will need to pay for parking.
8. Cardiff Castle
If you live or work in Cardiff, then sign up for a Castle Key, which gives you free entry* to this city centre landmark. Once you’ve explored Cardiff Castle’s ornate castle house, the 12-sided castle keep, and the war shelters hidden in the castle walls, you can stop for lunch on the castle’s lawns, or on the grass outside. It’s the nearest most of will get to dining in a castle!
*for three years; adults have to pay a £5 administration charge
9. Coed y Wenallt
My favourite time of year to visit the Wenallt is in May when the bluebells are in full bloom. But it’s equally as good at any time of the year. There are 44 hectares of ancient woodland to explore in this Site of Special Scientific Interest, with all manner of flowers and trees to spot. The woods are also home to all manner of birds, such as buzzards and great spotted woodpeckers, as well as badgers and rabbits. You can stop for lunch in the fields around the woods. This really is a meal with a view, as on a clear day you can see right across the whole of Cardiff. It’s breathtaking.
10. Cardiff Bay Barrage
Cardiff Bay Barrage is a 1.1km walkway from Cardiff docks to Penarth that came about as part of a £2billion regeneration of the old docklands areas. It’s perfect for families to walk, cycle or scoot across, with a fantastic wooden pirate-themed playground and a skate park to entertain youngsters, and space to stop for picnics. You could combine it with a trip to the Doctor Who Exhibition, World of Boats or Mermaid Quay, or it’s enough for a good few hours of enjoyment on its own.
11. Porthkerry Country Park, Barry
Porthkerry is definitely worth travelling to. I’m probably biased as I grew up a stone’s throw from this country park in Barry, and every year we have a huge family picnic here – but this really is one of the most beautiful places to visit in South Wales. It consists of 220 acres of green grassland and woodland to explore and a small stream for pond dipping and tadpole collecting. There’s a wooden play area, a shop, café and toilet facilities, a pitch and putt golf course, and a pebbly beach that makes up part of the Heritage Coast, too. You can also see the trains crossing over the impressive viaduct, and planes as they take off and land at Cardiff airport. You may need to pay for parking in peak season.
12. Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, Sully
Back in the 19th century, Cosmeston Lakes used to be a limestone quarry. The lake now provides a centre point for the 247 acres of woodlands and fields that make up this designated Local Nature Reserve. Once you’ve fed the swans and ducks, you can explore the woods, play in the fields and the large playground area, and wander around the boardwalks through the reeds and marshland, or bird-spot around the quieter lake. It’s also worth visiting the reconstructed 14th century village and learning about life in medieval times – the village is based on remains of the 600-year-old community, found while excavating around the park. Entry to the park and village is free, but you can pay a medieval-costumed tour guide for an official tour of the village.
13. Margam Park
Again, Margam Country Park is slightly out of Cardiff but worth travelling to, as entrance is free (except for special events, so check beforehand; and you will have to pay for parking). There’s a children’s fairytale village, a large adventure playground, a deer park, a fish pond, and Margam Castle to explore, plus masses of woodland and grassland to explore – and plenty of space for picnics.
We’re so lucky to have so many areas of natural beauty in and around Cardiff. Please keep it that way by clearing up after yourselves and disposing of any rubbish properly, or taking it home with you.