We’d only been inside Mountain View Ranch for about five minutes, and my three children were already covered in sand and dirt. By the end of the day, their faces were grubby, clothes in desperate need of a wash, and the shoes we’d bought yesterday no longer crispy and new.
And do you know what? I couldn’t have been happier.
A brilliant venue nestled half way up Caerphilly Mountain, Mountain View Ranch bills itself as “100 acres of wild, outdoor, free range fun for the whole family” – and that is exactly what it is. Proper, good old-fashioned outdoors play and activities that entertained all of us perfectly for hours. Running around, exploring the great outdoors is exactly what childhood should be about.
We walked through woods, ran down hills, hunted in the woods for fairies and a Gruffalo, looked at tadpoles in the pond, petted bunnies, guinea pigs and ponies, played in a Wild West themed playground, and picnicked in the sunshine. And it was brilliant.
We were there for a good five hours. We could have stayed a couple more if my children – all aged five and under – weren’t so exhausted from running around so much.
We got there at 9.30am, predicting it would get busy as it was a Bank Holiday Monday. That was definitely a good decision, as it meant we, and a handful of other families, had the playground pretty much to ourselves for an hour or so.
Little Miss E, age 5, Little Man O, 3.5, and Baby Boy I, now 14 months, had great fun on the wooden play equipment. They loved the zip wire swing – they wouldn’t go on by themselves, but had great fun sat on my lap. As did I. They loved winching up sand in the bucket and hoist, as well as the Red Indian roundabout. There was a good range of equipment for different ages. A couple of baby swings would have been nice, but my Baby didn’t seem to mind too much. He was too busy picking up handfuls of the sand the playground is built on.
From there, we headed to the Gruffalo Trail. There was an organised book reading of the Julia Donaldson classic (a full programme of inclusive activities runs at weekends and during school holidays), but we’d been warned by a member of staff that it would be busy, so we thought we’d look for the fox, owl, snake and Gruffalo before the rush, and then just join in with the story knowing we’d already seen everything – and taken the obligatory photos.
The walk through the woods was lovely and my children were so excited to see these familiar characters, made from weaved willow, hiding among the trees. The storytelling tour was busy – there must have been at least 150 people.
I overheard the guide saying that recent weekends have seen around 10 to 20 people on the tour, so perhaps it would have been an idea to have more than one session, given it was a sunny bank holiday. That said, in fairness our charismatic Red Riding Hood-esque host handled the crowd well, guiding everyone through the woods and telling each part of the story twice so that all the children could hear it properly.
That was the only time the day felt busy though. With such big grounds to roam around, yes, there were other people, but it didn’t affect our enjoyment of the day at all. The grounds were accessible for buggies, although the surfaces were a little uneven and rough at times. The centre also have a number of trailer style cars available to transport all your bags and under threes when they get too tired to walk – which is likely, given the size of the place.
We had our picnic lunch near the tipis, campfire and totem pole. My children had great fun exploring these and it lead to all sorts of interesting questions about Indians.
The fairy wood was delightful as we looked for little wooden doors in the trees, admired the fairy gardens around the bases of some of the trees, swung on a wooden swing hanging from one of the trees and made a wish in the wishing well. From there, we watched the horses and miniature ponies and petted the rabbits and guinea pigs.
My children were fascinated by the high ropes and zip wires, and the segways – motorised self-balancing machines that looked like so much fun to ride around on. My three are far too small to go on all of this, but it’s certainly something we’d consider in the future.
These are the only real extra costs – which is fair enough, as we thought the entrance fees were a bargain for everything that we did (although it would be nice to see the ranch adding a few more activities as they become more established). Prices for 2016 are £5 per person at peak times and £3.50 at off peak, with under twos free and famkly tickets available. We didn’t spend any other money while we were in there (aside from 4p in the wishing well!) as we took a picnic, but there is a café serving hot meals, and a little shack next to the playground serving hot drinks and ice creams.
There were a few areas of the ranch we left unexplored, and we were disappointed to have left before the campfire and marshmallow-toasting session, but as I said, my children were exhausted by this point and we decided to head home.
I guess that just gives us all the more reason to visit again. Because there will definitely be a next time.
UPDATE May 2016: This has certainly become one of our favourite places to visit. We were there earlier in the week in fact, and are happy to report the brilliant new attractions for 2016 include a dragon’s nest and eggs, a tree house in the fairy wood and another one being built, and Hobbit Hill and its hobbit houses.