Paid association with Dyffryn Gardens National Trust
Leaping across wooden stepping stones. Balancing on tree trunk beams. Climbing and jumping across logs. Making tepee dens out of huge branches and leaves.
In my children’s words, the new wild play area at Dyffryn Gardens is the “best playground ever”.
My eight year old daughter and sons age six and four spent two and a half hours in the wild play area on a recent trip to the National Trust property in the Vale of Glamorgan – and still they didn’t want to leave when it was time to go home. They absolutely loved it.
For a start the play area is huge – half an acre to be precise. It’s so unlike any other play area in South Wales and a really welcome addition to the beautiful grounds of the property.
It’s great for children of all ages. We bumped into three different sets of friends during our visit, who between them have children ranging from two to 12 and all of them were having a great time. And I definitely wasn’t the only parent having a go too!
The wooden structures really capture children’s imaginations and my three made friends with several other children, making up all sorts of games about escaping from volcanoes and going on space missions as they climbed across the wooden play equipment. Their newly formed little gang also loved deconstructing the wooden tepee dens that had been built earlier in the day and reconstructing them. I was impressed at their building and teamwork skills and they needed minimal help from the grown-ups. We’re big fans of this kind of free play and free-range fun.
The area is a real back-to-nature project constructed as part of Dyffryn Gardens’ five year arboretum revival. They had tonnes of timber from felled trees and decided instead of sending them to the chipper to create the wild play area with 100% Dyffryn wood, right down to the bark chip on the ground.
Dotted around the play area are picnic tables and benches, again carved from Dyffryn wood. There’s also some beautifully impressive intricate chainsaw art featuring frogs, owls, lizards, leaves and mushrooms and other wildlife.
Work started on the wild park in the summer and it opened in late February. Constructed by the park’s staff and a team of volunteers, several species of trees were used – including poplar, pine, cedar, hemlock, Leyland cypress, southern beech, giant redwood and Hungarian oak. All were either marked for removal as part of an ongoing tree management plan or were removed for safety reasons.
Old branches and twigs were used to construct a ‘dead hedge’ around the side of the play area to provide a natural habitat for birds, insects, small mammals and other animals living at Dyffryn Gardens.
When we visited we met one of the many volunteers who helped with the construction and who happened to be visiting with her daughter and grandchildren. She said she was thrilled to see so many children enjoying the area after months of hard work and explained that everything has been designed to be as safe and natural as possible. Tree trunks are carved in such a way that they slot tightly together or are secured with wedges of wood rather than nails or glue.
In fact, to maintain a completely natural finish, the playground has not been treated with any paint or varnish of any kind and there’s no metal or cement. This means it is completely biodegradable.
Naturally there’s a risk with any kind of play area and this increases in wet weather conditions. But Rory Ambrose, Dyffryn Gardens’ arborist, explains that it has been assessed by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and deemed a low risk.
“We have a daily inspection in the morning where a decision is taken about the conditions of the play area,” he says. “If it is deemed too slippery we will close it until we are happy that conditions have improved. The steps on all the logs have been cut to reduce the chance of slipping whilst transitioning between logs, however we wanted to maintain a natural look to the rest otherwise it would be too easy. As the bark naturally falls off some of the logs we will scuff the tops to increase grip. This will be done gradually as the play area wears in.”
The play area is located at the far end of the grounds – and handily for parents of young children new toilet facilities have just opened in the brick building set back from the hedge, just a minute’s walk away from the play area.
If you’re National Trust members then the new wild play area is included in the entry price. But even if you’re not, it’s worth paying the entry fee for a fantastic freerange family day out.
Over the Easter holidays you could combine it with the Plant Hunters trail, running again after the success of last year’s event (24 March-12 April; you can read our review of last year’s event here). Easter weekend will also see chocolatey fun with a Cadbury Easter egg hunt (30 March-April 2; £3 in addition to usual entrance fees).
Before we visited the new play area, we spent some time exploring the grounds. The house looked so beautiful in the sunshine and we always love climbing the stone steps in the rocky hilled area which we call fairy land.
The playground at the front of the property is always a hit with my children with its wooden obstacle course and climbing frame with tunnel and slide. We also love a particular tree not far from the back of the house and my children love playing dens in the trees around the croquet pitch.
We explored the beautiful walled gardens and also headed to the huge greenhouse which is home to an impressive collection of hundreds of cacti of all different sizes.
I’m glad we left the new wild play area until last though otherwise I don’t think I would have been able to prise them away to see anything else. The new wild play area at Dyffryn Gardens is a definite success with my children.
Entrance costs £11 for adults, £5.50 for children or £28 for a family (Gift Aid prices).
For more ideas of family-friendly days out in South Wales see the Cardiff section of Cardiff Mummy Says.
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