With breath-taking views, beautiful woodland, an adventure playground and a family sculpture trail, we had a fantastic time in the sunshine at Garwnant Visitor Centre this afternoon.
It’s around 40 minutes from Cardiff along the A470, five miles north of Merthyr Tydfil and 14 miles south of Brecon, and marks the southern gateway to the Brecon Beacons National Park.
Managed by Natural Resources Wales, Garwnant is part of the Fforest Fawr Geopark, which means it’s a recognised area of important geological heritage. It’s free to visit, with car parking costing £2 for the day (coins only). We were there for around two and a half hours, but with various woodland trails, mountain bike trails, the playground, plenty of picnic tables and a café, you could easily stay all day.
My children spotted the playground as soon as we arrived in the car park and couldn’t wait to test it out. It’s split into two areas – one for those aged under eight and one for seven to 15 year olds. The younger playground is best suited for toddlers really; it wasn’t enough for my three (even two-year-old Toddler Boy I). They spent most of their time in the older area, with its zip wire, wooden obstacle course and various rope climbing structures. I don’t think I’ve ever visited a playground with such a beautiful view – and it was great that the wooden equipment had obviously been designed to fit in with its natural environment. The playground floor itself was covered in chippings made from recycled tyres, which made for a lovely soft and springy surface.
We loved the wooden sculptures of Goldilocks and the three bears dotted around the playground, as well as the BFG sitting in the car park – it was a great warm-up for the forest sculpture trail.
We picked up a leaflet from the visitor centre, which gave various clues to help us guess the identity of the 10 sculptures we would find on our way. I won’t give too much away, but all of them can be found living in the forest and my three especially loved the mole made from Welsh slate, the dragonfly sat in the middle of a pond and the fox.
At just half a mile/1km, the trail is easily manageable for little legs. The guide says it takes around half an hour, but we stopped to explore the rocky stream areas along the way and played Pooh sticks for a while, so it took us more like an hour. It’s accessible for buggies – apart from one hill half way around, which is tricky but manageable, and there’s a few areas close to the stream and pond that we needed to take extra care with Toddler, because he loves to climb and explore but does not yet have that sense of danger.
If we’d had more time, we would have liked to have done the tree trail too, which is also around half a mile. We saw some of the wooden posts with pictures of leaves on them on our way round, to help you identify the various trees that grow at Garwnant.
And when the kids are older, we’ll no doubt be back to try the mountain biking trails. There’s one which has been designed specifically for junior first-time riders, one for more experienced riders and a mountain bike skills park, with child-friendly obstacles.
After all that playing and walking, we stopped in the café for ice cream. Again, the log cabin-style café fits in so well with its surroundings, not to mention the huge solar panels generating power. There’s plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, and they sell a range of hot and cold drinks, snacks and small meals, with a children’s menu and high chairs available.
You might also like these other free places to visit: Fforest Fawr Sculpture Trail; Gnome and Fairy Trail at Amelia Trust Farm; Cwmcarn Forest; Forest Farm and Glamorganshire Canal; Bute Park; Cosmeston Country Park and Medieval Village; Porthkerry Country Park; Cefn Onn Country Park.