Some days I get completely blown away by just how beautiful a country Wales is. Golden sandy beaches, rocky coastline, parkland, mountains, forests – for such a small country, we are lucky enough to have it all in abundance. Granted, we don’t always have the weather to make the most of it, but when we do, it’s incredible.
These photos were taken yesterday at Cwmcarn Forest. My children were running up a hill, Toddler Boy I, my two year old son, turned round and started running in the opposite direction. As I turned to chase after him, I was completely blown away by the view that greeted me.
Just half an hour from Cardiff, near Risca, Cwmcarn Forest is a former mining area which has been transformed into a tranquil and beautiful nature spot. Managed by Natural Resources Wales (formerly the Forestry Commission Wales), it’s incredible to think that this area was once dominated by slag heaps and a thriving coal industry.
We arrived about 11am determined to make the most of a sunny spring day in the Easter holidays. The forest is well sign-posted from junction 28 of the M4 and we had no trouble finding the car park (costing £1 for two hours and £3 per day, at the time of writing, coins only). There’s two car parks – a larger one, which is the first you come to and then a short distance up the hill and slightly closer to the visitor centre, a smaller one with a number of disabled spaces.
Having never visited before, we asked in the visitor centre as to what they’d recommend for three young children, including one in a buggy. The centre has a number of guides to longer walks printed out and available for free – but we opted for the 1.5 mile circular walk around the lake (which we ended up doing in the opposite direction to the instructions) and I paid £1 each for Little Miss E and Little Man O to take part in the Wildlife Explorer Challenge. They were given an A4 booklet and a crayon and challenged to find up to 20 wooden posts around the trail, each of which had a picture of an animal or plant on it, which they could make a rubbing of in the book. It added an extra dimension to the walk, and the book was full of information on the various wildlife found in the area.
I must admit, I wasn’t sure if I was asking for trouble heading to the woods with three children on my own, but the paths were really easy to navigate with a buggy. The website warns that the two kissing gates can be tricky for buggies, but we managed fine and saw several other families with buggies too.
Having followed the trail alongside the fast-flowing river, we came across some brightly-coloured tyres with flowers planted in them. Little Miss E, my six-year-old daughter, and Little Man O, my four-and-a-half-year-old son, thought these were great.
Toddler, however, had other ideas. I’ve already mentioned on my blog that he is an explorer at heart who is never happier than when he is climbing and running off – and while Miss E and Little Man were looking at the tyres, he darted up some steps before I could stop him. We left the buggy at the bottom and followed him… to be greeted by the most incredible looking tree. Miss E said it was just like the Faraway Tree in the tales of Enid Blyton, a book she loves reading as much as I did as a child.
From there, we arrived at the lake – and I must admit I strapped Toddler back in the buggy for fear of him accidentally falling in the water. There are a few wooden platforms for fishing, which made great viewing points.
There were plenty of picnic tables dotted around, so we stopped to have our picnic lunch – and were joined by a very friendly little robin, who kept landing on our table looking for crumbs.
At the top of the lake, we came across a wooden summer house and bug hotel. This is often used for school and educational visits and my children loved this little area, spending ages searching for bugs in the bark house, and looking to see if any creatures were living in the nearby dipping ponds.
From here, he 1.5 mile walk suggests walking back down the other side of the lake – but my children wanted to take a diversion and climb the wooden steps up the side of the mountain. It wasn’t easy with the buggy, but we got about half way up – to the site of the wonderful view I mentioned at the start of this blog post – before deciding it was too much and turning back on ourselves.
We headed back down the other side of the lake, following the stream downhill, throwing sticks in and watching them being swept away.
We found another unusual tree to climb on, before arriving back at the visitor centre.
We took our time exploring and were there for almost three hours in total. If I’d had Cardiff Daddy with me to carry the buggy, or to put Toddler in the back pack (which I find too heavy to use), we could definitely have stayed longer and continued further up the mountain.
The area is also famous for its mountain bike trails and my children were entranced by the bikes we saw whizzing past us on the separate biking tracks (30km of single track and 3.5km of downhill trails). We saw lots of older children (and plenty of grown-ups) heading off in this direction – it looked amazing. They also loved the look of the wooden glamping pods – Cwmcarn is also home to a 4* camp site of 20 pitches plus the pods to hire.
Sadly, the adjoining Cwmcarn Forest Drive (which is the size of 190 rugby pitches) is closed at the moment, due to the felling of trees which have been infected by disease. I’m disappointed to not have visited before, because I’ve heard this area is incredible, full of areas to picnic sculpture trails and so on.
But don’t let that put you off visiting as there’s plenty to explore by foot or bike. It’s also worth checking out their events page for details of children’s nature and craft workshops, during weekends and school holidays.
Cardiff Daddy texted me while we were there, asking what we were up to. I felt so mean sending him the photos of our gorgeous day when I knew he was stuck in the office hard at work. He’d love it there – so I guess that’s just an excuse to visit again. Because how could you ever get bored of such a beautiful place?
Have you been to Cwmcarn Forest with your children? Let me know how you got on in the comments section below, by tweeting me on @cardiffmummy or join in the conversation on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page.