Eleven children, four mums, one dad, a shining sun, five hours of fresh air and a whole load of mud made for a brilliant mid-week INSET day at Margam Country Park last week.
With my children’s school closed to pupils due to in-service training for teachers, a group of us headed west to the 1,000 acre beauty spot, determined to make the most of the winter sunshine and a day off from routine.
Located two miles from Port Talbot, Margam Park is a place we have visited many times previously – in fact, I remember going there as a child – and we always have a fantastic time, not least because there’s always so much to do.
The country park has a fairytale village and traditional playground; a castle-themed wooden adventure playground; trees to climb; ponds and lakes; a farm area; a woodland trail of giant musical instruments; the ruins of a 12th century abbey; a neo-Gothic castle; a herd of roaming deer; a Go Ape high ropes course; walking routes and more.
With such extensive grounds, a visit to Margam Park involves a lot of walking but the paths are buggy and wheelchair friendly, if a little gravelly in parts. During the peak summer season there’s a miniature train which takes visitors from the entrance to the castle at a cost of £2 for adults and £1 for children, with a family pass (2+2) £5 for a one way journey.
It’s free to visit and car parking costs £6 for the day or £40 for an annual pass, payable in the kiosk in the car park. It takes around 40 minutes to drive there from Cardiff, with easy access from junction 38 of the M4. You can also travel by bus, with a stop a five minutes’ walk away (with First Cymru from Bridgend, Neath, Port Talbot and Swansea).
As you may have already seen on Cardiff Mummy Says this year we have set ourselves a family mission of having 52 free days out in South Wales during 2019. This was day number five for us – however we’ll definitely be back before the year is out because it’s impossible to see everything Margam has to offer in just one day.
Playground and fairytale village
We arrived at around 11am and headed straight to the fairytale village and adjoining playground where we stayed for almost two hours, including eating our packed lunches on some of the many picnic tables.
There are several miniature houses in the fairytale village and inside you can see depictions of scenes from various fairytales. Most of the houses were closed on our visit – they are open at weekends and school holidays during the off peak winter season. (This photo is from a previous trip.)
However the adventure castle was open and the children – who ranged in age from four to 10 – spent most of their time in here running across the battlements and turrets and up and down the stairs.
The playground area is a good size with climbing frames and equipment for toddlers and pre-schoolers plus an area for those aged 6-10. My children also love the giant chess and draughts games.
There are toilets at the fairytale village’s entrance.
The wooden adventure playground
The easiest way for us to get the children out of the fairytale village and playground was to tell them we were off to an even bigger playground. The castle-themed playground is a good 15 minute walk away – a few snacks were a helpful motivation – and is full of adventure and obstacles.
It’s designed mostly for older children but there are a few elements great for toddlers and all three of mine have had fun playing here when they were little (see the photo below of my youngest as a toddler in one of the tunnels). Our gang of 11 had fun scaling the castle towers and the wooden walkways in between as well as on the big slides climbing nets and more.
The playground also includes areas for less-abled children with specialised design facilities which include their own double width drawbridge, net swing, bumpy walkway, slide and ramp
Our journey to the adventure playground took us past Margam Abbey which was built in 1147. One can only imagine how impressive this was in its heyday. The arched windows of the abbey’s remains are particularly striking and walking into the 12-sided chapter house area you get a feel for how grand it must have been. We didn’t stop to explore today but have previously picnicked nearby and played in the trees opposite.
We also walked past Margam Castle, an impressive and imposing neo-Gothic country house which was once home to Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot – the landowner, industrialist and politician after whom Port Talbot is named – and his family. You can’t fully explore the house unless you book onto a guided tour although the entrance hallway and staircase hall is open to the public and some of the holiday crafts workshops are held in the castle too. The castle’s outbuildings are home to a visitor centre with a gift shop and small café as well as toilet and baby changing facilities. The castle’s exterior is beautiful. I particularly like looking up to the castle from the bottom of the many steps leading up to it (there is a path to the side for buggies and wheelchairs.
Margam Park is also home to the 18th-century Orangery which originally housed a renowned collection of citrus trees. These days it’s more commonly used for weddings and other events and functions.
This is a must-see for my children every time we visit. The farm area is home to rare breeds including Glamorgan cattle, Llanwenog and Badger Face sheep, Welsh pigs and Buff Orpington hens, as well as pigs, sheep, horses and so on. Information points outside each pen tell more about the animals and their particular characteristics. The rabbits were by far the favourite creatures of the day on this visit.
One of the mums in our group had previously bought some maps in the visitor centre detailing walks around Margam.
Each colour-coded route begins at the Castle and you can follow the signs – the walks are detailed in brief on the website. She and her family have previously followed the 2.5 mile Monastic Trail which guides you around an iron age hillfort and up to the remains of the medieval church Hen Eglwys. Their 10 year old daughter told us the views were incredible. However with so many children in our group today we decided the 1.5 mile Craig y Lodge trail through the lower areas of the park was a more sensible option. We found some wonderful puddles to jump in along the way and even saw some of the famous Margam deer.
For active families there are also marked family bike trails as well as adventure activities including stand-up paddle boarding bushcraft and canoeing available to book in advance for an additional cost via the Margam Park Adventure website.
Margam Park is famously home to a herd of deer who roam freely through 500 acres of parkland. We were thrilled while on our walk to see three deer stood calmly a few hundred yards ahead. We kept our distance and tried to keep the children quiet so as not to frighten them. Sadly the photos I took were rubbish – but seeing these majestic animals with their antlers was quite a sight.
The herd dates back to Norman times and currently has around 300 fallow deer 64 red and 34 Pere David. The latter are an endangered species and are at Margam as part of a breeding programme in conjunction with Whipsnade Safari Park.
Plus lots more…
As I said earlier it’s difficult to see everything Margam has to offer in one day. Sadly on this visit we ran out of time to take the Wood Vibrations trail which features giant musical instruments made from trees felled within the park. We’ve written about these previously here. We also didn’t get to visit the lake or the smaller duck pond. There’s also a cafe serving snacks and sandwiches, ice creams etc, although we always take a packed lunch.
For thrill-seekers Margam Park is also home to a 700m-long Go Ape treetop assault course which includes zip wires and the UK’s biggest Tarzan swing. (Minimum age 10.)
It’s worth checking Margam Park’s events page before visiting as occasionally they have themed days with paid entry. They also have loads of great activities during local school holidays. You can visit the Margam Park website here.
You can see more from our adventures at Margam Park and elsewhere on the Cardiff Mummy Says Instagram page.