6 Must-See Country Parks & Gardens in South Wales
Home to Cardiff, South Wales is a vibrant hub teeming with activity from popular music festivals to major sporting events. However, while the allure of the thriving capital attracts over 20 million tourists annually, this is ultimately a wild landscape, best-known and much-loved for its rolling hills and abundant green space.
Manicured gardens, untamed wilderness and everything in-between – whatever your preference, South Wales has plenty of each. Wildlife watchers may prefer to stick to the coastal paths, where migrating birds nest in the rocky outcrops, while budding botanists peruse the region’s treasure chest of lush gardens. For families, the breathtaking country parks offer plenty to do and see, to the backdrop of sweeping woodlands, rivers and moors.
While exploring the surrounding beauty, it’s easy to settle into the comfortable ebbs and flows of the natural world. However, there’s one thing that may cause a little stress – fitting it all in. If you’re working with a tight timeframe, here are the best country parks and gardens in South Wales, to prioritise during your stay.
Best country parks in South Wales
1. Gnoll Estate Country Park
Nestled to the east of Neath town centre is the Gnoll Estate Country Park – a 230-acre haven with a rich history.
The estate once belonged to the Mackworth family who built their fortune in metalworks during the 18th and 19th centuries. While some of the original features have since been demolished, the family’s industrial influence remains strong.
Everywhere you look, there are remnants of the past including 18th-century cascades, ruins and tranquil ponds sunk deep into the earth. In the spaces between, the wild has reclaimed the land, with plenty of expansive green spaces, lakes, woodlands and grottoes to explore. Besides traversing the grounds, there’s a range of activities on offer, from footgolf and fishing to playgrounds and picnics.
2. Margam Country Park
Situated in Margam, about two miles from Port Talbot, lies the 850-acre Margam Country Park, bursting with prehistoric, Roman, Norman and Tudor heritage. The estate is also home to three notable buildings – Margam Abbey, Margam Castle (an impressive neo-Gothic structure) and the 18th-century Orangery.
The Grade I listed Margam Castle is perhaps the crowning feature. The building has been kept in pristine condition since its construction in 1830, retaining its awe-inspiring octagonal towers and lofty interiors (it’s also a popular location for paranormal investigators thanks to a grisly murder that took place in 1898).
The surrounding grounds are equally impressive and house a vast array of wildlife. The famous Margam Deer Herd roams through the parkland undisturbed, while buzzards, kestrels and red kites patrol the skies.
3. Dare Valley Country Park
Dare Valley Country Park lies near the village of Cwmdare and the town of Aberdare in Rhondda Cynon Taff. Something of a hidden gem thanks to its remote location within South Wales, the gardens are an ideal location for wildlife watchers and those looking to escape the business of modern life.
The park’s 500 acres of untouched terrain is a hub of biodiversity, with the grassland, moors, bracken slopes, upland bogs, forests and lakes housing some of the country’s most iconic plant and animal life. There are swallows and mighty peregrine falcons, cuckoos and kingfishers, slowworms, spiders and sticklebacks. Then, amongst clusters of native wildflowers, flash the multicoloured wings of pearl-bordered fritillary, purple hairstreak and grayling butterflies.
After walking the well-trodden trails, there’s still plenty to do. The park features an on-site riding school, cycle network, accessible children’s playground and café.
Best Gardens in South Wales
4. Dyffryn Botanic Garden
In the Vale of Glamorgan sits Dyffryn Gardens – a 55-acre National Trust site once voted one of the Top 100 Gardens in the UK by the British Tourist Authority.
It’s an unusually peaceful oasis on the outskirts of Cardiff, contrasting the capital’s modernity with Edwardian characteristics. Seasonal beds and rose gardens border the formal lawns, pools and fountains, while the arboretum includes a collection of trees from all over the world.
Dyffryn House stands in the heart of the gardens, yet not apart. Even here, visitors can find cacti and orchids lining the walls, and the kitchen gardens supply homegrown fruit, vegetables and herbs to the on-site cafés.
5. Wye Valley Sculpture Garden
The Wye Valley Sculpture Garden sits in a serene and sequestered setting on a gentle slope in the Lower Wye Valley. For the past 40 years, it’s been managed organically and sustainably, encouraging the renewal of many indigenous plant and animal species.
The South Wales garden’s 4-acre landscape boasts formal lawns surrounded by herbaceous borders, woodlands (including a snowdrop wood) and an orchard. Flowers are abundant and eclectic, with Mediterranean plants thriving in the unique climate. This lush setting also features a pond and sculptures by artist Gemma Kate Wood, who uses materials from the surrounding areas in her work.
6. Llanover House Garden
Llanover is a listed garden set in the beautiful Usk Valley, looking towards the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons National Park. The Llanover family has cared for the garden since 1792, and their emphasis on preserving Welsh traditions, language and culture has influenced the garden’s rustic, wild design.
200-year-old trees remain unearthed, and the Rhyd-y-meirch stream tumbles, as it always has done, beneath historic 18th-century bridges until it bleeds into the River Usk. The family left meadows to rewild, and now they’re bursting with wildflowers in deep purples, azure blues and earthy reds.