It’s not a walk, it’s an adventure!
Fed up of cheerfully announcing to the kids that you’re ‘going for a walk’, only to be met with glum faces and – if you have a teen – rolling eyes? Well, that’s because you’re selling it all wrong, silly! Tell them you’re hunting for treasure, exploring new lands or seeking adventure, or even resort to saying there’s an ice cream van parked right around the next corner. Just don’t mention the ‘W’ word and they’ll be traipsing through woods, sliding down sand dunes and sloshing through puddles before you know it. Not sure where to go? Children’s trails book author Rebecca Lees picks her best five in south Wales to get you started:
1. Geoparks and Giants, Garwnant, Merthyr
At the gateway to the Brecon Beacons National Park is Garwnant, a little gem of a place with a glass-fronted log cafe and two adventure playgrounds for different age ranges. Young children will love the Animal Puzzle Trail, a half-mile waterside pootle with a series of carved creatures to find. For older kids, the two-mile Wern Walk delves further into the forestry and all the way to the Giant’s Chair – let’s hope he’s not sitting in it when you arrive! Garwnant is part of Fforest Fawr Geopark, one of eight in the UK and stretching all the way from Merthyr to Llandovery in a landscape of hidden lakes, tumbling waterfalls and underground tunnels and caves.
2. The Tunnel Trail, Usk
This lovely trail in the pretty town of Usk packs in a lot in just one and a half miles, including a spooky disused railway tunnel and a quirky castle built by a knight! Starting from the eye-catching clock tower in Twyn Square, the trail does a loop to the banks of the river, along Conigar Walk and into the dark, dripping railway tunnel. Luckily the track has long gone, so there are no passing trains to worry about! The railway forms part of Usk Nature Trail and, out the far end of the tunnel, the path runs through peaceful woods and back towards the town centre via Usk Castle. Built more than 800 years ago, it withstood an attack by the supporters of rebel prince Owain Glyndwr in 1405. It’s said that 300 men were captured and met a gruesome end in front of the castle walls!
3. The Keepers’ Trail, Bryngarw, Bridgend
Under the land of the picturesque Bryngarw Country Park, a story sleeps… and it’s up to treasure hunters to awaken it! This imaginative and interactive trail is where ‘choose your own adventure’ truly comes to life, as explorers are tasked with discovering a series of mythical keepers and their secrets. Visitors are given a star talisman with six points, each activating a part of the story when the keepers – beautifully carved oak sculptures – are found. The trail was the idea of park ranger Dan Lock and colleagues at Bryngarw and Bridgend Council’s tourism team, who realised that a new way of engaging families with the park’s rich and diverse landscape was needed. Such was its success, more Nature Keepers have been placed all around Bridgend, while Dan is now working on storytelling projects in other parts of Wales too!
4. Walk the Worm, Rhossili, Gower
Worms Head is a one-mile slither of rock stretching into the sea at Rhossili, the jewel in Gower’s crown. Named by Viking invaders who thought it looked like a sea serpent or dragon – a ‘wurm’ in Norse – it’s for most of the time cut off from the mainland, but can be reached via a tidal causeway at low tide. Inner and Middle Head can be enjoyed all year round and take you to Devil’s Bridge, a hefty slab of limestone with a heart-shaped hole to stride over. But Outer Head is accessible only between late August and March, due to nesting guillemots, razorbills, peregrines and gulls. Beware that you only have two and a half hours before and after low tide to make the crossing, traverse the Worm and return, and the rocky, slippery terrain is far from easy going. At five miles from Rhossili car park to Outer Head and back, this really is a challenging trip and walkers are urged not to underestimate the risk of being cut off and the dangers of the treacherous tides. If planned well, however, it’s an exhilarating adventure for older and energetic younger kids – and will certainly wear them out for a while!
5. The Lady of the Lake, Llyn y Fan Fawr, Brecon Beacons
This beautiful lake on the western edge of the Beacons is one of Wales’ most iconic, and offers a relatively easy hike to its shores for families. From the small car park near Blaenau Farm (grid ref. SN 798 238), it’s a mile gently uphill to Llyn y Fan Fach, the smaller of two lakes nestled under the mighty hulk of Picws Du. According to legend, a farmer called Rhiwallon met a beautiful lady called Nelferch on the shores and they married and had three sons. But, after he struck her three times, Nelferch returned to the lake, leaving Rhiwallon to die of a broken heart. From Llyn y Fan Fach, more experienced walkers can continue up the ridge and along to Picws Du, although this is a challenging route and conditions can change dramatically, even on the sunniest of days.
Rebecca Lees blogs about all things hiking and writing at Girl on the Trail. Her books include South West Wales Children’s Trails and South East Wales Children’s Trails, and she’s currently writing Quiet Walks for Quiet Minds, due early 2019. Rebecca will be one of the authors appearing in the Talk Tent at The Big Retreat Wales, Pembrokeshire, in May, with tips on how to get kids off their screens and enjoying the Great Outdoors.