Our local castle is just a short walk from The Grange. The building is grand manor house built in the 1800s by the Crawshay family, owners of the Cyfarthfa Ironworks. The imposing building contains a small museum showing the history of Merthyr Tydfil charting its rapid growth from a small village into the largest town in Wales during the iron boom of the 1800s and through to the modern day. The well maintained grounds & lake around the castle are still a lovely peaceful place to spend time.
Lots of the castles in South Wales were “modernised” in the 1800s as grand manor houses for rich industrialists. Caerphilly is one of the few that wasn’t and as a result it looks very similar today as it would when it was finished in 1300. It’s an imposing site, made even more impressive by the leaning South-East tower that’s still standing despite being even more off-kilter than the Leaning Tower of Pisa! If you’re into your castles, combining a visit here with Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch would make a great day out.
We’ve grouped these two castles together as they both have something in common, ancient castles that were rebuilt by the Marquess of Bute. The Marquess owned Cardiff Docks, at the time the busiest port in Wales and probably the whole of the UK. The Marquess had a thing for medieval architecture and had both castles redeveloped in that style by his friend the architect William Burges. The rooms in both castles are visually stunning and give you an idea of how someone who was reputedly earning £2bn per year (in today’s money) spent their money.
The Penderyn Whisky Distillery has been a huge success story since it opened almost 20 years ago, so much so that a new site opened in North Wales in 2021 and another will follow in Swansea in the next couple of years. This, however, is the original site in the village of Penderyn where the story started. The 1 hour tour is well worth doing as their production methods are very different from other distilleries. If you’re really interested in your whisky then we also highly recommend the Masterclass sessions that combine the standard tour with tutored tastings in small groups. The Distillery is near Waterfall Country and the excellent Red Lion Inn so you could easily make a day of walking, tasting and finish it with a fabulous meal.
Back in Merthyr’s industrial heyday, 7 different train lines ran into the town. The Brecon Mountain Railway runs along one of these. Starting from the village of Pant on the outskirts of Merthyr, steam trains take you on a narrow-gauge line into the heart of the Beacons. It’s a fun day out anyway but it’s perfect for people travelling with younger children or who don’t want to walk long distances to be able to access places it would otherwise be hard to get to. If you’re a more serious walker, you can get the first train back, walk for a few hours and then come back on a later train.
Coal mining was at the heart of life in most communities in the South Wales valleys. When the industry started to disappear in the 1980s, the National Museum of Wales worked to preserve Big Pit in Blaenavon. Opened as a museum in 1983, it’s still thriving today with the undoubted highlight being the underground tour. Tours are run by former miners who will take you down in the lift 300m underground and give you and idea of what it was like for the men, women, children & horses that worked in the mines to provide the coal that powered the industrial revolution and beyond. Admission is free, underground tour numbers are currently limited and pre-booking is essential.
Another fabulous attraction run by the National Museum of Wales. Over the last 40 years they have painstakingly dismantled historic Welsh buildings from around the country and reassembled them in the grounds of the St Fagans manor house on the outskirts of Cardiff. Buildings such as medieval roundhouses, turnpikes (toll houses) that inspired the Rebecca Riots, a Miner’s Institute & Library from the Rhondda and even a pub from Cardiff city centre make a walk around the grounds a fascinating day out. Admission is free but a pre-booked ticket is essential
If you like the idea of going underground and seeing some of the stunning caves that lie under the Brecon Beacons in safety then the National Showcaves are for you, safe guided walks take you underground to see the subterranean beauty without the risk that comes from full-on caving. If you’re an experienced caver, the website contains advice on how you can access the many miles of cave systems that lie beyond the public paths.
International Dark Sky Reserves are areas that suffer from minimal light pollution which enable you to get fantastic star-gazing experiences on a clear night. Both the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia are IDA certified Dark Sky Reserves. There are many companies in the area who run star-gazing and astronomical photography courses
For adrenaline junkies
Zipworld have recently opened their fourth site in Wales and their first in South Wales in Rhigos on the site of the former Tower Colliery. Situated about 10 miles from The Grange the site contains two different zipline experiences & a rollercoaster. The flagship attraction is “Phoenix”, the world’s fastest seated zipline, reaching speeds of up to 70mph over two lines totalling 1.5km.
Over the last 5 years, RockUK have taken a much love but run down facility and turned it into a state of the art centre for climbing. They have everything from some of the highest indoor walls in Wales to a special wall for young children to try their had at climbing on small walls specially designed for them. They’re also able to offer many other outdoor activities such as caving, outdoor climbing & abseiling. See the website for further details
There are a number of companies offering Canyoning days in the Beacons national park. If you fancy getting wet-suited up and challenging yourself scrambling though (and sometimes diving into) the rivers and waterfalls in the Beacons then this is for you. We have no specific recommendations for companies running trips but there are lots of them operating in the area.