Friday, May 16, 2008

Welsh Wanderings: the Vale of Glamorgan

In Part I of Welsh Wanderings, I focused on the city of Cardiff, the capital city of Wales which is emerging as a major European player kicking and screaming into the 21st century. With a massive redevelopment scheme well underway, Cardiff has a lot more to offer visitors who may have been inclined at one time to zoom through the city, see Cardiff castle and spend half a day before hurrying off to northern Wales. (For Part I of this article, please see the Archived Features area of the web site).

For today's tourist, Cardiff has a great deal more to see and do. What many don't realise, however, is that Cardiff is surrounded in itself by many worthy attractions. This feature will focus on attractions in the immediate vicinity of Cardiff, and the beautiful rural area to its west, the Vale of Glamorgan.

The Suburban Cathedral

While the village of Llandaff could be considered by many to be a suburb of Cardiff, one feels like they have crossed a distinct line somewhere within the short drive to reach it. Llandaff is a pretty little town, with a main thoroughfare, a village green, its own shops and pubs.

What brings people to Llandaff, however, is the lovely Llandaff Cathedral. Nestled in a green, steep hollow alongside the River Taff, people have been worshipping at the spot of the current cathedral since the sixth century. Llandaff Cathedral has always been Cardiff's main cathedral, built a bit north of the city to be spared from the frequent raiding parties.

Llandaff Cathedral didn't, however, do so well in a subsequent raid...that of the Germans in 1941. Severely damaged by a landmine, the cathedral has been fully restored, with the additions of a Welsh Regiment Chapel and a modernistic (and quite controversial) statue, "Christ in Majesty" by Sir Jacob Epstein. Visitors to the cathedral will also enjoy the picturesque and well-kept ruins of the medieval Bishop's Palace atop the hill.

Welsh Folk Museum

Many will say that one of the "must see" attractions in any visit to Cardiff would have to include the Museum of Welsh Life, in nearby St. Fagans. After spending a few hours there, and only seeing approximately a third of what is on offer, I must concur, as this was one of the highlights of my visit.

St. Fagans in itself is a comely country village, with the open air museum discretely woven into the fabric of the town. The Museum of Welsh Life contains authentic buildings from all over Wales to represent different classes, periods and styles of living throughout Welsh history.

Set in a serene wooded area, the Museum of Welsh Life recreates an authentic portrayal of historic Welsh lifestyles, offering open-air demonstrations and exhibits in buildings such as the bakery, village stores, and the post office among others. I highly recommend spending at least 3-4 hours be put aside for a visit here. For enquiries, ring 44 (0)1222 569 441. Costs vary by season, so please ring ahead for details. I paid £5.50 for adult entry in June.

70 Acres of Green Thumb Action

A short distance from St. Fagans, you can find Dyffryn Gardens down a pretty country lane. One of the largest formal landscaped gardens in Wales, a walk around the grounds will uncover a large variety of different and exotic features.

The gardens encompass the large grounds of the Dyffryn House, an impressive 19th century manor house now used as a conferencing centre. The garden highlights include a lovely rose garden, the heather garden, and the large expanses of lawn and water features. The day I was there it was virtually deserted, and while there are quite a few areas which are being reconstructed at the moment, Dyffryn Gardens would be a lovely place to spend a sunny afternoon with a picnic. For enquiries, ring 44 (0)1222 593 328. Adult entry is £3.00, children, seniors and students pay £2.00, a disabled entry ticket is £1.50, a family ticket is £6.50 (2 adults and two children), and children under four and disabled attendants enter free of charge.

Family Fun

To the Southwest of Cardiff, on what seems like an extension of the town of Barry, visitors will find Barry Island, a popular resort area along the Bristol Channel. Barry Island is a great place to get a feel for the "traditional" British seaside resort town, as local mining communities have been coming for years with their families.

The modern tourist will find Barry Island very family friendly, with a large pleasure park devoted to things to keep the kids entertained, plenty of convenient restaurants, and a large swath of beach. If the "fun fair" atmosphere has become too much, or isn't your bag, you can head for the more serene side of Barry and enjoy gardens, a boating lake, and plenty of starting points for scenic walks.

The Garden of Wales

Not far west of Cardiff finds the beginnings of the Vale of Glamorgan, a lovely rural area of fertile farming country framed by the coastline and roughly by the M4. In addition to the pretty hamlets and villages, however, is 14 miles of spectacular Heritage Coastline, which in my opinion is the highlight of this special region.

For a taster of this region's towns, try Cowbridge, which bills itself as the "Capital of the Vale." Cowbridge was established by the Normans as a market town, and it still retains the original medieval street pattern and parts of the original town walls and gateways. After perusing through the various shops available, the visitor will find plenty of options available for a bite to eat among the pubs and restaurants on offer.

For a glimpse of the beautiful coastline, head to the village of Llantwit Major, and follow signs to the beach. When accessible, the beach is a great starting point for walks along the coastline, or just a few hours splashing about in the pools of water that gather between the rocks.

Another popular family attraction in the Vale of Glamorgan is the Cosmeston Lakes Country Park and Medieval Village. Here you'll find a 14th century village with costumed tour guides, farmyard animals, nature trails, woodlands, lakes and playground in a vast 200 acre setting. Phone 44 (0)2920 701 678 for details.

Top Tips!

A car is really the best way to see most of the attractions in the Vale of Glamorgan and outside of Cardiff. Some of the villages and attractions, however, are served by bus, and less commonly, trains. For more information, call or pop in to the Tourist Information Centres of Cardiff or Barry.
Check out the following web sites for more information on the areas and features covered in this article:

No comments: