Waterfalls and the Valleys
Let’s face it - the definition of a “holiday” is really rather reliant on whether you’re doing it with or without children. Everything from how much flights cost, to how you pack, to perhaps whether you ever even go again. Take us for example. Before children came along, the phrase “half term” really only meant one thing - expensive flights well worth avoiding. Now of course, half term has an entirely different meaning altogether. In fact, that’s a perfect word for it - half term for us literally means being all together, and on this most recent holiday that meant one thing and one thing only - more family adventures.
This time, we were invited by Love The Valleys Tourism board to explore a part of the beautiful ancient land of Wales - The Valleys. Stretching from eastern Carmarthenshire to western Monmouthshire, it is the history of this area that’s often thought of first. In a way this makes sense given how much of an impact both iron and coal production had on the UK overall, and this area especially. But of course, like most things, there is more to this place than meets the eye, which is exactly what we’re here to find.
The thing that grabbed our attention most about the Valleys was talk of waterfalls. You might remember from various posts from our travels in 2018 that water generally, and waterfalls specifically, hold a special place in our hearts. I for one always remember the excitement and intrigue I had as a child growing up in Malaysia whenever weekend expeditions involved hiking to waterfalls - something about the effort involved in getting there in the first place, and the danger of being too close to the falls once you arrived. And then of course there’s the sound, that mass of whooshing and spraying that first catches your ear as you get closer to it, but that then explodes into a wall of noise so powerful when you’re next to it that not even the best cinemas with the best surround sound systems could compare.
So with a half term to busy ourselves with, and with two young explorers to explore with, we set out in search of the waterfalls of the Welsh Valleys. As fate would have it, the weather had prepared itself perfectly for our arrival - with a well timed deluge hitting the area in the morning as we were finishing our breakfast, and then a break in the rain clouds as we trekked to the falls themselves. This provided the promise of strong, gushing waterfalls but also meant we didn’t get soaked to the bone on the walk itself.
Ah the walk. Just like travel, a walk is also a “defined-by-child” experience, and so when the guide at the waterfall car park told us it would be a nice 25 minute stroll to reach the first falls, what he really meant was 1 hour and 15 minutes, because you know, children. Children have a special relationship with walking. They’re physically capable of it, in fact they don’t even really mind it in small doses, but as soon as a walk becomes something more than a means to an end, they sense it. They have evolved a skill for realising when a walk is being done for the simple pleasure of it, and as soon as that moment arrives, they will seek to destroy the walk. We experienced this on our walk to the waterfalls of course, and it was only through a turbulent mix of bribery, game-playing and the odd shoulder carrying session that we were able to make it.
Despite the walk taking longer than anyone would have imagined, and despite a few tantrums along the way, the entire waterfall experience and back was exactly what we were looking for - staggeringly beautiful scenery, a quiet stillness that meant you could fully take it all in, and time alone with each other spent doing something simple, but rewarding. It might not sound like much, but it really was extraordinary.
Having worked up a nice little appetite, we moved on to Bedwellty House for a lovely spot of afternoon tea. I don’t know what it is about afternoon tea, but as soon as someone pops some dainty little sandwiches and desserts on a 3 tiered cake stand, we’re 100% taken in. So imagine the excitement when the children were served their own version, complete with all the things that would blow a child’s mind on a normal day, let alone when they’re served on a 3 tiered, child-friendly cake stand! Well played Wales, well played.
The next stop on our adventure was Cyfarthfa Castle, which sits at the top of a beautiful hill overlooking the valley. Built as the home of one of the wealthy local businessmen back in the heyday of Iron, the museum offers a great little insight into the history of the area, and a particular favourite of ours was seeing the various cabinets full of metal trinkets imprinted with the logos of old iron companies, like a part from an old steam train or a section of a WWII ship. As another nice nod to the past, a brief walk to the bottom of the hill takes you to the mini steam train park, which the kids had a blast at riding on. Extra points go to the train conductor who let the boys sit in the driver’s seat and honk the horn - classic train entertainment that had the kids won over completely.
Our home for the night was this charming little stay in Ebbw Vale, and served as the ideal place to rest weary legs, helped by the oversized jacuzzi bathtub in the en-suite bathroom. You haven’t seen a bubble bath until you’ve experienced one with the jets on full power, which is probably why the children used it once before bed and a second time after breakfast! Perhaps the best bit about the stay though was the people that run it. Lesley, the landlady who runs Soar Chapel, greets you with such warmth that you feel as though you’re visiting family, which is perhaps helped by the fact that this was in fact Lesley’s family home before the children grew up, prompting Lesley and her husband to convert this once derelict chapel into a wonderful B&B. One of the best rooms in the house in our opinion is the triple-aspect, oak-beamed living room on the first floor, the perfect place to end the day with a cup of tea whilst watching the sun set over those beautiful Welsh Valleys.