A Week in Powys

I can’t believe that it’s nearly been a whole year since we spent a week in Llandrindod Wells, a pretty spa town in Powys, Wales. It was perfectly situated for exploring the region, including adventures in the Brecon Beacons, Red Kite spotting and tea and cake at National Trust properties. We had bit of a battle with the weather but still managed to find something to occupy ourselves everyday…

View from the summit of the Sugar Loaf near Abergavenny

Where to stay

We stayed at the absolutely amazing and eco friendly Little Hill Lodges just outside of Llandrindod. There are two lodges onsite and we stayed in Siskin Lodge which is the larger of the two. The interior of the lodge has clearly had no expense spared. Particularly wonderful were the floor to ceiling windows in the bedrooms and living area, with fantastic views over the countryside surrounding the lodge. Despite being so close to the town the lodge feels totally and utterly secluded from the outside world.

The lodges are completely ‘off the grid’ and a great choice if you are looking for a green holiday option. The electricity comes from solar panels and the water from a well. Eco friendly shampoo, shower gel and washing up liquid is provided. There is a large lawn and sunken patio area (including a fire pit!) and the owner kindly provided a dog proof fence so we could let Merry off the lead outside without having to worry!

Dog friendly rating – 5/5. This property is perfect for dog owners who want to get away with their dog! There is plenty of outside space for dogs to run around, a wood burner to curl up in front of and the floors are easily cleaned. Merry absolutely loved it here and so did we!

Pen Y Fan

On the first day of our trip we had the only full day of sunshine we were getting that week – we therefore headed straight down to the Brecon Beacons National Park to tackle that iconic peak, Pen Y Fan. There is an absolutely fantastic horseshoe walk from Taf Fechan Forestry Commission car park which takes in Pen Y Fan, Corn Du and Cribyn. The views are incomparable – standing on the summit of Corn Du and looking across to Cribyn it seems like someone has taken an ice cream scoop to the landscape. Once you get away from the honey pot of Pen Y Fan and Corn Du summits this walk is surprisingly quiet, although there are still more people around than on the other walks we explored.

This was my favourite walk, but I’m not sure if that was down to the views, the weather, or the fact that Sam managed to get us lost and add on an extra mountain (Fan Y Big) when his feet were already aching from running the Cumbria Way Ultra the week before! I think it’s the first time he has been more tired than me on a walk and it felt soo good to be the spritely one laughing at him being tired! I think the photo below sums up his dismay when he realised we had gone wrong:

Haha! Consulting the map on Fan Y Big with Cribyn, Corn Du and the edge of Pen Y Fan in the background

One of the other highlights of the walk for me was coming across a herd of Welsh Mountain Ponies in-between Corn Du and Cribyn. I was slightly apprehensive about passing them with a dog as they had foals, but they took no notice of us, and we spent a very enjoyable ten minutes watching the foals play. We also spotted a few Red Kites flying around as we came down Fan Y Big – a group of four who just seemed like they were riding the wind for fun!

Dog friendly rating – 3/5. This is a long walk which should wear out even the most athletic of pups – Merry did what we dubbed his ‘tired waddle’ for the first and only time we have ever seen on this walk! There are sheep and ponies throughout this walk so your dog will need to be under close control, preferably on a lead, especially when there are foals and lambs about. There is very little water on this walk so you will need to carry water for your dog to drink. Don’t let that put you off though as this walk really is something very special!!

Carreg Cennen

Wales has more castles per square mile than anywhere else in the world. There are over 600 castles in the country and one of the most impressive is the dramatically sited ruins of 13th century Carreg Cennen Castle. There had been a castle of some form on this site for hundreds of years until the Wars of the Roses, when it was deliberately dismantled by the Yorkists after they captured it from the Lancastrian garrison. This romantic ruin is perhaps best known for being sketched by the artist Turner.

Cadw and English Heritage members receive discounted admission and entry prices are available on the castle website. There is plenty of parking on site although this was mostly empty when we visited!

While the castle today is a ruin, there is still plenty to see and do, not least the cave directly underneath the castle (take your own torch or rent one from the ticket office). There are panoramic views over the surrounding countryside from the interior of the castle, or take a stroll around one of the way marked walks to see wonderful views of the castle perched on a limestone cliff 300 feet above the river.

There are two way marked walks that start at the castle’s car park (free parking). We chose to do the longer of the two which is about 4 miles. The walk takes you through pastures, along the river and finally back up to the castle through woodland. When you reach the castle keep an eye out for their extremely photogenic herd of pedigree longhorn cattle who we glimpsed through the hedge on our way out.

Dog friendly rating – 4/5. The longer walk is great for dogs with water to splash in along the way and the chance to run around off the lead in the woods at the end. Dogs on leads are allowed on the ground floor of the castle so this day out is perfect for dog owners!

The National Botanic Garden of Wales

The National Botanic Garden of Wales now allows dogs on ‘Doggy Days’ (usually Mondays and Fridays but this is subject to change so check before you visit). This is a fab day out if you love gardens – the site is huge and there is a great variety of plants to see. In particular I loved the apothecary garden, where there are all sorts of plants with reputed medicinal properties, with explanations both modern and medieval in origin!

The Bird of Prey centre is also worth visiting if you get the chance. It is not dog friendly so we took turns to pop in and see the birds, and by standing at the end of the lane while the flying display was on, we still got to see the birds fly even if we couldn’t hear the commentary. We saw some beautiful birds, including the Sea Eagle pictured, and my personal favourite which was the snowy white Gyrfalcon.

Dog friendly rating – 3/5. For a site that only allows dogs on certain days of the week I was really pleasantly surprised by how many places we could take Merry! The only place that was really off limits was the Bird of Prey centre and that is completely understandable. We were able to take Merry into the cafe with us, as well as the Great Glasshouse, which has one of the largest collections of Mediterranean plants in the world. Most dog friendly gardens tend to be pretty small or limit you to just parts of the garden with wide paths so this was a very nice change from the norm!

Brockhampton

In the middle of the week it was pouring with rain pretty much everywhere in Wales so we hopped over the border to Hereford. Hereford is a lovely city, with a historic cathedral, and plenty of the shops and cafes seemed to be dog friendly. We called in to Trekkit outdoor shop (dog friendly) to stock up on Nikwax re-proofing spray after being caught in one downpour too many at Carreg Cennen, and then had the rest of an afternoon to kill before heading back to the lodge. A quick Google of National Trust properties in the area revealed there was a small country manor called Brockhampton just down the road.

Brockhampton is perhaps the most charming manor house I have ever set eyes on. Everything about the exterior appeals to my old English senses, from the lily filled moat, to the timber framed wattle and daub building and the climbing rose by the front door. Entry to the site is free for National Trust members and there is also free parking on site.

The grounds were exceptionally quiet when we visited and we had a wonderful chat with the volunteer at the entrance, who told us all about the walks and the history of the house, as well as instructing us to help ourselves to sloes and apples from the orchard!

There are three way marked walks of varying lengths around the estate. We decided to do the woodland walk, which is around two miles, and I have to say this was one of my favourite walks of the holiday! Merry was able to be off lead for pretty much the whole two miles and he had an absolute whale of a time. The walk through mixed woodland was pretty muddy in places (unsurprising given the amount of rain we’d had that week!) and I did slip over when I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going, but I think that was entirely my own fault!

Dog friendly rating – 5/5. Dogs are welcome on the estate and in the grounds around the house. Merry loved helping to ‘tidy’ up the windfall apples in the orchard and the woodland walk is ideal for a good run off the lead.

The Sugar Loaf

One of the walks that I really, really wanted to do when we visited was the Sugar Loaf near Abergavenny. It is an insta-famous location and I wanted to join the long list of people who have reached that summit!

There is a lovely National Trust walk you can do which also takes in St Mary’s Vale, a wonderfully weird wood full of trees growing in a bizarrely convoluted fashion. Walking through the wood felt a bit like walking through the set of Red Riding Hood in the scene where the wicked wolf jumps out! The walk was really quiet and we only saw another two or three walkers which really surprised me given the hill’s popularity – always a bonus to walking on a week day!

Navigation skills are required for this walk as paths in places are indistinct and hard to see. A large portion of this walk is reasonably level but be prepared for the slog up the Sugar Loaf itself as this is an unrelentingly steep climb! From the summit on a clear day you can see as far as Pen Y Fan and the Bristol channel (unfortunately it wasn’t quite clear enough for us!).

Parking for this walk is free for National Trust members at the National Trust car park. The car park is fairly small by National Trust standards but there were still plenty of spaces on the day we visited.

Dog friendly rating – 3.5/5. If your dog is well behaved you can let it have a run around off the lead in the woods of St Mary’s vale, however, there are sheep throughout the rest of the walk so your dog will need to be on the lead for the majority of the walk. There is very little water on this walk so make sure that you take extra for your dog. As always, make sure that you pick up poos and dispose of them responsibly.

Caio Forest

We called at Caio Forest on a slightly drizzly mid-week day. There is free parking on site and three short walking trails which start from the car park. We did two out of the three and didn’t see a soul apart from a local dog walker as we were leaving.

The trees and plants in the forest were so vibrant (presumably because of all the rain we had!) that we kept having to stop to examine them. There was an abundance of blackberries and Merry taught himself how to go blackberry picking in the bushes!

Dog friendly rating – 5/5. This forest is perfect for letting your dog off the lead to have a good zoom around! There are no livestock and it seems to be pretty unknown apart from amongst dog walkers in the local village. The woods offer plenty of exciting smells and of course a mid-walk snack if you visit in blackberry season! If you want a longer walk you can link the walks at Caio with footpaths on the neighbouring Dolaucothi Estate.

The Dolaucothi Gold Mines

The only reason we called at the Dolaucothi Gold Mines was because it started raining hard before we could walk the third trail at Caio and we wanted to go somewhere dog friendly for a bit of shelter from the rain. And what a find! This National Trust site is amazing. It is completely dog friendly – the cafe, exhibitions and tours of the mines all allow dogs! There were some really interesting interactive displays about the history of the mines, as well as the opportunity to pan for gold, which is ideal for kids (and adults!).

Away from the centre of the site itself there are a number of walking trails to explore. We followed the Miner’s way trail which was absolutely fascinating and took you past the Roman entrances to the mines, as well as showing you the marks that miners over the centuries have left on the landscape.

Dog friendly rating – 5/5. Dogs are allowed pretty much everywhere on this site which was lovely! The staff all made a big fuss of Merry too which doesn’t often happen when you have a soaking wet dog. The walking trail we followed was suitable for off lead walking in places but we did pass through a few fields with sheep where the lead went back on. I was totally blown away by this site and couldn’t recommend it more for a family or couple’s day out, dogs included!

Llanddeusant Red Kite Feeding Station

Wales, and Powys in particular, have a strong historic association with Red Kites. Despite being widespread throughout Britain in the Medieval period, in the 19th and 20th centuries these beautiful birds suffered heavily due to raptor persecution, and their numbers dwindled until there were only a few breeding pairs remaining in the Welsh hills.

Thanks to a massive effort by volunteers (including the Welsh Kite Trust), Red Kites have made a come back, and Powys and the Brecon Beacons are the best place to go if you want to spot one. We saw Kites practically everyday that we were out and about, but if you want to see something really spectacular, head to one of the Red Kite feeding stations.

Most stations seemed to be pretty small establishments when I was googling a good place to go to see the Kites. We ended up heading to Llanddeusant Red Kite Feeding Station as it was close enough to squeeze into a day trip with Caio Forest and the Dolaucothi Gold Mines.

They feed the birds at the same time each day so the birds learn the routine and you are guaranteed to see more Kites than you can take a photo of a once! The meat is dropped in a field in front of the hide and the birds get so close you can almost count their feathers! There were so many Kites when we visited that I gave up trying to count them after the first few minutes.

Entry was pretty cheap at £5 per person when we visited (check pricing on their website before you go) and you could stay for as long as you wanted. There is parking at a dedicated car park and you have to walk about 200m to get to the hide from the car park – not far at all and definitely worth it!

Dog friendly rating – 2/5. Dogs on leads are allowed in the hide which was a really pleasant surprise for us! Merry was pretty tired from walks at both Caio and Dolaucothi earlier in the day so he just curled up and went to sleep while we watched the Kites. I’d only recommend taking your dog if they will sit quietly so that they don’t spoil the experience for you and other visitors by being noisy or boisterous. I’ve given a rating of 2/5 only because there isn’t much here for your dog to do apart from have a nap – they are more than welcoming to dogs at the site.

I think this is possibly the longest blog I have ever written! There was so much that we managed to squeeze into our week in Powys and we had the time of our lives! If you want to see where we went on a map I have plotted the locations below.

Map of Locations

  1. Little Hill Lodges, Llandrindod Wells
  2. Pen Y Fan
  3. Carreg Cennen Castle
  4. The National Botanic Garden of Wales
  5. Brockhampton National Trust
  6. Sugar Loaf, Abergavenny
  7. Caio Forest
  8. Dolaucothi Gold Mines National Trust
  9. Llanddeusant Red Kite Feeding Station

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