Guest blog: Laura Sidestreet’s Autumnal visit to the Dramatic Heart of Wales
We loved welcoming blogger Laura Sidestreet for a weekend stay in the Dramatic Heart of Wales. Find out what Laura and her family got up to in her guest blog.
Neath Port Talbot otherwise known as the Dramatic Heart of Wales, is an area I recently spent a weekend exploring and delving into deeper and finding what makes this part of South Wales so special, from its fascinating history and heritage to its beautiful coastline, woodland walks and thrill-seeking adventures.
Located in the centre of South Wales with easy access to the coast, mountains, countryside and the Welsh capital, makes it the perfect base for exploring the region. With a strong industrial and coal mining history there are lots of ruins and reminders of times gone by including a network of canals, ironworks and an impressive Abbey.
We managed to pack loads into our recent trip and I’ve put together this guide of what we got up to in Neath Port Talbot in the hope it inspires others to visit the area.
7 Things to do in Neath Port Talbot
Neath Abbey and Ironworks
Once one of Wale’s wealthiest abbeys which housed around 50 monks, Neath Abbey is one of my top recommendations when visiting the area. The ruins are both important and impressive and completely free to explore. It’s a fascinating place for all ages and my children really enjoyed walking around the ruins and taking it all in. Once a site of power, both religious and industrial, with the ironwork furnaces a short walking distance away. The Tennant canal and towpath also run alongside the Abbey and is a lovely place to walk.
Melincourt is one of those hidden gems, a lesser-known fall but no less impressive at 80ft high and set in a gorgeous woodland. It is also easily accessible from the nearby free carpark, taking around 10 mins walk through the woods, making it suitable for all ages as long as they generally fit and well as there are some steep drops to be aware of. What is great about Melincourt is that unlike some of the more popular waterfalls, it’s lovely and quiet, with no queues of people, just the tranquillity of the woods and water.
Margam Country Park
Set in 1000 acres of parkland you can easily spend the best part of a day wandering around Margam Country Park. The park has so many fantastic features from the historical monastic ruins dating back to 1147 and 19th century Gothic Tudor Castle, along with stunning gardens one of which has Wales Tree of the year 2020. For children, they will enjoy spotting the resident deer herd, farm trail and fantastic adventure playground. If you want a more challenging walk then heading up to the pulpit viewpoint will reward you with fantastic views over the Welsh coastline towards Somerset. The country park is free to explore although there is a parking fee of £7.20 for the day.
Go Ape Margam
Also located on the ground of Margam Country Park, you will find the thrill-seeking Go Ape Margam which is home to Wales’ only Treetop Challenge and the UK’s biggest Tarzan Swing. Set high among the trees offering stunning views across the park, this is not for the faint-hearted but for children over 10yrs and adventure-seeking adults this is an awesome experience. My 13-year-old had an absolute blast here as did I, highly recommend giving this a go.
One of Wales’ longest beaches offering 3 miles of sandy beach and a perfect spot for watersports including surfing and SUP’ing. There is also a skatepark and splash playground (seasonal) and plenty of seats to sit and take in the views. The promenade also makes up part of the National Cycle route so it is perfect for cycling. There is also an array of cafes and restaurants along the promenade, we enjoyed some classic chips and ice cream for an afternoon at the beach collecting seashells and having a dip in the water.
South Wales Miner Museum
While we didn’t visit the museum on this trip we visited it a while back and really enjoyed it. Located in the stunning Afan Valley, the museum is run by volunteers who are passionate about promoting the Afan Valley industrial heritage. The museum is both a fun and educational experience with an indoor “underground” tour which gives you real insight to what a miner’s job entailed as well as outdoor exhibits such as the blacksmith’s ship and lamp room. My kids really enjoyed learning more about South Wales and the role of miners.
A lovely circular walk through a mixture of woodlands and meadows, over little streams and taking in the wonderful nature of the Welsh countryside. Passing through the quaint hamlet of Cilybebyll, where we also happened to stay during our time here and offers pretty views across the Swansea valley. This walk is great for all ages and perfect for those who like to do a bit of wildlife watching as there are lots of birds and local fauna and fauna to watch out for.
Places to Eat in Neath
First of all the town of Neath is packed with a variety of restaurants and cafes, with something for every type of budget or taste and they also hold an annual food festival so if you are a bit of a foodie I would highly recommend visiting Neath as you won’t be disappointed. Across the borough, however, there is a range of Pubs, cafes and tea rooms to try out. While we made use of our accommodation’s self-catering facilities we also tried out a few local spots for bites to eat along the way and here are two I would recommend.
We stopped off at this cool little cafe for a light lunch and I’m so glad we did. The menu is fairly simple, which I prefer (rather do a few things well than offer a range of mediocre choices). My boys each went for the pancakes with maple syrup and devoured the lot while I opted for halloumi and avo on doorstop toast and it was delicious, as was their pink lemonade. They also make artisan coffees and are very dog-friendly.
Cafe Remos, Aberavon beach
Cafe Remos which is right on the promenade in Aberavon, has plenty of options, from light lunches to pizza and pasta, but what we really enjoyed is their fantastic Gelato. The make authentic gelato on the premises every single day and have a fantastic selection of delicious flavours. We tried the Pistachio and salted caramel and both got the thumbs up!
Where we stayed – Tan yr Eglwys Cottages
Set in the quaint hamlet of Cilybebyll, we stayed in The Barn Cottage, which was a perfect base for exploring Neath Port Talbot and had everything we needed for a comfortable and cosy stay. The Barn cottage sleeps up to 6 people making it great for larger families or groups and has a spacious kitchen and patio space for eating together in the evening after a long day of exploring. The Cilybebyll circular walk runs alongside the cottage, which of course we took advantage of.
The views across the Swansea Valley and the countryside from the cottage windows are beautiful and the owners are very knowledgeable about the area.