October arrived and the trees where I live were refusing to change colour. I wondered if autumn proper would ever arrive. Then the temperatures suddenly plummeted and the leaves decided to start changing very quickly and in lots of cases just fell off the branches missing that stage completely. I was very aware that if I didn’t get out and about in it in the next week or two, I’d miss my autumn walks completely and that would be a crying shame as I just love this time of year!
This last weekend, I was visiting friends and family in the Southern Brecon Beacons area and after a trip to the National Showcaves of Wales, we decided to call in at Craig-y-nos Country Park, just half a mile down the road, and boy was I glad we did. The autumn colours were running riot and I was in seventh heaven!
Situated in a beautiful location in the secluded upper Swansea Valley, Craig-y-nos Country Park is a 40-acre Victorian pleasure garden sandwiched between dramatic hillsides. The River Tawe meanders through shady woodlands, lush lawns and meadows which make up the historic grounds of Craig-y-nos Castle, once home to internationally renowned opera singer Adelina Patti from 1878 to 1919. She was the most celebrated singer of her day, famous not just for her voice, but for her bewitching personality and scandalous love-life. Craig-y-nos was Patti’s creation and refuge, and she is quoted as saying “All the time I don’t spend at Craig-y-nos seems to me time lost.”
In 1921 the house was bought and converted into a hospital for TB patients, then moved into treating the elderly and chronically ill once TB went into decline. After the hospital closed in 1986, the house and grounds have been individually owned, the castle becoming a hotel and the grounds a registered Historic Park and Garden managed by the Brecon Beacons National Park.
Found in surrounding hills are Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman remains and it’s believed that the current castle sits on the same site as an early medieval castle owned by the local Prince. The current castle and grounds date back to the Victorian era.
Back in the present…. on pulling in to the car park it was clear autumn was in full swing with bright oranges, yellows and the flaming red of a Japanese Maple attracting the eye immediately. Clearly the park designers carefully planned the park with autumn in mind as a rich variety of deciduous trees provide a wealth of shades and hues all around the park with a few pine trees which currently lend a rich deep green colour here and there. (And if they didn’t, then it was a wonderfully brilliant accident!)
Setting off from the car park, a gap in the foliage provided a window overlooking the fish pond, so this was the obvious direction to head in first. On arriving at the waterside an attractive covered picnic hut juts out into the pond, a great place to relax and watch the amusing bird activity on the water.
There was a man feeding Canadian Geese seed out the palm of his hand…personally I have more respect for my fingers than to let those greedy nippers near my hands. Years of feeding ducks and geese in the Lake District has taught me to beware as Canadian geese are notoriously impatient and deliver a nasty peck. It was cute however.
Circuiting around the fish pond, we ducked and dived under tree boughs which reached down to the water. Between the colour of the leaves, the perfect reflections and in places a carpet of fallen leaves on the water surface, a mesmerising luminescent effect was created, a scene I could literally have looked at all day. The yellows were so bright, they were glittering in the sun.
From the fish pond a path leads to the bridge over the River Taff, the tallest of the park’s trees lining the opposite side of the river. On crossing the bridge, a number of paths lead off in each direction and having photographed the map in the car park, we chose to head off to the left first and walk along the edge of the meadow.
Once a second footbridge was spotted ahead, we turned right on the path circling round towards the far lake.
The water here is delightfully clear and the spread of autumn colour reflected in the water as well as the shapes of stones underneath the surface was just spectacular.
Pathways of burnt orange extended out across the water surface where recently fallen leaves had carpeted the way. Not yet had they turned to unattractive sludge. Keep an eye out for the curiously gnarled tree trunk at the end of the lake.
The path soon rejoins the river side and we headed back towards the bridge where we started. Looking across the river we saw the pavilion beyond a further grassy meadow. A rainbow of colour across the field from the oranges nearest the riverbank to the dark green in the shadow of the pavilion had me reaching for my camera.
The pavilion stands below the castle which soon comes into view through the trees. There is a white railed bridge which takes you across to the pavilion and circumnavigates the meadow, but the only way back to the car park is by retracing your steps back across the river to return to the original bridge you crossed.
On conclusion of your walk, partake in a drink and a bite to eat at the Changing Seasons Tea Room and Restaurant, an apt name for a cafe in such a place! I would be interested to see Craig-y-nos in Spring – a very different look I’m sure!
But for now, hurry and visit this stunning parkland during this magical season! You won’t be disappointed!
If you’re looking for something else to see and do in the immediate area, I can recommend a visit to the Dan yr Ogof Showcaves where there is also an extensive dinosaur park, stone circles and a Shire Horse Centre. Blog post coming soon…
The paths throughout the park are generally flat or very gentle slopes and suitable for wheelchairs. Many of them are hard surfaces.
Car Parking is Pay and Display and at time of writing is currently charged at £1.50 for up to 2 hours and £2.50 for over 2 hours. Yearly parking permits are also available from £30.00
There are toilets next to the visitor centre and near the fish pond including disabled and baby changing facilities.
There is also a craft shop and permits for fishing in the local river can be purchased from the visitor centre. There are information boards about the life of Adelina Patti throughout the tea room.
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