It truly is an adventure discovering signs of the past, spotting wildlife and exploring the lakes, river, woodland and valley banks. Here are some ideas for your next visit.
You can now view our interactive map of Valley Woods on your smart phone or tablet. Using GPS, it will guide you around Valley Woods so you won’t miss any of the highlights.
You can plan your next visit to Valley Woods from the comfort of your home.
In the 19th century the steps through the Terrace Gardens would have been the main route from the Big House to the Upper Lake. In 2000 the area was overgrown with rhododendron and cherry laurel. Our woodland volunteers have been clearing the undergrowth, recreating historic paths and opening up historic views. A stonemason and his team has also been repairing and restoring the terrace walls and steps. Work on the old rockwork garden will be next. Look out for the bluebells in May and rhododendrons in June and spot the exotic trees and shrubs all year long.
In 2013/14 the Upper Lake was dredged to return it to its historic shape and to stop it reverting to marshland. The eastern edge is a wildlife conservation area. The west side is a lakeside promenade. A rustic summer-house and boat jetty called ‘the Shanty’ was situated at the northern end of the lake in the 19th century. This is a great area for spotting kingfishers.
Built by John Dillwyn Llewelyn in 1851/52 and situated towards the side of (the now demolished) Penllergare House, the Observatory is one of the few remaining 19th century structures. It is a monument to the estate’s illustrious past and today is registered as a Scheduled Ancient Monument by Cadw. The family were passionate amateur scientists (particularly in photography, astronomy and botany) and it was here c.1856 that John and his eldest daughter Thereza, took one of the first photographs of the moon. The observatory is currently being restored and will be completed and opened for public access in 2015.
Walk the mile and a half carriage drive from where the old mansion used to be in the north to Cadle Mill – the original entrance to the estate. It was constructed in 1833 at about the time the newly-weds John and Emma Dillwyn Llewelyn set up home at the ‘Big House’. See if you can spot the boreholes in the rock face where estate-workers used gunpowder to blast away the sandstone to create a platform out of the hillside. As you walk you will pass over Quarry Bridge. From this large hole in the hillside came much of the building stone for the estate. Further south look out for the remains of two old lodge houses about a quarter of a mile apart.
The Waterfall, that is now the most iconic feature in Valley Woods, was repaired in 2014. A hydro-turbine was installed nearby on the east side of the river, to generate electricity. In the autumn you may be lucky to see the salmon attempting to jump the falls as they make their way upstream to spawn.
The original stone-built bridge was possibly the first crossing point over the River Llan. It was much photographed by John Dillwyn Llewelyn and paintings were made of it by several members of the family. Gradually it fell into disrepair before being demolished in the 1950s. Now newly rebuilt in traditional materials it was named the Llewelyn Bridge after the family who, over three generations, were instrumental in creating much of the landscape that can be seen today.
Managed by the Forestry Commission for part of the 20th century, today the east bank provides stunning views across the valley as well as woodland trails, rustic bridges and steps through mysterious and hidden places – all recreated and maintained by volunteers and managed by the Penllergare Trust. Take a rest on one of the home-made benches and take in gorgeous picturesque views of the upper lake, waterfall, river Llan, exotic trees and shrubs and terraces below. Bluebell Wood is an essential visit in the Spring too!
Starting in 1838, John Dillwyn Llewelyn created two lakes and two waterfalls in the valley as part of his grand design. Boating was a popular activity for the family on Lower Lake and the boathouse a favourite picnic location. The footings of the boathouse and the remains of the old dam are still visible – we would love to restore this area in the future. More recently, both otter and watervole have been spotted here proving the importance of Penllergare as a green corridor for wildlife.
From the late medieval period Nyddfwch was a separate estate. It was absorbed into Penllergare in 1756 on the marriage of Jane Mathews of Nyddfwch to Griffith Price of Penllergare; then it fell into disrepair and later abandoned. The site of the now demolished house lies at the edge of a steep east-facing slope. From the viewpoint here you can see wonderful views across the valley. This area was set alight many times in the 20th century during periods of neglect and vandalism – the standing dead trees are a reminder of this.
Go on an exploration along the winding River Llan – the natural thread of the designed picturesque landscape of Penllergare. Have an adventure as you trail through bamboo and rhododendron, cross bridges, balance on stepping stones and climb trees while looking for signs of the past. Its 2km twisting course – which loses itself twice in the Upper and Lower Lakes – has been much photographed, visited and fished in the past 150 years.