Margam Country Park, the home of Real Family Holidays Centre in Neath Port Talbot, Wales, will have you and your children saying ‘wow’ from the moment you pull in the drive.
Margam Discovery Centre, your home for your stay, is set in the midst of the park where deer wander freely, often passing directly past your bedroom window.
The state-of-the-art modern low carbon building, only open since 2009, looks like something out of the Channel Four programme Grand Designs. The dining hall is virtually floor to ceiling glass and as you eat your meals you look out over lush countryside views, again, often with a meandering deer. There we enjoyed some really good quality meals, including a roast beef dinner with delicious gravy and Yorkshire pudding.
All the bright, fresh rooms have four bunk beds (though any not being used fold away into the wall to allow extra space) and a clean and spacious en suite.
The centre is set in a rectangular pattern with long decking-style runways linking it all together. When you step out of the residential block in the morning you get a lung full of fresh air as you wander past the common rooms and onto the dining hall.
Just a few steps away from the centre is a farm trail – an incredibly clean and organised series of very large enclosures where you can see, feed and, in some cases, pet donkeys, Shetland ponies and a variety of rare breeds including Glamorgan Cattle, Llanwenog and Badger face sheep, Welsh pigs and Buff Orpington Hens. There’s no charge for this, you can visit it as often as you like – in fact you’ll pass it every time you leave the building.
Walk on a few steps more and you’ll find a fantastic adventure playground, a Gothic castle and its impressive grounds and gardens, complete with a little waterfall and monastic ruins. All this leads on to a large fairytale land of little houses for children (and adults with their ‘big kid’ instinct still intact) to clamber around. The country park is the sort of place for which we have happily paid an entrance fee in the past and it’s all there to enjoy every day of your stay if you wish.
There are many additional attractions on site – watersports taster sessions on the pond, a little train and Go Ape high ropes adventure – but you don’t actually have to spend a penny more to have a really enjoyable couple of days right there. Take on a couple of hour hill trek further into The Margam Estate and you can enjoy great views as far as Devon, Somerset and the Gower Peninsula.
The Margam Real Family Holidays team removed any need to research other attractions in the area as, in our room when we arrived, was an itinerary sheet, not only detailing what free activity was available each day, but suggestions for things to do afterwards. Suggestions included Bracelet Bay for rockpools; Forest Fawr, with a sculpture story trail; St Fagans open air museum and Big Pit to discover what life was like in the coal mines (both free!) and Sgwd-y-Eira waterfall, where a natural path leads behind the curtain of water.
We went to Sgwd-y-Eira and it was an unforgettable experience.
With cleverly crafted orienteering including eye-opening environmental facts, guided pond dipping, a led deer walk through the grounds and camp fire with ‘musical instruments’ for the children to play made out of all sorts of recycled materials among the laid-on activities, we found our days busy even without exploring the other places on the list. The activities were thoughtful and informative as is typical for Real Family Holidays – gentle, subtle education for all, outdoors and disguised as pure fun. What child wouldn’t love sitting prone in their just-built woodland shelter awaiting a dousing as it is tested by tutors for waterproofing?
However, reading through that list of local attractions again leaves me regretful we didn’t see more of them. Oh well, I think we’ll just have to go back – hopefully soon!