Quirky heritage attractions in Wales

From a triangular folly to a mineshaft that doubles as a cheese vault, there are masses of unusual museums and historic sites in Wales. We’ve an odd feeling you’re going to like them.

  • A chess board at the Hall at Abbey-Cwm-Hir
    The Hall at Abbey-Cwm-Hir, Mid Wales by Chris Belsten

    Remember the late 1990s, when home makeover shows were all the rage on TV? Paul and Victoria Humpherston took the trend to a new level by buying a Victorian country mansion and filling the entire place with flamboyant paint effects, four-posters and collections of vintage curios. They love showing people around Abbey-Cwm-Hir. Visit in December and you’ll find Christmas trees twinkling in each of the 52 rooms.

  • Old mining machinery at Big Pit
    Big Pit National Coal Museum in Blaenavon, South Wales Valleys

    An industrial heritage museum which takes you 90m underground in a hard hat? That’s already pretty special. But there’s a twist – the old mine shaft at Big Pit doubles as a cheese vault. The ingenious, award winning Blaenavon Cheddar Company matures its Pwll Mawr cheddar right at the bottom, where the atmospheric pressure and temperature are perfect. You can buy a chunk in the museum shop.

  • Caerphilly Castle
    Caerphilly Castle, South Wales Valleys

    There’s something very macho about Caerphilly’s 13th century castle. Its chunky walls and substantial moat ooze military discipline and strength. Except in the southeast corner, that it is. Here, the tower tilts at an angle that looks positively drunken – it would easily out-lean the Leaning Tower of Pisa. But like a crooked tooth in a handsome smile, we wouldn’t want it any other way. 

  • A close up of the clock on the Cardiff Castle Clock Tower
    Cardiff Castle Clock Tower, South Wales

    Welsh clock towers don’t come much showier than William Burges’ extravagant Gothic masterpiece for the third Marquess of Bute. Situated on the south-west corner of Cardiff Castle, it is over 40m tall and decorated with brightly painted statues representing the solar system, topped by heraldic shields, it caused a sensation when it was completed in 1874. Inside, a spiral staircase leads to Lord Bute’s lavish apartments and a clock by Edward Dent of London, who also made Big Ben.

  • Grave stones with Welsh writing at the Dog Cemetery in Portmeirion
    The Dog Cemetery, Portmeirion by Matthew Holland

    Let’s face it, the entire holiday village of Portmeirion is pretty quirky, with its romantic jumble of Mediterranean-style houses, complete with a campanile and a dome. A cemetery for much loved dogs is just one of Portmeirion’s charming eccentricities. Tucked away in the Gwyllt woodland garden, it was here before the village was built and its memorial stones, statues and tributes now span well over a century.

  • The interior of the Gladstone's Library seen from the 1st floor.
    Gladstone's Library, North East Wales

    Where else but Wales can you stay in a sumptuous residential library, built to honour a great 19th century statesman? Gladstone’s Library, which focuses on theology, Victorian history and William Ewart Gladstone himself, runs courses and is a researcher’s dream. At its core are 32,000 of Gladstone’s own hand annotated books, which he carried to the site from his home, Hawarden Castle, by wheelbarrow. Completed in 1902, the building has crisply refurbished bedrooms.

  • Paxton's Tower in Carmarthenshire
    Paxton's Tower, Carmarthenshire by Steve Jones

    Two centuries before it became home to the National Botanic Garden of Wales, the Middleton Hall estate belonged to an eminent Georgian-era politician, William Paxton. One of his creations was a mini castle dedicated to Lord Nelson. With panoramic views of the Tywi Valley, it’s a folly with a difference, triangular in plan, with three doors, three turrets and a hexagonal centre.

  • Tin Shed Experience museum in Laugharne
    Tin Shed Experience museum in Laugharne, Carmarthenshire by Rob Ashcroft

    The Carmarthenshire village of Laugharne just oozes eccentricity. Our favourite man of letters, Dylan Thomas, who lived here just before and after the Second World War, would never have settled for anything less. The Tin Shed fits in nicely. Housed in a 1930s garage, it’s a quaint little museum of the 1940s, stuffed with oddments such as typewriters, bicycles, grocery packets, ration books and vintage army clobber.