The Vale of Glamorgan feels to me - vast. I grew up in Penarth, a pretty town that’s almost so close to Cardiff, it is Cardiff… almost! But being in the Vale of Glamorgan meant we had plenty of choices for days out, ones that never grew old, ones that I still repeat today and ached for during lockdown. Seaside picnics in Ogmore and Southerndown, foraging in the lanes of Miskin, coastal walks that end in pubs in Monknash and woodland strolls that end with coffee in Dinas Powys.
Penarth is an affluent and ‘foodie’ seaside town, within walking distance of Cardiff, full of beautiful Victorian buildings, arcades, and houses to gawp at. It’s a town full of independent shops, and it has the best greengrocers I’ve ever been to (Windsor Fruit Stores), as well as a top tier cheesemonger (La Fauvette), numerous bakeries, and brilliant butcheries (Thompsons). Not to mention it's very own Michelin-starred restaurant, James Sommerin’s Home.
If you wander from the shops down to the beach, you’ll be wandering through Alexandra Park, passing by the rose garden, bandstand, the endless wild garlic, and down the hill towards the pier, where you’ll find the Pavilion. When I was growing up, it was pretty dilapidated, home to a gymnastics class that I did not want to attend, and not much more. But now it’s been restored and renovated into a beautiful art deco building that houses a café, an art exhibition space, and the best little cinema. A minuscule cinema, with maybe 40 seats, but always an impressive choice of art house films. If you go at lunchtimes, you might even be offered a complimentary cup of tea (in an actual mug, with a biscuit!) to take in with you, which, whilst making you feel suddenly aware that you’re not the targeted age demographic, is still a great start to any film. Really, if Penarth was a person, it’d be pretty smug.
Really, if Penarth was a person, it’d be pretty smug."
Cowbridge meanwhile, is an historic market town, and equally as food orientated! It’s an impressive little place - one of the only medieval walled towns in Wales. Within its walls, lies another set of walls, and within those walls lies one of my favourite places: The Physic Garden, which dates back to the 18th century, and is just a magical little courtyard that’s full to the brim with medicinal plants and herbs - all so perfectly and beautifully arranged. Everything there would have traditionally been used for healing, cooking, or for dyeing fabrics, and to me, a garden that’s full of things I can use is a garden I dream of having. I’d never really seen anything like it before, but I love reading about the medicinal properties of each of the plants as I walk around, learning something new every time (that I later forget, every time), and picking a shady bench to sit on with my coffee and my book.
Just around the corner is a recently opened bakery - The Hare and Hounds Bakery - run by the same people as my favourite restaurant of the same name. If I were you - I would head there, get a coffee, buy a canélé, a croissant, or a sandwich, and go straight to the gardens.
Before my love for this place began, I did a play at The Royal Court Theatre in London, and during the script development phase, I improvised a whole backstory that involved me growing up in a local pub, and it made it into the final script!
Southerndown is the place to go for a real day at the beach. It’s surrounded by open countryside and is on a beautiful stretch of the coastal path. Walk one way for a castle, hill fort and woodlands, and in the other for clifftops and views of the Bristol Channel. It’s a sandy beach - great for swimming and surfing. It’s also, apparently, one of the best beaches for fossil hunting - but I can’t really vouch for that! I can vouch for the fact that it’s a lovely place to watch a sunset.
Barry is where I went to school, so I spent a lot of my teenage years going to sit on The Knap beach after school, or in Porthkerry Country Park at the weekends. Barry has a personality that’s very different to that of the rest of the Vale. It’s younger and louder and buzzier and has the warmest and friendliest of communities.
Again, it’s a town that’s retained many independent retailers, and has the new addition of the Goodsheds - which is a complex of containers that house small independents - including Matthew Jones Ceramics, Wild Meadow florists and the sustainable Welsh skincare brand Goodwash - all of which I love. The food court section is full of really great people that have worked their way from up from stalls at street food markets in Cardiff.
Barry has a personality that’s very different to that of the rest of the Vale. It’s younger and louder and buzzier and has the warmest and friendliest of communities."