Caerphilly County Borough is a long, narrow, tear-drop-shaped county running from the edge of the Brecon Beacons in the north, to the suburbs of Cardiff in the south. Caerphilly the town is at the southwestern edge, with other towns including Ystrad Mynach, Blackwood, New Tredegar and Bedwas, scattered around the Rhymney river.
The river runs right through the borough, and the landscape is characterised by green space with all sorts of outdoorsy treats and memorable views.
Things to do in Caerphilly town
Hemming in Caerphilly to the south is Caerphilly Mountain, and a stroll to the top gives you views down over Cardiff and its docks, Flat Holm and Steep Holm islands in the Bristol Channel, Penarth Head and England beyond. Caerphilly Mountain Snack bar at the top offers sustenance to fuel exploration of the many paths around the mountain which wind in and out of ancient woodland.
In the heart of the town, you can't miss Caerphilly Castle with its sheer size and Norman might. The build began in 1268 and throughout the 20th century was meticulously restored, so it’s a great example of 13th century military architecture. Huge wooden replica siege engines and intricate moats give a chilling idea of what it must have felt like to be part of the medieval masses, as the Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd and the Marcher lord Gilbert de Clare sparred above their heads.
The much-loved leaning tower, is famously at an even jauntier angle than Pisa, thanks either to natural subsidence or Civil War gunpowder – no one is quite certain.
The castle hosts special events throughout the year including crafts, trails and workshops for mini knights-in-training, so check the 'What's On' listings on the Cadw website for upcoming dates.
Big Cheese Festival
The famous Big Cheese Festival has been going for over twenty years; a celebration of culture, heritage, history... and cheese! There's usually a huge travelling food court and dedicated cheese market, all set in a colourful medieval encampment in the castle grounds, with craft stalls along the moat and re-enactments of various battles keeping visitors on their toes. Music, dancers, choirs, fairground rides and fireworks all create a lively cheerful atmosphere and thousands of people flock in from all over.
Have a wander
If it's not festival time, a hankering for cheese can be satisfied at the Castle Court Craft and Food Market, held once a month in Castle Court Shopping Centre just next to the castle. The market sells mostly produce from the county, and is a good bet for a truckle or two of the crumbly white cheese.
Swing by the Caerphilly Visitor Centre for commanding castle views from the terrace, advice on your visit, a nose around the gift shop, and a piece of cake at Coffi Vista. Downstairs is Y Galeri, a shop of art and craftwork by local artists.
In the summer months take the kids to the Wetter is Better aqua splash pad in Caerphilly town’s Morgan Jones Park, and let them run wild through the jets. This Green Flag award-winning park began as a 1930s recreation ground, and these days has a wildflower meadow, outdoor gym equipment, skate park, bowling green, social enterprise café and more.
Just ten minutes from the town centre is The Meadows Farm Village, an interactive animal experience. Enjoy animal petting and a coffee and cake.
Things to do in Caerphilly County
Blackwood Miner’s Institute has a long history at the heart of the borough. Born as a snooker hall paid for out of miners’ wages, it grew a dance floor and library and was used for performances, tea dances and union meetings. These days it’s a much-loved arts centre where you can catch all sorts of music, comedy, art and theatre, all in the iconic listed building.
For a moving glimpse of mining life visit the Aber Valley Heritage Museum in the former mining town of Senghenydd. The museum and the nearby memorial garden are run by a local group of volunteers driven to honour the region’s mining history, and tell the stories of the two terrible mine explosions in the Universal Colliery that killed hundreds of men and boys, and dozens of pit ponies too. The memorial garden is a poignant place to visit.
The Winding House in New Tredegar is the entertaining, hands-on county museum, with visiting arts exhibitions as well as permanent displays that tell the history of the Valleys through the lives of ordinary people. As with so many of Caerphilly’s attractions, the Winding House is on a former colliery, and houses the still-functioning Victorian winding engine that once brought the cages of miners to and from the coalface.
For a memorable place to stay, Under the Oak offers top-notch glamping, from safari tents and cabins to railway goods wagons in wildflower meadows, with wood-fired hot tubs, fire pits to cook over, and mud kitchens for the kids!
Tracks and trails
The borough of Caerphilly sits in the middle of the great green swathe that is the Valleys Regional Park, an association of green spaces from the English borders to Carmarthen. Caerphilly’s contribution are Cwmcarn Forest, Parc Penallta and Caerphilly Castle itself.
Many of the areas were heavily mined or centres of manufacturing, and the effort to change the landscape into something new and healthy for a new era of visitors and inhabitants has been considerable – they’ve been planting trees at Cwmcarn since 1922, for example!
One for ambitious mountain-bikers, Cwmcarn Forest on the Newport border has two red-graded ‘difficult’ trails and one ‘extreme’, plus a lift service to make the most of them. Walkers can also get their hearts pumping, with a bunch of good walks including the two-hour bash to the 414m summit of the excellently named Silurian hillfort of Twmbarlwm, with views of Cardiff Bay in one direction and the Brecon Beacons in the other.
Or opt to take it rather easier with a stroll along the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, the Bluebell Walk, or a riverside walk to the lake. There’s a café and play area, and you can stay a night in the Cwmcarn Forest glamping pods, lodges or campsite, and check out the storytelling zone and picnic spots along Forest Drive.
While many of the Valleys green spaces are regenerated mining or industrial sites, Penallta was literally carved from a coal tip, and only thirty years ago. Sultan the Pit Pony is the most memorable feature – a 200m-long, 15m-high earthwork of a leaping horse, full of character, paying homage to the pit ponies of the past, and nicknamed after a particularly well-loved pony from Penallta Colliery. You can walk all over him, sit in his ear, find the dome at his eye, and then head for the observatory to get an elevated view of the impressive sculpture.
There are many other parks too – try Parc Cwm Darran for cyclocross trails and wildflower meadows, Bargoed Woodland Park for riverside wildlife and carved sculptures dotted around. Both are also re-generated former collieries.
Sirhowy Valley Country Park offers a gentle walk or wheel along the former railway track that linked Tredegar to the Newport Docks. A mooch around the woodlands and riverbank and you’ll come across several heritage structures, including Babell Chapel where the Welsh bard Islwyn lies, and the 50ft high Penllwyn Tramroad Bridge. Follow the Celtic Trail – route 47 of the National Cycle Network – and you’ll find yourself on the breathtaking 16-arch Hengoed Viaduct.
Walking and dirt jumps
Walkers have a treat in store with a range of long trails in the borough. The Rhymney Riverside Walk is a 32-mile walk along the valley floor, all the way from the Rhymney’s headwaters near the north of the borough, to Cardiff in the south. The 28-mile circular Rhymney Valley Ridgeway Walk makes a loop along ridgeway tracks and woodland paths along the top of the Caerphilly basin, with excellent views throughout.
Van Road Trails is a community-run dirt jump park close to Caerphilly town, with jumps for all ages and abilities and a dual slalom track. It's free to turn up and ride, and feel free to muck in with a shovel! Enjoy the great supportive atmosphere at club nights and race days.
Golf and spa
Caerphilly borough goes in for varied golf with exceptional views.
Four-star Bryn Meadows golf and spa resort is one of Caerphilly's best-kept (and most reasonably priced) secrets. Come for the varied 18-hole championship course that demands accuracy, the luxurious spa with treatments and mud room ceremonies, or afternoon tea with a view at Blas Restaurant.
Caerphilly Mountain itself has a golf course – the 18-hole Caerphilly Golf Club dates back to 1905, and what better than conquering the green while looking down at the majestic views of the castle and town.
Bargoed also has an 18-hole mountain course with greens that are small and fast, and beautiful views up the Darren Valley to the Brecon Beacons. Not far from each other are two pay-and-play nine-hole courses: challenging Blackwood Golf Club and Oakdale Golf Club which is good for building confidence.
Fans of a good shiver should head for Llancaiach Fawr Manor, a living museum manor house where the building and all its staff are perfectly preserved in 1645, and the servants of Colonel Edward Prichard will show you around. Visit in winter for the popular ghost tours, but do also keep an eye on their events page for all sorts of things, from kids’ theatre to cabaret, craft workshops, and 17th century food tastings!
For another helping of the paranormal, the Morbitorium in Pontywaun is a one-off. It’s a 19th century house by the canal, stuffed full with curiosities from folklore, witchcraft and early medicine. Nose around the occult bric-a-brac, carved skulls, two-headed ducks and Ouija boards, many of which are for sale. If you feel like learning an unusual skill, the Morbitorium offers taxidermy classes.
And if you spot a wild-eyed statue near the castle that appears to be wearing a fez, you’ve found your way to much-loved funny man Tommy Cooper, one of Caerphilly’s most famous sons, just like that!
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