For five days in the school holidays, I took on a brave mission. My husband and I would lose ourselves in Mid Wales, place of gorgeous landscapes and atmospheric small towns...while also entertaining a busy, bouncy five-year-old. In other words, long lunches, day hikes and late evening cocktails were out of the question, reserved instead for weekends when grandparents could be pressed into action (or for those far-distant years when retirement might eventually arrive).
But we needn't have worried. We found lots of adventures among the mountains and valleys to entertain us as well as our little one. Our Mid Wales journey went from East to West. but use our suggestions in any way you want to build your own kid-calming, adult-pleasing itinerary. And, as we say around here: enjoio.
Start gently in gorgeous Crickhowell, which recently (and rightly) won the Best High Street in the UK award. Kids will enjoy burrowing into the basement of fantastic independent bookshop Book-ish: it’s solely dedicated to children’s books, with a sofa for reading and a life-sized Gruffalo for company. Its café is also very family-friendly, with a picnic lunch bag for the kids, plus sandwiches, ploughman’s platters, and pizzas for the grown-ups. Treat yourself to a book to read when the kids are sleeping later.
Three miles away, the Cadw-owned Tretower Castle is a proper fairytale treat. You’ll find Tudor treasure chests dotted around for kids to explore, plus the great hall laid out just as it would have been for a 15th century feast. There are often kids' activities in holidays and weekends too. Check the Tretower Castle website for details, including dates for their kids' medieval history festivals.
If you’ve made good time, jump in the car for a last hour of the afternoon in Hay-on-Wye. If the kids crave more books, the children’s section of the world-famous Richard Booth’s Bookshop is a beautiful place to sit, read and explore. If the weather’s good and the kids need a run about, dip into The Warren by the River Wye. There are sculptures of animals on tree trunks dotted along the riverbank for them, and shallow water that’s good for paddling. After that, you all deserve an early pub dinner in the Blue Boar.
We nip home for the evening, but child-friendly accommodation in town includes Asleep In Hay, a 3-bedroom self-catering cottage over a bookshop (allowing parents the chance to have the evening to themselves while their younger kids snooze), or one of the deluxe doubles at The Swan which can be bulked up for families with extra beds. If you want to burrow a bit more into the countryside, head five miles out of town to Glasbury-on-Wye’s Black Mountain Lodge, with its gorgeous, reasonably-priced family rooms.
After breakfast (Eve’s comes highly recommended for an early morning bacon bap and strong coffee if you're still in Hay), go west to Rhayader, although if you fancy a stop on the way, have a stroll by the Erwood Station Gallery. The path is well-marked, easy for kids, and the River Wye is at its most beautiful here. Have lunch in Rhayader itself at the Lost Arc, a gorgeous arts venue and café in a recently converted drill hall. We have delicious Sunday lunches from their oak-smoked oven, and there are toys and books for kids to enjoy while they wait (our son gets lost in old copies of Where’s Wally and the toy kitchen). And a note for grown-ups: drag the kids the few minutes away from the car park after lunch to see the old mill and waterfall hiding in the river.
After lunch, Gigrin Farm is a delight for both young and old, as you can read me writing about elsewhere on this site – a nature lesson for all ages, and an all-senses experience not to be forgotten. After that, head an hour north-west to be near Machynlleth to be up bright and early for tomorrow’s full day of activities. Accommodation-wise, you can either sneak just outside Mid Wales’ borders, as we did, to stay in the family suite in the Penhelig Arms in Aberdyfi (they’ll even bring your pub tea to your room while the kids sleep upstairs). There are good Machynlleth options too, including the Dyfiview B&B, a quick walk outside town.
Now here’s a great family outing destination: The Centre for Alternative Technology. That name might make it sound too worthy for kids, but it’s anything but: everything is done doing to make sustainability and nature fun for all ages. Enter the site on its water-powered funicular railway, then launch into the kids’ activities. Depending on the day, there’s den-building, wild wellbeing sessions, and nature tracker challenges: on the day we are there, my Lego-loving son makes bricks out of earth and water (and, in his words, starts "building my own house").
There’s also a great adventure playground, Megan The Mole’s underground tunnel, plus a great café with hearty vegetarian food. Parents will enjoy the organic gardens and the gorgeous walking trails around the quarry, plus the centre’s friendly staff make the whole day a breeze. Another night in last night’s accommodation after such a busy day also makes everything easy. Trust me: I'm a Mam.
We travel south today, to enjoy Mid Wales’ rugged coast. We stop mid-morning in Borth, for a run along the sands: the coast’s famous ancient petrified forest is poking through the waves while we're there, entertaining both us and our boy. After that, we go onto Aberystwyth for a gorgeous lunch at Ultracomida: the kids’ tapas plates are hard not to steal from even when you’re a grown-up. Go on the stools by the bar to make it even fun for the kids (and, who I am kidding, for me too).
Your afternoon options after that in Aber are many. We opted for a run around the old-fashioned treats of Aberystwyth's Royal Pier, then a play around the castle. Its great playground is in a lovely spot overlooking the Irish Sea (and I should know, as I used to do this myself when I was a girl). There’s also the Aberystwyth Cliff Railway at Constitution Hill, accessed easily via a short, lazy walk along the promenade or the shingle. Tea options are legion, including Mediterranean restaurant Medina, which has fantastic set menus and a children’s play area. I've also got a soft spot for Bavarin on the seafront, where the staff were lovely to me and my husband as we ate delicious pizzas while our tiny baby slept next to us in his pram. Ditto the gorgeous Bodalwyn Guest House around the corner which hosted us later that night. By these acts of kindness are family holidays made memories for life.
We gently wind our way home through Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire, but we’ve already made plans to visit other places we’ve missed in Mid Wales. We noted Caersws’ brilliant-looking Mid Wales Arts Centre, with regular children’s sculpture trails, and King Arthur’s Labyrinth near CAT in Machynlleth. I’ve heard from others how brilliant it is: an hour-long trip deep into a cave, guided by a mysterious boatman, who takes you on a quest through a waterfall, to tell you a story about legends of yore.
The Dan-yr-Ogof National Showcaves Centre in Powys is a delight too, with 220 life-sized dinosaur models in its caves. Its Shire Horse Centre and Farm also has the brilliant Barney Owl’s adventure playground and a Jurassic-themed Karting track.
In short, you need more than one Mid Wales family holiday to savour the delight of this wonderful part of our country. I'm looking forward to our next half-term already.