Despite the challenges of lockdown many of us have felt inspired to enjoy the great outdoors and to appreciate the beauty of nature and wildlife that can be found right on our doorsteps. Staying local has given me the opportunity to revisit some of my cherished childhood walks as well as discovering new and spectacular sights only a stone’s throw away from the capital.
I’m always accompanied on walks by my rescue dog Twts who has been by my side for over a decade, from when we lived together in East Asia to life now back in Wales. I was living and working in Yangzhou, China when I came across her in a street market. There’s nothing the two of us love more than packing a bag and venturing out for a day of hiking in the Welsh hills and coastlines. Here are some of our favourite dog friendly walks in South Wales which will take you through forests, mountains, beaches and hills with plenty of treats from local artisan producers along the way.
Please be a responsible dog walker and follow the Countryside Code. For safe and happy walks with your dog, and to avoid causing problems for others, Natural Resources Wales also has a Dog Walking Code.
Garth Mountain, Cardiff
With incredible scenery and beautiful wildlife, this is where my love for walking began as a little girl on my father’s shoulders. Start your journey at the village of Gwaelod y Garth following the country road for a little over a mile until you get to a route marker pointing towards the steep hillside towards the mountain. Make your way to the summit but keep an eye out for the visiting swallows with their dark metallic blue plumage who spend spring and summer nesting here before returning to South Africa for migration.
When you make it to the peak where there is an ancient Bronze Age burial site, you’ll have spectacular views of the Brecon Beacons and Cardiff and as far as the Bristol Channel and Somerset on a clear day. This is a great opportunity to take in the sights and give your furry friend some fresh water. If you’re doing this walk on a Friday or Saturday late afternoon, as you make a descent towards Pentyrch, give Acapela Studio a call and they’ll have an authentic wood fired pizza ready for you on arrival – I’d highly recommend the Rock and Roll.
Pink Bay, Porthcawl
Pink Bay is one of the most westerly beaches in Porthcawl and, in my opinion, a real hidden gem. Named after its unique and eye-catching pink stones and pebbles, this golden beach is dog-friendly and is only a short walk from Rest Bay. If you’re driving to get there, head over to the car park at Rest Bay before the surfers arrive, walk alongside the Royal Porthcawl Golf Club on the boardwalk for about 15 minutes and you’ll get to Pink Bay.
It’s worth taking a look at the 7,000 ton wrecked steamship nearby which is a monument to the crew of the Mumbles Lifeboat and SS Samtampa. There are no public amenities and so I’ll always bring a little picnic with me and a treat box for the dog. It’s a great spot to enjoy a dip in the fresh sea water. I’ll never forget the first time Twts felt sand and sea water against her skin – nothing beats seeing a rescue dog experience pure joy.
Bwlch Mountain, Treorchy
This mountain road links Bridgend and Neath Port Talbot with the Rhondda Valleys and when you make it to the peak, the panoramic views of Treorchy, Cwmparc and the rest of Cwm Rhondda are breathtaking. The route is particularly popular with walkers and cyclists since the climb has been included in one of the UK’s toughest rides, the Dragon Ride.
On the way home, take a pit stop in Tonypandy at award winning ice cream parlour Subzero, previously known as Mr Creemy, which has over 60 different ice cream flavours to try – although I’ll always go for the Nocciola or the Filled Oyster. The family-owned business has been serving ice cream to the valleys for decades and I have fond memories of spending hours sitting by the window of my living room in Tonteg, waiting for the famous Mr Creemy van to make its way down the valley.
Coed y Wenallt, Cardiff
For a dog walking route that includes an array of wildlife, a display of beautiful flowers and great views of the city, it doesn’t get much better than the ancient woodland of Coed y Wenallt. I tend to start this walk on Caerphilly Mountain where you can drive down the country lane opposite The Traveller’s Rest for about a mile before you come to a car park, which is free of charge. You’ve then got 44 hectares of ancient SSSI woodland to explore. As soon as you arrive, listen out for the Great Spotted Woodpecker in the trees and there’s a good chance you’ll see buzzards, wood warblers and badger trails as you make your way through the forest. In spring, the woodland is awash with a sea of bluebells.
Following the public footbath, I take a loop before heading to Caerphilly Mountain for a pit stop at nearby eco-friendly eatery Caerphilly Mountain Snack Bar. There’s always a welcoming and laid-back atmosphere there and you can enjoy your food at the top of the mountain while taking in the aerial views of the town, surrounding hills and the Cardiff skyline.
Insole Court and Llandaff Cathedral, Cardiff
Start your walk at Insole Court, a grade II listed Gothic mansion nestled in the leafy Cardiff suburb of Llandaff. The dog friendly grounds have been open to the public since 1946 and the gardens are by now in full bloom. Only a 5-minute walk away is Llandaff Cathedral, which boasts some of the finest medieval architecture in Wales. When you’re walking around the nature friendly grounds of the cathedral you may stumble across their new wildlife friendly butterfly garden and, if you’re really lucky, you might spot their two resident Peregrine Falcons. The pair can often be found resting on the pinnacles and gargoyles of the cathedral’s towers and, other times, circling overhead and calling each other as part of their courtship display.
If you fancy something to eat, follow the River Taff downstream along the green parkland and through Llandaff Fields towards Pontcanna. My go-to after this walk is the Oasis Cardiff pop-up takeaway café at Kemi’s Pontcanna, run by a group of refugees and asylum seekers sharing traditional homemade dishes from countries including Iran, Gambia and Ethiopia. You’ll get a warm welcome from chefs Dani and Hafiz and you can’t go wrong with the North African breakfast dish Shakshuka or the Iranian classic, Kookoo Sabzi.