From 1893 Henry Oakley created these labyrinthine paths which twist around above and below ground. James Pulham & Son constructed the man-made dark mysterious grottoes, interspersed with caverns into which natural light filters allowing water lilies, fuchsias and begonias to flourish. After WW11 the gardens were neglected, to the extent that the grottoes were earthed up. More recently they have been re-discovered and renovated.
There are ponds, a fountain, a bog garden with an Indian bean tree and giant rhubarb. Magnificent pine trees are dotted about, formal flower beds and fairy signs for children to seek out.
They sell a small selection of plants next to the friendly cafe where our sandwiches were made for us. A lovely day out in an extraordinary setting.
If you fancy a drive into the countryside, the Maenllwyd Inn in Rudry village makes a great place to stop for lunch. It’s traditional Sunday fare with great desserts, but be prepared to wait on a Sunday. Mains are around £7-16.
The Maenllwyd Inn, Rudry, Caerphilly 029 2088 8505 www.goodpubrestaurants.co.uk/show_restaurant.tpl?restaurant=150
Boat-lovers should take a cruise on the Waverley – the last sea-going paddle steamer in the world. It leaves from Penarth, just outside Cardiff, and visits the islands of Flatholm and Steepholm in the Bristol Channel. Sights include seabird colonies, rare flora and fauna, naval defences and an abandoned cholera isolation hospital.
Get a bike and ride the Taff trail. You can go from the centre of Cardiff all the way out to Castle Coch, following the river on safe bike paths.
A lovely park with a huge lake to feed the ducks or hire a boat. There’s a great playground for children, lovely rose gardens and an impressive greenhouse. Also in the park is a memorial lighthouse dedicated to Captain Scott, the South Pole explorer, who set sail on his final, ill-fated voyage from Cardiff.
Down between Cardiff Castle and the River Taff is Bute park, an adventure playground of standing stones, ruins and trees. It’s right on the edge of the city centre, and is a great place to take the weight off your feet after some shopping. The park extends north along the river and becomes Sophia Gardens, where you’ll find Glamorgan cricket club’s ground and the Welsh Institute of Sport, and the wide open playing fields of Pontcanna and Llandaff fields.
My favourite green space in Cardiff is a section of the old Glamorgan canal, which was used to transport coal down from the valleys out to the Cardiff docks. You begin by walking along the canal, through a green tunnel of trees, alive with wildlife. Halfway along you can fork off left to Forest Farm, or to the right, where you cross a lock, climb up a steep hill and look back down at the canal through the canopy of beech trees. It’s a very peaceful place and there’s so much wildlife to see at all times of the year.
If you're searching for a romantic spot, get out of the city and head for the peace of the countryside. The Vale of Glamorgan has some lovely spots for a picnic and its green, rolling fields, lush woods and pretty villages immediately make you forget your troubles. But if you’re not the outdoor type, you could see if romance blossoms over Cardiff’s biggest steaks like Gav and Char at Charleston’s.
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