After my trip to the Black Forest in Germany, my husband and the girls were all desperate to get away for a few days. Whilst it wasn’t practical to book any accommodation at such short notice for the bank holiday weekend, camping was the perfect alternative. So we headed off to the Elan Valley – which seems to be the only place in the UK that isn’t heaving with people during the last weekend in August!
It’s not often you go somewhere that forces you to completely unplug and get back in touch with nature. In fact, the Elan Valley is the first place like this that I’ve been to for a good few years. We camped at the stunning Elan Oaks Camping and Caravan Site.
Their facilities are excellent – warm, clean and pleasant showers and toilets, laundry and dish-washing facilities, waste disposal, water supply and electric hook-ups. They have Wi-Fi there which is functional but a bit hit and miss. So there was little temptation to work or play on gadgets and technology.
Instead, we had barbecues, sat round a camp fire, admired the views and watched stars and beautiful sunsets. Right next to the campsite there is a long cycle path, perfect for families with older children that want to go out on bike rides. It was also ideal for walking and running with the dogs.
Dogs are also welcome at the Elan Valley Hotel – both in the accommodation and at the restaurant. The hotel is a very short walk from Elan Oaks campsite, and we had a lovely meal there. We sat outside to enjoy the stunning scenery, but the friendly staff made it clear that we’d have been fine taking the dogs indoors.
We tend to be a bit restricted as to what activities we can do as a family at the moment. My husband can’t walk far and my youngest is usually too small to get involved in anything with an age restriction. Then throw the dogs into the equation along with another family with a tween, a teen and a dog and there’s nothing we can all agree on to do. Except that there was – there was plenty.
Elan Valley Visitor Centre
The Elan Valley Visitor Centre incorporates a great café, tourist information, children’s park, picnic area, shop and education centre into one building. There’s plenty of parking and the whole thing is set against the backdrop of the stunning Victorian stone dam. From the visitor centre, you can walk up the hill to see stunning views across the reservoir. You can also hire bikes to ride around the dam or just along the cycle path that runs alongside the Elan Oaks campsite. We just walked up to take in the views, leaving my husband in at the bottom with Lia as the walk was a bit much for them both. Luckily, they were able to enjoy the café and the park while we walked.
Bwlch Nant yr Arian Forest Visitor Centre
Bwlch Nant yr Arian Forest is about half an hour drive from the Elan Valley. Located near to Aberystwyth, this is arguably the best place in the UK to see red kites in a natural setting. Visitors can sit on the banks of the lake and watch the kites being fed on the other side. This allows people to admire their beauty without getting too close.
Red kites are stunning birds of prey that have been fed at this feeding station since 1999, when the scheme was introduced to protect the small number of birds living in the area. These days, there are literally hundreds of them and it’s quite a sight when they fill the sky.
Aside from the kites, there is also a reasonably priced café with a good selection of food and a small shop – which I discovered to my detriment doesn’t sell batteries – hence all my photos being taken on my phone. There are walking, running, mountain biking, horse riding and orienteering routes and two children’s play areas. Oh and the views are quite nice too.
The Elan Valley is somewhere we’ll keep going back to as the girls get older. In the future, we’ll be cycling, walking, running and horse riding. I also love the fact that on a bank holiday weekend, the area isn’t too busy. The roads to get there were also fine and we didn’t get stuck in traffic. There’s definitely something to be said for having a short break inland on the August bank holiday weekend instead of heading for the coast.