Bodnant Gardens has to be one of my favourite National Trust places to visit. Situated just 15 minutes inland from Llandudno on the North Wales coast it is the perfect place to wander, explore and forget your worries.
I have been to this fabulous garden quite a few times. We actually found it by accident a good few years ago on our way back from a long weekend in Dolgellu (actually pronounced dog-eth-ly, but always referred to in our household as dog-eh-loo). We saw signs for a national Trust property and made a lunch stop as we knew we would get a good coffee and sandwich in the cafe. As we had been driving for ages that day we decided to step into the garden to stretch our legs for a few minutes….. 4 hours later we came back out!
The garden was started in the 1870’s by the Pochin family. They filled the garden with exotic plants found by global explorers and the result, 140 years later is the most amazing collection of plants and trees all set against the backdrop of the beautiful snowdonia hills.
One of the most famous sites at Bodnant is the 140 year old labernum arch. Although we have been here before we have never been when the arch was in bloom. This time, we timed it just right. It is just stunning, a beautiful arch of bright yellow flowers that stretches off into the distance. Little E loved reaching up from his backpack and trailing his hands through the little yellow flowers. It was so beautiful, but i did feel a little sad to think that the person who planted this arch 140 years ago never got to see his vision in all its sunny golden glory today.
The garden is spread over a large area (around 80 acres in total) and is situated on a large hillside. It is so lovely to explore. You begin by walking through formal gardens, with picture perfect flower beds full of colour, pretty water fountains and manicured lawns. There is a stunning rose garden filled with every colour and scent of rose you can imagine. And beautiful lakes that act as mirrors and reflect the surrounding garden back at you. The lakes are also great for a bit of goldfish spotting – or if you are E, goldfish spotting and then flinging a great big stone at the poor fish.
As you descend down the hillside along winding paths the scenery changes to a more wooded mountain valley. Every now and then there are fantastic views down to the valley floor with loads of seats for just sitting and looking (not that we got a chance to stop). There are so many paths in this garden and various routes to get to the valley bottom. Some are much steeper than others – if you are taking a pram I would look out for the easy descent paths as these are gentler with no steps. Our 2 year old was in charge of our map so we didn’t get a choice of what route we took.
The valley bottom is a series of beautiful shady dells with a small river running through the middle. The valley is home to some truly magnificent trees – they are literally giants. Giant Sequoia tower above your heads – the largest reaching over 35 meters. Pictures just don’t do them justice – you really have to see them to believe them. E had a great time running around these giants and stroking the ancient bark. He also had great fun crossing the river on the stepping stones.
Its really lush and green at the bottom of the garden with ferns and trees mixing together with colourful flowers – I almost felt like I had gone abroad somewhere, not just out on a day trip to north wales.
Wandering along the valley floor the scenery changes again and the steep sided valley and giant trees are replaced by large lakes and weeping willows. There is a cafe at both ends of the valley bottom (if you are looking at the map (with the car park nearest you) the cafe to the right end of the valley (the Old Mill) is larger with more variety, and there are toilets there). We chose to have a stop at the smaller cafe at the left end of the valley (I think this is called Far End) – this is just a small pop up cafe and there are a few picnic tables dotted around, but it was perfect for a much needed cuppa, and a juice and gingerbread man for the little one. Funniest moment of the day was when the leg fell off of one of E’s gingerbread men…. he was inconsolable (and shared his misery and despair with half the garden)…. you have got to love toddler over reactions to the smallest things.
At Far End there was a fossil hunt for young children and den building activities too (all part of the National Trusts “50 things to do before you are 11 and 3/4“). We take our adventure book with us everywhere we go – although he liked running in the dens I think this one was a bit old for him – we are still at the mud pie stage of things.
From Far End we started to head back up the hill towards the top of the garden. Following winding paths we found a bubbling stream which had a section that had been turned into a wishing pool which E had great fun throwing pennies in. We walked through a whole glade of maple trees with their multi coloured star shaped leaves (we will have to come back in autumn to see these in all their glory). We walked across beautiful meadows full of spring and early summer flowers (would have been the perfect spot for a picnic). We ended up at the main cafe adjacent to the car park and treated ourselves to a yummy cream tea (a must at a national trust property) – clotted cream first of course!
The garden was the perfect day out for us. E had a fantastic time exploring the gardens and winding paths. There was so much space for him to run around. The garden is massive though and for 2 year old legs, probably a bit big to walk round the entire thing. We took our trusty little life ruck sack but there were loads of families with prams as most of the paths are gravel and easily accessible. You are allowed to take picnics into the garden (just not allowed them on the formal lawns near the house) but the are hundreds of wonderful spots to have an al fresco lunch – definitely something we might do next time.
The garden is so big, there are still areas we have never even seen (i’ve just noticed from looking at the map that there is a children’s play area near the car park!) and what is fantastic about this place is that the National Trust keep opening up new areas – accessible areas of the garden must have doubled in size in just the few years we have been visiting, which means there is always new places to explore. The garden also looks totally different depending on what time of year you visit so you are always guaranteed to see something new.
If you love the outdoors and the sun is shinning (or if it is not raining – lets be realistic, this is the UK) make a journey over to Bodnant – you wont be disappointed.