Five rugged and wild valleys await the outdoor enthusiast in a beautiful corner of South Wales.
Rather like siblings, the green dips share the same origins, but history has shaped their distinctive personalities and made them excellent stops off for the adventurous.
With lively children Ruaridh (15) and Flossie (12) in tow, husband Kenny and I opted for the comfort of electric mountain bikes to make sure we could keep up with them as we headed for Afan Valley, Neath Port Talbot. But they still beat us, in their eagerness to see the lovely unspoilt scenery in front of them.
The valley, which formed the medieval Lords of Afan, was the first in South Wales to lose all its mining pits and is now home to Afan Forest Park, famous for its mountain biking and hiking, with expert advice on tap from enthusiastic Jeff Lewis of Afan A Blast bike shop.
Jeff is bike mad, and his infectious love of the outdoors fills you with enthusiasm as you make your way off to tackle the series of 130 kms of mountain bike trails which have been designed to cater for all abilities.
We were on our own for most of the day exploring, our peaceful bliss only interrupted by more skilful bikers who had tackled the neighbouring valleys and were keen to say hello as they zoomed off to their next challenge.
To attract visitors to the area, tourism bosses have launched The Dramatic Heart of Wales campaign and we stayed just outside the steelwork town of Port Talbot at Swansea Valley Holiday Cottages.
Based at Plas Farm, it is still a traditional working agricultural business with herds of sheep happily munching away the lush grass as you drive along the track to discover a haven of holiday cottages which have been tastefully created using the structure of the former farmhouse and outbuildings.
We were staying in Lloc Llo, a luxury cottage, insulated with sheep’s wool, tastefully decorated and with all the mod cons you would need, from a rainforest shower wet room downstairs, a kitchen cum living room with all the latest gadgets, to an upstairs unwind bathroom and two well sized and stocked bedrooms. A wee explore of the surroundings leads you to lovely woodland trails, an old air raid bunker and lots of inquisitive animals.
Close by to the farm is Melincourt Waterfall, which tumbles through the narrow gorges of the River Neath. Now cared for by The National Trust, the area’s beauty can be summed up by 19th century naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace who said:
“I cannot call to mind a single valley which comprises so much beautiful and picturesque scenery and so many interesting and special features as the Vale of Neath.’’
The area is full of outdoor adventures with Margam Castle and Country Park in Port Talbot, an oasis of fresh air.
A 19th century Tudor Gothic Castle, it is surrounded by magnificent parkland which entices the visitors in with such delights as go karting, a wood vibrations trail, children’s fairyland, park and farm trails and a special playground.
For the more fearless, The Treetop Adventure at Go Ape is a must. It has the UK’s biggest Tarzan Swing, free falling for six metres and obstacles and zip challenges up to 180 metres, which really gets the adrenaline going.
Unspoiled beaches lie close to the trendy city of Swansea which itself is awash with museums and cultural attractions, paying homage to its rich heritage.
Particular favourite for us was Aberavon, a beautiful spot with a modern promenade and all the fun of the seaside. Made famous as the scene of The Passion performed by top actor Michael Sheen in 2011, it is also the place to be if you love surfing.
Just up the coast is the very upmarket seaside town of Mumbles, where local girl Catherine Zeta Jones and her Hollywood legend husband Michael Douglas are said to have a holiday home.
You are greeted by a sweeping bay with picture postcard colourful seafront homes, luxury shops and restaurants, which lull you into feeling you are abroad.
Such is the beauty of the area, that celebrities like singer Katherine Jenkins and actors Zeta Jones, Sheen and Antony Hopkins are proud to call it home.
It has such a rich history from the Celtic Romans to the Industrial Revolution and the mining communities and it has survived it all and prospered.
The people in this neck of the woods are proud of their history, landscape and legacy for the next generation and it certainly ticks the boxes for a wonderful visit!
For more information on visiting the area of Neath Port Talbot in South Wales, please visit: https://dramaticheart.wales.
Rebecca Hay is an experienced travel writer and member of The British Guild of Travel Writers. Follow her adventures with her family on Twitter and Instagram @emojiadventurer and on Facebook via EmojiAdventurers2.