On safari: a walk on the wilder side of Wales
Take the children on a safari round Wales and you’ll easily spot species that are hardly seen anywhere else in Britain. We’ve got thousands of magnificent red kites, of course, but also big populations of dolphins, porpoises, seals … and wild goats.
Red kites at Gigrin Farm
It’s one of the grandest sights in Welsh skies: a red kite wheeling overhead, easily identified by its forked tail. These beautiful birds were pushed to near-extinction in Britain but thanks to heroic conservation efforts, they’re now a common sight in Mid Wales. But there’s still nothing like the sight of squadrons of red kites en masse at special feeding stations like Gigrin Farm near Rhayader, where up to 600 birds arrive each afternoon to feast on carrion.
Dolphin spotting in Cardigan Bay
It’s pretty easy to spot dolphins, porpoises and seals all along the west coast, from Pembrokeshire up to the Llŷn Peninsula. Just find a picturesque clifftop, and sit and wait. But to increase your chances to a near-certainty, take a dolphin-spotting boat tour from New Quay. If you’re lucky, you may also spot whales, sunfish, basking sharks and turtles.
Royal Welsh Show
We’re including the Royal Welsh Show under ‘wildlife’ because, frankly, some of the species of farm animal you’ll see here are as exotic as anything you’ll see on safari. The same goes for some of the characters who attend (it’s a people-spotting paradise). Held in July every year at Builth Wells, this is the biggest and best agricultural show in Europe, and you don’t have to be Royal, Welsh or a farmer to have a terrific day out.
WWT National Wetland Centre Wales
The WWT Llanelli Wetland Centre is a 450-acre mosaic of lakes, streams and lagoons set along salt marshes on the Burry Inlet, which attract thousands of birds, notably in winter. But it’s a lovely spot to visit at any time of year, especially if you cycle there on the Millennium Coastal Park cycle path. Apart from having zillions of ducks to feed, children can amuse themselves in play areas including the Swan’s Nest Maze and Water Vole City.
Anglesey Sea Zoo
There’s a strong conservation message at the Anglesey Sea Zoo – they’ve got both a Seahorse Nursery and Lobster Hatchery – alongside a big selection of critters you’d find in Welsh waters, set out imaginatively in the No Bone Zone, Shark Pool and Kelp Forest. This is a favourite wet-weather option, but on a sunny day, kids can enjoy a bouncy castle, the playground and crazy golf.
Birds of prey in the Elan Valley
The Elan Valley reservoirs are only a 40-minute drive from the English border, but they’re as wildly remote as Wales gets. Built to supply water to Birmingham, the vast reservoirs are in our most sparsely-populated area… by humans, anyway. Ten species of birds of prey are regularly seen here (the kite, buzzard, peregrine falcon, goshawk are common) along with visitors like the osprey. What you probably won’t see is other people.
Goats of Great Orme
Kashmiri goats are usually found 4,000 miles away in the Himalayan foothills, but Llandudno’s 150-strong goat population is descended from a herd once owned by Queen Victoria. They roam wild over the limestone lump that is Great Orme, an area also noted for its clouds of butterflies.
Puffin Island, Anglesey
Despite the name, puffins are one of the rarer residents of this island off the Anglesey coast. But there are thousands of guillemots, razorbills, cormorants and – no sniggering at the back – shags to enjoy on a cruise round Puffin Island, which also has a population of grey seals. On the way home, it turns into a family fishing trip, so you can catch your supper.
Pembrokeshire Fish Week
You can’t get closer to Welsh wildlife than when it’s sitting on your plate, with a wedge of lemon at Pembrokeshire Fish Week. This annual celebration of fresh local fish takes place in late June and has a huge breadth of events, from cooking demos to family fun days, coastal foraging, snorkel safaris, learn-to-fish events and seashore picnics. There’s a serious sustainability message here, too: if you’re going to eat fish (and please do) you can’t get better than local, line-caught produce.