We decided to take a day off for Adam’s birthday last week and have a day out. Initially, we were going to do the Four Waterfalls Walk, but based on information online decided it would be too busy and wasn’t worth the risk of lots of people and not being able to social distance (we don’t like going to places with other people at the best of times!)
A little searching on Google brought up Gelli Aur Country Park and Golden Grove Mansion just outside Llandeilo. A large country estate with a stunning Gothic mansion at its heart? Definitely our kind of place to visit.
- Admission cost: Free to enter the grounds, £4 for the arboretum. You have to pay to park (4 hours is £2.50) but receive a voucher for a hot drink in the cafe.
- Opening hours: 10am – 4pm
- Dog friendly: Yes! Indy loved exploring, especially the wood and quarry area. They need to be kept in a lead in the arboretum and around the cafe.
- Facilities: Cafe with a lovely seating area overlooking the deer park. Toilets next to the car park.
How to get there
From the M4 junction 49 westbound, take the 2nd exit north onto the A48 towards Carmarthen. At the Cross Hands roundabout take the 4th exit onto Llandeilo Road (A476) for 4 miles, then fork left at the brown signpost for “Parc Gwledig Gelli Aur Country Park”. After 1 mile, the entrance to the Park is on the right.
History of Gelli Aur and Golden Grove
Once one of the largest and most important estates in West Wales, Golden
Grove (Gelli Aur in Welsh) covered 50,000 acres with 12 castles and five manors.
The original Vaughan mansion, built between 1565 and 1570, no longer exists. In 1804 the estate was bequeathed by John Vaughan, the last of the Golden Grove Vaughans, to his Oxford friend John Frederick Campbell, Lord Cawdor of Castlemartin, later 1st Earl Cawdor, who demolished the previous property and built the present mansion between 1827 and 1832.
One of the longest houses in the UK it was also one of only four at the time to have central heating.
It stayed in the Cawdor family until 1935. During the Second World War it housed American airmen and following the war was leased to Carmarthenshire council and used as an agricultural college by Coleg Sir Gâr until 2003. Since then it has gone through various ownerships and is now owned by a trust.
The house is privately owned and currently undergoing renovation works, so it is not possible to visit it at present. However, there is a tour section on the Golden Grove website that is advertising a tour of the house and Regency afternoon tea which sounds interesting.
The house can best be seen from the arboretum (£4 each). The house is situated in an elevated position, with views of the Tywi Valley, Brecon Beacons and Dinefwr Castle.
We arrived at around lunchtime and started off by having lunch on the terrace, overlooking the deer park. As we walked out onto the terrace we were fortunate to spot a beautiful doe. The view from the terrace over the surrounding countryside was amazing and it was a lovely place to have lunch.
It was incredibly hot the day we visited and after lunch the arboretum was a welcome break from the heat. In some areas it is quite rundown, but there is obviously a lot of working being undertaken (the entry fee is to cover the cost of restoration and maintenance work). Visiting the arboretum is a great way to get a full view of the house and the stunning views across the valley.
We walked back along the stepped terrace that runs between the house and the arboretum and crossed the car park to explore the meadow, woods and quarry.
A short walk across the righthand side of the meadow leads to a pathway through the woods to the disused quarry, which has a small waterfall running down one side. From here the path takes you up steps on the other side of the quarry and to a rather overgrown pond with a footbridge.
We continued along the path which led us back towards the main entrance and the meadow that runs alongside the driveway. This has been left as a wild meadow, with a path mown through. There are a number of big trees scattered throughout and I imagine that in its heyday this would have been a Capability Brown style landscape, with wide, open spaces.
A short walk back towards the house passes a series of picnic benches.
Overall this was a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon. It is a shame that the house can’t currently be accessed, but the Golden Grove website seems to suggest that this may change in the future. It is unclear whether we visited all of the site; the fact that the arboretum is 10 acres and we walked through it in about 10 minutes suggests that we didn’t see all of that. I think there was probably more of the woodland that we could have explored and it is usually possible to visit the deer park as well (this is closed at the moment, I imagine because they have young).
The house and estate have been featured in two productions recently; the BBC’s adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall, and the upcoming Judi Dench film Six Minutes to Midnight.