In early September 2020, I visited the National Show Caves in Wales, home to three incredibly unique caves, a Victorian farm and a whole host of dinosaurs.
There are three caves at the centre - Dan-yr-Ogof Cave, Cathedral Cave, and the Bone Cave. The Bone Cave (so called because the bones of 42 human skeletons have been discovered there, some dating back to the stone age) is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the other two are open for self-guided visits.
Dan-yr-Ogof Cave should be first on your itinerary - this is the cave that starts at the beginning of the story of all of the caves featured here. First discovered in 1912 by the Morgan brothers and opened in 1939, Dan-yr-Ogof Cave extends to 17km (although only a fraction of this is open to the public). The natural wonders featured in this cave include stalactites, stalagmites and pillars. Stalactites are formed when water drips down the ceiling of the cave, and the minerals form into icicle shapes as a result. Stalagmites are the opposite - a mineral deposit growing up from the cave floor, created by water dripping onto the cave floor. When a stalactite and a stalagmite meet in the middle, they eventually create a pillar.
The effect of water continuously moving through the cave in this way, is that the rock becomes a vast carpet of diverse shapes and textures. Some of the stalactites are so big that they have begun to form shapes other than that of icicles. One huge example, known as "the curtain", hangs down from one of the cave roofs like the ear of a giant. In other cases, water has shaped the rocks in different ways - some of the walls are now filled with rocky bubbles, and look like a giant cauliflower bursting out of the darkness.
Following Dan-yr-Ogof Cave, head over to Cathedral Cave for another visual feast of water and rock formations. Cathedral Cave is known for its waterfalls. Here, a passageway leads to a huge chamber where two rushing waterfalls cascade into underground lakes. Whilst the waterfalls create quite a racket, there's an eerily tranquil pool almost hidden behind the waterfalls, quietly reflecting the cave's synthetic lights. Cathedral Cave also has its own set of stalactites, but unlike the giant specimens found in Dan-yr-Ogof Cave, these 'straw stalactites' are incredibly thin and delicate. Cathedral Cave is considered to be so beautiful that you can even get married here!
We booked our tickets to the National Show Caves, just as the COVID-19 restrictions we beginning to tighten again in September 2020. At the time of writing this blog, the national show caves are open, but with timed entry only due to COVID-19 restrictions. You must book a ticket in advance and you must wear a face covering inside the caves.
Whilst the caves were undeniably beautiful, I did struggle wandering around them in my face mask. This was the first time that I had worn a face mask for quite so long (I was in Dan-yr-Ogof Cave for about 40 mins, and Cathedral Cave for about 20 mins) - previously I'd only worn them in shops, and I made those visits as quick as possible. Added to the fact that my glasses kept steaming up due to the mask, I also felt a little queasy wearing it. Now, I am all for everyone doing what they can to help us get to the other side of this pandemic, but I think it's worth noting where you might feel uncomfortable wearing a face mask for an extended period of time. If you have found yourself struggling in a face mask, a visit to an indoor attraction like the National Show Caves might not be for you at the minute... but it's definitely worth putting it on your bucket list for a post-COVID world.
The Dinosaur Park and Iron Age Farm
The National Show Caves Centre is also home to over 220 life-sized models of dinosaurs, and this incredible dinosaur park is one of the world's largest and has won various awards.
Not only do they have great models, but some of the models move! We saw a Triceratops yawn and a smaller dinosaur (I think similar to a Velociraptor!) roar and whip it's tail about. Definite entertainment for the little ones there.
There's also a small iron age farm on site, complete with iron age-style totem poles which aim to show what life would have been like all those years ago. It's akin to a model village, but you're not able to walk through it. You can observe the farm models from the path, listening to the voice recordings of actors playing at being iron age farmers alongside the recreated sounds of the time.
The Shire Horse Centre & Mr. Morgan's Victorian Farm
I never thought that a trip to the National Show Caves would reignite my love for pigs... but it did! I was pleasantly surprised to find that your ticket to the caves also includes a visit to Mr. Morgan's Victorian Farm, which is a short walk down the road from the car park. On the farm, alpacas, sheep and llama's graze freely, and they seem quite at home with humans coming to visit them. On the way out, we even saw an emu wandering around!
The attached Shire Horse Centre has a stunning collection of Shire Horses and Shetland ponies. The stonking size of the Shire Horses makes the Shetland ponies look even smaller, bless them!
However, my favourite characters of the day has to be the pigs. I have a real soft spot for pigs. I'm particularly fond of micro pigs (the furry ones), but although Mr. Morgan's pigs were regular sized, I still found myself cooing over them. Pigs are very social creatures and I loved how they wandered over to say hello to us, snouts snuffling in the sand for food. Just adorable!
The farm also has mini golf and a play area for kids, but these are currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.
I was really surprised at the variety of activities available at the National Show Caves. In pre-COVID times, the centre was also home to other activities such as panning for gold, but these are currently on hold due to the pandemic. Keep an eye on their website for when they might re-open. Despite the restrictions, it's still a great place to spend a day at the moment - just make sure you take your comfiest face covering with you.
Looking for more things to do in Wales? Check out the following posts: