12 Days of Christmas Trail at Dyffryn Gardens

Taken over by the National Trust in 2013, Dyffryn Gardens covers more than 55 acres of gardens of Edwardian design. Kids will love exploring the various gardens, going through little archways and tunnels to find secret gardens or just running wild in the vast open spaces and woodland walks.

Within the grounds sits Dyffrn House, which is a grand Victorian mansion.  Whilst currently under refurbishment and restoration, it is open to the public to see its impressive interior, and unlike most houses of this nature it is completely child friendly.

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We visited on a crisp day over the Christmas holidays to do the 12 days of Christmas trail. The trail is on until the 15th January and is well worth a visit.  Especially if your little ones, like mine, love a map!  If you are thinking of going, be warned, as my review does contain spoilers of what you will see on the trail.

The 12 Days of Christmas Trail

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On entry you are given your 12 days of Christmas Trail leaflet, which has a map of the grounds and a number showing where each can be found.

First on the list is the partridge in a pear tree!

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This was just around the corner from the entrance and so it was spotted pretty much straight away.  Although saying that, my boys walked around the tree a couple of times before spotting the colourful partridge poking out at the top.

Next spot was the two turtle doves, hanging over the entrance way to Dyffryn House.

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We could have explored the house at this stage, but we decided to crack on with the trail and head back to the house later.

My eldest had taken firm control of the map and so directed us around the side of the house.  Here we were greeted with views of the extensive lawns and a further couple of steps led us up to the funny looking three french hens.  Not sure what made them french exactly, but they did look pretty suave.

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Then on to my favourite; the four calling birds.  Here, in one of the outbuildings the four calling birds were hiding.  There were four little wooden boxes, where when you turned the key, they played a little Christmas tune.  I had as much fun as the little ones in guessing each of the Christmas songs!

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The five gold rings were more of a challenge to find, located high on the mansion house they could have been easy to miss.

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Next, of course, were the 6 geese a laying.  Again, this provided a bit of fun as there were bouncy rubber eggs which you had to try and throw into the buckets.

Trust me this was trickier than it looked as sometimes it bounced back out even when you got it in the bucket!

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Staying on the bird theme, we were off to find seven swans swimming.  We’d actually found these earlier, out of sequence to the song as they were all dotted around in the pond in front of the manor house.

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Now back t0 the map!  My son seemed to be taking us on a wild goose hunt, with promises of a short-cut, and despite us being sceptical of his map reading skills, he was true to his word and we did come across the green house, where there were seven maids a milking.

Here they had fun in testing out their strength and competing with each other over who could carry the most water with an old fashioned pail.

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We also had a wander round the green house with its exotic orchids, vines and cacti.  On a cold crisp day it was nice to go in and warm up.

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Next we were on the hunt for nine ladies dancing, which took us back to the main gardens. Here there were pretty silhouettes of ballerina dances striking different poses.

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Then back to the mansion house where there is a second hand bookshop and some traditional wooden toys such as dominoes and indoor table-top skittles.

Here we found the ten lords a leaping, which provided an opportunity for little ones to dress up in a cloak and see how high they could leap.

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We also enjoyed playing with some of the games outside such as quoits, skittles and flower pot stilts.

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Almost at the end of our trail we headed off in pursuit of the eleven pipers piping.  Here the kids had a go at banging out their own sweet melody (ahem, noisy racket!)

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As the light of the day was starting to fade and the cold was really setting in, we headed back towards to the mansion house, where the 12 drummers drumming sat proudly on their lawned gardens.

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We thoroughly enjoyed the trail; it was not an extravagant affair, but more a case of gold old fashioned fun.  The trail gave us the opportunity to enjoy the gardens and explore as the little ones felt like they were on their own map reading treasure hunt.  For little ones, I would thoroughly recommend it.  Mine, aged 9, 6 and 19 months all loved it.

Dyffryn House

Dyffryn House is a partially restored grade II mansion, dating back to 1895, previously owned by the Cory family who were coal industrialists.

I don’t know about you, but the thought of taking little ones into a manor house always fills me with a little bit of dread, with the constant ‘don’t touch’ being repeated several times during the visit.  But not here!

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Partially refurnished, all rooms have been designed for you to make yourself at home and actually touch what’s on display.

On first entering, children are given two different versions of I-Spy handouts, where they have to find the items shown in the pictures.  That certainly helped with managing their interest around a manor house.  They had to spot certain carvings on fireplaces or faces from paintings all scattered around the house which certainly kept them entertained.

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The Blue drawing room is a music room with a grand piano which you can have a tinker on, mine loved it and the little one had a full on tantrum when it was time to leave it for others to have a go. There is an old conference room upstairs with old fashioned type writers where you can also have a go.

One of the rooms was completely dedicated to arts and crafts, with plenty of colouring in, materials to make paper chains and snowflakes.  So often places do this so half-heartedly, but not here!

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Another of the rooms was converted into the second hand bookshop, where now that I know it exists I will be donating many of our books in future. There was also a billiard room where you could have a proper game of snooker.

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I was amazed at the house, I really was not expecting such a place to be so child friendly.  I have visited before and stupidly have not gone into the house, but I would definitely visit again.

The Gardens

With over 55 acres of outdoor space, the gardens are truly spectacular.  Every season you visit will reward you with a different view.

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This time of year the gardens are awash with heather, some evergreen trees and plenty of secret outdoor gardens to explore.

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There are plenty of outdoor areas to run around and numerous enormous fur trees where young ones can hide under and play like they are in their own secret den.

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Time your visit right and you might be lucky to be able to purchase some of the produce home grown in the gardens. Proceeds from the vegetables bought are ploughed back into the grounds or restoring the manor house.

The Coffee Shop

Worth knowing is that there is a great little play area here, which you can access without paying any admission charges.  It’s a great little park, suitable for little ones, for example my 19 month old can competently get around it.

There is also a coffee shop where you can sit in for food or you can take out a coffee.  I have found this aspect of the park a godsend over the years, I often come here, grab a coffee and then perch on a picnic table when my little ones play in a park that if safe and often very quiet.

I loved our visit to Dyffryn, and what with it being on our doorstep, no doubt I will be back again very soon!

Additional information:  Dyffryn Gardens is situated just off the A48 towards Cowbridge. It is buggy friendly, although there are some steps to manoeuvre, it has a small playground suitable for little ones, a coffee shop and has toilets and baby changing stations.  The website is: www.nationaltrust.org.uk

Admission charges – £19.50 for a family ticket.  The 12 Days of Christmas Trail was at no additional cost.

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