Bodnant Gardens are currently stunning. Bodnant is always stunning, and it gets better every year. This time of year is one of its particularly shining moments, with the laburnum walk and the last of the azaleas, the rhododendrons in full bloom, the wisteria flowing like water, fabulous guelder rose (actually a viburnum), a few glossy camellias still in flower, some charming early roses, and enormous pieris shrubs the size of trees blooming with flowers that look like lily of the valley. These are complemented at ground level with some brightly coloured arrays of perennial flowers, glossy and eye-catching, even in the deep shade, where careful choices have produced fabulous results. The formal ponds were dignified and peaceful, whilst the bubbling brook at the bottom of the valley was utterly stunning, with birdsong and water over stones combining to create an audio-visual sense of peace and harmony that was really rather magical. Even the views are wonderful from the formal terraces, looking out over the river Conwy across to the hills that lie between Bodnant and the Menai Strait. I have run out of superlatives, but Bodnant merits it.
Visiting notes, including notes for those with unwilling legs, are at the end.
Although we had set out for Valle Crucis Abbey, just outside Llangollen, it was closed. I did not bang my head helplessly against the nearest wall, in spite of all the emails I have sent down the black hole of Cadw‘s multiple “contact” email addresses to find out when it would be open again. Instead we took out the road atlas and considered our options and Bodnant looked like a distinctly uplifting improvement on the day to date, particularly as we were planning to go next week anyway. The weather was a bit dodgy, but what the heck; we decided that the A5 was just down the road, and with a swift right turn onto the A470 at Betws y Coed we could be at Bodnant Gardens in no time – which is to say about 45 minutes from Llangollen. It was only noon, which gave us plenty of time to get there and spend the rest of the day wandering, especially if we returned to Dad’s in Rossett via the A55 dual carriageway and had a pub meal afterwards to avoid the need to cook (which we did). The weather improved all the time and by 4pm it was sunny, blue-skied, hot and perfectly gorgeous. In spite of a false start to the day, it became a marvellous day.
As you would expect with a National Trust property, there is loads of parking. As Bodnant is on a hill, the car park is quite steep and if you have anyone with leg issues, there is a drop off point (and a pick up point opposite) with some benches considerately provided. It was impressive that a new pedestrian underpass has been built. It was always a bit of a take-your-life-in-your-hands moment to cross the road from the car park to the ticket office, but the new walkway, flanked with some lovely plants (including the biggest euphorbias I have ever seen), is a major contribution to the experience.
One of the truly admirable things about Bodnant is that so much thought has gone into making it friendly not only for those with unwilling legs, but for wheels, which includes wheelchairs, push chairs and wheeled support frames, all of which were being used when we were there. The map above was downloaded from the National Trust website, but on the map that they hand you in the ticket office, there are two routes marked, one in red (step-free) and one in blue (suggested route with wheels). Wheel-friendly paths are not only marked on the map, but are signposted. Other tracks and pathways are also shown, allowing people without leg issues additional freedom to explore. Those trails not picked out in blue or red are, when appropriate, marked with triple chevrons to show where there is a steep gradient. The whole thing is really well thought out.
Exiting through the gift shop, the eternal formula for visits these days, is given a slightly different twist to it, as not only is there a garden centre with some very healthy plants that were being snapped up by visitors, but a series of small Welsh craft shops. Within the garden centre there is a rather tatty coffee shop (although it did a good latte). There is also an official National Trust gift shop as you reach the exit. When you return to the car park via the new underpass, a much more upmarket café is available, which was well attended.
For official visiting information, including opening times and prices, see the Bodnant pages on the National Trust website at: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden
When I read that Storm Arwen had taken down some trees that were over 100 years old, I felt a sense of real loss on their behalf. Sincere credit is due to the design strategists at Bodnant, because you really wouldn’t guess that 50 trees (fifty!) had come down, including some enormous redwoods. The impact of the existing trees is just as good as it ever was, and if there are one or two gaps, they are being speedily filled with replacements. Only one tree remains prone, its roots encased in earth, its footprint so enormous that it looks like something geological or vastly palaeontological, and completely anachronistic. It was planted in 1897, and now lies like a bitter accusation against Storm Arwen, itself a symptom of climate change. I didn’t have the heart to take a picture of it, but you can read more about it, with a picture of some of the damage on the Bodnant Gardens website.