Wepre Park is a place that I used to love going to when I was little. Back then, in my pre-teen days, with just little legs and scabby knees to carry me, the walk from home to the park entrance felt light years away, like we needed the phone box from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures just to claw some of our day back. It’s only as I grew older that I started to appreciate just how close it is, and how lucky we are to have it on our doorstep. Being a Quay boy, and knowing the streets and alleyways like the back of my hand, I can now walk there from home in about 15 minutes. Of course, this slows considerably when Jesse is with me as we have to stop and crouch down for at least 2 minutes at every slug, snail or bug that we see along the way. But, my point is, it’s close. Really close.
Growing up in the area, I got up to all sorts of adventures in that park. In primary school and cubs I remember going there, net in hand, to hunt for pond skaters and the like. I’ve also fished for perch and carp in the famous old Rosie at a very young age, before quickly realising that silently sitting still for any length of time wasn’t really one of my strengths. I played manhunt in the woods there during those warm, endless, summer days where school is but a distant memory. I played golf there, famously losing a club to the trees following one frustrating stray shot on the 8th. I’ve been to the fair there as a teenager, consuming copious amount of Mad Dog 20/20 beforehand, only to wonder why the waltzers made my head spin Exorcist style. And I had so many games of skins versus tops football there, with lads I’m still mates with to this day, that to count them all would be a nigh on impossible task. The park is just full of great memories.
Since becoming a dad I have, quite unconsciously, made Wepre Park our most visited local destination. Having a dog that needs walking helps but, some weeks, we can go there almost daily. If either of us ask Jesse what he wants to do after nursery he’ll either respond with go camping, go to the beach, go to the zoo or go to the waterfall in Wepre Park. He loves it there, and with very good reason! The park is 160 acres of lush Welsh landscape, intersected by the babbling brook that gently meanders its way through the woodland. In fact, it is thought that the name ‘Wepre ‘ is derived from ‘Gwybre’, meaning ‘Water Hill’ but, as with most words in our language, it has undergone many changes in its 800 year history (apologies, the English teacher in me couldn’t resist a spot of language change and etymology).
In the south-west of the park, through the woodland and over Pont Aber, the stone bridge built sometime around 1800; Ewloe Castle can be found hidden amongst the trees, perched on a rocky outcrop. Built in 1257 by Welsh Prince Llewelyn ap Gruffydd to defy the English monarchy, the castle ruins are well worth a visit. They offer a good example of a castle built not so much for strength or prestige, but rather built for guerrilla warfare at a time of great oppression from Norman England. CADW (the Historic Environment division of the Welsh Government), Flintshire County Council and other organisations have worked hard over the years to improve the information signage around the castle and, more recently, access to the castle by improving the steps and pathways that lead to it. It may not be ideal for pram pushers, but baby wearers and toddlers in carriers are more than able to get to the top and enjoy a picnic in the grounds before going off to explore the old moat, the two towers, or the site of the original drawbridge.
Also in the south-west of the park is Devil’s Basin, personally my favourite bit of the park. Accessed down probably the narrowest (and slippiest, in wet weather) path through the woodland, you emerge from the dense undergrowth onto a small rocky ledge overlooking a large, shallow natural pool. A lot of people probably think that there are only two choices when you approach Pont Aber: to go left up to the castle, or to take the steep steps to the right and walk up to what used to be the top of the old golf course. My reasoning for this is that every time I have been up to Devil’s Basin, I have never bumped into another soul – not even local ghost legend Nora the Nun – so you get a great sense of peace, isolation and tranquillity up there, even during the busy summer months.
If you follow the stream back from the castle, past the stunning red sandstone rocks, known locally as ‘Red Rock’, and take the steps down to the lower path through the woods, you’ll eventually come to our toddler’s favourite spot in the entire park: the waterfall. Built by the Victorian occupants of the Old Hall in order to drive a turbine that created electricity, the waterfall is just a beautiful spot. Jesse loves to clamber down and splash about in the shallow water at the base of the fall, just as I did when I was a kid. When I help him step across the large stones from one side to the other, avoiding the ‘crocodiles’, I remember times when I, too, would jump across them as a young critter, imagining the perilous dangers should I misplace a step and break the skin of the water.
Not too far from the waterfall, back on the main path, is the Visitor Centre. It’s brilliantly child friendly, with a collection of tables filled with toys and books for them to enjoy, as well as offering a range of leaflets on the flora and fauna that can be found in and around the woodland. But, most importantly, they do a mean full English breakfast for just £5, so there’s no excuse for not having the energy to make the hike up to the castle and back!
Where the Visitor Centre now stands is the site of the original Old Hall. Although most people in the area will be familiar with the look of the grand Georgian Wepre Hall that was built in 1788, because of the photos and illustrations that are placed around the Visitor Centre, few people will know that there is evidence to suggest that the site originally had a dwelling on it as early at the 7th Century! There really is a hell of a lot of history in this park for you and your critters to learn about and enjoy. Adjacent to the site of the Old Hall, you are still able to wander around the gardens, which have recently undergone a long and careful programme of refurbishment. While you slowly make your way around them, make sure you check out the Old Hall’s pet cemetery as there are some very funny headstones for you to enjoy.
Despite all of this history, most people simply come to Wepre Park to walk and enjoy the natural environment that surrounds them, and I can’t really blame them. It is a beautiful place. Blessed with an abundance of wildlife, you’d do well to take a nature card with you (or pick one up from the Visitor Centre), so that you can set your critters off on an exploration spotting the various bugs, amphibians, birds and mammals that call it their home, including the rare and protected Great Crested Newt that resembles a small dragon (if dragons were 12cm long). However, if all of this still doesn’t sound tempting enough for you and your little ones, there’s also a large adventure playground on site, as well as the Rosie pond, should your young critters fancy their hand at angling, or just want to see some ducks.
Many people are naturally quite negative about their local areas, for whatever reason. I know, as a youngster, I was certainly guilty of this. Our little corner of north Wales will never be a London or a Manchester but, the older I get, the more I realise that never would I want it to be. I genuinely consider myself extremely lucky to live within walking distance of this beautiful woodland and these historic buildings and ruins. I just hope that Jesse and Amelie will make as many memories here as I did!
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