On an absolute scorcher of a weekend I took a walk with my toddler to Insole Court, which is set just between Fairwater and Llandaff in Cardiff. I grew up just ten minutes walk away from Insole Court and went to High School literally a few minutes walk away, so I spent quite a bit of time hanging out with friends in the garden as a teenager. Back then, the house was completely dilapidated and boarded up and very few people visited the grounds. The site re-opened in 2016 and for some time now I’ve been hearing about massive updates to the property and thought it was high time that I went back there. I actually moved back into this area of Cardiff last year and revisiting the places I’d spent time in as a teenager has been very nostalgic. But it’s time to find out how much it had changed…
Insole Court Details
Mansion Opening Hours 10am to 4pm
The Potting Shed Cafe Opening Hours 9:30am to 4:30pm
Garden Opening Hours 7:45am to 9:45pm
Visit the website for up to date information.
Returning to Insole Court after 20 years
I walked down a leafy shaded long driveway to a reasonable sized car park, which runs parallel to a lovely garden filled with benches and trees, shrouded from the car park by a hedge. It’s a really pleasant walk, so if you live local I’d highly recommend walking over driving but the new car park is free of charge and has plenty of bays, including some disabled, but no parent and child.
A brand new visitor centre greeted me as I walked towards the house, where they offer information and sell small gifts. There’s now a central courtyard which is surrounded by several buildings which are used for community purposes, as well as a clean and spacious toilet block and the Potting Shed Café. The cafe was bustling as it was such a lovely day and a weekend too. We sat outside on the grass and enjoyed our drinks as the tables were full outside, but the food looked great and I noticed that they have highchairs so we will definitely be coming here for lunch in the future.
For family visitors I was happy that the toilets are all individual, rather than one room with separate stalls. I always find this easier when you’ve got kids, as it’s quite tricky to fit everyone into a stall, especially with a toddler like mine who likes to open the stall door before I’m done or in some situations, try to climb underneath, which is both gross and extremely unhelpful when I’m trying to pee. The toilets are a separate entry from outside, so you don’t have to go through the cafe or other buildings to get there. There’s also a disabled toilet with baby change facilities.
In front of the lawn is the main house which has been beautiful restored. I was amazed at the transformation from boarded up, derelict mansion into historical stately home. It was inviting as well, with signs outside letting us know we could visit the new exhibition for free, whilst rooms were available to hire. So far they’ve restored some of the downstairs rooms which are free to visit, and there was also an exhibition taking place on the first floor. The exhibition is a special 40 minute audio drama that takes place once an hour. It was £5 for adults and free for children, so I didn’t personally go in as I had the toddler with me and he’s not particularly interested in history and would probably just yell for the whole thing.
To the one side is a lovely community garden, a walled garden where people can work together, which was really nice to walk around. I found out that you can drop in to volunteer and you can even have a small plot of your own to work with if you’re part of the Community Garden Group. In fact, there are several volunteering options here from working in the visitor centre to showing visitors around the house to working on the grounds. Certainly a unique opportunity to be part of the community, meet new people, keep busy and learn new skills. It might be of particular interest to parents of young people who are working towards the Duke of Edinburgh or similar!
Stretching out to the rear of the house are extensive gardens and lawns, from open spaces to shaded tree areas and flower filled walkways. This is where I used to spend time with my friends when I was younger, and it felt very familiar, but of course in much better condition these days! It’s a fairly compact site but still manages to feel very spacious and not at all crowded. Despite it being a very busy weekend, we found plenty of spaces that felt private because of the design of the gardens and sat on a blanket to enjoy the surroundings for a while and to let the toddler run wild.
I’m so pleased that the Insole Court Trust has managed to restore this site so well. So much historical property and land is sold off, parcelled out, demolished or turned into private flats. The fact this area has been protected and restored is just wonderful. Insole Court is somewhere you could easily spend a few hours and is of course, great value since the main house and gardens are free so even if you just pop in for a half hour walk around the grounds then it’s worth it. It’s the perfect spot for a picnic lunch so we will definitely be back on a regular basis and will be keeping an eye on the events being run here too. Llandaff is such a charming village, so you could couple it with a visit to Llandaff Cathedral and the Old Bishop’s Palace, or with Afternoon Tea at Jasper’s Tea Rooms (all a 10 minute walk or a few minutes drive away), which I really enjoyed last year.
If you’ve visited Insole Court and Gardens in Cardiff, let me know who you visited with and what you thought in the comments.