A 2.5-mile walk around Dinefwr Park National Nature Reserve in Wales, starting and ending at Newton House.
Aflurry of white flakes, a crunch underfoot. As winters warm, the white-spotted fallow deer and sound of trampled beechnuts might be the closest you get to snow at Dinefwr near the town of Llandeilo. Nevertheless, December will be dark and Newton House in the grounds will be cosy.
In fact, it’s cosy all year. Light glances off gilt frames. Staff and volunteers are cheerful. And you’re allowed, nay encouraged, to sit on the sofas.
Christmas begins on 19 November with a three-day craft fair when Siôn Corn (Father Christmas) and shoppers alike enjoy hot chocolate and brass bands. Fear not if you miss it, because throughout December there will be craft workshops in the courtyard and tours of Newton House bringing country house and Welsh Christmas customs to life.
A Mari Lwyd (decorated horse’s skull) will be paraded around the village in an ancient wassailing tradition, carols will be sung around the piano, the house will be decked with greenery, and the tree trimmed with ornaments featuring animals found at Dinefwr. Talking of which, step outdoors.
Turn left out of the house, soon entering woods, then right, noting the young trees protected from browsing stock by a fence as the original copses reach maturity. At the cottage junction, go left and continue to the cowshed.
In summer the white cattle graze in front of Newton House, but in winter they’re kept indoors to give the ground a break, fed on hay from the wildflower meadows. One of only four herds in the UK, the cattle’s ancestors date back to at least the 10th century.
Ice and vistas
Head south through a gate, then right to the ice house. When winters were cold, pond ice was stored here in sacking and straw to refrigerate food in summer. Turn right on to the Brown Trail; in 1775, Capability Brown gave landscaping advice regarding the park’s groupings of trees, vistas and visual tricks.
Enter the deer park and walk south-east for 800m. The herd of fallow deer here are fed on Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout winter when their pasture doesn’t provide adequate nutrition. Dinefwr has many ancient trees, including 300 oaks. Moss and lichens, including rare tree lungwort, populate the branches that the estate’s fallow deer can’t reach.
Look out for lilies and water mint in the mill pond. Detour to the bird hide to observe great white egrets, common teal, wigeon and tufted ducks overwintering on the oxbow lake. Return through the bog wood – a dark alder carr, where decaying trees harbour fungi. Note Castle Field on your right, a flower-rich hay meadow (98% of which have disappeared since the Second World War) contributing to Dinefwr Park’s status as a National Nature Reserve, then return, as light fades, to Newton House, where mulled wine, mince pies and firelight await.
Click on the map below for an interactive version of the route.