Merthyr Mawr Warren National Nature Reserve, near Bridgend

Wildlife haven with the highest sand dune in Wales

What's here

This site and trails are open - please see more details on this web page.


The car park and toilets here are operated by the Merthyr Mawr Estate.


Coronavirus update


The Welsh Government is introducing national measures from Monday 9 November.


They apply to everyone living or travelling in Wales.


Our sites and most visitor facilities remain open but people are advised to avoid non-essential travel as much as possible.


Visiting your local site safely


We have changed the normal route for some of our trails to help you maintain social distancing – please follow signs on site.


Please remember to wear a mask when going inside one of our buildings.


You can check-in via the NHS app when entering one of our buildings – scan the QR-code on the NHS Covid-19 poster on site.



Set on the South Wales coast, Merthyr Mawr Warren National Nature Reserve is home to the highest dune in Wales, known as the Big Dipper.

The dune system here is like no other in Wales, partly due to the huge area it covers – it extends to 840 acres (the size of 340 international rugby pitches!).

Merthyr Mawr is a haven for wildlife. Sand has settled on top of the ancient limestone cliffs creating a special habitat for insects, fungi and plants.

There are also grasslands, saltmarsh, beach and woods within the reserve.

Flints from the Stone Age, burial mounds and pottery from the Bronze Age, hearths from the Iron Age, and Roman tiles have all been discovered here.

Walking trails

The walking trails are waymarked from start to finish.

Look out for the information panel at the start of the trails.

Find out about walking trail grades.

Big Dipper Walk

  • Grade: strenuous
  • Distance: ½ mile/1 kilometre 
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Trail information: There is a steep climb uphill on soft sand.

Climb the highest sand dune in Wales, known locally as the Big Dipper, which is actually a dune formed on top of a limestone ridge.

Enjoy the spectacular views from the top over the estuary.

Return through shady trees and over a bridge to the car park.

Beach Walk

  • Grade: moderate
  • Distance: 2.4 miles/3.6 kilometres (there and back)
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Trail information: This trail crosses loose sand and meanders its way through the dunes.

If you want to get straight to the beach, cross the bridge and follow the waymarked Beach Walk.

Along the way, you will experience Merthyr Mawr Warren’s sand dunes and its variety of wildlife and habitats.

Horse riding trails

The horse riding trails are waymarked from start to finish.

Look out for the information panel at the start of the trails.

You need a permit to ride these trails.

Horse boxes can park in Candleston pay and display car park.

Stream and Saltmarsh

  • Grade: Moderate
  • Distance: 2½ miles/3.8 kilometres
  • Time: 1 hour

Enjoy the views and wildlife of the River Ogmore and the variety of habitats found in the sand dunes.

Burrows Well

  • Grade: Moderate
  • Distance: 2½ miles/4 kilometres
  • Time: 1¼ hours

Burrows Well is a limestone spring unique in Wales.

Beach and Plateau

  • Grade: Moderate
  • Distance: 4½ miles/7.2 kilometres
  • Time: 2½ hours

Ride a stretch of sandy beach and enjoy the panoramic views of the coast from the limestone ridge.

Horse riding permit

You need a permit to ride the horse riding trails at Merthr Mawr.

Permits are available from the Merthyr Mawr Estate Office, CF32 0LR or telephone 01656 662413.

Wales Coast Path

The Wales Coast Path provides a continuous walking route around the coastline of Wales.

You can join the Wales Coast Path from the Candleston car park.

The route goes through the reserve and onto the beach before heading along the coast towards Porthcawl.

Go to the Wales Coast Path website to find out more.

What to see at the National Nature Reserve

The landscape and wildlife varies at Merthyr Mawr Warren National Nature Reserve depending on which time of year you visit – here’s what to look out for.

Wildflowers and fungi

Flowers colour the dunes throughout the year in a succession of purples, yellows and blues.

In spring there are violets and wild pansies followed by orchids in summer.

A rich range of fungi emerge in the autumn alongside flowers like autumn ladies-tresses and autumn gentian.


The combination of a comparatively warm sunny site, lots of nectar from wildflowers and easy-to-burrow-into sandy soils creates an ideal home for a wide range of insects.

Look out for striking red-caped cinnabar moths from May, followed by equally showy and similarly coloured six-spot burnet moths.

Butterflies include grizzled and dingy skippers, dark green fritillaries, small heaths and common and small blues.


The warm conditions provided by the sand dunes provide ideal conditions for a number of reptiles including adders, common lizards, grass snakes and slow worms.

National Nature Reserves in Wales

There are over 70 National Nature Reserves in Wales.

National Nature Reserves are areas of the countryside where special examples of Britain’s habitats and wildlife are protected.

Find out more about National Nature Reserves.

Visitor information

Candleston car park and the toilets are operated by the Merthyr Mawr Estate.

There is a catering van in the car park which is open seasonally.

Please keep dogs on leads or under close control on the reserve.

For your safety:

  • Do not dig holes or tunnels in the sand dunes - sand can collapse and suffocate you.
  • There are countless rabbit holes in the dunes – wear boots which support your ankle, even on paths.
  • Sea buckthorn spines can scratch and puncture the skin – take care when passing.
  • Livestock graze the dunes - if you encounter cattle, move quietly around the herd if possible.
  • Adders live on the reserve - please leave them alone.

Closures and diversions

  • Sometimes we need to close or divert trails for your safety whilst we undertake maintenance work or other operations.
  • We may have to close a site in extreme weather, such as high winds or snow and ice, due to the risk of injury to visitors or staff.
  • Please always follow any instructions on site and any temporary diversion signs.

How to get here


Merthyr Mawr Warren National Nature Reserve is four miles south west of Bridgend.

The reserve is located in Bridgend.


From Bridgend take the B4265 to Candleston Castle and Merthyr Mawr Warren.

At the roundabout take the third exit onto the A48.

Turn off to the left when you reach Merthyr mawr Road.

Follow this road until you reach the Candleston car park.

Ordnance Survey map

Merthyr Mawr is on Ordnance Survey (OS) map 151.

The OS grid reference for the Candleston car park is SS 871 772.

Public transport

The nearest mainline railway station is in Bridgend.

There is a bus service from Bridgend bus station to the village of Newton at the westerly end of the reserve.

For details of public transport go to the Traveline Cymru website.


The main car park for Merthyr Mawr is the Candleston car park.

This car park is owned and managed by Merthyr Mawr Estate.

There is a parking charge. 

Contact details

0300 065 3000

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