Pant yr Hwch Feather Down Farm, West Wales, June 2012
Driving down the M4 a couple of weeks ago with the rain lashing against the car, windscreen wipers working furiously and reports of major flooding in West Wales dominating the news reports on the radio, I was questioning the wisdom of our glamping holiday. Would we have to paddle to our tent? Would it be like Glastonbury (all that mud?!) just without the brilliant music? Would our rental car even make it along the farm track? Surely a Range Rover would have been more appropriate. We were going to the countryside after all!
Fortunately all my worries were unfounded (including the need for a luxury four wheel drive ;) and our week spent at Pant yr Hwch, a Feather Down farm, in Ceredigion near the stunning west coast of Wales was absolutely brilliant. Set on a hill overlooking lush green fields, beautiful valleys and woods, Pant yr Hwch farm is an 11 acre smallholding run by the utterly delightful Martin Jones and his wife Ann. From the moment we drove down the farm track for the first time (very slowly – running down one of the farm’s rare breed Torddu Badger Face sheep or chickens would not have been an ideal start to our adventure) Martin made us feel wonderfully welcome, so much so that by the end of our stay we were contemplating asking whether Martin had room to take on two (admittedly rather inexperienced) farmhands!
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Feather Down Farm Days concept, Feather Down farms were the pioneers of luxury/glamorous camping (hence “glamping”) on working farms in the UK. While you won’t find cashmere throws, a choice of pillows, luxury toiletries or even a shower in your tent (the shower block with gloriously hot water is located a short stroll away), the spacious wooden floored canvas tent is a world away from the kind of camping experience which fills me with dread (i.e. tents which require a Masters degree to erect and then leak at the slightest hint of rain, air mattresses which mysteriously deflate at 2am in the morning, damp sleeping bags, having to make a mad dash across a pitch black paddock to the toilet block in the middle of the night or worst, no toilet block at all!*). Divided into a living area, master bedroom, bunk bedroom, sweet “cupboard bed” –which sleeps one adult or two littlies - plus a flushing toilet (yeees!)**, the Feather Down tent allows you to experience camping without the hassle. A wood burning stove, which admittedly takes a little getting used too – I think our record was an entire block of fire starters in one day! – sits in the centre of the tent and is where we tended to gravitate after the sun had gone down. There is nothing quite so satisfying than sitting around a warm fire in your pj’s with a glass of wine, a bowl of comforting soup and Ann’s toasted homemade sourdough bread, a good book, candles and lanterns twinkling in the darkness with just the sounds of nature occasionally breaking the silence (in our case this was a baby Tawny owl having a spirited conversation with his mama and the occasional cow mooing on a neighboring farm).
At Pant yr Hwch the 5 tents, Olwen (our tent for the week and named after one of the farm’s ewes – apparently she is a little bug eyed but the brains of the farm’s sheep gang!), Lulu, Kelloggs, Sali-Mali and Olga, are located in a lovely undulating meadow just below the farmhouse and barn. Each tent has its own picnic table right outside where you can sit, eat and drink while enjoying the stunning vistas plus a campfire for toasting marshmallows and making s’mores. With only one other tent occupied by a lovely family from Manchester (the kids are in the photos above!) and the tents spaced generously apart, the farm was incredibly peaceful. During the day the silence was only broken by the friendly sheep and lambs munching on the grass beside our tent, the farm’s resident cockerel, Kelloggs, noisily rounding up his harem of hens, the occasional giggle and squeal of delight from the kids from the neighboring tent, a cheery hello from Martin in his lovely Welsh lilt and the soothing pitter-patter of rain hitting the canvas tent on a couple of afternoons.
Martin and Ann, who both grew up in the Welsh countryside not far from Pant yr Hwch, purchased the property in early 2008 and have lovingly, painstakingly restored the farmhouse and barn to their former glory***. They farm in a traditional manner as organically and slowly as possible, giving the animals time to have a lovely free-range life, with the view to becoming self-sufficient over the next few years. Apart from sheep and chickens, the farm has two little donkeys, bees, ducks and two beautiful Mangalista wooly pigs, Lulu – who is rather rotund and currently on a diet to reduce her girth - and Ruby who both had a litter of piglets earlier this year. The piglets will, deep breath, eventually go to piggy heaven with some of the bacon, sausages and gammon that they, um, provide sold in the farm shop. All guest veggie scraps are fed to the pigs (we spent a good 30 minutes one afternoon doing just that) and each morning I headed to the chicken coop to see if the hens had laid any eggs for our breakfast. I admit that I may have got a wee bit competitive with the littlies from the other tent comparing egg hauls! Curiously, their chickens always seem to lay many more than ours.
Things to Do: To be honest, once we arrived at the farm and discovered how pretty and peaceful it was, all we wanted to do was sit, read, relax and watch the world go by. That is the thing about the Feather Down farms experience – the farms are located in such picturesque locations that it is tempting just to spend your entire break at the farm. However we did manage to explore the local area with recommendations from Martin.
The highlights: Mwnt church and beach (simply beautiful. Stunning views, clean sandy beach, sheep dotting the cliff top, dolphins and seals in the water if you are lucky).
The walk from Llanerchaeron (a National Trust property) into the fishing village of Aberaeron (try the honey ice-cream from the Hive On the Quay)
Ceredigion Coastal Path (we just did a small walk near Llangrannog which was spectacular)
Eat: One of the lovely things about Pant yr Hwch is that it has a fantastic farm Honesty Shop in the restored barn with delicious meals and treats prepared by Ann as well as basic supplies. While we were there, Ann had stocked the freezer with homemade bolognaise and chili con carne which you can reheat on the wood-burning stove (both were so delicious we took some back with us to London) plus loaves of homemade sourdough bread and rolls. There is meat from the farm, Welsh butter and cheeses, milk, coffee, wine plus moist freshly baked chocolate cake (which I had to mentally squeeze from my mind each time I passed the barn), rocky road and biscuits, Elderflower champagne and cordial, homemade jams and chutneys (wild damson and apple jam, wild plum jam, wild hedgerow blackberry jam, apple and ginger jam). Ann is certainly an amazing cook!
The farm shop doesn’t stock fruit and veggies, so we stocked up at The Organic Fresh Food Company in Lampeter and Blaencamel Organic Farm.
On the way to Wales we had lunch at The Bladebone Inn in Bucklebury which was excellent (try the fish and chips).
In West Wales we had lunch at The Ship in Llangrannog which was lovely spot for a drink after a bracing walk along the spectacular cliff top Ceredigion Coast Path. The 25 Mile restaurant in Cardigan is also worth checking out (the warm homemade bread and butter was particularly delicious).
This was our second visit to a Feather Down farm and I absolutely loved both experiences (we went a couple of years ago to a different farm with two of our best friends) and just writing this makes me want to go back again! Martin was explaining that a lot of their bookings this year are repeat clients from last year and I can understand why. I think it would be brilliant for a girls weekend away, a special family gathering or, if, like us, you just like to retreat to the country every now and then.
*all of which I experienced as a Girl Guide and at High School – marvelous fun when you are a teenager but not something I would relish doing now.
**which flushes with great gusto and efficiency! No dodgy plumbing here.
*** you can find Martin’s blog about their journey here.
We stayed at Pant yr Hwch courtesy of Feather Down farms.
p.s. There are a lot of photos here and a lot of writing - I am the world's worst editor of my own work!