Mutterings of a Fool

Man, Dad, Runner, Chief dog walker

Tag: wales

A little slice of Welsh heaven

This is the view from our front door, forget the rest of the house this view alone had us sold before we even set foot inside. Even now I have to pinch myself a little bit that I get to look at this as I get dressed in the morning and as I shut the curtains at night. Whilst we don’t live in the Brecon Beacons National Park itself those hills opposite are inside the boundaries and we pass that lovely burning beacon sign every time we drive somewhere. 

The area

The Western side of the Brecon Beacons is definitely less well known than the Eastern side with Abergavenny, Crickhowell and Brecon to name a few towns that are firmly on the tourist and outdoor enthusiast paths. But I encourage you to drive a little further and explore this quieter side and the area towards mid Wales. Simply stunning and you’ll find some fabulous small towns with independent shops and quiet forests where you can go for miles without seeing another person.

Not that we knew much about this area when we started looking, but the more we saw the more we realised we’d discovered some wonderful. The search brought us this direction purely from a monetary point of view, as we widened our search area North from where my job is we discovered our budget went that little further and ticked a few more boxes on the wish list. (if we could have stretched another 100k it could have bought the perfect house, always the way of course). For us the location also worked for my commute towards Swansea, about 50 minutes door to door, which isn’t perfect but is doable. However coming home and slotting back into countrylife soon makes it ok. 

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A Welsh adventure

Helllooo – ooo – ooo, is anyone there, there , there? *Taps on screen* So, it’s, ahem, been a while. 2 months shy of 2 years in fact since I posted here, I’ve written a few posts over on my running blog but fair to say I’ve lost the urge to write.

But an awful lot has changed since that last post (still making awesome sourdough though which was the subject of that last post), we’ve moved countries for one. Which is the main subject for this post, I thought it was about time I shared a little update about this Welsh adventure we’ve embarked on and some of the plans we’re making for the future.

I’ve written in the past about the dream of finding a job that isn’t in an office, or a job that is more closely linked to my passion for running, cycling and the outdoors. The Lady of the Manor and I have also always dreamed of owning a smallholding and trying to live a simpler life. So at the end of 2017 as I found myself in a job that I really wasn’t enjoying and was becoming quite stressful we decided to stop talking about the dream and just get on and do it. After all, if it doesn’t work out we could always move back again.

So that’s the reason why we decided to make a change but where does Wales fit in? Quite simply Wales ticks a lot of boxes for us; the countryside is stunning and perfect for running and cycling, house prices are lower if you’re willing to be away from the major south coast cities (perfect for us) but there are still reasonable employment opportunities for us both. What we hadn’t expected to find was such great small towns full of life and independent shops or such a welcoming and fun community, particularly at school.

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Bluestone – the home of free range holidays?

I learnt 3 things during our stay at Bluestone:

1 – It is impossible to explain to a 2.5 year old the difference between Wales and whales. He was extremely disappointed not to see any whales in the water as we crossed the bridge into Whales. Then on the way home he said “but daddy, we can’t go home we didn’t see the whales”.

2 – I’d really like to live in a wooden lodge; the accommodation at Bluestone is in the form of the classic wooden lodges and I was quite amazed at the space we had given that it was a relatively small building. 4 very large bedrooms, 3 bathrooms and an open plan living area. Change the downstairs bedroom into a playroom and the bathroom into a utility room and you’d have a pretty perfect house to live in. I love the simplicity of it and the open plan feel. Plus with the double height sitting room you could have one massive Christmas tree!

3 – family holidays are all about making memories; it’s as much about the journey as the actual destination. Which may sound a bit corny but if you ask Matilda what her favourite thing on the holiday was she’ll tell you that it was driving around in the golf buggy rather than the activity at the end of the drive.

Bluestone lodges

During our stay at Bluestone we had gales, a small tornado, hail, snow, rain and some sunshine. Yet even with this crazy weather we had a great time, although it does of course help that we’re happy to throw on our waterproofs and head out in most types of weather. The park is set in beautiful countryside and centred around a lake and small village at the bottom of a valley that contains most of the restaurants along with a few shops. This being Wales it definitely isn’t flat and going anywhere involves a few hills, worth keeping in mind if you have little ones like us or aren’t as mobile. The site is car free so we hired a golf buggy for the week to get around when we needed to travel a little further or wanted to save the kids energy for the playground.

What I liked about Bluestone was that even in the depths of January there were loads of activities on offer, most of which you can prebook before your trip if you want. I imagine that would be essential in the busy summer months but was less of a big deal for us. The activities ranged from baby sensory and messy play through to kayaking, archery and bug hunting. In fact as you can probably guess it’s the outdoor ones and more adventure type ones that appealed the most to me. However I would say that a lot of the activities are geared to older children than ours, certainly the more active ones like rock climbing or watersports. I can’t wait until Matilda is old enough to do rock climbing and the high ropes courses, we’re going to have so much fun!

Jumping in puddles

On the really wet days we went swimming and used the indoor soft play area, although we almost didn’t make it swimming as we didn’t have enough adults to meet the pool’s rules on supervision. Thankfully Ella was staying at the same time and was our extra adult. Matilda absolutely loved the flowing river that took us outside while Henry and Rupert stayed in the little pool that was just a few inches deep. Unfortunately I couldn’t indulge my big kid desire to go on the chutes this time which curl around the outside of the building.

On the Thursday we finally had a good block of sunny weather so we headed out for a stomp through the forest near camp smokey with Matilda eyeing up the zip wires across the valley. We’d only planned a short walk but ended up walking all the way down the valley to the village jumping in muddy puddles and trying not to scare all the wildlife away. We then dived into the Knights tavern for lunch just before the hail started again and for some warmth next to the log fire. I was actually quite impressed with the food in the pub, I’m definitely a bit of a food snob but the food wasn’t the mass produced chain pub food I expected and was really quite good. There are lots of mentions around the site about the use of local food and that was clear in the deserts and the tasty local ice cream!

Walking down the boardwalk at Bluestone

We definitely enjoyed our time at Bluestone but there are a couple of changes that could take the park a little closer to perfection. First none of the restaurants in the village open before 12pm, you do have the option of the shop or bakery but if you want a cooked meal 12pm is the earliest. If you have children the age of mine you want to be eating before this, or at least ordering. Given the site is set up to be family friendly I was a bit surprised at the timings. The second thing is in the lodges, they already have stair gates fitted which is great, but I’d have loved to see it go a little further. There was no child cutlery or china in the kitchen and it would be great to have a step in the bathrooms for them to use with the toilet and at the sink. Little things (literally) but they do make a difference.

The big question of course is would I go again? Yes, but is my answer. For me 5 days there was long enough; while I enjoyed not getting in the car at all during the week part of the reason I like going on holiday is to explore and discover new places. By the end of the week I was ready for a change of scenery and to see more than the parks roads etc. But if we had older children I can certainly see the attraction of having so many things for them to do, you could easily send them off each day for half a day to do a high ropes course or kayaking and then have time to yourself.

A quick stop off at Tenby on the way home to enjoy the beautiful January sun

A quick stop off at Tenby on the way home to enjoy the beautiful January sun