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 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.
The house itself is an early 1800’s (not sure on exact date yet) farmhouse, but not your traditional small windowed, low roof farmhouse. This is big, with massive windows and high ceilings. The walls are at least half a metre thick and I’m sure haven’t moved a millimetre since they were laid. The barns and most other outbuildings have been converted into houses around 10 years ago and the farmhouse itself has been modernised by the previous owners who rewired it, put in central heating and did most of the windows. It gives us a nice combination of peace but not being isolated which was the worry, as much as my natural tendency is to be a recluse it really isn’t good for us to be cut off.
Lots of work still do to though, as I’m learning that’s the reality of a smallholding, always jobs to do! We’ve changed the last couple of windows to double glazing already and started renovating a downstairs room and bedroom into an AirBnB room. It has an outside door and is self contained so should be perfect and give us some extra income. It’s taken a while but I think we’re on the home straight with that now, just some finishing touches in the bathroom and then all will be revealed.
Externally we’ve learnt an awful lot about land management already, we’ve even had our first hay cut and bailed which was awesome. Alas I didn’t get to drive the tractor myself this time, but interesting to learn about the quality of the hay and timing of the cut etc. In the smallest of our 3 fields I’ve had to get very friendly with our strimmer and spent a good few hours cutting back long grass to save paying for a contractor who would struggle given the size of the field. I’ve also been trying to research how we can manage the land in a sustainable way, supporting the growth of diverse meadows that support wildlife as well as feed animals. Certainly seems to be a growing movement in that direction which helps, but so much to learn still. Establishing an approach to farming like Wild by Nature who are on the opposite side of the Beacons to us would definitely be a long term goal.
I’ve also been busy getting the polytunnel working and some veg growing in our beds. Not all successful and definitely took a long time to get going, it takes a while to get warm enough here for seeds to grow so I need an indoor option to get things going next year. But even the small amount grown so far has given us a taste (literally) of what we can achieve. The spinach has been delicious and we’ve got more cucumbers than we know what to do with right now. I’ve discovered the no dig approach to vegetable growing which I’m fully sold on and learnt how infuriating it is when a crow pulls up and kills your sweetcorn plants for the 3rd time. The plan for the autumn is to top up the beds with some compost and also build some covers to keep off the bugs.
We also have our first animals on the smallholding; some rescue chickens were the first addition (and loss thanks to Mr Fox) and this weekend we’ve added 3 sheep to the family which suddenly makes it all feel very real. A big part of our motivation to have a smallholding is to be partially self sufficient. Rearing our own meat is a big part of that and hopefully this time next year we’ll have our own lamb to eat. I’m interested to see how we all cope with seeing our food go from the field to our plates, we’ve been very open with the children what the intention is and so far they’re ok with it. But clearly it might feel very different when it comes to actually doing it.
You also realise when farming at any scale how few male animals are needed in the process. In all cases it’s the females that do the work and the few boys kept get a bit of fun for a few weeks then it’s back off to their own fields again. Just hope the Lady of the Manor doesn’t get any ideas!
Matilda is determined to have a goat to look after, which we would keep for meat and also milk. But that may be something for next year. We have also debated pigs but personally I don’t think we have the land we want to give over to them so for now at least that’s on hold. The only other food related discussion has been bees, we all like the idea of having bee hives and harvesting honey. But of all the animals bees frighten me the most simply because the rest are unlikely to attack me! However it would be great to support a bee colony or two for environmental reasons if nothing else.
Who knows how we’ll evolve over the next few years, if Matilda and the Lady of the Manor have anything to do with we’ll have a menagerie of animals including at least 4 dogs. So far though I’m sticking to my policy of no new animals unless they provide food in some way. All I know is that it’s going to be hard work and a bit of an adventure.
Let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like to know about having a smallholding or living in this part of Wales.