NICK HAMMOND decamps en famille to Powys to test the restorative powers of an old-fashioned UK break – and discovers a laid-back land of woods and valleys…
OF course it rained.
Everyone said it would, and there were some jolly vigorous downpours during our week away in Wales.
But they failed to dampen our collective spirits one jot.
Just the sheer clean air; the rolling hills, measled with sheep; the chimney-potted pubs and the sleepy market towns along the way more than made up for the odd dash of precipitation.
Instead of joining the mass exodus of sun worshippers this August, we headed West, young man, with a carful of kids, dogs, bags and hope.
I take a particular joy in being a contrarian; so instead of heading south and west, we pointed firmly north and sidled across the border near Ludlow. And from then on in, as we threaded the passes between wooded valleys and forgotten villages, we stitched backwards and forwards between England and Mid Wales with abandon.
Sykes Cottages were our inspiration – hosting, as they do, hundreds of properties in every nook and cranny you’ve always fancied visiting. We plumped for Wales as we’ve never really done it justice.
With the girls laden with books and the adults laced with caffeine it wasn’t a traumatic journey. And late on Sunday night we trundled up the drive of Hillside in Churchstoke and wondered what it would look like come morning.
Homely is the answer. At the foot of Todleth Hill, this four-bed house is the perfect spot to dump your bags and take a deep breath. Formerly the family home of nearby owners Jan and Dave Leopold, it’s now appointed with every conceivable convenience for a home away from home for a family or small group.
Good coffee has been freshly ground; there’s Jan’s lemon drizzle cake waiting on the kitchen table; milk in the fridge, flowers on the sill. The woodburning stove is ticking gently and Beauty the black horse is scrumping fallen apples in the paddock at the rear. The rest is up to you.
Shrewsbury and Ludlow are within striking distance for a mooch; the postcard seaside town of Aberdovey around a pleasant hour’s drive. There’s a large and ugly supermarket over the road (screened, thankfully, by blackbird-encrusted conifers and beeches) so there’s nothing you can’t get your hands on in a flash.
The hill is steep but offers sweeping views across the landscape from above; and as is the norm in these enlightened times, a good gastro pub is no more than a few miles away.
Weather comes quick and often in Wales; at a wonderfully eccentric local village fete, scudding clouds and beatific sunshine punctuated a waggiest dog show and a (pre-planned) visit from the local fire brigade.
Bishop’s Castle is an eerily quiet old market town, but nearby Montgomery is thriving – grand Georgian buildings, a deli, coffee house and a supposedly excellent eatery which, by damned bad luck, was taking a well-earned sojourn during our visit.
But perhaps the children will most remember the outdoors; playing badminton in the garden; riding horses along country tracks at Long Mountain Centre and weathering first chilly winds then Mediterranean sunshine on the beach. This is what UK holidays are made of.
We’re not telly watchers as a rule, though of course there is one at Hillside, as well as full wifi coverage. The adults made more use of the decking and the help yourself vegetable plot, the plentiful dog walking, the wonderful silence and the excellent locally brewed Three Tuns.
We re-loaded the wagon five days later for a trouble-free trip home in around two and a half hours, sun-kissed, wind-blown and yes, a little rain-spattered.
Weathered. Like the finest Welsh Sandstone.
Sykes Cottages, www.sykescottages.co.uk, Tel 01244 356 695.
Scenic photos courtesy of VisitWales.