The Wain House at Holt Farm lrBerrington Hall lr
L-R: The Wain House and Berrington Hall

By Tim Saunders

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”

I spy this quote in the window of one of the many bookshops in Hay on Wye during our trip to Herefordshire and Wales.

There are about 20 bookshops in this historic little town, home to the famous literary festival. We enjoy traipsing around some of them. For some time I have been on the lookout for a James Herriot book featuring a cover by the acclaimed Hampshire cartoonist Norman Thelwell but despite my best efforts Hay on Wye was unable to deliver. Almost everywhere you look in this picturesque place with its narrow streets, there are books in traditional shops, stalls and alleyways. It is certainly a browser’s delight. The Largest Secondhand Bookshop is just how a bookshop should be, incredibly inviting and Harriett (4) and Heidi (2) are instantly drawn to the children’s reading area.

Our base for this trip is the Wain House at Holt Farm in Michaelchurch Escley, very much off the beaten track in a quiet rural location. Approached by a long gravel driveway it is a development of four holiday cottages and barns. “The barns are Grade 2 listed,” reveals co-owner Ruth Christopher, who runs this business with husband, Gordon. “We converted these about 10 years ago and because they are listed there were strict planning requirements that we had to stick to such as the type and size of staircases we installed.” The Wain House is a conversion of a splendid stone barn and has plenty of character. Its large windows allow a good amount of light into the construction, which is all on one level. Good sized rooms and good quality furnishings make for a comfortable environment. There are two bedrooms and a shower room. “The hot tubs have proved very popular,” adds Ruth. It is certainly a pleasure to sit in it after a long day climbing the Black Mountains where you can savour the beautiful landscape, listen to the bird song and just contemplate.

Holt Farm is very much a working farm. With its 200 acres of land and 200 Hereford cattle Ruth and Gordon’s son runs the farm, which is entirely geared to producing beef. During our stay Harriett and Heidi thoroughly enjoy running up the garden to greet the friendly cows.

There are plenty of opportunities for picnics during the holiday and the first of these is on our way to Abergavenny along the Gospel Path from Hay on Wye where there is some breathtaking scenery. Here we stop at The Black Mountains overlooking the Wye Valley and the Golden Valley. There are plenty of sheep and we watch paragliders having the time of their lives in the summer sun.

In this part of the world there are some splendid National Trust properties, which make great days out. Berrington Hall is near Leominster with its fabulous garden designed by Capability Brown who designed about 80 gardens during his lifetime. We learn that some of the trees have now reached 300 years old and that this is the age where they need replacing and so the process has begun. During our visit Berrington Hall shows some of the costumes from BBC period dramas and there is also an opportunity to try some on, which we all thoroughly enjoy. It is in the secondhand bookshop that to my surprise I find a James Herriot softback with a Thelwell cover. We all enjoy trying to play a game of croquet on the lawn and the natural play area is a favourite with the girls.

The Weir is another National Trust property that we have to visit. It is a tranquil setting by the water where we spot caterpillars hanging on a thread from the trees. There is a lovely rockery and pond area. Benches are dotted about throughout allowing visitors to experience the beautiful views with the rolling hills behind. We enjoy sitting on the deckchairs; there are two for children, too. After our picnic by the waters edge we enjoy basking in the afternoon sunshine while the minstrels amuse themselves with the deckchairs. It provides daddy with a chance to catch 40 winks which mummy is annoyed about because she always remains on guard. And sitting in the walled garden provides a chance to marvel at the work of National Trust volunteers. The well stocked garden together with its well looked after glasshouse is a joy to behold with its vast amount of produce. The girls enjoy running around. It is hard to beat a National Trust property for a good family outing.

At Monmouth we stroll around the town and have the pleasure of listening to John Tribe play his electric ukulele while we sup our drinks outside a pub by the town square. Harriett and Heidi even have a dance.  

Ross on Wye
Check in at Holt Farm
Hay on Wye
The Black Mountains
Berrington Hall
The Weir
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