We got back from a holiday in a yurt at Old Chapel Farm in Powys last night. We were bowled over, and this article is a little advert for yurt holidays on farms and smallholdings in the UK, although several of the points below are specific to Old Chapel. The whole experience was completely authentic, with none of the sanitisation and commercialisation of corporate package holidays or resorts – an antidote to Center Parcs and the like.
1. the yurt
A yurt is a tradiional, circular Mongolian tent – more here. It has a collapsible wooden frame with a canvas cover and felt insulation. Ours had a wooden floor, a double bed, two settees, sheepskin rugs, a wood stove and a fire pit outside. There are two other yurts for rent around the farm. We had the buzzards and kites overhead during the day and owls at night, and we slept with the door open so that we could see the moon rise over the hills.
2. the view and the walks
From the yurt we had views of the surrounding hills and valleys, and we could walk for miles in all directions through forests, fields and along streams. Powys is a very underrated county I think. It doesn’t have the spectacular mountains of Snowdonia, but it has mile after mile of undulating landscape, generously forested and with possibly more hedgerows per square mile than anywhere else in the UK.
3. not flying
This is a big one. If you’re flying to a stag do in Prague, or a family holiday to Disneyland, you may not care, and you probably won’t be reading this. But if you love nature, what’s the point of flying to see it – because you’re damaging it at the same time? Sure, all transport damages nature to some extent, but not as much as flying. We’ll blog about this more soon, but a family of four travelling by car will produce around a quarter of the carbon emissions per person per kilometre than if they travel by plane. However, the three huge problems with flying are that a) the distances are much greater, so overall emissions will be much greater too; b) the emissions happen high in the atmosphere, which almost triples their negative effect; and c) air travel is increasing exponentially. See here for more information.
Why fly to a tourist destination where you will be treated as a source of money only, and the friendliness will be inauthentic?
4. the stars
We sat around the fire with people who knew about stars and planets, and who described the various constellations to us. Also, as well as the spectacular moonrises, we were lucky enough to be in clear-skied Powys during a meteor shower, and we were treated to about two shooting stars per minute most nights.
5. the people
The owners of Old Chapel Farm, Fran and Kevin, are pretty inspirational people. Kevin obtained a PhD in archaeology after leaving school at 15 without any qualifications. Fran attempted to raise the money for some land when she was 23, by doing a ‘sponsored walk’ across the Sahara, during which time she spent time in an Algerian jail and got kidnapped by Tuaregs, but ended up buying a camel from them to continue her journey. She had battles with planners when it came to restoring the farmhouse – they said it was condemned. She won of course – she’s indomitable. Current projects include how to get round restrictions that prevent her selling her cheeses, meat and milk, building an Iron Age settlement with Iron Age tools, developing a network of communities around her farm and introducing a ‘pilgrimage trail’ around sustainable, community-based projects around Wales.
6. the farm
Holidaying in the UK can help small organic farms make ends meet. This particular farm was a joy to explore. Everywhere there were beautiful gardens, trees, ponds, outbuildings and wildlife. The farmhouse itself is 17th century, and they’ve restored it using natural building techniques and materials. There’s the old chapel that gave the farm its name, and there’s their son’s old school bus that he bought for £50, which now contains wood stove, breakfast tables, cooker and fridges for guests. We cooked some meals in the bus that we ate alfresco with the sun setting over the hills. Over the bus is a living roof, with solar panels to heat the shower (or you can light a fire if there’s no sun).
7. the food
We were allowed to pick fruit and veg from the trees and gardens, and we were given a basket of food from the farm on arrival, including peaches from the conservatory, chicken and duck eggs and and home-made wine. Food miles were converted to food feet, and if you don’t know what freshly-picked organic produce tastes like, you should. We ate with the family and WWOOFers one evening, and one afternoon, we cooked for everyone and ate in their beautiful dining room.
There was a barbecue one evening – everything was home-produced of course; highlights were home-made haloumi and wild parasol mushrooms. I’d never tasted parasols before, but they’re my new favourite mushroom.
8. WWOOFers and other guests
When we were there, there were WWOOFers from the US, Canada, Brazil, Spain and Germany. WWOOFers are volunteers on organic farms, who work around 6 hours per day in exchange for food and accommodation. They were a fascinating bunch. There were two families, one French and one English, each with three kids, in the other two yurts. A good time was had by all – playing with the dogs, bouncing on the trampoline, swinging on the rope swing in the woods, going on walks (and finding animal skulls) and making fires. The kids loved the yurts and the bus.
9. the singing
There’s nothing like sitting round a fire in the evening and having a good old sing-song (‘Lean on me’ was my favourite).
10. the bath
We had baths in the most beautiful bathroom imaginable, surrounded by candles, grapes, orange trees and jasmine. I’ll let the picture say the rest. This was indoors, btw.
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1jeremy August 12th, 2015
could i get some info on prices
2Dani Austin August 13th, 2015
This looks like a beautiful holiday. I hope more people are encouraged in the UK to holiday within the UK, or over to Europe via the train.
3Dave Darby August 13th, 2015
Click on Old Chapel website in article