Escape the rat race at Old Farm, Snowdonia
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I had a fantastic weekend away in North Wales a few weeks ago with Sheepskin Life, a Wheatley-based company with a crack list of lodges and houses, mostly in Wales but others dotted around the Cotswolds, the Peak District, Exmoor and Scotland too. I’ve used Rural Retreats, English Country Cottages etc in the past but the service from Sheepskin Life is definitely superior (personalised suggested itineraries through the post, posh welcome goodie packs) and their lodges/retreats are definitely on the cooler side.
I stayed at Old Farm (above), a remote farm house near Bala in Snowdonia, down multiple winding lanes (I’d recommend finding it in daylight if you value your sanity) through several five-bar gates and into a place of tranquility and fresh air where WIFI and mobile phones fear to tread. Given that Mr Muddy and I live life attached to telecommunications equipment, I loved not having to check my phone every ten minutes, and being able to properly relax.
The barn was typically Welsh – all that lovely local stone – but was obviously recently renovated and had lots of mod cons inside, underfloor heating, a big TV, a slick modern kitchen, oak floorboards. There were some quirks, like the bottled water (there’s no water supply) and a slightly temperamental shower, but there’s a massive verandah to the back that would be amazing in spring/summer, and there’s a view that literally runs for miles. Below is the vista as we went up our driveway. Not bad is it?
We were kind of nowhere and yet in the middle of everything too – close enough to the coast to see the castles and bang in walking/tourist territory too. It was a stunning 45 minute drive from Old Farm to Porthmadog and the Ffestiniog Railway (the oldest working steam railway line in the world) where we caught the steam train up that took us for an hour through the gorgeous Snowdonian scenery. Tip: pay for the premium carriage at the front of the train directly behind the engine – your kids will have their noses glued to the windows.
Back at Porthmadog after our round trip, we realised we were only a few miles from Portmeirion, the quirky Italianate village created by Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 – 1976 and immortalised in The Prisoner series in the Sixties. Mr Muddy and I had had a lovely posh weekend there in Castell Deudraeth before our social life was rudely interrupted by children, so we decided to revisit it for the afternoon.
It’s undeniably beautiful and strange, and in a great position by the beach, but it’s definitely an outdoor place and I wouldn’t particularly recommend it in wet winter. There’s nothing going on and it cost us £30 to enter – a bit steep for the time of year I thought. So it was back to Old Farm and a family meal making use of that Sheepskin goodie pack of olive oil, salt and pepper, tea bags, and posh nibbles.
New morning, new energy. Mr Muddy and my 10 year old went off to do go-carting at Glan Y Gors Park, a state-of-the-art British grand prix circuit about 20 minutes away. They had it to themselves – you can see them whizzing around on the left side.
Then it was off to Conwy Castle. Wales has some of the most magnificent castles in the UK, really dramatic whoppers, and World Heritage Site Conwy, built from 1283, is one of the loveliest, its high walls wrapped around the town in a protective hug. The children absolutely loved it and so did we and we spent hours here.
We had plans to eat at a restaurant but we ended up at the Conwy Castle cafe instead and it did the job just fine. Then it was back to Old Farm for one last night of peace and quiet from life’s electronic chirruping. There was loads of stuff we didn’t get around to doing on our weekend – exploring Bala lake and trying the watersports, visiting Carmarthen castle, checking out Angelsey, trying the walks around the farm, going up Snowdonia itself. But North Wales is positioning itself rightly as an outdoor family paradise and Old Farm is a great launch pad to enjoy it.
3 nights at Old Farm starts is £690, 7 nights £1475. By the way, book a 5 night+ stay at any Sheepskin cottage for Jan-March before 31 Jan 2013 and you’ll get a ‘Relax and Indulge’ hamper for your stay. Nice work!