Sometimes, you don’t need to go very far at all to get away from it all. Penhein Glamping is the perfect example. This secluded woodland retreat lies just 30 miles or so from Cardiff, and less than an hour from Bristol, the city that WildBounds calls home. But it’s a world away from urban life – not to mention the hustle of our busy warehouse.
It proved to be the perfect setting for a weekend away with the WildBounds team and their families. Penhein is a tranquil glampsite nestled in a beautiful, coppiced wood on a sprawling 450-acre Welsh hill farm. Go to the top of the site and you'll get panoramic views over Bristol, Portishead and the River Severn. Somehow, that faint reminder of city life still going on, way over there, only makes a weekend stay feel even more peaceful.
These days, going ‘glamping’ has seemingly become the preferred way to ‘do’ the great outdoors for everyone from VIP festival goers to cutesy mummy bloggers. It’s regularly featured in Sunday supplements and glossy lifestyle magazines. In fact, it’s become so ubiquitous that in 2016, the word was even added to the Oxford English Dictionary. A portmanteau of ‘glamorous’ and ‘camping’, the OED now defines glamping as “a form of camping that involves accommodation and facilities more luxurious than those associated with traditional camping”.
However, it was a novel experience for most of us here at WildBounds. After all, our team are generally more accustomed to backpacking, bike touring and bedding down in bothies and bunkhouses. In other worlds, slumming it. So, this was a proper treat.
And we were treated very well indeed. Penhein does ‘luxury’ properly. The accommodation consists of eight splendid ‘alachigh’ tents, each set in its own private woodland glade – though describing them as mere tents does them a disservice. An alachigh is a lofty canvas-covered dome, halfway between a yurt and a tipi, originally used by nomadic Shahsavan Persians. A central wooden crown is held in place by steam-bent timbers that arch upwards from the ground. Inside, they’re flooded with light and air. The elegantly curved wooden ribs provide a natural framework for a decor that combines the exotic colours and patterns of the Middle East with a rustic country charm. Opening the hobbit-y wooden door and stepping through the threshold comes with a feeling of instant relaxation. Basically, you leave your worries outside with your wellies.
All the alachighs have comfortable double beds, plus two single truckles and a sofa bed. They also have their own ensuite flushing loo (a dealbreaker for so many people, it seems), and three have their own shower unit too. The other five each have a dedicated private bathroom just a short walk away, situated in a modern, underfloor-heated shower block – four fitted with cascading rainfall showers. The last, allocated to The Coombe – just in case you’re tempted to book – boasts a heavenly roll-top bath (which got a ringing endorsement from one of the WildBounds crew, who craftily snuck away late on the Saturday night to enjoy a relaxing soak).
In addition, each alachigh has its own cosy wood burner, with a ready stack of logs and kindling, giving you the chance to hone your fire lighting skills over the course of your stay. Fortunately, while we were there, WildBounds stalwart Rob took it upon himself to be fire marshal for the weekend, literally keeping the home fires burning to ensure everybody enjoyed a cosy return to their alachigh. (If you’re not lucky enough to have a Rob, the hosts and owners can give you a helping hand to coax those flames into life).
You also get plenty of other home comforts, including custom-made cool boxes, fresh towels, bedding and blankets. There’s a fully equipped kitchen with store cupboard staples, cooking utensils and crockery, including vintage-style enamel mugs that are the perfect receptacles for hot chocolate or camp coffee. A nice touch is the paraffin Feuerhand lanterns, which cast a wonderfully warm glow. The complimentary welcome hampers were also well-received by the WildBounds squad, with the Welsh shortbread demolished shortly after arrival…
Tempting as it was to hang out in the tents and scoff sweet treats, we spent most of our weekend gathered in the three communal areas. First up there was Cheat’s Kitchen, so-called for its electric hobs and kettles (great for a quick morning coffee hit), as well as its well-stocked Penhein Pantry, where you can purchase everything from local ice cream to marshmallows for toasting over the fire.
We also got well acquainted with Petro, a cosy hang-out furnished with sofas, armchairs and beanbags. This proved a great space to eat, drink and chat in the evenings. It was also where we enjoyed Saturday night talks from our two guest speakers, invited along for the weekend: Alaskan cabin-dweller, transatlantic sailor, former scallop-diver and writer Guy Grieve and ‘urban mermaid’ Lindsey Cole (also an environment-championing cold-water swimmer and adventurer).
The third communal space was Chehel Souton, apparently named after the grand pavilions in which 17th-century Persian kings threw lavish celebrations. It’s a giant open canopy, stretched out between the trees, with ample seating for breakfast, lunch or dinner – we enjoyed all three, and the food on offer was pretty lavish too, thanks to friendly off-site caterers The Hogfather.
But Penhein is about far more than just first-class facilities – and that’s really why we all fell in love with it. The crew took time to wander through the woods and meadows, leaving kids to explore the adventure playground, before gathering around the campfire, gazing up at the stars amidst a hubbub of laughter and conversation (aided and abetted by mobile horse-trailer bar The Shepherds Crook). It was a great reminder that often, the best things in life are also the simplest ones: like enjoying great company in great surroundings.
It’s something that the hosts at Penhein seem to understand intimately. The place is owned by Helen Hearn, who comes from solid Monmouthshire farming stock. Her family have been at Penhein for over 150 years. They operate the glampsite in a low impact way, where sustainability and environmentalism are carefully considered – not surprising, given the place’s natural beauty. But for us here at WildBounds, where we try to be similarly climate-conscious, it felt like a genuine affinity with like-minded folk. And in her tips for first-time visitors, Helen’s advice pretty much sums up our weekend: “Be prepared to slow down and keep your eyes and ears open. Glamping at Penhein is about sharpening your senses and enjoying the natural world… And at the end of the day, nothing beats sitting round the campfire, swapping stories”.
It’s fair to say, we were all well and truly won over – even the seasoned wild campers amongst the team, who tend to eschew luxury out of principle. As one of our copywriters casually underplayed it: “I’ve never been glamping before. It’s alright, isn’t it?” That same staffer was later found contentedly sprawled out in his alachigh, having taken the time to light every single candle, lantern and tealight. We think it’s safe to assume he was a convert to the luxury lifestyle.
Predictably, when Sunday afternoon arrived, we were reluctant to go – Penhein is certainly a place that is difficult to leave. Fortunately, it’s easy to go back to. So, if you’re looking for a weekend of countryside bliss – whether you’re treating a partner, planning a weekend away with friends and family, or even if you need a great venue for a larger gathering like ours – you could do a lot worse than head to this lovely little spot in the Monmouthshire hills.
Penhein prices range from £140 per unit per night to £231 per unit per night according to season. Minimum stay 2 nights. Each of the alachighs sleeps up to five, with a double bed (or two singles), a large sofa bed for an extra adult and two truckle beds for children or small adults. penhein.co.uk
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