Hetty, Ken and their horses Liffey and Tolka travelled from Derbyshire to spend a fantastic 5 days exploring the wonderful riding around Mid Wales Bunkhouse. Here’s what they got up to.
Arrived! Drove down from Newtown to Rhayader on the main road to avoid what I expected to be twisty hilly narrow lanes. We followed the river down a valley and it was beautiful! A small terrier came to greet us. The whole place smells lovely.
John, who owns Mid Wales Bunkhouse, was waiting for us and immediately understood our need to get the horses out on a leg stretch before stabling them for the night. His assessment of the situation also included the likely characters of our horses as the type to rip into bales of haylege left in their vicinity. John and Ken heaved the huge bales out of reach of the stable doors.
The route choices John gave us included timings for walk only, or trot and canter. As we rode away he added “oh, and are you ok with gates?” there turned out to be about 8!!
Having settled the horses John showed us the bunkhouse. It was better than expected. It is warm, clean and big! Stalled for 20 we were the only 2 rattling around, thanks to Covid.
John came round and we studied maps. He’d emailed me in reply to a query and told me not to bother planning a route following a map, as likely as not the bridle way would be wired up or overgrown. He offered to guide us the following day. Dogs name is Dilys.
2 notes about the bunkhouse. The tea pot has the most bizarre pouring action I have ever encountered. And it is supplied with tea towels. Another thing to note, more personally, that night Ken and I had steak and stuff for supper, bagels for breakfast and by the time I’d made the days sandwiches we’d used a whole packet of butter 😊
My bed was lovely, good quality linen. We slept under the eves and enjoyed the din of local owls.
John guided us on his super little pony George. George was absolute sweetheart. He wanted to be introduced to Liffey and Tolka, assuming that they were friends he hadn’t met yet. Unfortunately our horses had other ideas and kept up a menacing attitude towards George for the whole 7 hour ride!
We went in a northwards direction, the high point was a wind farm with views of Snowden and the Brecon Beacons, hills and valleys all around in warm autumn colours, green fields splattered with white sheep, and that crazy paving of field boundaries. There were massive birds everywhere, red kites, buzzards and a heron.
When we got back Ken and I did a recce with a car and chainsaw.. having explained to John where we were adventuring the following day he told us the path needed a little work. Hence the chainsaw. The gate in question had a couple of damsons growing over, but right behind them was an old cattle grid and no way around without doing some serious damage to property. We devised a plan B, just go through the adjacent field instead!
Trailered over to Abbeycwmhir. Plan B was an early success, however the following mile took us about 2 hours though as most gates on the uphill were tied up with bailer twine at both ends, and not necessarily where we were expecting them! There were a series of fields with very well-tended sheep and gates on the other side of the hill, we were becoming complacent. 2 giddy horses in a field with stock netting across the gateway in a crappy wire fence 18” off the ground turned us back up a couple of fields onto the farmers drive; to go around by the road. Luckily the farmer was very nice about it, having accidentally nearly run us over on his own drive! He was at pains to point out that that wired up field wasn’t his. I think he was embarrassed about it!
The rest of the ride was exhilarating, beautiful, life affirming, indescribably awe inspiring, etc etc just be very jealous for us!!!
Liffey had one of her funny turns where she gets gassy and uncomfortable, Ken was leading her and she lay down in a field about a mile from the trailer. Tolka turned to see what she was doing and dropped into a sympathy roll on the spot. Bloody kids! Had to copy mum. Liffey felt better after a 20 minute rest and we continued. The path went though some bog so Ken was sent alone to recce the situation, as I didn’t want Liffey stressed further. We made the decision to return to the trailer via a track that had footpath status only. I was very pleased to find the gate onto the road had no lock on it.
We got back to the bunkhouse for a very quick turn around and out to meet Jenny at the Triangle. (Note – showers here are wonderfully warm) Jenny was our host during our previous Welsh trip. The Triangle is a 16th century pub that has sunken ceilings and well-kept beer and excellent food. Highly recommended. Jenny was on good form and plans to walk the length of Wales with Frodo as her pack horse, camping out.
I’d picked Johns brains and again he provided us with a few nuggets of local knowledge that makes the difference to planning a route. We trailered into Rhayader and parked near to the refuse centre. Our ride took us up hill and around an ancient oak wood, where they used to coppice oak as a crop. Ken suspected this to be the case but we met the farmer who confirmed it. Said farmer was kind enough to come out of his farmhouse to shut a gate we were struggling with. Ken leapt off Liffey and pumped him for info on our route, he confirmed that it was rideable and suggested ways around the boggy bits. (Note – Welsh people have been unfailingly courteous, always considerate and with a wave on foot or in a vehicle)
Lunch stop was a grassy track outside a stone cottage, a weekend project for someone not very industrious! Up we went onto the moors and had a lovely canter. There were bogs as advertised! There were actually paths on this hill and the odd sign, so much more a tourist hill compared to previous rides. Motorbike passage was in evidence, spoiling the ground by breaking through the tufty rooty crust into the soft wet peat below. Met Oak Wood farmer again on his push bike, he was happy that we were enjoying our ride. Not a sentiment often expressed by an English farmer.
Liffey had had another episode where she lay down. In the evening we went back to the Triangle pub and met another friend Nick, a vet. Ken spoke about Liffey’s condition and it was decided that a course of action was to relive her strange wind problem by letting the air back out manually, Ken prepared himself mentally to stick his hand in and hope no one was around to accuse him of fiddling inappropriately with an animal.
John to guide us again. We set off northerly and did a loop around to return clockwise down Glyndwrs Way. More incredible riding on quiet lanes and through farms and up and down hills. Going at a slower pace seemed to help Liffey and she was wind free. Hooray, Ken and Liffey kept their dignity and their relationship intact. Lunch stop was middle of nowhere by a river, on a gated road. we let the 3 horses off to graze. A youngish chap walked up and hung around gazing at the horses then sloped off the way he came. Were we spotted by the local farmer mafia who’d sent their youngest member to check us out?
I had a lapse in concentration and snapped off a stirrup leather on a gate post. We’d just passed a load of sheep being herded along a track, the farmer kindly moving his whole flock to let us past. Hence a need to keep moving to stay ahead of them. They caught us up as we were messing around trying to re-tie the leather, Tolka leapt forward intending to run away fast and nearly unseated me! We regained control, carried on and found another farmer with the ubiquitous bailer twine (choice of pink or orange) and fashioned another leather. Both Ken and John carried a knife so this was sorted in fast time and the sheep didn’t catch us out again. My stirrups were now at a cross country length which proved useful when Tolka leapt across a boggy bit of track, firming up in Georges mind that these unpleasant black and white beasts were not to be trusted.
Sausage casserole for supper. The kitchen works well for 2 untidy cooks, I think a bit of organisation would have to be employed if the bunkhouse had its full complement of 20! Ken keen to try out “The Happy Union” after, a pub we rode past on Monday at Abbeycwmhir. It bills itself as, “The Happy Union Inn , a pub that does not lean towards modern day pubs in that it has no telly, no jukebox and no fruit machines. There is an unusual pub sign of a man riding a goat. “
The pub was an absolute gem. Old, but clean and shiney like a new pin, with exactly the correct amount of gloom and cosy heat. They didn’t start speaking Welsh when we walked in either! Beer was brought up from the cellar and was beautifully kept. Delightful.
Ken got up early and chopped down a big pine tree with John. I started scrubbing the kitchen. The bunkhouse was to be left as we’d found it, we’d also had instructions on cleaning surfaces for Covid. Identified the beautiful smell around the Bunkhouse as Poplar leaves, according to Ken!
All tidied away so we had time to ride. John took us along the Marteg Valley and up though some forestry, to enjoy one last look at the stunning views from the local hill. He’d swapped Gorgeous George for Laura, a slightly more opinionated Fell pony. Both Fells had really impressed with their crack-on attitude to work, their physical toughness and convenient small and strong size.
The Midwales Bunkhouse represents an affordable welcoming base that draws you back after exploring this most lovely part of Wales. The outdoor experience is huge and bold hills, with tiny pockets of interesting villages and farms tucked away to be stumbled upon. Massive birds, bogs, well kept sheep and cows, indistinct rights of way, and mostly masses of space and very few people.. fantastic