As we crossed the border from England into South Wales we knew we were set for a wonderful week of adventure. The landscape changed from sweeping fields of green and yellow to tightly knitted lanes with tufts of grass bursting through the tarmac and hedgerows and wildflowers spilling over without a care.
Following the signs for Old-Lands led us down a winding driveway, and a gentle reminder that a slower way of life is respected on approach. Children play freely and all are welcome; nature, residents, holiday makers and animals alike.
The estate has been in the Bosanquet family for 200 years and three generations, including current owners, Sam and Clare, live and work on the estate, doing so with much care and sensitivity. Hailing from a long line of ecologists and naturalists, the ecology of the estate is foremost within their minds.
The wonderful thing about holidaying here is that it is very much a working estate, a hub of interesting, like-minded activity. Gwent Nature Trust headquarters and a forest school are on site, while various hands maintain the grounds; eggs are gathered from the chickens resident in the orchard, produce from the walled garden is sold in the courtyard shop and attic finds are sorted for sale from the main house.
We stayed in Stable Court, one of three holiday cottages on the estate, all of which sit around the flowery yard, a large lawn edged with extensive perennial borders. It is a place to gather, or sit and ponder, and we did so most days, hanging out at meal times chatting, huddled listening to the dusk, waiting for the first owl to hoot.
And when it did, we would finally head up a grand staircase to our apartment for the soundest of sleeps. Furnished with beautiful rugs and antique furniture, cotton bed-linen and Welsh blankets, it was the perfect retreat in every way; a light and airy open-plan space with vaulted ceiling and great views across the estate. I would have been very happy to spend many more hours in that space had the great outdoors not been calling quite as loudly as it did.
With 80-acres to roam, we spent most of our days on the estate. An afternoon was dedicated to forest school where we learnt how to make elderflower cordial and ate popcorn fresh from the campfire. We also went on a nature walk with owner Sam, the resident ecologist. We studied peppered moths and discovered plant galls, toads and slow worms to mention just a few of our finds.
Most afternoons we could be found on the lake taking turns at boating, or dangling our feet into the water. We took nets out to the buttercup fields and tried our hand at pond dipping, and when all were otherwise occupied I would often sneak off to the beautiful walled garden, a new venture for the estate. Where flowers once grew it is now full of produce provided for the onsite community supported agriculture scheme (CSA).
If you fancy stretching your legs beyond the estate, we headed out to Symonds Yat and took the short, hand-pulled ferry across the Wye for a gentle walk along the river. Upon recommendation, we also stomped up The Blorenge which was well worth the effort. A winding path takes you passed grazing sheep and out to trig points where the views across the valley of the River Usk are simply stunning.
The small kitchen in our apartment was most welcome with all the local produce we purchased and we mostly self-catered. That said, Old-Lands does offer cottage guests the option of pre-ordering supplies and homemade meals. We opted for a seasonal veg box, fresh eggs and apple juice, all grown or gathered from the estate.
After our stomp up the Blorenge, we headed into Abergavenny, a beautiful little market town with a reputation for good food. A wonderful evening was spent at The Raglan Arms in Llandenny; the staff were warm and welcoming and the menu had something for everyone. But for a really special meal out we dined at The Walnut Tree in Llanddewi, a Michelin star restaurant where children are most welcome. To be honest, I fell in love with the garden before I had set foot inside, but the food was simply mouthwatering too. We also discovered The Parsons Nose, a fantastic local store in Dingestow stocking award winning sausages, pies and burgers from their family farm.
Well rested, fed and rejuvenated, we arrived home inspired, already hatching plans to head back again next year.
Images by Nina Nixon and courtesy of Old-Lands