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Penlan Caravan Park and Campsite, Brilley, Hay-on-Wye, Herefordshire
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The further west one ventures into Herefordshire the more it seems like a different country all of its own, lost in some distant time; the sort of place you could expect to turn a corner and bump into a buxom milkmaid shouldering a rustic yoke. It's no surprise, then, when the friendly owners at Penlan Campsite inform us that the 'modern' part of their stone and wooden farmhouse dates from the late 1600s (the rest of it being a good hundred years older).

Penlan Caravan Park and Campsite, Brilley, Hay-on-Wye, Herefordshire


A mere half-mile from the Welsh border and seemingly hundreds of miles from anywhere anyone might call home, Penlan Farm is a 50-acre smallholding where Peter and Margaret run a flock of sheep and a herd of cattle organically, and where an apple orchard blossoms majestically each spring. Whether the livestock appreciate the views or not is a matter for speculation.Visitors to the site, however, can hardly fail to do so. To the far right are the iconic Brecon Beacons; while next to them lurk the hulking Black Mountains, untamed by the gentler Herefordshire hills to the east. Drop down a field or two (the owners encourage their guests to go for a wander) and look to the left and there are the Malverns. On a clear day you can even pick out the village of Birdlip on the edge of the Cotswolds, some 60 miles away.

Penlan Caravan Park and Campsite, Brilley, Hay-on-Wye, Herefordshire


The campsite here first started taking customers in the 1960s, but was closed a decade later when the farm became the property of the National Trust (which also owns the exquisite Cwmmau Farm a few fields away - well worth the stroll). Peter and Margaret - both born and bred in the area - decided in 1997 to reopen the site (which doesn't belong to the Trust) and have been sharing its extraordinary peace and quiet with campers ever since. The camping area is a small, gently sloping cutlass-shaped swathe of lovingly tended greensward.The caravan pitches - eight of which are seasonal - are at the back, while campers get the pick of the front row seats and enjoy the additional advantage of the shelter afforded by a low beech hedge.

The lane that runs directly behind the site is, happily, almost exclusively the domain of infrequent tractors. It's a pity that telegraph poles cross the field below, but in summer it does mean that the wires between them are lined with swallows and pied wagtails. Look higher up and you might be lucky enough to catch a red kite riding the thermals while, closer to hand, there are various species of tit that nest in the eight boxes dotted about the site.

Penlan Caravan Park and Campsite, Brilley, Hay-on-Wye, Herefordshire


As evening draws on, and just as the streets of Hereford light up to create a glowing display in the valley below, the horseshoe bats living in the farm's ancient barns take flight. Finally, as night falls, the woods behind the campsite are haunted by the calls of tawny owls. For those who enjoy looking down once in a while, the good news is that not all the local wildlife is airborne: a pond on the farm is home to great crested newts, who do most of their scurrying about on warm nights.

COOL FACTOR A tranquil piece of lovely borderland in Britain's own twilight zone.

WHO'S IN Tents, campervans, caravans, dogs (on leads) -yes. Groups - no.

Penlan Caravan Park and Campsite, Brilley, Hay-on-Wye, Herefordshire


ON SITE There are 12 touring pitches (of which 10 have hook-ups) and 12 more for tents. An unobtrusive hut houses immaculately clean and modern loos (1M, 2W) and 2 electric showers (1M, 1W). While there are no facilities specifically geared to the needs of disabled people, there are at least no steps on the site to negotiate. A giant Jenga set awaits children of all ages. Ice packs can be frozen in the freezer part of the fridge/freezer in the barn, where there are also tables piled high with leaflets on local attractions. The nearest shop is a Londis at Witney (3 miles), though Kington (4 miles) boasts a Co-op and a Spar. There are no campfires allowed, but the owners do have BBQs on stands that can be borrowed free of charge (don't forget to bring your own charcoal, though).

OFF SITE Hay-on-Wye, with its cafes, independent shops, whole host of second-hand bookshops, and world-famous literary festival, is just 7 miles away and well worth a day trip or two. (If you're planning to camp at Penlan during the festival do book up well in advance.) The black and white villages of Herefordshire are on the doorstep, and the official 40-mile trail around them makes for an excellent day's cycle (see www.blackandwhitehouses.co.uk). At Paddles and Pedals (01497 820604; www.canoehire.co.uk) in Hay-on-Wye you can hire a kayak or Canadian canoe and have an adventure along the River Wye (and, best of all, they'll pick you up from wherever you end up), or you can pick up a bicycle to hit the roads and do all the hard work yourself. There are also no fewer than 5 pony-trekking companies in the area (see www. hay-on-wye.co.uk).

Penlan Caravan Park and Campsite, Brilley, Hay-on-Wye, Herefordshire


FOOD AND DRINK The Sun Inn (01544 327677; www.thesuninnwinforton.co.uk) atWinforton comes recommended (but do reserve a table). The Erwood Station Craft Centre and Gallery (01982 560674; www. erwood-station.co.uk) at Erwood has a good cafe, as well as a resident wood turner. Connoisseurs of the fermented apple should head for the presses at Dunkertons Cider (01544 388653; www.dunkertons.co.uk) in Pembridge. While at New House Farm (01544 327849) in Almeley they make their own organic ice cream.
GETTING THERE Don't put the postcode into your satnav - you'll end up half a mile away and in a bit of a jam if you're coming with a caravan. From Leominster, follow the A44 west towards Rhayader until it swerves around Kington. One mile after the second roundabout, turn left (signposted Kington Town Centre, Hergest, Brilley). After ½ mile, take the second turn right (signposted Brilley). After exactly 4 miles, look out for a National Trust signpost on the left (blink and you'll miss it!). At the same junction, turn left into Apostles Lane. Penlan is the first farmhouse on the right.

OPEN Easter-end October.

THE DAMAGE Advance booking only. Tent: adult £6; child (under 12 years) £3, under-5s free. Caravan/ motorhome: £14; awning £2.50; porch awning £1.50; electricity £3. Gazebo £3. Extra car £5 (first car free). Dog £ 1.50. A slightly higher tariff applies during Bank Holiday weekends.



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