Author: Adam

May Day

Hafan interior

May Day, May 1st, Beltane. Half way between the spring equinox and summer solstice. And if there’s ever been a time to look forward to summer, this surely has to be it! We are open once again after the most recent lockdowns. Having guests returning has brought a smile to our faces, to see people sitting round the campfires, hear children playing and for all you lovely folk to be able to explore our little corner of Wales after all that time at home!

Spring flowers are starting to bloom, although things are definitely happening slower than many years. We have had very little rain recently (yes, we’ve been longing for rain – seems hard to believe it wet Wales!) and it’s been unseasonably cold. However, if you look carefully there are marsh marigolds flowering, ladysmock/ cuckoo flower and the bluebells are starting their incredible display. We’ve also seen plenty of louseort and ground ivy and the wild orchids’ leaves are up. The hawthorn and blackthorn blossom are beautiful, as are the crabapple blossom, flowering in the hede on the track. The tadpoles are continuing to grow in the wildlife pond on the track, despite the many visits from the heron. We have watched the newts swimming in the pond in the yard outside Llwynbwch Barn. Mother nature is having a gentle, slow start to the summer!

Our little herd of exmoor ponies is doing really well – they are looking really healthy & are getting more and more friendly as time goes by. However, we are having a change as we say farewell to Sienna & Ursula, who will return to their breeders in the hope that they might mother foals in the not to distant future. We shall miss them as they’re the most sociable and gregarious of the five.

We’re pleased to share some ‘upgrades’ for our accommodation, all ready what’s looking like a busy summer ahead. Llwynbwch Barn has a lovely new bench for the garden, along with a Weber BBQ. Hafan and Derwen also have new Weber BBQ’s and new LED lights with integrated USB chargers for all your tech needs! We’ve made some lovely bunting to pop up to help you celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions. We’ve also treated everywhere to some new bedding!

Many of you are getting in touch asking for suggestions of local places to eat during your stay. After the most recent lockdown things are opening slower here than in England. We are putting links to local cafes, restaurants and attractions on our facebook page, please take a look here for ideas.

Spring is on its way!

As the snow and ice has made way for milder days we’ve been so happy to be outside more, starting clearing for spring.

Cutting brambles, pulling bracken and clearing old growth to discover snowdrops, celendines and crocuses around the ponds and sprouting daffodils along the track. In the barn garden the hellebores and hamemelis/ witch hazel are flowering, along with the tiny cyclamen along the hedge lines. We love this time of year!

The bank between the barn garden and the track is full of beautiful little snowdrops which bob about with the breeze. The Welsh for snowdrop is either eirlys, from eira, meaning snow, or lily wen fach, little white lily. Both are beautiful names for a beautiful flower!

O Lili wen fach, o ble daethost di?
A’r gwynt mor arw ac mor oer ei gri?
Sut y mentraist di allan drwy’r eira I gyd?
Nid oes blodyn bach arall i’w weld yn y byd!

Oh little snowdrop, from where have you come from?
With the wind so wild and how cold it’s cry?
How did you venture out through all of the snow?
There isn’t another flower to be seen in the world!

The pond on the track had a good amount of frogspawn from February 4th, which felt incredibly early. Less than a week later we had another cold snap with hard frosts and some flurries of snow. Sadly all the spawn perished. We spotted a number of frogs very busy in the pond on the 15th February, followed by huge amounts of spawn. Best time to see them seems to be on a rainy night – we chivvied one across the track the other night so it didnt get squished. Fingers crossed, this lot of spawn will survive, although the heron is visiting daily! Every year we try to catch the frogs on video, but they’re canny little things and the second they sense us they dive down deep and disappear.

Today’s job has been to tidy around the pond in the yard and remove some of the yellow flag iris. Each year we do this and each year it fills again during the summer, the iris really is a thug. Usually we aim to do this earlier in the winter/ very late autumn but somehow time has run away this year! I love this yearly job, especially uncovering the sweet little iris reticulata which nestles by the willow.

The woodpecker has given us a backdrop for the last few weeks, making its way through  nuts in the feeders in our garden, as well as finding insects on various trees. We’ve loved watching the garden birds recently – being home so much has meant more time to watch them coming and going and all the little tussles and fights that happen around the feeders. Our daughter joined us for this year’s RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch as part of her Brownie’s ‘Red Kite’ badge. We saw 10 house sparrows, 8 blue tits, 9 great tits, 1 coal tit, 3 robins, 1 Great spotted woodpecker, 1 blackbird, 3 nuthatches, 1 bullfinch, 1 magpie and 3 red kites flying overhead.

The Exmoor ponies are getting on so well. They’re currently contained in three fields and have been eating their way through a lot of grass and also some of the rushes we were hoping they would. They’re getting more used to us and Sienna & Ursula are both loving head scratches! Last weekend we welcomed Jasper, a ten year old gelding who has come to join the gang. When he was led into the field with the girls they made a dash for him. Safe to say he was a little overwhelmed! A couple of days later we found he’d done a houdini and managed to find his way out of this field. Aah, more fencing to be strengthened!

Of course there’s also the continuous fire wood processing…

Shop & support local – new places to eat and explore

chutneys for sale

One of the positive things to have come out of this past year during the pandemic and its various lockdowns has been the growth of some great local initiatives and businesses. Like many, we’ve been trying to keep our footprints small and have been very happy to shop and support local. We wanted to share some of our finds with you and hope you may explore them too!

Gardd Sadwrn source and sell organic fruit, veg and fungi, alongside their own homegrowns from their smallholding just around the corner in the village. Their small & passionate business have teamed up with some wonderful local suppliers to offer a wide selection of all things delicious, including Caws Cenarth Cheese, Teifi halloumi, Welsh Farmhouse apple juices, Coed Talylan fungi, patisseries from Cegin Yves/ Yve’s Kitchen and a range of fairtrade foods from Gardd y Ddraig/ the Dragon’s Garden. Treat yourselves to a One-off-box for your holiday!

Head to Cothi Valley  pop-up in Talley on a sunday morning for a range of breads, pies, pasties, pastries, doughnuts and brownies. They truly are delicious, or in Welsh, blasus iawn! Check on their facebook page for timings and ask us where to find their stall. You’ll have to be quick though, as they’re known to sell out fast.

We’ve been loving buying thick & creamy full milk straight from the dairy. It makes the best coffee and is perfect on your morning cereals. Towy Valley Milk have two purpose built milk shelters, open 24 hours a day. Borrow a branded one litre reusable bottle from us and pop over to the milk machine to buy fresh, delicious milk. The vending machines are located at popular local cafes The Hangout Llandeilo, and Wrights Food Emporium Llanarthne and were set up by Penybac Uchaf family Dairy in the village of Llanarthney. Farmer Aled says ‘We wanted to give local people and our community the opportunity to buy our fresh milk produced only hours before from our cows grazing on their doorstep!’

Talley wood fired pizza co / Out of the Box serve fresh barista style coffee and hand stretched pizzas, cooked in a wood fired oven from a converted horse box. They’re currently offering a click and collect service from Llangadog on thursday evenings. We haven’t yet had a chance to sample their pizzas, but if people’s feedback is anything to go by, they sound great! Do check their facebook page for timings & location of their pop-up and be sure to book in advance.

If you’ve stayed at Under Starry Skies in the past and have explored Llandeilo, you may well have come across the little gem that is Gardd y Ddraig / The Dragon’s Garden This wonderful little shop has now moved into Llansadwrn village, a few minutes drive from here. Book your visit online to enjoy an hour’s browsing through an interesting and thoughtful selection of books, carefully chosen Fairtrade clothing, gifts and treasures, giftcards, gardening seeds and homegrown veg/ produce. Gardd y Ddraig is now homed in a beautiful barn on a charming smallholding – it’s well worth a visit.

Many of our guests look forward to exploring the nearby lanes by foot for a gentle walk or perhaps a run. We love suggesting routes which you can start from the farm. During the lockdowns this year, a local friend has been enjoying exploring new routes and has been kind enough to share her finds on facebook. Quiet Walks records her walks, usually accompanied by a map. Please remember that where these walks take you through footpaths, you’ll be crossing private land, sometimes grazed by livestock. Please close all gates, be respectful and leave things as you find them.

That’s all from us at the moment, we’re so looking forward to opening up again and being able to welcome you back. Until then, stay safe & take care!

 

Exciting changes for our cabins

We’re feeling excited, tired and muddy. Very muddy!

We’ve finally started work on our new build – the next stage for Under Starry Skies. We’re creating a communal building for use of our guests in Hafan & Derwen cabins. It will have a lovely light & homely room for cooking, eating & chilling together and an outside deck for enjoying summer days. We hope this will be the perfect place for families or friends to hang out together. There will also be two shower rooms and a new home for our teeny tiny honesty shop. The building will be off-grid and made from local materials where possible. It will be located a short walk from the cabins, near to the car parking area, so everything will be close together.

We’ve been planning this addition for a good few years and its timing couldn’t be better, as we adapt to life with covid-19 the additional bathrooms will come into their own. We hope that the building will be up and running later this year, but don’t hold your breath, it’s a muddy job!

Concrete pilings for the new communal building

Concrete pilings for the new communal building

Back to lockdown… we may be closed, but what have we been up to?

We hope you’re keeping well during these uncertain times. We’re missing welcoming you to our little spot in the Welsh hills. It’s been very strange indeed to have to close our business for most of this year and we understand it has been upsetting for those of you who’ve cancelled holidays. Thanks for your understanding and support, especially to those who have rescheduled dates.

What do you do when you’re put in lockdown and have to close your business? This is the first stretch of time that we haven’t had any guests here at Llwynbwch since we opened in 2013 & it has definitely been very strange! We thought we’d write a little update about what we’ve been up to behind the scenes this year…

During the first lockdown we spent some time repainting and refreshing in Llwynbwch Barn. We also set up the barn, the cabins & communal space so that guests can now check themselves in when they arrive and can access firewood without our help. We feel this has worked well, although we genuinely miss meeting and greeting everyone. We miss our little chats, finding out where you’ve driven from for your holiday, whether you’re celebrating something special and if you’ve ever been to this beautiful area before. We hope that the welcome info we’ve put together works & that you have enough info for ideas of places to visit, eat and explore. Please do let us know if you have any suggestions.

We also worked hard to extend the car parking area for the cabins, meaning the walk from your car to your cabin is now shorter. This, of course meant having fun with diggers!

In spring 2020 we were excited to be finalising our plans to apply for planning permission to extend Under Starry Skies, with the addition of a new off-grid building to house a communal space for the cabins – a cooking & chilling space and two shower rooms. This is something we’d been working towards for a long time and with the news of a new virus bringing social distancing with it, it suddenly seemed even more important. Sadly, our planning application took way longer than expected, meaning we didn’t receive our decision until December 2020. We’re happy to have finally started works, now that we have permission.

Late spring/ early summer brought the wildflowers, sunshine and a few guests while we were able to open, which was so lovely. We also had our yearly visit from Butterfly Conservation Wales, who confirmed multiple larval webs for the endangered Marsh Fritillary butterfly. We did indeed go on to see many Marsh Fritillaries and a larger amount of Orange-tips than we have in past years.

October half term was spent processing firewood – I’m sure our kids loved helping us! In November we welcomed the Exmoor ponies, who are settling well and helping us with our land management. Along with juggling homeschooling for our kids, we also continue with the general upkeep of the farm – keeping pathways clear, weeding and bramble bashing and all the other things that need care and attention. Adam’s other job is touring Sound engineer and production manager. He was out on tour in Europe in early March 2020 and returned swiftly as the pandemic shut down venues and shows. He spent much of the summer doing carpentry jobs locally & we’re very grateful that he’s now found new additional work with a local environmental water management company, whilst Lou has temporarily returned to teaching in a local primary. We may be closed, but we’re keeping busy and we’re really looking forward to being able to reopen sometime soon!

 

 

Exmoor ponies, conservation grazing & working with Exmoor Pony Society

November 2020

We’re really excited to welcome four beautiful Exmoor ponies to help us with our land managment and grazing here at Llwynbwch. Gypsy, Rosemarie, Sienna and Ursula arrived a week ago and have to come to us from a local Welsh breeder, with help from The Exmoor Pony Society. Ursula and Sienna have recently been grazing a nature Reserve in nearby Ystradgynlais. All four of them are very friendly and inquisitive and have the distinctive Exmoor features of a reddish brown coat and honey coloured ‘mealy’ markings aound their eyes and muzzle. It’s a good job they’re hardy little ponies, as this past week we’ve had a lot of rain! Their shaggy thick coats and wide nostrils mean the cold and wet is no bother to them.

The Exmoor pony is native to the British Isles, their natural habitat is the high moorland of West Somerset and North Devon. Numbers plummeted to a low of 50 just after the second world war. Although their numbers have improved greatly, they have been given “endangered” status by The Rare Breeds Survival Trust and “threatened” status by The Livestock Conservancy.

Exmoor ponies are versatile, adaptable, very strong for their size and able to turn their hooves to a wide variety of activities. ‘Historically, the Exmoor pony was used by the hill farmers to undertake all kinds of work from being ridden for shepherding to being used in harness for ploughing, harrowing, taking feed to stock and the farmer’s family to market and church.

Exmoors have carved a niche for themselves as conservation grazers. Their excellent dental conformation makes them very neat grazers with a clean bite. They readily graze on tough herbage that other animals will not touch allowing more delicate plants space to grow. The Moorland Mouse Trust have over 100 ponies tidying up the British countryside as do the Yorkshire Exmoor Pony Trust who, as their name suggests have a smaller number of ponies grazing in North Yorkshire and the Sussex Pony Grazing and Conservation Trust who place ponies on sites in Sussex.

They are also employed by a number of county Wildlife Trusts, the National Trust and the RSPB.’
(Text taken from The Exmoor Pony Society website.)

Here at Llwynbwch they can roam free in our 60 acres and they seem to be settling well. They have plenty of places to shelter in the wooded areas and access to lots of streams for fresh water.  We hope their light but varied grazing will encourage and increase the biodiversity.

Dark skies, the Milky Way & Mynyddoedd Cambrian Mountains

The stars were just magical the other night, with the Milky Way clearly visible beyond Derwen cabin, looking West. It was the perfect night for stargazing. Which is just as well as we were lucky to have Dafydd Morgan, from Mynyddoedd Cambrian Mountains, staying in the cabin. Whilst here, he took some photos to celebrate our dark skies. The Cambrian Mountain Initiative is an organisation promoting development in the part of Wales including Pumlumon, Elenydd, Mallaen & llanllwni/ Brechfa. Visit their website here for loads of suggestions for things to do in the area…

A cosy cabin weekend during Storm Ciara!

We’re really excited to share some wonderful photos with you, taken by Victoria Lugton Photography.

Victoria and her family stayed in Derwen cabin for a long February weekend, which just happened to coincide with the arrival of Storm Ciara! Ciara gave them plenty of rain, strong winds and it was pretty chilly outside, so Victoria, her husband & their young boys snuggled in by the fire, played board games and enjoyed the guitar. She said the wildness of the weather added to the cosiness of their stay!

You can see more of Victoria’s lifestyle photography here.

We hope you like her photos of Derwen cabin and Llwynbwch Barn as much as we do! If you’d like to look at booking Derwen, take a look here.

 

Electric car charging, Green Key Site accreditation, Visit Wales & PV solar

As 2020 gets into full swing, we’ve been reflecting on some of our highlights from 2019. We’re really proud to have had a year which has seen us lowering our carbon footprint even further.

Firstly, a huge ‘Thank you’ to all our guests who have either discovered us during this past year, or who have returned. We really enjoy meeting you all and sharing Llwynbwch farm, the beauty of the Twyi Valley and all that Carmarthenshire has to offer and we’re genuinely grateful that you have chosen Under Starry Skies for your holiday.

2019 started with a wonderful flurry of snow which we loved (especially Adam, who gets possibly more excited than our kids!) February was a great month; firstly we were delighted to hear we’d been included in Wild Guide Wales: Hidden Places, Great Adventures and the Good Life, a travel guide from Wild Things Publishing. We were pleased Visit Wales awarded Llwynbwch Barn four stars and accredited Hafan and Derwen as a ‘Quality Assured Glamping Site’. Lastly, we were super happy to have our electric vehicle charger fitted by Zero Carbon world. After providing electric hook up for a number of guests with electric cars during 2018, we decided to upgrade to a charger and take another small step towards Under Starry Skies offering low carbon holidays.

April saw the return of the wood anenomes down by the river and through the woods here at Llwynbwch farm. Although we have lived here for almost eight years now we’re always amazed by the swathes, which seem to increase year on year. May brought the bluebells, which are equally stunning, both in their intense colour and sheer numbers down in the woods beyond the cabins. As a family we also enjoyed visiting National Trust Dinefwr’s Castle Woods and Coed Tregib, both in Llandeilo, which had incredible carpets of bluebells this year. If you haven’t stayed in Llwynbwch Barn or Hafan & Derwen cabins during bluebell season, do come and see them for yourself! As the bluebells died down, the wildflowers in the meadows started their show, including yellow rattle, devil’s bit scabious, helleborines, many common spotted orchids and at least 7 greater butterfly-orchids, the most we have counted here at Llwynbwch. This year our friend Charlotte from Clyn Wallis Apiary in nearby Gwernogle established a further two beehives in the meadows, as the previous year had done so well. She harvested a satisfying large amount of honey, which is now available for our guests to purchase. We noted many butterflies and day-flying moths, damselflies and dragonflies. The wildlife ponds were full of life and we took great pleasure in watching the heron arrive most days. Throughout the year guests have seen and heard bats, owls and the groups of deer, along with signs of badgers. We still haven’t spotted an otter, although we’ve definitely seen footprints and plenty of spraints.

In May we were able to realise our long term goal of installing PV solar for Llwynbwch Barn and our own home, providing both buildings with low carbon electricity. When demand is higher than that can provide, we continue to use electricity from Ecotricity.

In July we were delighted to become a Green Key site. The Green Key award is a leading standard of excellence in the field of environmental responsibility and sustainable operation within the tourism industry. This prestigious eco-label represents a commitment by businesses that their tourism establishments adhere to the strict criteria as stipulated by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE).

August saw the return of the horses and cattle for our annual meadow grazing, after the wildflowers had finished flowering and set seeds. We love having the stock on the land and always enjoy their return. Whilst they are gentle animals, they certainly do their best at checking on the fencing, often giving us extra work by barging through week points in hedges to find tastier titbits!

Autumn once again found us making chutneys from apples and fruit grown here at Llwynbwch.

The year came to an end with a lovely surprise, Hafan and Derwen cabins were included in the Sunday Telegraph magazine’s cover story on cabin stays article about cabin stays.

We hope to welcome you to Under Starry Skies in 2020!
Lou & Adam