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In-tents pleasure

On your Hay-cation, where better to relax than in a wooded retreat, says Dan Carrier

10 June, 2021 — By Dan Carrier

Dawn Farmsworth and Steve Salter

VISITING Hay for the festival has become something of an annual landmark for Review – the plethora of London-based writers who appear at the UK’s foremost literary event make it a great book-based pilgrimage for a working holiday.

This is Review’s 10th year of covering the festival, and while this May’s events were hosted online from Hay’s famous book store, Booths, many still paid a post-lockdown visit to this unique Welsh town for festival week.

Hay, which rightly calls itself the World’s First Book Town, is a bibliophile’s dream. Every street has a bookshop, ranging from general stores like Booths to specialists ranging from poetry to travel, crime and mystery through to antique folios. Each house appears to have a library: many lay out stacked shelves with honesty boxes on their front walls.

It’s a place addicted to sharing the written word.

As well as the ultimate experience in page browsing, the setting lends itself to the required, relaxed frame of mind for literary pursuits. The town overlooks the valley of the River Wye, with the Black Mountains of the Brecon Beacons as a backdrop. The 177-mile long trail, Offa’s Dyke, snakes through Hay – and across the river from the town, along this public right of way, is a favoured spot to stay during festival week.

A five-acre wood, on the banks of the wide flowing Wye, is home to By The Wye – the perfect base to enjoy Hay and its surroundings.

By the Wye’s tree safari tents

Hidden off the Offa’s Dyke track are five raised platforms up in the tree canopy, each holding a safari tent built by Steve Salter and Dawn Farmsworth. The couple have lived for decades in a former farm worker’s cottage along the river bank, and had long wondered if they could take on a stretch of neighbouring land for a self-build project for visitors to experience staying in the midst of an ancient broadleaf wood.

Unlike many landowners, who can have a reputation for discouraging public access by failing to maintain stiles and wayfinder signs, or allow paths to be overgrown or waterlogged, Steve and Dawn created a manageable route through parts overgrown and looked at how to minimise any impact on land that includes Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

The answer is five places for visitors to stay that are a hybrid of a posh tent and a holiday cottage lifted off the ground.

To get to these tree-homes, you follow a winding woodland path complete with detour routes for little feet only that lead to fairy houses in trees, a tree log playground and giant bugs to search for.

The tent interiors are stylish and cosy

Wooden steps then take you up into the boughs of the trees. Views over the river capture the eye, while inside, a living area with deep sofas includes a kitchen if you’re not cooking on the open fire outside. A bathroom offers a warm shower while two double beds and a bunk bed for the little one (handmade by Steve) adds an extra layer of comfort and a strange sense of unreality – for the experienced camper, lying in such cosy surroundings with the dawn chorus echoing among the boughs is a revelation, as is the tent’s centrepiece – a gorgeous wood burner that keeps everything cosy.

The sound of the river and the chorus of 43 species of birds found in just five acres – for context, that’s about the same found across Hampstead Heath’s 800 acres – provides a further backdrop.

By The Wye offers the chance to hang out among the trees and soak up Hay’s mixture of intellectual wonder, ruggedness and folkish intrigue and in surroundings that are perfectly conducive to sifting through one million pages of words provided by the town across the river.


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