Wilderness is one of those words bandied about too lightly these days: in Europe we do not in truth have very much of it. On a continent-wide scale, aside from Scandinavia’s northern fringes and parts of northern Scotland, one of the areas most deserving of the term is the tract of Mid Wales where the Red Kite Estate lies. The largest expanse of continuous moorland anywhere in Wales or England, and anywhere in the UK south of the Scottish Highlands, looms large alongside it. There is no more than a handful lodgings in all Wales further from a paved road. Depending which of the accommodation options you elect here – the cleverly converted ‘Red Kite Barn’, the futuristic-looking ‘Conker’ or the trailblazing ‘Tree Tents’ – you will have a view of at most one other distant cottage, an overgrown drovers road and precisely no other signs of human activity whatsoever.
Why we love it
Quite simple. The Red Kite Estate is deliberately as off-the-beaten-track and off-the-grid as possible – no wifi, no TV. Your companions will be roving sheep, scampering squirrels and of course the wheeling red kites that gives this lonesome wooded valley between two wind-blasted hilltops its name. And whoever you come here with, of course. Choose someone you like spending time with. Apart from them, you are here to hang out with nature, no one else. And you will be offered plenty of ways in which to do it…
The drive up sets the tone aptly: a lane so narrow we past the turn-off twice before we saw it, despite knowing the area well (!), two miles of bumpy track with the same number of passing places, two gates to pass through and an ascent of the winsome Hirnant valley to make you marvel, so remote does the landscape seem at any point looking back, that you could ever get here by car. This of course, say owners David and Anjana, is the point. Disconnecting in order to reconnect with a wild world we take for granted all too often.
Being greeted by seriously remote countryside is always a beautiful experience in our book! If the owners are on hand, they’re a delight to chat to, but again, not the point: do your socialising beforehand because it is a distinct possibility you will not clap eyes on another human during your stay!
Of the estate’s triumvirate of lodging possibilities, we have opted for the ‘Conker’ – a singular glamping pod sphere near the top of the estate, tucked into the lee of a crag (for the other two possibilities, see below). It is an evocative name, but copper-coloured rather than chestnut-brown, and to our minds rather more resembling certain early depictions of HG Wells’ Time Machine. The overall effect, of something futuristic perched bizarrely in a barren landscape with no clear explanation of how it could possibly have got there, certainly makes one recall one’s repertoire of sci-fi films to search for analogies. Arrive with any glimmer of sun in the sky and the ‘Conker’ will shimmer metallically but it is actually comprised of copper-hued polymer hexagons: it is orb-like from afar but more like hunkering down in a state-of-the-art honeycomb once you’re through the door. Its design utilises pioneering techniques from Bentley to recirculate heat and thus – handily in this often chilly location – stay warmer in the wilder weather. So you are certainly lodging in a UK first: there are currently no other ‘conkers’ whatsoever that you can book a night at. And the barren surrounds emphasise the uniqueness.
Space inside is astutely used, too. A local carpenter and seamstress collaborated to make the customised hexagonal bed and bed linen (purple and blue to match the walls) that divide into seating and a table by day and unites at night. A kitchen unit with hob, sink and all the appliances you would need to cook a meal during a few days away occupies just a fraction of the interior space. Composting toilet and shower are out in a separate block behind. The structure possesses a Tardis-like trick of appearing more spacious than it seems, but do not come with lots of luggage for your sojourn – you will find yourself cramped. Do bring a torch for navigating your way to the toilet block at night, plus food and booze to enjoy during your stay: it would be a pity to need to descend down into civilisation (yes, the little village of Newbridge-on-Wye is civilisation here!) whilst you are staying, because getting away from all that is very much part of the experience.
What’s here and nearby: the Great Outdoors on the Red Kite Estate
But there is only so much point talking about inside spaces when you are going to want to while away your time on the Red Kite Estate outdoors. We found ourselves unable to resist keeping the ‘Conker’ door open when inside just to ogle the view. The open moor is on two sides, with prospects to the west running up onto that afore-mentioned vast moorland massif that runs north to Rhayader (13 miles by road), the Elan Valley Lakes (17 miles) and Cwmystwyth (27.5 miles) south to Rhandirmwym (24 miles) and west as far as Strata Florida Abbey (34 miles). In-between huddles a belt of forest, covering most of the estate and spilling on down the valley.
Up by the ‘Conker’ the trees are broken up a bit by grassy heath; various patches have been adapted as a picnic table area (table built by David, whose wonderful carpentry can be glimpsed in various guises around the estate), a fire pit area sheltering behind a dry-stone wall and a pizza oven area (flour, yeast and oil are all in the ‘Conker’ larder for you to fashion your own pizza bases). By the fire pit, a separate fire can be lit to heat perhaps the coolest feature of all: an antiquated iron outside bath, acquired from a French chateau, which Undiscovered Wales were the very first guests to sample (verdict: very, very cold, but it’s a bath to remember).
The walk possibilities are as open-ended as the moors are extensive: once you have traipsed the pathways around the estate (and down to the other two lodging options, detailed in the next paragraphs) then a good introduction to Mid Wales moorland meanderings is to retrace your way to the estate entrance and turn right to head up through another gate onto the National Trust moorland. The farm track bends almost immediately left, and here take the path up via the distinctive African-looking tree visible from the ‘Conker’ which is an old drovers road. You can follow this over the rise to the farm ahead, bear right by the farmhouse and then right again to return down another track leading directly down to the small quarry where the ‘Conker’ car parking space is.
The other lodgings: the Red Kite Barn
The original lodging on the estate was this stone barn, converted in 2005. The three downstairs bedrooms (one en suite, two with shared bathroom) make this option more suited to a family, perhaps, or people who do not want to forsake quite so many of modern life’s creature comforts. The living room-cum-kitchen upstairs is more Manhattan chic than Mid Wales rustic with its large innovatively -placed windows, pool table and massive dining table hewn out of old canal lockgates. High beamed ceilings and big views make this level seem even more spacious. Meanwhile, a distinctive Moroccan theme dominates the downstairs decor (hammered copper light fixtures, tadelakt plastering). Welsh elements creep in too (striking Cambrian wool rugs, for example) as does more of David’s inspired carpentry (like the huge magnificently insane-looking wardrobe in the end bedroom).
The other lodgings: the Tree Tents
Just after the estate entrance, a path twists down through an open grassy glade of trees, does a sharp turn over a little stream bridge and in a superb act of theatre plunges you into a towering conifer wood. Here, strung between enormous 50m+ evergreens are another UK first, the country’s original tree tents. These two canvas orbs move mellifluously with the swaying of the pine trees, with Ewok-like walkways connecting them to platforms with sheltered cooking areas, showers and toilets. Inside, they are kept cosy with their own wood-burning stoves and sleeping deck with mattresses. The green tent complex is the smaller of the two, but also our favourite (despite the walk uphill to the separate toilet cabin) with a gorgeous stream-side terrace at the bottom. And both actually have a lot of space for stashing gear, with the platforms creating additional space underneath. The vibe staying in either is special, and not far off spiritual: words cannot describe the ethereal beauty of the woodland setting. And if you do book a night here, you’ll be following in prestigious footsteps: David Hasselhoff spent his birthday here in 2019 (and a squirrel tried to eat his birthday cake)!
NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: 29 miles northwest of the Red Kite Estate is Eisteddfa Gurig, jumping-off point for the bracing climb up Pen Pumlumon Fawr, highest point in the Cambrian Mountains
At a glance
Snooze factor: 7.5 It’s as silent as a red kite on the glide, but it’s glamping if you are staying in the ‘Conker’ or the Tree Tents, so come ready for the great outdoors!
Food factor: n/a BYO
Eco-friendly factor: 9 The ‘Conker’, the barn and the ‘Tree Tents’ blend in with their natural environments. The ‘Conker’ recirculates its heat and has a composting toilet. The barn is a structure that’s been in that location for a century or more, the ‘Tree Tents’ are so hidden-away that even when you are in the surrounding woods you can miss them. This is an off-the-grid stay: you’ll be doing the environment a favour.
Location factor: 9.5 Try finding a remoter or more unspoilt location to stay in Wales: you’ll be trying a very long time.
Price: ‘Conker’ £250-290 for 2-night stay, Red Kite Barn from £170 p/n (min week’s stay), ‘Tree Tents’ from £250 for 2-night stay (Apr-May/Sep-Oct) and from £280 for 2-night stay (Jun-Aug) (2021 prices).