By the Wye: the eco escape of your wildest woodland dreams, in Hay-on-Wye

The view from the deck at By the Wye © Kerry Walker

If you go down to the woods to Hay, the real surprise comes in the form of this eco-minded, off-grid fantasy of a glamping site, tucked away in glorious seclusion among native woodland on the banks of the River Wye. Though the bookshops of Hay-on-Wye are just a few minutes’ walk away, this deliciously rural bolthole feels like a little world unto itself, with luxurious safari tents propped up on stilts offering privacy in the most sustainable way.  

Why we love it…

Dawn, Steve, Edith and Dan have invested time, hard graft and creative energy into making By the Wye a one-of-a-kind riverside refuge in ancient native woods on the edge of Hay-on-Wye. Pooling their talents as a family (among them arborist, carpenter and builder), this is their lockdown baby of a project. And since opening in late July, it has hit the ground running.

From the moment we arrived, we knew By the Wye was something special. Parking at the entrance, we approached our safari tent on foot, the autumn light slanting down through beautiful woodland, where signs give details on the trees, plants and wildlife that can be observed. Keeping everything as clean and green as possible from the outset, wheelbarrows are used to transport luggage here.

And then, at the end of the track, where the river broadens and the woods open out into meadows, we were thrilled to find our safari tent, perched on stilts in the tree canopy to maximise the soothingly green views. While the wood used to create the decking and exquisite handmade furniture is Welsh through and through, there is a dash of glamour that whispers of distant shores about these tents: part Bedouin, part Canadian lodge, part African safari.

Bespoke beds made from reclaimed driftwood at By the Wye © Kerry Walker

The vibe

Pack walking boots and wellies as this is a true back-to-nature retreat, squirrelled away among four acres of ancient woodland. Come for the peace. Come for long, ruddy-cheeked rambles through the woods and along the River Wye. Come for the brilliantly starry night skies. By the Wye aims to reconnect guests with the simple pleasures of outdoor living, with a dash of luxury thrown in for good measure. If you’re missing civilisation, however, you’ll find some terrific bookshops, cafes, restaurants and pubs in pretty Hay-on-Wye, just a few minutes amble away.

The perfect woodland escape © Kerry Walker

The welcome

You’ll receive a heartfelt welcome from Edith, Dan, Dawn and Steve, who go above and beyond to make sure that guests get the most out of their stay. They are a well-travelled lot and this shines through in the design of the tents, which reveal utmost attention to detail. There are no airs and graces here. Come as you are – bring the family, bring the dog, bring muddy boots. They have a strong environmental approach, with eco-friendly recycling and sustainable energy policies. Nature is clearly their passion and everything is designed so as to best protect it.

The little details make all the difference at By the Wye © Kerry Walker

The rooms

The huge safari tents elevate glamping to a whole new level in every possible sense of the expression. Perched on stilts so they sit at eye level with the trees, this is some seriously stylish canvas. The tent centrepieces are four-poster beds made with gnarled driftwood reclaimed from their woodland, which are pure fantasy fairytale stuff. All of the other wooden furniture has been skilfully handcrafted, too, with ash wood and oak heartwood. The look is rustic but chic, with vintage velvet sofas, solid wood dining tables and log-burning stoves. There is a retro radio (but no TV – switching off being the objective here), plus binoculars and books on birdwatching should you wish to tune into nature instead. Bathrooms come with power showers, eco-friendly toiletries and fluffy towels. And a curtain seals off a separate bedroom with bunk beds for children.

Attention to detail is what really makes By the Wye stand out. We’re talking a fabulous deck with tan leather saddle chairs draped in sheepskins and lanterns twinkling with fairy lights. The kitchen is properly kitted out with everything you need to prepare a meal or barbecue for the fire pit. Verdict: these are luxe tents to win over even reluctant campers. We had a great night sleep, with all the comfort of a proper bed yet the benefits you would ordinarily associate with camping – fresh air, owls twit-twooing you to sleep, birdsong as your alarm clock.

Saddle chair on the deck at By the Wye © Kerry Walker

The food

The family kindly provide a welcome basket full of Welsh goodies, including crackers, local chocolate, welshcakes, Black Mountain Roast coffee and marshmallows ready for toasting on the fire. Barbecue utensils are provided, as are kindling and wood.

If you don’t fancy the short walk into Hay-on-Wye, simply say the word and they can arrange meal boxes for breakfast, barbecues and picnics, all of which use produce locally sourced in Hay and the Brecon Beacons National Park.

Fire pit on the garden terrace at By the Wye © Kerry Walker

What’s here and nearby

Hay-on-Wye and all its terrific bookshops, cafes and shops is just a couple of minutes’ walk away through the woods. Having said that, part of the joy of being here is slowing the pace and simply taking time to wander aimlessly in the forest or along the river. There are some wonderful rambles right on the doorstep – you might spot river birds like herons and kingfishers or, if you’re really in luck, an otter.

Should you wish to go that bit further, you can rent a canoe at nearby Celtic Canoes and paddle along the River Wye at your own steam. And beyond Hay, there are the Black Mountains to explore, with some cracking hikes and road trips (the Vale of Ewyas is particularly memorable, taking in the serpentine Gospel Pass, Wales’ highest road at 1801ft). Or hike a section of the Offa’s Dyke Path, which passes through Hay as it makes its way over moor and mountain on the English-Welsh border.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From By the Wye, it’s 19 miles south to another of our favourite Brecon Beacons places to stay, the elegant manor of Gliffaes Country House Hotel.

Walks by the River

At a glance

Snooze factor: 8 Very peaceful indeed, but it can be chilly in the winter

Food Factor: 9 The welcome hampers are jam packed with tasty goodies.

Eco-friendly factor: 10*! This place has impeccable eco credentials, with renewable energy, recycling an overall low-impact approach – not to mention the gorgeous natural setting.

Location factor: 10 Hidden away in native woodland right on the banks of the River Wye.

Overall: 9.5

Price: Safari tents from £130 per night in the low season to £195 in the high.

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