The ruins of Tintern Abbey stirred the soul of hopeless old Romantics like Wordsworth and Turner, and the ribs of its Gothic arches still enthral today – as does the thick woodland that rises like a mantle above the meandering River Wye. So far, so poetic. But how to escape the crowds that think likewise? Cue The Hop Garden, a serenely secluded retreat but a 25-minute amble north of the abbey, where you can sample the chocolatey, smoky ales of the adjacent Kingstone Brewery and spend the night in a rustic bolthole tucked away in utter privacy among woodland and gardens.
Why we love it….
Though just a scenic ramble along the River Wye from Tintern and its abbey, The Hop Garden feels properly remote. We actually thought we’d taken a wrong turn as we followed the dead-end track to the Kingstone Brewery, but no – the moral being that if you think you are on the road to nowhere, keep going. We followed the directions to the letter: unbolting the gate and following the path past a wood-fired oven, greenhouse, horsebox and hedging. The light was fading but we made it to the Hop Cabin – one of four retreats making up the Hop Garden – just as the light was fading on a crisp evening in early autumn. And what a delight our little log cabin was, having an almost American pioneer feel with vines draped across the veranda and a fire already blazing away for us in the wood-burner. As night descended, it was utterly silent but for the hoot of an owl.
The Hop Garden is the brainchild of Ed and Tori Biggs, whose love of outdoor living and adventure shines through. The cabins are almost entirely fashioned from wood and the gardens allow for plenty of privacy and back-to-nature time, making them perfect for either a romantic weekend away or a short break with the family. Ed and Tori’s ethos is summed up neatly with their favourite Cs: crackling campfires, canoeing and craft ale, all of which are here for the sampling.
Check-in is socially distanced at the moment and once you arrive you are very much left to your own devices, which might be just what you want anyway from a self-catering escape. Having said that, some little touches made us feel very welcome – pre-arrival details listing things to see and do and tips on where to eat, and a basket with two Kingstone brews to sample, as well as some background information on the brewery itself. And of course that lovely wood-burning stove blazing out a warm arrival for us.
The Hop Cabin is just the kind of place where you might want to give civilisation the slip for a month or two or – what the heck – perhaps hibernate for the entire winter. The cabin has a wonderfully rustic feel, with its dark timber exterior and trailing vine, veranda complete with well-worn sofa and wind chimes, and foliage-rimmed garden with a picnic table, fire pit and rope swing dangling from a tree. Inside it is quirkily cute and cosy, with whitewashed wood cladding and eclectic mishmash of furniture and art, board games and books. The lack of polish somehow adds to the charm, and the bath and wood burner are much appreciated after a bracing day’s walk in the Wye Valley.
The other digs are just as imaginative and include Pioneer, a lovingly converted horsebox nestled among the trees, with a fire pit and barbecue area, Brambling Cross, with a split stable door, antique pine kitchen and cabin bed, and Goldings Shepherd’s Hut, set in a wildflower meadow, with Edwardian furniture, fairy lights and antique Persian rug.
Ed and Tori run the adjacent Kingstone Brewery, where you can stock up on real ales and ordinarily (during non-pandemic times) hook onto tours and enjoy tastings. They also host occasional pizza nights in the vine-swathed courtyard, as well as bread- and pasta-making workshops, which are again currently on ice due to Covid-19. When the brewery shop is closed, you can buy ales and wines at the neighbouring Parva Vineyard.
For now, either come prepared with your own picnic and barbecue supplies. Or head into Tintern (a 25-minute walk), where there are cafes, pubs, hotels and restaurants aplenty.
What’s here & nearby
It’s all about the joy of the outdoors here, whether you’re observing wildlife (the surrounding meadows are, incidentally, frequented by deer, rabbit, pheasants and badger), sitting around the fire pit in the private evergreen-enclosed Hop Cabin garden and gazing up at starry night skies, doing the stroll into Tintern (by heading down across the main road to Old Station Tintern Visitor Centre and then along the Wye), or delving deeper into the Wye Valley on foot, by bike or canoe. For both bike and canoe hire, check out Wye Valley Experience at the Kingstone Brewery. Oh, and there is a sculpture garden right next door and a vineyard offering tours just down the road.
Tintern Abbey itself is naturally a major draw – avoid weekends and holidays to experience the Gothic ruins at their romantic best – as is the three-mile woodland stomp up to Devil’s Pulpit, which commands sublime views over the abbey and river. As local lore has it, this limestone outcrop is where the devil preached to the monks below, trying to lure them away from their order. So taken with the view was Wordsworth that it inspired him to write his 1798 poem “Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey”…
NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From the Hop Garden, it’s 31 miles southwest to Cardiff and – keeping with the alcoholic theme – one of the coolest bars in Wales, Spanish-inspired, vermouth specialising Vermut
At a glance
Snooze factor: 8 Very quiet – how could it not be so far from anywhere? – the occasional creaks of the house adding to the atmosphere!
Food Factor: 8.5 Well, they give you two fine craft beers, so they deserve a pretty good rating for that and – because we’re not just going to judge something by the wretchedness of Covid-19 times and because we’ve heard testaments to this effect – their wood-fired pizza must be excellent. Tintern and its pubs and hotels are a 25-minute walk.
Eco-friendly factor: 8 Blends in with the countryside that enfolds it with effortless beauty. And the beer served is, well, zero food/drink miles in the making!
Location factor: 9 It’s so tucked-away, as Kingstone Brewery’s grounds are vast, full of clumps of woods and meadows, and present a refreshingly serendipitous side to the Wye Valley at Tintern after those much-seen vistas of Tintern Abbey itself. Yet in 25 minutes’ walk, you can be in central Tintern.
Price: Rates range from £95 per night in mid-week low-season to £130 for weekends at peak times – based on a 2-night minimum stay, across the Hop Garden’s four lovably rustic accommodation options. (2021 prices)