By Holly Tuppen
“What’s all this racket about then?” booms a red-cheeked man with a shovel in one hand and a grubby cabbage in the other. I blush, having spent the last five minutes ignoring the increasingly loud and incessant whines coming from my three-year-old while uploading a photo to Instagram. It’s a sorry day when a Mr McGregor look-alike busts you for ignoring your children for the sake of social media on holiday. I needn’t have worried. This Mr McGregor is here to help. He beams down at the teary three-year-old and says, “It sounds to me like there are some helpers around here that might like to feed the chickens.”
It’s a bright, crisp morning on the Welsh Borders and, having arrived in darkness; we’re exploring our home for the weekend: Brooks Country House Hotel. Despite it being just under three hours from London, as far as the kids are concerned, we’re on another continent. After crossing Clifton Suspension Bridge, and a romp around Chepstow Castle, we weaved over the England Wales border for a good 30 minutes before reaching Brooks. Such an explorative feat boggled little minds in the back of the car as we played a game of “now England, now Wales, now England, now Wales” all the way.
The boys aren’t the only ones excited. During my years of reviewing family holidays, I’ve come to realise that one of life’s greatest luxuries is not having to make (or more importantly, clear up) food. Brooks Country House Hotel has the perfect recipe for family holiday success — beautifully furnished self-catering cottages and apartments with kitchens, wood-burners and private patios, but with all the facilities of a hotel.
We spent the evening settling into the newly-refurbished Tudor coach house, with pretty Cole & Sons wallpaper, restored wooden floors, and, as we only discovered in the morning, views across Pengethley National Park. Once the boys had splashed around in the roll-top bathtub and were tucked up, the hotel restaurant brought over trays of homemade scotch eggs, Hereford hop soufflé, slow-cooked pork belly, and a whole lot more to be washed down with a bottle of Pengethley Estate 2015 (our first foray into Welsh wine).
After loading up on coffee, pastries and a Welsh cooked breakfast with the freshest of local ingredients (there’s a farm shop next door), we’ve been playing giant chess, hide and seek in the walled vineyard, dodging cows in muddy fields and warming up in the playroom over table tennis and football. For warmer months there’s a beautiful outdoor pool in a walled courtyard, complete with a shepherd’s hut sauna. We wrench ourselves away to explore the Wye Valley.
Despite being only three hours west of London, this part of Wales is often overlooked, but it shouldn’t be: the landscape is epic; overcrowding is never an issue, and over the last ten years, Monmouthshire has garnered a reputation as a foodie hotspot. Local producers have hero-status in these parts, and the overflowing farm shops in every other village could easily give Wholefoods a run for its money. Four vineyards, three microbreweries, and two cider producers help to quench any thirst.
Little imaginations get a run for their money here, too. Tintern Abbey’s soaring structure is a must — park up at Brockweir and meander along the river to approach the abbey on foot. There’s Puzzlewood and the Forest of Dean Adventure to get little and big kids scrambling through the woods, canoeing trips along the Wye, a Forest of Dean sculpture trail, and Clearwell’s ancient caves. However, if that all sounds a bit much, collecting eggs, romping across the fields and holing up around the fire at Brooks Country House is enough of a break.