I’m cwtched under a duvet in a wooden chalet on wheels. It’s blowing an unseasonal hoolie, warm 50mph gusts buffeting the hut and whistling into the fading embers of a log fire. Late evening light glows through the curtains and falls across the bed as an owl shrieks into the depths of the valley. I wonder if I’ll sleep; at home I need black-out blinds, ear plugs and various phone-and-alarm-clock hiding places to get six hours max. Then I do what I always do outdoors and fall into a coma for 10 hours straight.
Glamping in the Afan Valley
I’m glamping in the Shepherd’s Hut at Willow Springs, a gorgeously secluded campsite in the crook of the Afan Valley. I’m less than an hour’s drive from home but worlds away from the busy-ness of work and a cottage doing its darndest to edge further and further from being ‘finished’. We’re in the middle of a surprisingly summery spell for, er, summer in Wales, and Afan is rivalling anything that central Europe can offer. And ‘the’ place to stay for hikers and mountain bikers seduced by this quietest of valleys is Willow Springs, an eco campsite drawing its own water supply from the mountain spring which gives it its name and where visitors are encouraged to switch off phones in favour of real, slow conversations around the campfire.
The Shepherd’s Hut is just about as snug as you can get in a gale, with a soft double bed next to the log burner and a sofa bed for an extra guest. This is glamping at its finest, with forest views to lose hours to. The hut uses solar energy to power two lamps and a handy dual phone charging point, and is bright and airy, with windows on all sides. It’s absolutely spotless (another paradox I haven’t quite cracked is how I can happily sleep for those 10 hours on all kinds of grass, but remain rather fussy about interior surfaces).
Outside is a picnic table and a fire pit and grill, the hut furnished with an axe for would-be Bear Gryllses to chop their own fuel (you can also buy kindling from reception if that sounds too exhausting for one wellness weekend). To the side of the hut is a cute food prep shed with a counter for your stove – you need to bring your own – and plenty of storage. Dogs aren’t allowed in the Shepherd’s Hut but are more than welcome in the two Camping Huts and on all camping pitches (stay tuned for further reviews!).
Willow Springs was established a few years back by Marc and Judy Souter, who returned to Wales in search of a slower pace of life and balance. They have woven themselves into the fabric not only of the site they’ve lovingly created but of a community rebuilding itself after decades of industrial decline. Marc’s a font of knowledge when it comes to places to go and things to do, recommending local must-see sites such as Glyncorrwg Ponds and Afan Forest Park Visitor Centre and connecting visitors with other tourism providers in the area, including the brilliant Mountains and Memories Guided Mountain Biking for women.
Some of this knowledge is crammed onto a large information board in the washing up shelter, with details of attractions further afield, such as the renowned Waterfall Country and Wales’ tallest building, with a crow’s nest restaurant overlooking Swansea Bay. On the board is also a useful smattering of Welsh, plus a list of local eateries and emergency numbers for vets, GPs and the Samaritans. Recycling is a must, with an assortment of clearly-marked bins for paper, plastic, cans, glass and food, while Marc and Judy are ever on hand at reception or around the site to answer questions and share stories.
The decking area outside reception has sumptuous sofas and is an ideal spot to meet, drink tea or something stronger and while away the time. It’s also where you’ll get the most reliable wifi on a site not overly bothered with online connection (teens horrified to realise that ancient parents have booked them into a campsite without electric hook-ups will breathe out on hearing phones can be charged at reception for £1).
Willow Springs is a welcoming retreat for anyone feeling even mildly frazzled by modern life and wondering if there isn’t just a better way to simply ‘be’. I wake, rejuvenated, to the swish of a calmer breeze and the promise of a day exploring emerald hillsides, and instantly think of three people whose next gift is going to be not more ‘stuff’ but a night here, drifting to sleep in the glow of simmering logs. I’ll even lend them my prized camping stove, I decide generously. They’ll need to bring their own bedding – but without doubt leave the earplugs at home.
I stayed at Willow Springs as a guest of Marc and Judy. To book the Shepherd’s Hut, a Camping Hut or a pitch, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 07903 799793.
Heading to Willow Springs sometime soon? You really need a copy of this book, with family and dog-friendly trails at Glyncorrwg Ponds, Afan Forest Park, Margam and Waterfall Country!