I’m lying in bed in the T5, looking wistfully through the window at a gorgeous camping hut bathed in late evening sunshine. Lionel is lying on his bed, looking wistfully up at me. Lionel is in the dog house and I’m here with him. “That dog,” I mutter, for the millionth time in his retirement. He rests his head on long legs without flinching from my stare.
We should be glamping it up in the hut with the teens, but Lionel ‘I don’t do stiles or stairs’ Lees is living up to his widening reputation as the most hopeless dog ever to set paw on countryside or campsite. There are five – FIVE – steps up to the hut’s beautifully sun-facing veranda, and That Dog has failed to scale a single one. He does a lot of sniffing of the steps and at one point even gingerly puts one claw on the lowest, but it’s all for show. Not quite twice Lionel’s weight, I can’t carry him up, so here we are, in our own T5, while the teens party on in style.
We’re at Willow Springs in the Afan Valley, where I’ve already luxuriated, dog-less, in the Shepherd’s Hut. Canine companions aren’t invited into the Shepherd’s Hut (such a good rule!) but are welcome in the two Camping Huts – if they are dog enough to master five steps, that is. Like the Shepherd’s Hut, these pods are light and airy, as well as spacious enough for six, with two double beds and room on the floor for an inflatable mattress. A touch of home comfort is added by wall lamps and electric sockets for teens to charge their phones, in contrast to the camping pitches, which are strictly off-grid.
That lovely veranda has an undercover food prep counter with ample storage space and a table and chairs set out in the teatime sun for our arrival (guests are welcome to pop them inside when the weather is less friendly). Our hut is at the top of Willow Springs’ sloping driveway and the view from here is glorious, all hilltops and treetops rolling north and south in heightened shades of summer.
In addition to the glamping huts are 10 pitches for tents, campervans and motorhomes. There is space for more but the site is kept deliberately exclusive, owners Marc and Judy more concerned with offering an authentic experience than competing with larger, commercial sites and their precisely-regimented rows. The result is a lovely setting in which campers can be as visible or secluded as they wish; staff are ever on hand to point out local attractions and share a campfire story or two, yet clever ‘wild’ spacing between the pitches affords privacy for those who wish it – as well as mesmerising air displays by a willing cast of resident bees, butterflies and insects.
Willow Springs is in Glyncorrwg, among the uppermost villages in the Afan Valley and on the edge of the forest park. Among the site’s many eco credentials is the ease with which you can ditch the car and walk or cycle anywhere you want to go; running past the campsite gate is National Cycle Route 887, which meanders all the way down to Aberafan’s golden beach (make time to visit seafront cafe Remos for the breakfasts and the ice cream – both at the same time, if you’re really getting into the holiday spirit).
If your legs aren’t up to the 14 miles to the seaside, aim for Afan Forest Park Visitor Centre just a short ride from the campsite. It’s the starting point for a number of family-friendly trails and more strenuous mountain biking routes, as well as home to a small museum telling Afan’s mining story. Just a couple of miles south is Pontrhydyfen, the birthplace of Richard Burton and clinging to the hillside around a sweeping viaduct, now open to cyclists and walkers. On the cycle trail and at the gateway to this pretty village lies a lovely woodland garden that’s just perfect for a spot of shrinrin-yoku, or forest bathing.
Our all-too-short time at Willow Springs is as full as it can be. We walk lots and paddle in the River Afan (or, to give it its brilliant Welsh name, the Afon Afan), the shade of the trees especially welcome to Lionel in the mini-heat wave we enjoy. That Dog is particularly fussed over by Marc and Judy, and slavishly waited upon at the Glyncorrwg Ponds cafe, a cheerful and refreshingly priced place open throughout the day and into the evenings. I haven’t visited for a year or two and forget how strikingly sapphire the ponds are, and how beautiful Port Talbot is when you look past the steelworks.
As for the teens’ party? Turns out some words were said (I surmise some things were possibly thrown, too) and they both spend the evening sourly reading their respective books in silence. Willow Springs might be magical, but it takes more than even a gorgeous camping hut bathed in late evening sunshine to halt peak teen grumpiness in its forest tracks. I look at Lionel and we exchange a knowing glance. The T5’s really quite comfortable, after all, and ever so peaceful.
We 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. You can also give them a follow on Facebook and Instagram!