When I began my search for sustainable places to stay in the Brecon Beacons, I did not expect to find a hidden gem like camping at Penpont. A magnificent family house set within delightful grounds on the banks of the River Usk, offering low impact camping within its historic walled rose gardens…
Penpont is a privately-owned Grade I listed house, identified as a building of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. It has been home to the same family since being built in 1666, and the house and grounds were opened to the public for the first time in 1992.
Standing in extensive grounds on the banks of the River Usk, Penpont is the centre-piece of a 2000 acre working rural estate. It is surrounded by some remarkable old buildings including a church, a Dower house, stables, workshops, a stilted dovecote, and ornate 19th century conservatory.
The gardens are quite unique, with sweeping lawns, old Victorian rose gardens and walled vegetable gardens, riverside and woodland walks, a turf labyrinth, numerous sculptures and a stunning Green Man maze. It is clear that the restoration and development of the gardens is an ongoing labour of love.
Camping at Penpont
It is in the Old Rose Gardens that you can enjoy camping at Penpont. One of the things I loved about this camp site is that it has an informal layout – no lines or designated pitches – and you can choose your own corner to camp in.
Numbers are strictly limited to no more than 35 people at any time, including children. The mature planting within the walled garden provides small private spaces among the trees and shrubs, with a central open area to gather around a communal fire pit. Metal fire baskets are available, if you prefer a fire beside your camp.
Camping at Penpont is primarily aimed at tents but there is space for two small camper-vans in the orchard. There are riverside pitches where you can fall asleep listening to the river’s flow. Watch out for wildlife like otters, kingfishers, and the bats that hunt for insects over the water at dusk.
The emphasis here is low impact camping. The River Usk is a Special Area of Conservation, one of only a handful in Europe, and the gardens contain some rare and ancient ornamental trees. This is a place for campers who will enjoy the beautiful surroundings and be sensitive to protecting them.
Hot showers and toilets are located in the Stable Block which is about 100 metres walk from the camp-site. A washing up sink, drainer and stand pipe are also provided.
The stable building has been converted into an events venue for weddings and other groups, and broadband WiFi is available throughout the building. There are two deep pools in the river where you can enjoy a wild swim, as well as tennis courts if you’re feeling particularly energetic.
A sustainable woodworker’s studio and a farm shop are located behind the stable block, where you can buy herbs, fruit and vegetables from Penpont’s own gardens, as well as local wood crafts, home-made charcoal, local milk, eggs and meat.
One of the major benefits of camping at Penpont is that residents get access to explore the magnificent gardens, which are not open to the general public.
I loved wandering around the certified-organic walled vegetable gardens, complete with glasshouses full of herbs and fruit, an apple tree tunnel and an impressive range of vegetables and flowers destined for sale in the farm shop, as well as green manures to regenerate the soil.
Another highlight was the Green Man maze, commissioned seventeen years ago to celebrate the new millennium, it is now sufficiently mature to lose your way searching for the central wishing stone and wild flower garden.
It is this maze which lends its name to the Green Man Festival, which owner Gavin Hogg was involved with in its early days.
The maze is thought to be the largest image of this important pagan symbol in the world and has been designed over an underlying grid of sacred geometry.
Exploring the maze takes you on a journey along beech and yew paths, past pools and secret gardens, sculptured benches, and an inner labyrinth.
Throughout the grounds you get glimpses of brilliance, such as the topiary hedge which recreates a parade of elephants, or the sculptures that have been sympathetically incorporated into the landscape.
Many areas of the 45 acres of gardens have been left natural to encourage biodiversity.
Sustainability at Penpont
There is a clear commitment to sustainability at Penpont, and this has been recognised by a Green Tourism Gold Award as well as a Wales Business and Sustainability Award.
The gardens have been certified organic with the Soil Association since 2001 and Penpont operates a closed system, feeding the land entirely with green manures and garden compost produced on site.
There have been a number of investments in renewable energy and other sustainable systems within the buildings, including a wood-fueled biomass boiler which provides heat and hot water. The fuel is sourced from the 200 acres of estate woodland, removing low grade timber, which encourages biodiversity.
Rainwater is harvested from the stable roof to provide water for toilet flushing, sustainable building materials such as sheep wool insulation are sourced locally, and visitors are encouraged to minimise waste and recycle on site.
Things to do
Penpont is in the heart of the Brecon Beacons National Park, with many local attractions to enjoy nearby, including Brecon Beacons Waterfall Country, the National Show Caves Centre for Wales, and The Mountain Centre just above Penpont.
The national park is a haven for hikers, mountain-bikers, and cavers. Canoeing, fishing, pony trekking, and wild swimming are popular too.
There are also some great castles and gardens to explore, and the Gower Peninsula is only just over an hour away with great beaches and surfing. The nearest town is Brecon, five miles away, and the pretty historic towns of Llandovery and Hay-on-Wye are both about 15 miles away.
Camping at Penpont: Fact File
Booking is essential as numbers are strictly limited to maintain the integrity and sustainability of the site. In 2016, the cost of camping is £10 per person (or £7.50 per child). Dogs are welcome at a cost of £2 per dog.
There is reasonable 3G mobile telephone reception on site and WiFi is available in the stables.
Find out more.
If camping isn’t your style, the self-catering Courtyard Wing to the rear of the main house is also available for holiday let.
It has its own entrance through an enclosed flagged courtyard and can sleep up to 17 people within six bedrooms. Prices start at £1,150 for two nights.