Feeling Blue in PembrokeshireBy Sarah Dave
May 20, 2009
I’m in love. Totally head over heels, on cloud nine. It’s about noon, the sun is blazing and I’m horseriding on the beach in beautiful Pembrokeshire.
Life could not get any better. Not only has the weather defied all odds but I’m indulging a passion in the most stunning surroundings. Yes, Pembrokeshire has stolen my heart.
Picnickers and children playing cricket on the sands nearby pause in awe as my boyfriend George and I, with around 40 other riders, descend on Nolton Haven beach like a cavalry regiment. Crashing waves unfaze our ponies Fudge and Monty as the sunlight ricochets off the breaks and we trot in.
This is the highlight of a 90-minute ride with Nolton Stables, a large, experienced centre with charming staff. It is just one of several activities we were able to try out as part of our three-day break at Bluestone holiday village in Narberth, Pembrokeshire – I had heard how stunning the national park was and chomping at the bit to see it for myself.
Bluestone opened less than a year ago in July 2008 and has 182 chic timber lodges, 30 cottages and 17 studio apartments set around a private village created over two valleys in 500 acres of glorious countryside.
After about a four-hour train ride from Reading to Narberth via Swansea, then a taxi (pre-booking is essential) from Narberth station to Bluestone, we arrived to a friendly welcome and a courtesy minibus shuttled us to the village centre – our spacious two-bedroom, two-bathroom timber lodge wasn’t ready yet so we set about exploring.
If you forget to bring your essentials, there is a ‘village store’, bakery/café and outdoor clothing shop where you can stock up. Restaurant facilities are impressive with a pub serving homely favourites, a wine bar, two family friendly restaurants and even a fine dining venue.
Joyously, Bluestone also has a holistic spa called The Well, which has saunas, steam rooms, an ice pod and 15 treatment rooms with products Murad, Terrake and ESPA available to soothe after a hard day’s orienteering, cycling or bushcrafting.
Getting active is all part of Bluestone with daily sessions, some paid, some free, of sports like laser shooting and archery. You can hire bikes, book something more adventurous off-site like horse-riding (£45 per person including transfers and equipment for a 90-minute hack), many watersports, dolphin-watching and golf, or hit the village’s Landsker Sports Club for a gym session, bout of badminton or table tennis or a spot of snooker.
We also spent several hours in Bluestone’s Blue Lagoon waterpark, cascading down water flumes, getting dunked by the wave machine and putting the world to rights in the jacuzzi.
Ancient woodland, rolling fields and the Preseli Hills are also at your disposal and we went for a long walk one morning grabbing lungfulls of fresh air. The whole area felt very environmentally ‘right on’ and it was nice to see some of the lodges with solar panels to heat water. Also, the Blue Lagoon and sports club are apparently both heated by an on-site biomass energy centre which burns miscanthus grown by a co-op of local farmers and woodchip.
Having expended a lot of our own energy as the weekend progressed, we decided to preserve some with a couple of treatments at The Well. My boyfriend emerged rejuvenated after an ESPA Stress Buster (£100 for one hour 55 minutes) – a full body hot stone and essential oil massage. It offers several men’s treatments.
Curious because of the name, I had a Primordial Waters Sculpting Massage (£80 for 70 minutes) where the therapist flicks ‘rain sticks’ of oil on your body and then massages your tensions away.
We tried two of Bluestone’s restaurants during our stay. Firstly the fine dining Carreg Las, which is ‘blue stone’ in Welsh. It felt every bit the posh, professional restaurant with plush décor and knowledgeable staff.
Between us we polished off Welsh rarebit and beetroot chutney, herring roes on toast with a garlic and parsley butter, chargrilled organic sirloin of Hazelwell Farm beef with triple cooked chips, slow roast belly of Tamworth pork with honeyed parsnips and black pudding, dark chocolate fondant and vanilla ice cream, Welsh artisan cheeses – including the unique Boxberg cheese – with oat biscuits and winter chutney, petit fours, red wine and port. Two courses were £22 or three courses £27. It was a real treat and I’d highly recommend a night here.
Another night we tried out The Smithy where a selection of juicy grills and healthy kebabs are served in generous portions. Simple and delicious.
It is also good to know much of Bluestone’s produce is locally sourced, which is also a thrill for foodies who want to taste local fare.
We had a super time, combining activity with relaxation, mixing the homeliness of self-catering with on-site eateries, all enjoyed in stunning countryside. Our lodge was impressive with all the amenities we would need including a dishwasher, microwave and cutlery.
Any downsides? Well, a car would have been handy to explore the surrounding areas as taxis to picturesque spots such as Druidstone and Little Haven were pricey – £40 anyone? And after a while the obviously artificial village could get a little claustrophobic so we’d bring our own transport next time.
Also, beware end-of-school time especially, on a Friday, if you’re in the Blue Lagoon as it is open to outside visitors and can get raucous.
You can also try out the neighbouring Oakwood theme park which has a plethora of rollercoasters and thrill rides.
South Wales was a revelation and I would not hesitate to return to this magnificent part of Britain and use Bluestone as a base to explore it.
On board with travelling chef
The huge seats of First Great Western trains were a soothing place to cocoon oneself after an active weekend in South Wales.
Thoughts of lunch could not be dismissed and we took advantage of the Travelling Chef service provided on this route.
It’s about freshly prepared food from an on-board chef on selected high-speed routes.
Train food has had its knocks over the years but at least FGW is trying to make it better and give a more serious proposition for the ravenous commuter sick of floppy sarnies and lukewarm soup in a cup.
I had a filling spicy stir-fried rice with chicken for a reasonable £6.85 while my guest had a tasty burger for £5.95 with potato wedges which came with two dips for £2.75. In both cases the meat was juicy and not gristly or dry, but the wedges could have been crispier.
Other options include bacon rolls for £3.50, eggs benedict for £5.25 and deli sandwiches for between £2.75 and £7.95.
For more details visit www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk
Call Nolton Stables on 01437 710 360 for pony trekking.
Sarah travelled to Narberth station with First Great Western trains from Reading to Swansea and Arriva Trains Wales from Swansea to Narberth. See www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk and www.arrivatrainswales.co.uk
Bluestone helpfully recommends Narberth Taxis (01834 861 601) to book in advance for collection from unmanned Narberth station.
For more ideas on what to do in the Pembrokeshire region visit www.pembrokeshire-tourism.net