Carry on up the Usk: The ideal family farm holiday

It’s the perfect antidote to the urban grind: escape to the country, staying in a lovely old farmhouse or cosily converted cowshed. The writer Sali Hughes takes her family on an unforgettable trip to a working farm in Monmouthshire.

Unique experiences, important enough to leave the table

Abergavenny Food Festival

Sali's son, Arthur, bottle feeds a young calf

There is great excitement. The news is important enough for us to interrupt our morning fry-up and run as quietly as we can while pulling wellies over our pyjamas. We get to the maternity pen at Hardwick Farm just in time to see a cow deliver twin calves into the world.

This might well be another day in the life of a working farm, but it’s one of the most memorable breakfast interruptions in the lives of my kids, Marvin (seven) and Arthur (five).

Their idea of a holiday is chaos - demented, noisy, joyful running around, and going to bed at stupid o’clock. My idea of a holiday is sitting with a glass of wine, with no constantly-pinging laptop, safe in the knowledge that my children are, well, safe.

On that basis it makes perfect sense to head for Monmouthshire for a holiday with Farm Stay Wales. The journey of 200-odd miles from my Brighton home is thoroughly painless. Short, direct, travel; no language barrier, no jabs, the knowledge that you’re only ever a few miles away from whatever action you and yours happen to be keen to experience on any given day.

A friendly farm welcome

We arrive at Hardwick Farm in rural Abergavenny to be greeted by Mary Poppins in wellies. Carol Jones has been deservedly put up for ‘Friendliest Landlady of the Year’ awards, and is extremely warm, helpful and no-nonsense.

She shows us around her cosy farmhouse, which is sweet, roomy and reassuringly functional. Hardwick is a working dairy farm - no affected ‘shabby chic’ nonsense here, just proper dirty wellies, two adorable working dogs, and hundreds of beautifully cared-for cows.

Lots of thing to see and do

Raglan Castle

Raglan Castle, Monmouthshire, Wye Valley & Vale of Usk

Tuesday is market day in Abergavenny, and we spend three hours ransacking the stalls for homemade pies, tarts and old-fashioned sweeties, as well as rummaging through the second-hand bric-a-brac and pocket-money toy stalls, which our children love. 

A rainy Wednesday might be written off in another rural community, but we enjoy a highly successful excursion to Big Pit, the popular mining museum in nearby Blaenavon. 

On Thursday, we visit Raglan Castle, once the most luxurious medieval castle in Britain. 

From here we head off for Monmouth, a quaint, pretty daytrip destination with lots of inexpensive eateries, gift shops, and a lovely little playground where the boys run themselves ragged.

Friday starts gently enough, with the kind of home-cooked farmhouse breakfast that you can never quite re-create in an urban semi:  locally cured bacon, fresh eggs, and the most perfect, plumpest, porkiest sausages. But even these are temporarily abandoned when Carol brings even more exciting fare: the calves are about to be born.

Wye Valley

Sali's children in the calving shed

We gather in hushed awe on the straw-scattered floor of the calving shed, feeling a bit like the Three Wise Men and the shepherds might have felt if they’d got the time wrong and turned up a bit early. The cow doesn’t seem to mind. She’s busy bringing a pair of Friesian calves into the world. The children are transfixed. “Why is she pooing a big cow?” asks Arthur. Everyone laughs. Even the cow.

It’s at this moment I have a revelation. This is how memories are made. It’s just one of the hundreds of thousands of collective experiences that a family has - but one that none of us will ever forget. I guess this is why people go on holidays, right?

Sali Hughes and her family stayed at Hardwick Farm, a working dairy farm near Abergavenny, and a member of Farm Stay Wales.