Have you heard about the magic of Fforest, the rural glamping hub in the heart of West Wales? If you have, you may have heard of its stunning location, near to where the River Teifi finally stretches into the sea. You may have heard about the couple that have slowly and lovingly developed it, James Lynch and Sian Tucker, who decamped from London to West Wales 15 years ago, with their four sons in tow, to be nearer Sian's mum.
You may have heard, too, of how it was built with love, creativity and incredible care for the countryside, and how it feels both strangely ancient and timeless and modern. For example, its tiny old barn, once a dilapidated shack, is now a one-room country pub, Y Bwthyn (The Cottage), pumping its own beer.
Its old farmhouse has every mod con, but also ancient oak beams, and Welsh tapestry blankets. Its newer accommodation is also in the middle of nature, but this includes deeply fashionable domes with comfy double beds and Japanese onsen baths, and garden rooms with wooden-panelled walls and USB chargers – where I’ll be staying this weekend.
For here I am, about to experience the magic of Fforest for myself. And it’s not going to just be for an ordinary weekend either. I'm here for one of the three-day events for which Fforest is famous: their nine-course Spring Feast, and I’m a little nervous that it might be too achingly fashionable for this ordinary Welsh girl.
But it turns out I have no need to be nervous. Instead, I fall in love with a beautiful retreat in the countryside, hosting people from all walks of life, and have three days that will linger long in mind.
After driving through the sleepy Pembrokeshire village of Cilgerran and following the brown signs to the West Wales Wildlife Centre, I find Fforest on the right of the wildlife centre’s track, announced by a modern, wooden sign. Already, I know I am somewhere quite different.
After parking and winding up the path with my kit to the lodge, the camp’s gorgeous architecture announces itself instantly. Reclaimed wood, carved tables and decking stretch themselves out beneath the trees. The staff potter around busily and happily, wearing their trademark Fforest t-shirts, and I get a lift to my accommodation in a buggy from the Tucker-Lynches' youngest son, Jackson. He’s in charge of the food tomorrow night. 'We’ve been prepping all week,' he says, with excitement.
Then I'm in, flopping on my Welsh blanket covered bed, in a room that smells of wood polish and oak. There is no curtain on the window behind me, deliberately, which surprises me – but later, I’ll realise and appreciate why.
I head down to Y Bwthyn as the sun sets for an early evening livener. I have a cocktail including gin made in the nearby coastal village of Tresaith – and as we South Walians say, it’s lush. I get talking to people trickling in, and they’re a disparate gang, young couples who bought a weekend here for a Christmas present bonding with mums and dads enjoying a weekend where their sons or daughters will get married next year. Fforest is a big wedding venue, it becomes clear, growing in popularity for couples who want their own mini-festival to celebrate. Fforest even have their own wedding planner, Paula, who works with couples to see how the site, with all its flexible spaces, can work for them.
Then dinner is served. Tonight, this involves self-service wood-fired pizza and smokehouse delights in the big tipi near the Lodge. I end up checking my calendar to see if tonight is indeed the feast, not tomorrow, as I eat enough goats cheese, walnut and pear pizza and incredible smoky chilli ribs to sink a ship on the Irish Sea.
Nevertheless, I carry on nobly, and end up at the Bwthyn for a nightcap. Here strangers become friends remarkably quickly and easily, chatting and laughing in their blankets around the fire pit outside. I return to my toasty garden room, and as I get into bed, I look up to my curtainless window, and see it filled up with stars. That magic, I sense, has started to appear.
Waking early, I lace my Doc Martens on over my socks, and go outside in my pyjamas to make coffee. The Garden Rooms’ kitchens are external, with a sink and a fridge, as well as a handy cafetiere and jars of caffeine, plus your own dining table and a sofa decked out in ships' cushions. From here, I watch the sun rising on Fforest’s incredible vegetable beds, already bursting with chard, rhubarb and herbs. Hot showers can be found in the block next door – the morning air certainly bracing after the water goes off, but quite the fitting, natural wake-up call. From 8 to 10am, a simple breakfast is available at the Lodge. Boiled eggs and sourdough bread and fresh orange juice go down nicely, as the day yawns into life.
Fforest’s Sian takes those of us wanting to explore on a walk around the nearby woodland. She brings Bru and Arrow with her, Fforest’s gorgeous old dogs, who show us the way down the shale path to the river, the gorge and the quarry. We pass Sian's second son Robbie who has been out already – he's carrying baskets of wild garlic from the woodland for tonight’s feast. Then we visit the Fforest canoes by the river, climb through a dark, tiny tunnel that was once used by quarrymen, and gawp underneath what Sian calls her favourite tree – a huge oak, gnarling and whirling into the sky.
We then climb high above the river, before returning to home base, where I also get a sneaky peak of the Crog Lofts and the Farmhouse. Here, I fall in love with all the ceramics and furniture, and the quirky, sweet items former guests have left, including an annotated blackboard left by a family, talking of the fun they have had here.
Saturday afternoon is free, so I walk to the nearby Welsh Wildlife Centre, which shares a track with Fforest. You can have lunch here, with beautiful views of the Teifi crossing the border into Ceredigion, and into the nearby town Cardigan (only 10 minutes away by car for all your essentials).
Coming back, everything’s busy around the Lodge. The main outside table is an operation line of people chopping the wild garlic, while Robbie is now employed by the toaster – he’s getting endless pieces of bread browned for tonight’s amuses bouches. I wander uphill to look at the Fforest domes – gorgeous, futuristic beasts with big beds, heated with wood-fired stoves. I also encounter the incredible sauna, which looks like a mystical tree trunk from Alice In Wonderland. I pop my head in, and my eyes – as well all my pores – open wide.
Then all I want to do more than anything is just sit, rest, and take in the air. This is the effect Fforest has on you – it just makes you want to sit, read and relax. Which is not a bad idea, as it goes, especially before the night that awaits us.
By early evening, there is a noticeable exodus from the top of the site down the hill, and by the time I get to Y Bwthyn, there are people queuing at the bar. Rhubarb syrup is filling up the prosecco glasses – and it would be rude not to have one – so I chat with a few young couples with babies who are looking forward to the evening ahead, as long as it lasts for them. Fforest is accommodating to all, I've discovered, which is part of its loveliness.
Then at 7.30pm, we’re called into the amazing Cedar Barn, where festivities begin. Tonight, the food is in collaboration with a restaurant called Rita’s in London – Fforest and Rita’s do each course in turn. Despite the big city incursion, however, a warm, Welsh welcome remains, and lots of local food connections are on display too. The natural wines tonight all come from Wright’s Food Emporium in Carmarthenshire, and the cheeses served are always locally sourced – and right on cue, as the meal begins, here comes the foraged wild garlic.
We eat it with incredible surf clams, and things get even more delicious from there. Tables share huge bowls of barbecued crabs, barbecued sirloin steaks, and the world’s best ever roast new potatoes. Vegetarians have garden dumplins and pumpkin pancakes and smoked beetroot pithiviers, and we’re all nearly collapsing by the time the pudding arrives. But here it is: rhubarb and rose pastilles and spicy bowls of drinking chocolate, then a cheese platter on the main table. Four hours after we begin, we heave ourselves out, grinning like Cheshire cats, having had one of the best meals of our lives.
I wake at three in the morning, fully dressed on my bed, having laid down to see the stars, before immediately heading off into dreamland. When I wake, I think, I don’t have to go home tomorrow, do I? I don't want the magic to end.
On Sunday morning, there’s a brunch with which Fforest say their hwyl-filled goodbye. Unsurprisingly, it’s fantastic: local sausages, baked eggs in tomatoes, perfect rashers of bacon, and endless pours of coffee filling our enamel mugs. My fellow Fforesters and I try to pick our favourite parts of the weekend, and we all struggle, because everything has been brilliant. And there are great things I still missed, including something that happened very late last night: James telling a ghost story around the fire pit, before everyone sloped off dreamily to bed.
We all talk about how much we all want to come back to Fforest again, too – and about how many ways in which you can do this. You can come to Fforest over the Easter holidays for Easter egg rolling, films, and wild swims with your family, or during Whitsun for more sunny activities. You can come for bed and breakfast stays as a couple mid-week, or on a weekend if you are lucky enough to find one free in the middle of the weddings. You can even organise a conference here, or attend the women’s Glow Camp in the Autumn. Plus – and I was delighted to discover this – there’s another feast held in the Winter.
July and August also brings two rounds of Fforest Gather, two six-day mini-festivals for 300 people at a time. These are full of workshops, talks and walks, and you can get busy learning about illustration, painting, writing and printmaking, cooking with beer, making chocolate, den building, spoon carving, ceramic throwing and more. Nights bring record playing in the pub, tastings and storytelling too, I'm told – and perhaps a chance to twist James' arm to tell another ghostly tale.
With all this potential future fun swimming in my head, I walk down to the car, Fforest’s Sian helping me with my bags, as the sun pours through the trees. We cwtch our goodbyes, and I start the engine, sad to go. Before I finally exit, I stop for a moment, and look back up the hill, to the heart of Fforest, trying to lodge its magic in my mind. Let's hope it never lets me go.
Exploring the outdoors is fantastic fun, but please read up on the risks and make sure you are prepared.
Header image courtesy of © Ed Schofield