All words and images © Nina Nixon
Crossing the border from England into South Wales the landscape changed from sweeping fields of green and yellow to tightly knitted lanes. Where tufts of grass grew in its middle, bursting with hedgerows and wild flowers.
Finding the signage for Old-Lands we were led down a winding driveway lined with buttercups, reminders that a gentler more slower way of life is respected on approach.
This is a working estate where not only the Gwent Nature Trust headquarters are on site, but the grounds are maintained by various hands, a forest school and productive walled garden with produce sold in the courtyard shop alongside eggs gathered from the chickens resident in the orchard plus attic finds slowly being sorted for sale from the main house.
Sam and Clare are the current owners of the Bosanquet family to manage the estate, doing so with much care and sensitivity. The ecology of the environment is foremost within their minds. The holiday lets sit nestled around a courtyard which was, up until very recently, a car park now created as an area of tranquility.
A lawn sits at its heart, edged with extensive perennial borders where bees and butterflies flit. The flowers for the beds were carefully moved from the walled garden that was originally created by Sam’s mother, keeping her love of plants within the design. It is a place to gather, or sit and ponder, whichever takes your fancy, on long benches made with timber from the estate. We sat most days hanging out at meal times, chatting as families do at these moments of togetherness. And of an evening huddled listening to the dusk chorus whilst the bats swooped over our heads, waiting for the first owl to hoot.
We spent most of our days on the estate, an afternoon dedicated to forest school where we learnt how to make elderflower cordial and eat popcorn fresh from the campfire. We met with Sam, an ecologist and naturalist for a morning and followed him on a bug hut. Studying peppered moths and their connection with the industrial revolution and discovered lime hawk-moths, plant galls, toads and slow worms, plus much more. Most afternoons we could be found on the lake taking turns at boating, whilst those that fancied staying on shore tried a spot of wild paddling or dangled their feet into the water letting tadpoles tickle their toes. We took nets out to the buttercup fields or tried our hand at pond dipping. But when all where otherwise occupied I would often sneak off to the walled garden. Nurtured by Colum, the walled garden is a new venture for the estate. Where flowers once grew it is now full of produce provided for the onsite community supported agriculture scheme (CSA).
Old Lands is a diverse environment where inter independants live and work, all with the same outlook and goal. There is so much more planned for the future. The Wildlife Trust are turning a field into a wild meadow and a micro farm is on the agenda with plans for brewing.
And it was one of the best weeks away we've had as a family. Praise indeed from the teenager to smallest child and adults alike.