A Weekend of Wild West in the Brecon Beacons
When planning a weekend escape I sometimes want to do something a bit different and have the freedom of self-catering. If like me you are looking for a short break with a difference then Wranglers Rest in the Brecon Beacons combines breath-taking scenery with awe-inspiring escapism and a good helping of nostalgia, romance, not to mention a touch of the Wild West.
This is no ordinary wood cabin that is nestled in the trees, this pioneer style log cabin has a real touch of the Western charm about it and I think you’ll be hard pushed to find anything else quite like it this side of the Atlantic. In true Wild West style the front porch is complete with a rocking chair, which invites you to sit and indulge in quiet reflection. You can’t help but close your eyes and think ‘Old West’: and before long images of Cowboys and Indians, sheriffs and outlaws, wagon trains, one-horse towns, shoot-outs in saloons and stampeding cattle out on the range all come to mind. Inside the Western saddle on display in the corner of the lounge and the cowboy hats hanging on the wall are not just props employed by an interior decorator instead they hint at the backdrop and history of Wranglers Rest, but the biggest clue is in the name. The term ‘Wrangler’ originates in America and is used to describe the men who trained and handled horses and this is just what the owner John does; he is a real life Horse Listener who explains that he runs clinics for “horses with people problems”.
Wranglers Rest is nestled in the woods at the end of a private track near the owners John and Sue’s horse guidance centre and 15th Century farmhouse and I can’t help feeling that part of the warm and cosy atmosphere of this holiday home is passed directly from the owners who have a calm, serenity about them and a discernable love of what they are creating at their farm. As I sit and chat with the owners in their distinctly medieval lounge listening to John tell me of how he was originally a carpenter and ‘’retired into horses’’, I couldn’t help feel that the theory that some people have callings in life is very true, for it was apparent that John has a gift in communicating with horses. He is an inspirational teacher although he terms it that he had learned a lot from horses over the years this is how John sees it: that horses are the teachers and he is the interpreter. He listens to the horse and forms a trusting, safe partnership with the horse, helping them to overcome difficulties they are experiencing and helping owners to attend to their horse’s needs.
As I watched John place the loaves lovingly created by Sue into their historical bread oven I couldn’t help feeling that they had created their very own slice of the Good Life. Indeed there is something of a real life Barbara Good, about Sue who spends her days growing vegetables, tending to chickens and ducks, caring for their four dogs and mucking out the stables of sixteen horses as well as being an avid cook and looking after Wranglers Rest. As I watched her tend to a pot of leek and potato soup on the open range, she talked with deep affection about her hens and ducks that all have pet names and whom provide the eggs that go into the welcome basket. It is these little touches born from a love of what they are doing that make all the difference and makes it a special place to visit.
Old Shawls Farm were Sue and John live was derelict when John took it over back in 1997 thankfully his former life as a carpenter specialising in building and restoring old timber frame houses has enabled him to restore the property and breathe life back into the structure whilst retaining its original layout. The restoration of the farm house is still on-going, but it has a lovely charm to it and bread making in this house is an event worthy of ceremony. Whilst standing in their true farm-house kitchen complete with large Stanley range, I spotted a well-read copy of John Seymour’s ‘Guide to Self Sufficiency’ and with a smile, Sue, exclaims, “When we were designing this kitchen John told me he wanted a John Seymour kitchen”, and she reaches for the book and flicks through the pages locating an illustration in the book of a farmhouse kitchen where preserves are being potted on the table and a cooking range stands smugly in the background. I can safely say that John got his wish; for their kitchen is most definitely ‘John Seymour-esq’.
Back at the ‘Ranch’ I found I felt surprisingly at home in the cabin in a very short space of time. As I Settled into one of the comfortable leather wing-back chairs, listening to the gentle crackle and rumble of the wood burner it was easy to forget about the world outside and I could feel myself transforming into an arm chair philosopher. I felt my stresses and strains drain away whilst gazing out of the window at the woodland and I was tempted to lock myself away and write a novel. I could fully understand why this is a popular retreat for writers and artists, but then there is plenty to see and do in this area whether you fancy taking rural walks or driving around 8 miles to Hay-on-Wye.
In the evening I couldn’t resist lighting the candle lanterns on the porch and marvelling at the starry skies with a mug of cocoa and a slight hankering for a Frontier lifestyle as I heard the distant whinnying of horses. The enamel mugs and plates provided in the cabin brought back memories of childhood camping holidays and added a nice touch to the ‘simple’ feel of the accommodation. The balance between natural harmony, simplistic living and mod-cons and comfort was successfully achieved and nice little touches such as fresh cottage garden flowers, scented candles, a welcome basket with local sausages, crusty bread, butter and free range eggs all added that homely touch and meant I could look forward to a hearty breakfast after awakening to the gentle calls of a cuckoo.
When you arrive at Wranglers Rest it is not just John and Sue that form the welcoming committee, there is also a permanent herd of Horses who are an integral part of the team. I was lucky enough to get to watch John working with a horse called Marnie and it was a true wonder to watch man and horse working in harmony. John’s gentle and holistic style of horsemanship is a refreshing marvel to witness and as I watched him work it became clear why he is known as the ‘Horse Listener’. His intuitive, respectful approach to working with horses showed an instinctive ability on which years of experience have been built on to. When visiting Wranglers Ranch there may be several horses which are in training and unapproachable, but John or Sue would be happy to show you around should you be interested and their guided tour is well worth taking. John offers a number of training options for owners and horses. I couldn’t help thinking I’d missed a wonderful opportunity to gain insight into my spirited miniature Shetland pony, Dewdrop. On that note perhaps I will have to arrange a pony sabbatical in the near future, in the meantime all I can hope is that some of the calm charisma John has may have rubbed off.
To find out about the Horse Listener services of John Jones or to book a course or break with your horse contact him directly:
Black Hill Horse Training
Old Shawls Farm, Craswall
Herefordshire, HR2 OPW
Tel 01981 510269
Wranglers Rest Basic check-list: