I recently spent a night at this magical hideaway in Herefordshire, one of our most popular properties. It was so beautiful and quirky; a total escape from everyday life and unlike anywhere I’ve ever stayed before. Being here feels like a time travelling experience – step inside and you’re in an authentic showman’s wagon from the 1920s, cosy and lamplit. With elegant woodwork inscriptions, a vintage stove, period lamps and velvet curtains you get all the feels and atmosphere of a travelling circus life, yet subtle contemporary comforts have been carefully woven in to up the ante (an electric blanket, Piglet bedlinen, an adjacent modern bathroom, show people never had it so good).
The wagon sits alone in an orchard, with sweeping views of Herefordshire hills. For me, one of the most remarkable things was the silence, but for birdsong. Owners Annie and John have installed birdfeeders by all of the windows, and there’s a constant wildlife show. I loved lying in bed watching nuthatches and bluetits, and the thrill of spotting a woodpecker as I showered. We ordered a delicious chicken stew and homemade brownies for supper — John is a brilliant cook — and my daughter loved roasting marshmallows over the firepit for an additional pudding.
If you’re after a really special, romantic back-to-nature escape, this is truly memorable. Here’s how it all came about…
What’s the back story of the wagon?
John: It dates back to the turn of the century. It was owned by a circus showman, and would have been pulled by a steam tractor from fair to fair. He would probably have had a wife and family living in the wagon, too, and the height of the wagon from the ground enabled them to have some privacy from the gaze of the fairground crowds.
How did you find it?
I bought it from a Herefordshire farmer 25 years ago, so that I could have somewhere to live during my 2-year apprenticeship as a potter with ceramicist Rupert Spira.
Did it require a lot of restoration?
Yes – over a year of painstaking work! We restored all of the Edwardian period detail – gold stencilling on the ceilings; the antique wood panelling; painting the interior in authentic cream and burgundy, and the exterior gold and emerald. And we also carefully blended in an efficient wood stove, all sorts of mod cons in the kitchen, and an attached bathroom with a flush loo and tadellak-plastered shower.
What was it like actually living in the wagon?
Fairly rudimentary – it was before we installed the mod cons. It was parked in a neighbour’s field, and I washed off each day’s clay dust in a large hip bath in front of a huge ancient stove. The stove was my only source of heating, and the period lamps (which have now been converted to electricity) were all run on gas. I loved the feeling of living with this thin skin between me and the world of nature outside. Every sound – raindrops, gusts of wind, the scamper of a squirrel, the owl’s hoot – fills the wagon interior with its presence. And light floods in from all corners of the compass.
After 2 blissful years, my wife Annie was expecting – so we moved to a Herefordshire cottage and parked the wagon in our orchard, where it remained largely uninhabited for 15 years.
Why did you want to turn it into a business?
We wanted to restore and cherish the wagon after all those years of neglect. Renting it out has helped to pay for the restoration.
What are your favourite things about staying in it nowadays?
The wagon surveys a wild view of fields, and trees, and distant mountains. I love lying in bed watching the sun rise over the landscape. The bedroom is its own little wood panelled room – I love its cosiness .I love the ‘mollycroft’ windows – a series of narrow rectangles of glass high above the main windows offering views of the sky at eye height. I love opening the little wooden French doors onto the wooden decking facing the view, and – on a good day – letting in a flood of sunshine.
Which little touches are the most popular with your guests?
We fill antique glass bottles with little posies of wildflowers, and everyone loves the birdfeeders.
What’s your favourite time of year here?
We love all the seasons! The cherry blossom that hangs near the bedroom in the spring; the wildflower meadow below in the summer, and long evenings around the fire pit, and being able to see the stars in the night darkness; the ravishing autumn colours; and finally, the crisp, frosty winter days when the woodburner keeps the interior warm and cosy.
What do you recommend people do while they are here?
Personally, I just love sitting in the armchairs, or on the deck, and watching the natural world – the birds, and trees and the span of the view. There is a lovely local walk through the fields and woods to tiny St Margaret’s Church with its famous 14thC rude screen. For more adventurous folk there are wonderful mountain walks on the nearby Black Hill; swimming in the Wye in Hay (and enjoying all the little shops in that market town, and the marvellous sheep’s milk ice cream at Shepherds). More good food shops are in nearby Abergavenny, and there’s a Michelin-starred restaurant – The Walnut Tree – a little further east.
Read my full review and booking details here.