Liberal politician William Gladstone would likely be pleased to find out that his Welsh estate is still in family hands, but it's hard to know what he'd make of the custom-built shepherds huts that have been newly installed in the grounds. We sent Ben Lerwill to judge for himself.
There’s an eye-catching framed artwork in the bathroom block of the Hawarden Estate’s walled garden, hanging just above a digital radio that’s been placed in there for shower-singers. Across a detailed map of the region are imprinted the words ‘NORTH WALES IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA’. If you put the vagaries of the UK weather to one side there’s a
strong case for this assertion. This is, after all, the home of Snowdonia and Anglesey, places of grand contours and horizon-filling panoramas.
But not all the region’s riches are super-sized. I’m here to stay in The Beekeeper’s Hut, one of two new luxury holiday properties in the grounds of Hawarden, a working country estate in the wooded countryside between Wrexham and the River Dee. The hut itself is solar-powered, purpose-built and measures some four metres by two. Despite its dimensions, it packs plenty into its design-led, one-room interior, including a double bed, a record player, a stove and myriad cushions, lamps and art-prints.
I’m joined by my Labrador, Holly, who has little of value to say about the décor but seems to find the whole set-up as cosy and den-like as I do.
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If the Hawarden name sounds familiar, it’s likely because of its heritage. The estate is still owned by the family of the Liberal politician William Gladstone, who became prime minister a remarkable four times in the late 19th century. He spent many years living here, not — you’ll be shocked to hear — in a chic shepherd’s hut, but in the heavily turreted Gothic castle that today dominates the grounds.
The hut itself sits at the upper end of the estate’s walled garden, a large area enclosed by high, ivied brickwork. The garden was here in Gladstone’s day, although he wouldn’t have
recognised its modern incarnation. Around the hut, things feel wild ‚ shaggy hornbeams, tall banks of pink willow herb, gatekeeper butterflies in the brambles — but the lower end of the garden is a neat maze of apple trees and yew hedges, among which are hidden a wood-fired sauna and small hot tub.
Overlooking it all, behind two flagpoles, is a brilliant outdoor kitchen, complete with Big Green Egg, gas BBQ and a glowing sign reading ‘Be nice, say hi’. Occupants of the hut have
exclusive use of the kitchen and hot tub — the sauna is bookable for a fee. The estate runs occasional campfire cooking and yoga classes on the site, when participants can use the
bathroom block, but otherwise you’ve essentially got your own walled Eden. Think of it as a funked-up version of The Secret Garden.
Waking up in the hut is a joy. Robins and wood pigeons sound from the treetops; the sun picks out dew and cobwebs; the dawn light is almost painterly. When I open the door and let the outside in, it feels life-giving. (At least, it does until a squirrel has the temerity to scuttle through the tree canopy. Holly ensures the lie-in ends pretty swiftly after that.)
The other great boon of staying here, of course, is the access to the grounds. We make the 10 minute walk past donkey fields and pick-your-own orchards to the estate’s impressive
farm-shop-cum-café, which is very much an attraction in its own right. Eggs Royale with potato rösti and proper coffee sets me up for the day. In the adjoining village of Hawarden
itself, meanwhile — also a ten-minute walk away — the estate pub The Glynne Arms is a welcoming, dog-friendly spot with meals from Wednesday to Sunday.
The other new accommodation offering on the estate is the Gardener’s House, which sleeps up to nine and gets described to me as ‘Mr McGregor’s house given a cover-shoot
makeover’. But for me, as I stick a ska LP for the turntable and kick back on the double bed, it’s all about the Beekeeper’s Hut — ideal for novelty-seeking couples, even if that comprises one man and his excitable pooch.
It’s breezy when we leave after a two-night stay, and for the first time I’m able to read what’s on the two flags that stand in the centre of the walled garden. One says ‘MORE LOVE’, the other ‘HAVE A GOOD ONE’. I’m not sure what Gladstone would have made of it all, but today this little patch of North Wales offers a quirkily memorable stay in the country.
Rates at The Beekeeper’s Hut from £150 per night, minimum two-night stay. Visit www.thegoodlifesociety.co.uk/beekeepers-hut for more information and to book