Asheston Eco Barns, Pembrokeshire, Wales
An eco-friendly clutch of converted barns in Pembrokeshire within a spit of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.
>> For availability and booking see our full listing for Asheston Eco Barns.
The renovation of these 200 year old barns has been a total labour of love for Karen and Jeff. They had no intention of taking on such an epic project but when they saw the views from the property, they knew resistance was futile. They set about removing an old dairy on their land and restoring the barns from the ground up which gave them enormous scope for their incredible vision.
There are five barns, each is different as it had to be built sympathetically within the existing structure. They extended and excavated a chicken coop and added a dove-cote to sensitively increase some of the living spaces. Jeff, an inveterate collector of things… which are decorating the barns… compulsively attends auctions where he finds and resuses such gems as a staircase reclaimed out of a townhouse in Tenby. Each barn varies in size and looks similar but each has its own character – slate bathrooms, timber staircase, limestone floor, double height, lofted living spaces can be found in them all. Some are very open plan and large, some are more cottagey in feel.
Running the business is really enjoyable for the whole family, Karen explained, as she loves interacting with people and seeing the repeat customers year after year, watching their children grow and catching up with their news. She acknowledges that the build was hard but, she told me, the fantastic reactions from their guests are worth it and she smiled at the thought of what a great legacy they are creating for their kids. Karen explained they have deliberately resisted the route of online booking, preferring to enjoy a telephone call or the exchange of a few emails with a guest – she explained it acts as a great ice breaker.
Karen will provide a welcome hamper which is all locally supplied – local bread, welsh cakes, fudge, cordial, and cheese, strawberries (in season) are from the local co-operative Pembrokeshire Produce Direct which is a clever online farmers’ market. You can preorder your shopping for your whole stay from them. You will also find a bottle of wine waiting for you – sadly not local.
The immediate surroundings are absolutely stunning and may well keep you entertained for days – the kids can play in the on site playground or wander the gardens. But should you feel the need to stray in to the surrounding countryside, you will find freedom and beaches and challenging walks. Hilton Court Gardens are nearby, if you are looking for something a little more active: White Sands, St Davids, Tenby and Fresh Water west and east are the perfect places to catch a wave and do some surfing or body boarding.
Karen suggested that if you were staying for two weeks you could spend time on a different beach every day and still not have done them all – and these beaches are not all buckets and spades and rock pooling… they are great beaches for older children where reaching them is an adventure all of its own: the walk to Abereiddi beach takes you via an an old slate quarry which has been reinvented to the Blue Lagoon, along a high back cliff to find the beach almost undisturbed and isolated. The walk from Abereiddi to Porthgain is one of the best stretches along the entire coast path. Another beach that can be accessed from Abereiddy, Traeth Llyn,is gorgeous and largely deserted, Karen laughed, “Most people can’t be bothered to go because of the walk!” There are outdoor adventure days arranged by the award winning TYF who offer rock climbing, coasteering and sea kayaking. Marloes Sands is part of the National Trust where you can experience a Robinson Crusoe style wander along a natural and undeveloped peninsula.
Pembrokeshire has castles abounding, St Davids has an enormous and grand cathedral and bishop’s palace – the whole area is dripping in the ancient with an amazing sense of history. Pop to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and be transported back in time at Castell Henllys, an Iron Age hill fort recreated with replica Iron Age roundhouses, built right on top of the excavated remains of an existing hill fort, dating back 2,400 years. experience life as it would have been participating in one of the many workshops offered there.
Pembrokeshire is an artistic county with art galleries and sculpture studios and working mills like Melin Tregwynt where you can see the weaving machines still run as a family business. If you can’t resist indulging your teenagers, perhaps they would appreciate a day out at Oakwood Theme Park or the Blue Lagoon water park. For the twitchers amongst us, grab your bins and come and spot some tawny owls, buzzards, red kites, mistle thrushes, yellow hammers, waxwings, glossy ibis and the delightfully named, velvet scoter.
The barns really are a wonderful example of how being sustainable can also marry seamlessly with being comfortable. In the renovation of the barns, Jeff and Karen retrieved the original cobbles on the floors, created the black up-lighters found throughout the barns from feeding troughs. Staying within the confines of the original structures, they have used the alcoves and natural holes in the walls as features (mostly for displaying Jeff’s little finds) – refusing to let the builders fill them for a more uniform finish. Very little from the original barns left the site – anything at all that could be was restored and anything brought in was from local suppliers and sourced locally where possible.
Karen and Jeff are passionate to show their guests the best Pembrokeshire has to offer. Where possible, they try to source as much from artisan providers, believing that the “green thing” is best achieved by using the broadest treatment possible – this means that they are not just recycling building materials or upcycling furniture, being inspirational with their sustainability, but also breathing life in to the local community.
The rainwater is harvested in a 20,000 litre tank under the patio for the loos and washing machine and garden hoses, there’s a well hidden wind turbine which takes the edge off the energy requirements of the barns but doesn’t cope completely with the peaks and troughs. All the cooking is electric; geothermal heat pumps provide each unit with its own space heating, using log burners as a lovely, atmospheric back up. Karen and Jeff have installed heat recovery systems and automatic immersions on all the tanks; the solar thermal panels use evacuated tubes so even in the winter sun there’s hot water; in some of the units there are buffer tanks fed by the surplus hot water from the geothermal pumps and any unused energy is fed back in to grid. There is a waste treatment biodigester treating all the waste water that is then discharged straight in to Brandy Brook in lieu of a reed bed…
Was there nothing they hadn’t investigated and invested in here? Karen smiled and said she was now looking at commercial builds with a terrible, critical eye, knowing how starting from scratch rather than retrofitting is so much easier when you are passionate about being as sustainable as possible. “How long will it be before new housing estates will naturally think along these lines?” she asked in a slightly evangelical fashion. I was starting to think that Karen had found her real passion in life, and once her kids have started school, she may seriously affect the way we approach building. “I can’t even consider not going down the green route" she admitted, rather sheepishly, like an erstwhile addict confesses their true motivation.
Karen explained that although the impetus to take their properties to a sustainable extreme had originated from a purely economical drive, once the passion set in, everything became focussed by trying to get it right. Their target market is aware of the importance of their holistic approach, and makes their own observations of the lengths to which they have gone – but you could just as easily be forgiven for wanting to stay here for the amazing natural beauty and the home comforts!
The local Pembrokeshire Coast National Park holds Asheston up as an example and began giving tours to show how possible it is to mimic their achievement. Even writing this, I am concerned that you will avoid visiting because it sounds like the focus would be on something other than your restful holiday – but I promise you, you wouldn’t have a clue at how breathtaking the achievement Asheston represents unless you happened to ask the right questions. You hardly notice the lengths to which Karen and Jeff have gone to unless you are looking for it, this is not a showy-offy, shouty attempt at being green, this is a quiet, awe-inspiring and elegant statement of deep ecological belief.
Karen and Jeff show it is possible to integrate almost total self-sufficiency without the guests knowing any difference. They were recently awarded a Pembrokeshire tourism accolade for sustainable business – they specifically won because of the clarity of vision for a 5 *, top-end holiday that was totally sustainable – to be green is not to compromise on luxury. “It just works…” said Karen simply, “we have far fewer problems with maintenance and we are saving so much money on heating over the oil the house used to use…” All their eco systems seamlessly integrate and their analysis shows the useage metrics at standard occupancy generate about 60 percent of the energy consumed. “Guests are much more conscious these days,” Karen acknowledges, “but it is not something that we ram down people’s throats or is even very visible.” Karen wonders why everyone doesn’t do what they have done, given the personal and environmental benefits. I have to admit that at the end of my stay, I wondered the same.
How to get there via public transport
To reach Asheston, take the train to Swansea and then on to Haverfordwest and then jump on your bike or grab a taxi. The buses are practically non-existent so it is hard to be truly green in your journey, but once you are here, you can enjoy the energy offsetting which comes from staying at such an incredible sustainable place. From the barns, you can find a local taxi to take you to the access points for public transport.
If you have kids, bring them, and a change of clothes for them (who am I kidding? Bring several changes of clothes for them… there’s a washing machine but this is your holiday, too!) but really pack very little else. Karen has thought of everything “family”: she has high chairs and cots, stair gates and sterilisers, childrens’ cutlery and baby carriers, children’s books for each barn and loads of ride-on toys, she has even thoughtfully had two children of her own who are a delight and will happily entertain the fruits of your loins whilst you luxuriate in the comfort of the barns and marvel at the extents to which sustainable living has been realised in this beautiful spot.
This is a great place to book your next family reunion… there is something for every generation. There are five separate barns, so you can all have a private space yet congregate in the bigger living areas in The Stables. The little kids can be sent to the on site playground or spend time outside where there is a communal feel to all the gardens, whilst you enjoy catching up over a drink whilst indulging yourselves with the views from the patio. The coast is just a short VW campervan drive away so you can send the teenagers off to partake in some of the best surfing in the country.
>> For availability and booking see our full listing for Asheston Eco Barns.
See the photos from Lucy's visit on our Pinterest board for Asheston Eco Barns
Posted by Lucy Symons