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Review of The Start B&B, Hay on Wye

Posted by at 04:38 on Tuesday 02 December 2014

Lucy Symons builds up a good appetite riding a tandem in the Black Mountains and enjoys the hospitality and home made jam at a charming riverside B&B on Hay on Wye.

>> To check availability and booking see our full listing for The Start B&B

>> For more ideas of what to see and do, see our Greentraveller Guide to the Brecon Beacons National Park

The main building at The Start B&B photo: Dawn FarnworthThe main building at The Start B&B photo: Dawn FarnworthThe Setting
On the very edge of Hay-on-Wye ("Is that some kind of sandwich?"  asked American playwright, Arthur Miller) and close to the border between England and Wales, in the shadow of the Black Mountains. Perched on the banks of the river Wye, Dawn and Steve have converted their cottage, extending it to create a purpose built B&B (Steve is a builder, so he's done it all himself, and in his own sweet time, according to Dawn. Not unfamiliar with barter, he also traded the beautiful burrwood kitchen table for some much needed plumbing by a mate.  Dawn had some things to say about this as well.) They have been running a very successful business for the past 14 years. 

Double bed at The Start, Hay-on-Wye, antique bed Photo: Lucy SymonsDouble bed at The Start, Hay-on-Wye, antique bed Photo: Lucy SymonsThe Rooms
There are three ensuite bedrooms, two doubles and one twin. Each of them is kitted out with an assortment of glorious antiques and well thought out, tasteful, objets.  Warm and snug, the bathrooms all have power showers and heated rails.  Dawn’s mum makes traditional Welsh quilts which adorn the beds, which are all made up with linen sheets.  A common room downstairs overlooks the lovely veg garden and the sun terrace overlooks the river and the bridge to the river Wye.

 Full Welsh Breakfast, The Start Photo: Lucy SymonsFull Welsh Breakfast, The Start Photo: Lucy SymonsThe Food
“Oh yes, Wye’s answer to Mrs Beaton!” came the knowing, nodding comment when I expressed my delight to a local at the deliciousness of my breakfast at The Start. Home made jam (courgette and ginger, quince and vanilla) home laid eggs from “the Girls”, home made sausages, (vegetarian and gluten free, for heavens sake!). "I just see what's in the garden and throw it in," Dawn says when we quizzed her.  But the results taste as though she's taken a lot more care than that.

Home made jams and cider, The Start Photo: Lucy SymonsHome made jams and cider, The Start Photo: Lucy SymonsYou've got your white bread, your brown bread and gluten free bread all served toasted as vehicles for the jam.  Laverbread also lurked unidentified and dark on our plates but when we tasted it, it swiftly disappeared.  Dawn harvests the seaweed herself (of course she does) and explained that her grandmother maintained there wasn’t much it couldn’t sort out for the eater. Laver bread, whipped up with oatmeal and bacon, is good for what ails ya... according to granny. Dawn sells her own jams, Steve sells his cider (under the name Mad Taff’s) and she also dries her foraged mushrooms and those that don’t get munched in a breakfast fry up, are sold.  On her recommendation, we ate supper at The Blue Boar where, if you are lucky, as you lounge by the open fire stuffing your face with local delicacies, the publican’s daughter, the delicious Scarlet will wait on you. Her father is quoted as saying she is only “good for breeding”, but I can attest to her enormous value as bartender, waitress and hostess for the pub. We popped in to the local tapas bar Tomatitos where Thalia and Trish made us feel right at home.  We were warned it was like a time warp there, that you would have such a good time, you may forget all about anything else you were supposed to do. 

Tandem Bike on loan from Drover Holidays Photo: Lucy SymonsTandem Bike on loan from Drover Holidays Photo: Lucy SymonsThe Activities
Rental bikes and canoes are available from Wye Valley Canoes or Paddles and Pedals next door and of course Drover Holidays organises the most incredible guided or self-guided cycling and walking tours of the surrounding stunning countryside, frequently using The Start as a base.

>> Read Lucy's Review of Drover Holidays Wye Valley Meander.

Since 1987, the inevitable Hay-on-Wye 10 day book festival with the attending masses (quarter of a million at least) takes over the whole town (population 1500) annually, to the eye rolling chagrin of the natives, but it does translate to awfully good shopping the rest of the year. There are no fewer than 30 bookshops and many other quirky little boutiques.  There is also an abundance of good walking trails, mountain hikes and bird watching nearby.  

Chickens on the fly, The Start Photo: Lucy SymonsChickens on the fly, The Start Photo: Lucy SymonsThe Green
As Dawn says, “If everyone just did a little bit we could all make a difference.” She and Steve feel strongly but don’t prosthletize.  They support the local economy where possible, both very active in the community (supporting the delightfully named Hey Ho! bus service organised and sponsored by the local businesses when the short-sighted council saw fit to cancel the existing municipal one), they cycle where possible and recycle everything they can.  They grow their own veg and raise chickens.

How to get there by Public Transport
Hereford or Abergavernny are the closest main stations. Buses are a bit spotty but you would need one to get from Abergavernny to Brecon and then on to Hay. There is a bus from Hereford direct to Hay. 


Top Tip
Dawn is a Breeze Champion for Sky Ride and takes ladies out for bike rides, so see if you can’t schedule your visit with one of her jaunts. Or go up the mountain – although less famous than the Brecon Beacons, the Black Mountains are no less fabulous, you can walk from the front door and on to the peak where the views are glorious.

Full of energy and utterly dynamic, Steve and Dawn are understated yet inspirational. In addition to making delicious jam, not only is Dawn a consummate hostess, she's interesting, too. You couldn't help but learn something new, chatting to her.  This is a place where, even on a day replete with Welsh sunshine you won’t be able to help but smile at the family of otters who play in the brook.  It’s no mistake that The Start is used by Drover Holidays as one of their splendid stopover places.

>> To check availability and booking see our full listing for The Start B&B

>> For other things to do and see look at our Greentraveller Guide to the Brecon Beacons National Park

Posted by Lucy Symons

Te garden over looking the River Wye, The Start Photo: Lucy SymonsTe garden over looking the River Wye, The Start Photo: Lucy Symons


Blogs posts categorised as 'Reviews' have been written with the support of one or more of the following: accommodation owner, activity provider, operator, equipment supplier, tourist board, protected landscape authority or other destination-focussed authority. The reviewer retains full editorial control of the work, which has been written in the reviewer's own words based on their experience of the accommodation, activity, equipment or destination.

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