The Bunkhouse, near Hay-on-Wye, Powys: accommodation review - Halong Junk Cruises

The Bunkhouse, near Hay-on-Wye, Powys: accommodation review

Woodburner? Check. Rain showers? Yep, three of ’em. Tubular slide that hurtles you down to the ground floor like a fireman in two seconds flat? You bet!

A stainless steel chute – built to order in Germany – would not be on many people’s wishlist for a weekend retreat, but it’s bloody good fun, and for half our party of three kids and three adults (you can guess which half) the best thing about The Bunkhouse. It is the wackiest of many bespoke touches that make it such an original and enjoyable place.

The Bunkhouse is a self-contained dorm for 14, with six bunk beds plus one double, in a converted Welsh Baptist chapel next to the bridge in the village of Glasbury-on-Wye. Light pours through the enormous chapel windows into the all-white, open-plan mezzanine (there is a related canoe and bike hire centre on the floor below), so the swish, modern Bunkhouse feels like it’s floating in this Grade II-listed, late 19th-century building.

Bunkhouse

Owner Susan Hughes has built a mini-empire since she opened the Wye Valley Canoe centre here 14 years ago, adding the much-loved River Café six years later and then four functional B&B rooms above it (there’s a separate, more characterful and cheaper room for four right on the river, too). This “posh bunkhouse for adults”, which opened in May, is a base where groups can eat, sleep and organise their activities. Kayaks and the river are on the doorstep, Hay-on-Wye and the stunning Black Mountains just a short drive away.

Being 6ft-plus and a couple of decades over hostels, I wasn’t looking forward to kipping in a bunk, but the mattresses are lush and over-sized, with fluffy duvets and white cotton sheets. A second pillow would have been nice; and although the bunks are partially screened off, however much you posh up a dorm, there’s nothing you can do about your mates’ snoring – so bring earplugs.

With rain showers and huge sinks with Waterfall taps, the three bathrooms are also impressive, but the huge living area is the star attraction. An L-shaped sofa sits in front of the woodburner, and there’s a Bose Bluetooth speaker to link your tunes up to so you can throw drunken shapes on the very danceable oak floorboards. In the other half of the room sits a 12ft-long ash wood table (which also looks sturdy enough to dance on) and benches designed by local furniture-makers Barnby & Day, who also made the bunks.

Bunkhouse

A set-up this stylish and convivial demands a communal feast – and will surely be on the agenda of the stag, hen and family groups the place is aimed at. But while all the utensils are provided (20-litre saucepans, enormous serving dishes, six-slot Dualit toaster), the kitchen is tiny, with only a two-ring hob that was just about big enough for us to knock up a spag-bol for six, but is way too small for a slap-up dinner for 14.

Fortunately, there’s a fine alternative across the way. Jane opened the River Café to provide sustenance to canoeists, but it has turned into one of the most celebrated restaurants in the area – AA Gill gave it four stars in his review. There’s a lovely waterside terrace, and the atmosphere, as it is across the whole set-up, is relaxed and friendly. There’s nothing fancy about the menu (certainly not the mains, which include a burger, pulled pork and fish and chips), but everything we ordered was on the money. My crab pappardelle (£13) was buttery-rich and brimming with chunks of fresh seafood; the house red and white were smooth, and excellent value at £14.95 a bottle.

Everything runs so smoothly here … which is why we were gobsmacked at a fundamental flaw in The Bunkhouse’s design: there is a total lack of privacy. Anyone could walk up the stairs from the canoe centre, via either end of the mezzanine (there’s an inviting floating staircase that tempts people up to the slide – as we found out when a young lad wandered up and asked if he could have a go). More bizarre is the glass-floor panel in the middle of the living space (see the top picture); when the canoe centre opened at 9am we were greeted by a group of canoeists peering up at us in our PJs.

The terrace at the River Café
The terrace at the River Café

Why someone with such good taste and business sense would do something this daft was still on my mind a week after we left, so I emailed to find out: “I’m already on the case [to put these problems right],” said Jane, who has ordered lockable barriers for both entrances and a one-way-glass floor/ceiling contraption that will stop canoeists ogling hungover stags and hens first thing in the morning.

That’s good to hear, because with the privacy issues sorted, and a bigger kitchen, The Bunkhouse would be just about perfect for a group weekend away.

Accommodation was provided by The Bunkhouse, Glasbury-On-Wye, Powys, 01497 847213, wyevalleycanoes.co.uk. From £1,070 for two nights for up to 14 people; add-on packages including canoeing and other activities, plus breakfasts and dinner at The River Café also available. There is a lift for wheelchair users

Local’s tips

Jane Hughes, owner, Wye Valley Canoes

View of Lord Hereford's Knob, taken from Hay Bluff
View of Lord Hereford’s Knob, taken from Hay Bluff

Climb Hay Bluff or Lord Hereford’s Knob – steep 30-minute climbs with breathtaking views from the top. The Cat’s Back is incredibly beautiful and less known (you can end up at the Bull’s Head at Craswall). There is a new Hay Walking Festival next month (8-12 October, haywalking.org), where you can learn to navigate and forage, and the art of slow travel. Also try Hay Tours for bespoke walking tours – their enthusiasm about the history of Hay, the Hay poisoner and the King is infectious.

There are lots of good pubs. The Blue Boar in Hay has an open fire and is very relaxed. It has poshed up since I first came to Hay 40 years ago, but not much, and the character is still there. The Bridge Inn at Michaelchurch Escley is a really pretty pub by a stream up in the hills, 25 minutes from Hay.

You can spend hours mooching around the bookshops in Hay. Some of them specialise in murder, poetry, photography, etc. Seek out the honesty bookshop and climb the castle steps for the best view of Hay, and do the riverside walk from Hay bridge upstream to the Warren.

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