Is there anything more mesmerising than watching the flickering orange and yellow flames of an open fire? Anything more intoxicating than the smell of wood smoke? I ponder this while gazing into the fire outside my geodesic dome at Fforest, on the North Pembrokeshire coast of Wales. It’s a unique place – part holiday park, part retreat – and the ideal location for revelling in the great outdoors. Yes, even at this time of year.
Someone drops some more birch logs onto the fire, breaking my trance. Jackson Tucker Lynch runs Fforest with his dad James, mum Sian and two younger brothers. ‘So, is this one of the reasons people come here?’ I ask Jackson, as he takes a seat on the cushion across the bench from me. ‘To be outside, enjoying the warmth of a fire?’
‘It’s definitely a big part of it,’ says Jackson. ‘Yes, it’s about fire and being outdoors, but also about having some nice comforts, like wrapping up in one of our blankets to watch the stars. That’s a luxury if you live in a city.’
He’s right. I arrived only a couple of hours ago, having made the long but comfortable drive from London to Cilgerran, near Cardigan, in the A3 Sportback 40 e-tron. But having donned my walking boots for a long stomp around the farm, I can already feel the memory of the capital’s crowded streets fading with every lungful of country air.
Which is exactly what the Fforest clan want for their guests. When James and Sian started Fforest, 12 years or so ago, they set out to create a place where guests could relax in simple yet luxurious surroundings. Their ‘simple luxury’ concept soon took off, and now they offer a range of different stays across three different Fforest sites. From loft apartments overlooking the River Teifi in Cardigan and the luxurious Georgian farmhouse that sleeps 14, to cabins, tents, ’shacs’, and domes like the one I’m sitting outside.
Fforest led the way in bringing geodesic domes to the UK. Theirs can sleep four, have wood-burning stoves and contemporary concrete bathrooms, and are full of wonderful finishing touches such as the aforementioned Welsh-wool blankets and cushions, designed by Sian herself and produced at a nearby mill (and available to buy, should you want to take a reminder of Fforest home with you). Some of the domes are even equipped with their own outdoor Japanese onsen – a sunken bath that’s continually fed with water heated to 40C. I can see why guests return again and again.
As for activities, there are plenty of public footpaths here, so a long walk is a must – as is a guided canoeing trip down the beautiful Teifi gorge. Food is also central to the experience, and the team run not one but two restaurants: the Pizza Tipi in Cardigan and Boy Ashore at Aberporth, which are fully operational in the warmer months.
‘In the summer, it can be quite busy here,’ says Jackson. ‘And it looks so different – everything’s alive and open and lush. But, in the winter, you could go to the beach or into the countryside and feel as if no one else exists in the world. And that’s pretty special. Especially if you get a spot of good weather!’
Whatever the conditions, everything at Fforest encourages you to get out and explore rather than languishing inside. There are outdoor kitchens for brewing a morning pot of tea or coffee, and there’s even a sauna. What’s more, it’s just a short walk from my dome to Fforest’s very own pub – ‘the smallest in Wales, probably!’ Jackson tells me.
It’s in the pub that we’re joined by James, Jackson’s dad and Fforest Chief. Over pints of Fforest beer, produced in collaboration with a local brewery, we talk about travel, the countryside and wellbeing, lighting candles as the light fades.
‘People are getting outside more than ever these days, I think. We’re all starting to understand the benefits of being in the fresh air and being on our own and off our phones,’ says Jackson. ‘It’s the best thing you can do for your health... but there’s nothing wrong with going to the pub afterwards too!’
Sounds like I’m doing the Fforest experience right, then. And I’m looking forward to doing it all again tomorrow.
I’ve woken up in the Pembrokeshire countryside, one of the most beautiful parts of southwest Wales. It’s so quiet here. The odd snippet of birdsong and faint hum of a tractor in a nearby field are really the only sounds, and it seems a shame to disturb the peace. Thankfully, I don’t have to, as I’m driving one of Audi’s plug-in hybrids – the A3 Sportback 40 e-tron. So I get behind the wheel, switch on the ignition and roll out of the farm gates as quietly as if I was strolling on foot. This is the beauty of Audi’s new range of hybrid vehicles: they’re almost silent when travelling in electric mode.
The battery is at capacity, having been charged overnight. A full charge takes just under four hours using a standard domestic plug socket. But, if you have access to a wallbox or a public charging point, that charge time drops to just two-and-a-quarter hours.
A full battery means I have up to 29 miles of electric range to play with. But today I have a little further than that to go, as there’s the small matter of journeying back to London – a mere 240 miles. Of course, this is where the hybrid technology absolutely comes into its own, as the car automatically uses the most efficient blend of petrol or electric power to suit the driving situation. And, when the battery is eventually depleted, the car can run solely on petrol power. For now, though, I enjoy the silence. Effortlessly navigating some of the narrowest roads in west Wales, I head towards the coast and the tiny but very picturesque look-out point at Mwnt.
It’s a comfortable ride. And some of my favourite Audi technologies, pre sense front and lane assist, are very helpful on these winding lanes, as locals (who are more used to the roads than I am) hurtle past me in the opposite direction. Inside the car, there’s almost no sign of it being a hybrid model. A button showing a car with a charging cable allows you to switch between hybrid, petrol and EV pure electric modes, and the dashboard keeps you notified of your remaining range, but otherwise the controls and console are exactly the same as on the existing A3 Sportback.
There is only a limited number of this particular model available in the UK.
Writer: Emma Barlow
Photographer: Finn Beales