“Gosh, you are actually insane,” my daughter’s friend shrieks as Marie dunks herself, from head to toe, in the chilly waters of a stream.
We have just hiked through shoulder-high ferns, admired vibrant heather and been chased by donkeys to reach this bubbling brook hidden in the folding hills of the Brecon Beacons National Park in south Wales.
As dragonflies buzz by, Marie and Ava strip down to their swimming costumes, rid themselves of their wellies and take tentative steps into the water, checking for any stray frogs which might get underfoot.
As they get deeper into the water, the giggles rise in volume with the growing disbelief that they are actually climbing into a stream surrounded by brambles, rocks and, most of all, by nature.
As two typical 12-year-old city girls, their only regular exposure to the wild outdoors is through David Attenborough documentaries and trips to the beach, but our stay at Cwmberach Uchaf Farm near Ammanford has brought an altogether more hands-on experience.
As soon as we arrive at the farm, which provides glamping stays through the Feather Down group, Marie and Ava immediately run to the animal enclosures. Ignoring pleas for help carrying the bags, they squeal: “We need to see the goats.”
And the response from the farm animals is equally enthusiastic – from a nearby paddock, three snow white goats come charging over towards us with what can only be described as grins on their faces.
The first reaction of the girls is to grab a quick selfie with the keen animals, who we are later introduced to by farm owner Mark Dempster as mum Lily and sons Ant and Dec.
On a tour of the site, Mark explains that Lily, a Saanen Swiss milking goat was brought to the farm after being abandoned in the mountains and adds: “She’s been on a mission to escape ever since.”
He explains that the kid goats were born after Lily had found a gap in the fence and says: “She found a billy goat three farms away, she was there for just one night and the result is Ant and Dec.”
Mark, a training officer for the RAF who runs the farm with wife Sarah as well as continuing their day jobs, describes how he is learning every day with the animals and adds: “The most difficult thing with the goats is their feet. Every few weeks you need to clean them out and trim them – they hate it, it’s really a two-man job.”
He leads us on to the chicken pen where the hens are equally happy to see us, as Mark hands out bread for the children to feed them.
As he asks the children whether they want to hold one of the chickens, Marie passes a nervous glance at me, I nod with reassurance and she tentatively gets a grip of the bird, carefully holding its wings and body close.
My partner turns to me and says: “I never thought I’d see her hold a chicken.”
Mark says we are welcome to look for eggs in the morning by checking under the hens, but this seems a step too far for Marie and Ava.
He also describes how they have had to protect the coop after a number of fox attacks.
He says: “One fox took 15 in one day. He must have sat watching, waiting for his opportunity. We only found three carcasses so he must have carried 12 away, which is really quite an achievement.”
Pointing to one of the hens, he adds: “Sylvie, the matriarch, has escaped all the attacks. She really is top of the pecking order and our kids love her. We have often found them having tea parties with her in their bedroom and even found an egg in the cat basket.”
Mark explains that the farm, which has been in their family for generations, had not been a working farm for 20 years and they are still finding the balance between livestock, conservation and tourism.
He says: “The margins are too small with the traditional farming methods apart from honey from our hives, that’s why we’ve been working with the national park to create the nature reserve.”
Mark leads us out of into the dense fern-packed fields on the steep slopes of the Black Mountains at the top of the 50-acre site, which have been praised for their biodiversity.
Leaning down, he picks some wood sorrel – a delicate clover-like plant – and offers it to me. As I chew, it seems quite bland before suddenly a surprising lemony burst breaks out in my mouth.
And proudly pointing to the trees, Mark says: “This is the first stop for the cuckoos coming back from Africa each year. One time, I saw two flying together, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
He reels off a list of wildlife which have made their home in the woods and shrubs, from badgers to woodpeckers, and bats which have been encouraged with a number of bat boxes set up in the trees.
Mark says: “We are not about rewilding, this is conservation farming, striking a balance where nature meets farming.”
As he speaks, a number of sheep rustle their way through the ferns and Mark says, with a smile on his face: “It can be like Jurassic Park when you see the bushes rustle in the distance, as the sheep wander around.”
We return to our tents, which suitably look like an African safari tent, but have been decked out to the Feather Down design based on a traditional farmhouse.
Opening the canvas door reveals a fully-equipped kitchen complete with wood-burning stove, but what immediately captures the attention and imagination of the girls is the cupboard bed.
Behind the wooden doors with a charming heart-shaped peephole, the double bed is the definition of snug and with its super comfortable double mattress, it is sure to give the girls good dreams.
The canvas roof is the only link to normal camping as this lodge-tent comes complete with a double bedroom, bunk beds and, unbelievably, a flushing toilet and steaming hot shower. The water from the taps comes fresh from springs on the farm site before being UV filtered to make it safe to drink.
The only missing luxury is electricity but the glow of candles and oil lamps creates a timeless atmosphere at the dinner table – and no need for the kids to worry, they can recharge their phones in the honesty shop at the farm.
The Welsh weather is kind to us the next day with the overnight rain giving way to beautiful sunshine, and we head to the sandy beach of Caswell Bay near Swansea, where the girls spend several hours of screaming delight bodyboarding in the waves.
At the end of the day, we drive on to Rhossili Bay at the end of the Gower peninsula, as the sun starts to set over the dramatic Worms Head tidal island – which at low tide, is reachable by foot.
The sun glowing in their faces, we take a photo of the girls, windswept, exhausted and ready to climb back into their cupboard bed ready for another day of exploring tomorrow.
How to plan your trip
A three-night stay starts from £365 for a maximum of six guests (five adults). Includes en suite toilet facilities and a farmhouse shower. Visit featherdown.co.uk or call 01420 80804.
Subscribe or register today to discover more from DonegalLive.ie