Ynyshir Hall Wales
The Ceredigion coastline of mid-Wales might be a magnet for birders and lovers of saltings as well as fans of UNESCO Biosphere Areas. But it’s not where you should go if you suffer from Ovinaphobia. Or, a fear of sheep. There is one, if not a herd, in virtually every room at Ynyshir Hall. Everywhere you go in the award-winning “Relais & Chateaux” ten-room hotel in Powys is likely to incite a panic attack. If you are scared of sheep. They are around every corner And Georgian cornice.
The hotel’s co-owner, Swansea-born Ron Reen, is a well-known painter. His work appears worldwide and his “Studies of Sheep” are exhibited on every wall at Ynyshir. Open a door and there is a woolly ruminant staring at you. Walk into the drawing-room and there are more even-toed ungulates. You even dine off an ovine full frontal. Of a sheep’s face. Michelin-starred chef Gareth Ward and his happy brigade dish up on plates featuring a handsome sheep’s portrait.
As you tuck into the AA 3-rosette tasting menu and Welsh Wagyu beef , smoked eel, spelt, back fat and black bean garlic fallow deer around you local beulahs, mules, speckle-faced dams, ewes, lambs and polled wethers fine-dine ( rather psychedelically) on the mature heaths , blanket bogs, Molinia tussocks and natural larder of the Cambrian Mountains and Snowdonia National Park. The menu may be hogget-free and lamb shanks conspicuously absent but the sheepish décor more than makes up for it.
Reen’s inspiration comes from a twenty mile radius of the hotel. He most likes to paint in the foothills of Plyn Lymon and on the banks of the Nat Y Moch reservoir. As well as Cader Idris, the Panorama walk above Aberdovey and the Bearded Lake below Myyydd y Llyn. And the “Foel” mountain which overlooks Ynyshir Hall.
His studio is a converted barn up a forestry track above the Dovey valley. “The once pristine oak floor is now a palette of my chosen colours!” he says. “ I am surrounded by sheep in different stages of development treated with layers of glazes of turquoise and cerise.”
The grandson of an artist and son of a master decorator, Rob taught Art, Design and Photography at Portsmouth College, Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School in Aylesbury. He is a graduate of Gloucestershire College of Art & Design and lived in since 1989.
“What do I see in sheep? Why am I fascinated by them? You cannot help be living here. They are everywhere. Each has a personality of its own. Ask any farmer , they know their flock individually. All the different characters.The feisty ones , the meek and the shy.
“ The wool becomes the landscape. The swirl of the oil on the canvas echoes the swirl of the wind. The patterns of colours in the wool reflect the ever-changing light of the mountain-scape.”
The white-faced seventeenth century country house is an artist’s home in the fold of an artists’ valley. At Ynyshir you can quite legitimately say to member of staff ,“Put my feet on Renoir”. The rooms at the hotel near Machynlleth, the seat of Owain Glyndwr’s parliament in 1404 , are named after artists – Chagall , Hogarth , Degas , Vermeer. By the bed in ours was a “centering” book of Navajo Indian prose and poetry advising how travelling on sunbeams , whistling and whispering chants and listening to snakes , coyotes and blue-eyed bears can de-stress and reconcile you to embracing “the immutable cycle of life”.
The hotel also has a holistic wellness and emotional processing centre where the resident kinesiologists , bone manipulators, autogenic meditators and practitioners of Tibetan foot reflexology prepare guests for walks down the nearby Borth and Aberdovey sands , along the Dyfi Valley and sea spit estuary and into Aberystwyth as well as up into the Artists’ Valley. Or, Cwm Einion.
The scenery inspired Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant who wrote “Stairway to Heaven” while staying in a cottage at at nearby Bron-yr-Aur – “the hill of gold”- in 1970. From 1955 to 1967 the Welsh poet and Nobel Prize nominee , RS Thomas , was vicar of St Michael’s Church, Eglwysfach. The novelist Thomas Love Peacock married there in 1820.
RS Thomas was a keen twitcher and birdwatched along the Dowey, “The swifts minnow the air/ It is pleasant at the end of the day / To watch them. I have shut the mind./ On fools. The phone’s frenzy is over.”
Ynyshir ( Uhn-ah-sere) Hall was a favourite retreat of Queen Victoria who planted giant redwoods and Persian ironwoods (parrotia) trees there. “The long island” is in a mixed woodland , saltmarsh and wet grassland RSPB nature reserve which hosted BBC’s “Springwatch” 2011-13. At Ynyshir you do get the feeling of being watched. Sheep after all can see behind them without moving their heads.
However, after all the dunlin, little egret and bean geese-spotting , all the fresh sea and mountain air and exercise and all that minimalist quality-over- quantity gourmet food and molecular gastronomy ( leeks are served in a liquid nitrogen dried ice glaze) , it is not hard to fall into a deep, relaxing sleep here
After all , there are plenty of sheep to count. Indoors. And out. And the wine list is quite extensive too. Rob Reen’s next project could be his pet Bernese mountain dog , Theo.
Ynyshir Hall , Powys SY20 8TA/ www.ynyshirhall.co.uk/ firstname.lastname@example.org