Walking and photography weekend with HF Holidays in the Brecon Beacons – Part 1

HF Holidays, Nythfa House and photography
I read that the United Kingdom is the second lowest ranking country in Europe in a survey asking how close citizens feel to people in their local area. Beaten by Germany, again. Even at being miserable neighbours.

Nythfa HousAs an antidote to all this unneighbourliness I embarked on a weekend that reveals we Brits are truly a sociable race. I found neighbourly bliss in the heart of the Brecon Beacons joining a group of people who put the fellowship into holidays.

HF Holidays are in a privileged position among holiday providers. Beloved of Which and the quality press, they provide activity holidays with an emphasis on fellowship and togetherness. 

I had been invited to a taster weekend by HF Holidays and the Brecon Tourist Board. Summer solstice, heatwave and England out of the World Cup that very evening. Bliss. We were to enjoy a short course on photography and walk the glorious hills and valleys of the Beacons.

One of 19 houses used by HF, Nythfa House is set in its own grounds in the market town of Brecon. Welcoming and airy, the house possesses an indoor pool and an upmarket holistic Retreat where one can enjoy a massage or facial, a feature very much anticipated by my wife as we were promised a complementary treatment. Sadly we were sweating on the Welsh mountains at the designated time. (Sorry, darling.) Stunning views cut no ice when one misses a massage and smelly stuff.

PicnicSylvia, the helpful joint manager, showed us around. There's a dedicated Boot Room where hangs a framed image of the bearded Thomas Arthur Leonard, the founder of what used to be known as Holiday Fellowship, and since 1982, still a co-operative society, known more simply as HF Holidays. I remember a memorial plaque to the great man on Catbells in the Lake District. The society celebrated its centenary last year. The aim is the same as ever – great company, locations and leaders. All were very much in evidence on our first night.

Venturing down to dinner we met a large group of charming folk sporting tans, the result of exercise outdoors. They positively glowed with health. It was their last night of seven on a guided walking holiday. I have never met people more keen to tell me just how much they loved a holiday provider.

The dining room was split into four large tables of fourteen or so, testament to the philosophy of togetherness.

Group of satisfied clientsRoy, a volunteer leader, was in charge of the walking party, the first of the great leaders we were to meet on the break. As our small group of journalists sat down to commence a wholesome, well cooked dinner, Roy entertained his audience as they finishing off their own meal. He held up a Welsh Love Spoon, a something or other smelling remarkably like the droppings of sheep and then disappeared to emerge with a Welsh harp which he plucked beautifully. Later the throng all departed for the ballroom from where emerged the sound of bagpipes and much laughter. Roy is a popular fellow as all those I spoke to verified. HF Holidays are blessed with the quality of their staff and volunteers, a fact made more apparent when we dined with the Laura, Head of Marketing, and Jane, one of their managers. Both were delightful.

Breakfast was first rate with locally sourced bacon I felt was particularly fine. Fruit and porridge for walkers of course.

But first Photography.

I have two reasonably expensive cameras, a compact with a Carl Zeiss lens, and a Nikon D5100 with an extra lens so expensive I'm afraid to take it out of the bubble wrap. But do I take full advantage of this expensive kit? Of course I don't. I use all the controls, provided they are “auto”.

Our professional photographer, Alan CowderoyOur professional photographer, Alan Cowderoy, commenced by demanding we turn off the flash. This was no mean feat. How the heck …? The intention was to produce a Rembrandt, shadows, subtlety, images not swamped by harsh light. Head spinning, we moved on to apertures and, oh dear me, F-numbers, shutter speed, ISO, white light …

I went off-piste at this stage. It was simply too gorgeous outside and I had a chance to speak to the departing guests, waiting in the sun for their taxis. I will return to Alan and his cameras for I did have a Eureka moment the following day. Sorry Alan. I never did produce your Rembrandt, even less a Eugene Smith: more Tracey Emin unmade bed.

Outside I met a number of remarkable people, mostly ramblers, all comfortably qualifying as silver travellers, all having holidayed with HF before. They loved their holidays and spoke enthusiastically of other houses belonging to the society – Lulworth Cove came in for specific praise. The society has some fabulous properties in the most desirable locations for walking.

WaterfallWalkers are divided into three groups depending on the terrain and length of walk. One lady told me her husband was in the group tackling the difficult routes. “But he doesn't have time to see anything!” she informed me, explaining, “I'm in the easy group, we have time to look at where we're walking.” The easy group, I should explain, manage something like seven miles a day so these holidays are for those of you who are fit. They all welcomed Wednesday, a free day. Sightseeing. cafes, normal holiday things in an area of outstanding beauty.

Natasha Claridge is a seasoned member of HF. She met her husband Bill on one of the society's trips to the Black Forest in 1956. She told me HF stood for “Husbands Found” in those days. Bill has sadly passed away but she has continued with the Ramblers and HF, taking several holidays a year. She was here with her sister.

All the folk seemed as fit as Stradivarius fiddles. I took a photograph of Diana, Peter, Geraldine and Anne to prove to Alan I did not need auto. I used F8!

Julie did not want her photograph taken as she had severely bruised and scraped her face in a fall, losing her front tooth. She was pained but philosophical. She could cope with omelettes at mealtime and she had decided to stay on. The accident occurred during her day off, on flat tarmac only five minutes from Nythfa. She tripped on her new sandals. Of course she would holiday with HF again. They all would.

•  Read Walking and photography weekend with HF Holidays in the Brecon Beacons – Part 2
•  Read Walking and photography weekend with HF Holidays in the Brecon Beacons – Part 3

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Ian Lumsden

Retired deputy headteacher & writer

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