About us

I have always loved this mountain. I was born nearby but spent much of my childhood and early career living abroad. Wales was for holidays, and I enjoyed being outside from dawn till dusk; walking, riding ponies, swimming in rivers and having picnics in the wildflowers.

In my 20s, living in a London flat share, I launched the British brand JoJo Maman Bébé as a tiny start-up. Our first ‘warehouse’ was a shed belonging to my parents here in the Usk Valley. For years I have wanted to buy a cottage with a view, then Wern-y-Cwm (pronounced wern-e-cum), which belonged to friends, came up for sale. It was far too big and a massive renovation project, but I’d fallen head over heels and purchased the farm as my private home and retirement business plan.

My labour of love renovation took 6 years, buckets of tears and went well over budget, but it has been so worth it. We are happy here and love sharing it with others who come to be wild in nature, rest, relax and leave feeling rejeuvenated. 

Wern-Y-Cwm Weddings and accomodation Wales laura and ruby tuesday
Wern-Y-Cwm Weddings and accomodation Wales laura and family

Naming my business Wonderful Escapes has a double entendre; I'm incredibly lucky that with this new venture I left behind a highly stressful role running my large company (albeit with the help of an incredible team). Plus, Wern-y-Cwm is a place for our guests to have fun and find inspiration - a world away from the lives so many of us survive in. Basically coming here should be a wonderful escape . We attract like-minded individuals who appreciate the beauty of the grounds and area, our attention to detail and environmental ethos. People often tell me that they start planning a return visit before they have even left!

The 'Wonderful' team make a huge effort to ensure our properties and gardens are looking gorgeous. The individual houses are private enough to never meet another group should you prefer, but close enough to all gather in The Great Barn or by the Natural Swimming Pool in seconds if that's the plan. 

The history of the farmstead

The Farmhouse and Great Barn are Grade II listed on account of the original buildings dating from 1570 and this being the home of Captain Thomas James. You will find the original Medieval part at the rear of the farmhouse, with small oak windows overlooking the valley. The uniform front façade was added later, in around 1790.

The large cruciform barn is an exceptional example of a Welsh agricultural building and well worth a visit to admire the ancient timber frame, thick stone walls and views to the front and rear, not to mention the artwork and decor. If not booked, and you would like to have a look, please ask the team who will be happy to give you a tour.

The Skirrid mountain

Wern-y-Cwm sits high up on the slopes of the Skirrid or Ysgyryd Fawr, which means the Great Split Mountain. It is technically part of the Brecon Beacons or Bannau Brycheiniog, but at the most southern tip, on the border of Monmouthshire and Herefordshire. Skirrid Fawr or Holy Mountain, as it is known, is steeped in legend, myth, and is a pilgrimage destination. From the south side you will see the bizarre rocky outcrop called the Little Skirrid, which was probably caused by a landslide in the Ice Age, although locals will beg to differ.

One legend is that the Little Skirrid was broken off at the very moment Jesus Christ died on the cross. This association has led to the soil being considered holy and handfuls were scattered amongst the foundations of new churches built in the area or thrown into the graves of loved ones. Another story tells of when the Devil tried to corrupt the Angel Michael into pursuing his wicked ways. When the incorruptible Archangel refused, the Devil stamped his foot in anger causing the rock to split, resulting in the fallen landmass.

This was the home of Captain Thomas James, the famous sea captain who discovered the Northwest Passage which was a faster route to the Americas between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans through the Arctic Ocean. This journey of discovery in the reign of King Charles I was funded by the Bristol Society of Merchant Venturers. Some believe that the beams in the Cider House and Farmhouse sitting room were taken from ships of that time.

This great little amateur film gives you the interesting story of this extraordinary man. You will notice nautical associations in some of the decor and room names as a nod to our fascinating history, albeit a little unexpected high up a mountain side.

A climb to the top will reward you with amazing views over 6 or sometimes 7 counties (Monmouthshire, Herefordshire, Powys, Bristol & Avon, Somerset, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire) the opportunity to look out for the ruins of an iron age hill fort and foundations of a Medieval chapel dedicated to Saint Michael. If you walk around the mountain, you will find a distinctive stone called the Devil’s Table. In the 1890’s a hermit lived here offering advice and spells to those who left him offerings. Whether he was a true healer or a con-man nobody knows, but it’s fun to follow the path and find the huge stone which was his cash desk.

On a slightly morbid level, the Skirrid Mountain Inn which is found on the far side of the mountain (a long way off for those not keen on a ghost story), is supposed to be haunted by the souls of 180 rebels from the Monmouth rebellion who were hanged at the Inn in 1685 when it was a court house. If visiting the pub for a pint of local ale, look out for the mounting block in the yard which was reputedly used by Owain Glyndwr when he tried to take control of Wales in the early 15th century. The stories are many, but you are sure to create your own during your stay at Wern-y-Cwm.

Our Ethos

For 30 years I ran a fashion business with values, putting people and planet above profit, leading the way in sustainable production and ethical business practices. But I wanted to do more to embrace a circular economy than was possible as a retailer. We were early advocates of the B Corporation movement, and the business was just the second Welsh company to achieve certification. We were doing our best, but it never felt like enough.

With Wonderful Escapes, we are attempting to pursue an ethos of respecting our planet by using the land to sequester carbon whilst enhancing its beauty and making it accessible to all. We are proving that it is possible to offer eclectically designed, 5-star rated accommodation whilst using up-cycled, restored, and re-cycled furnishings. With our Meals Without Miles service, we are able to feed our guests with seasonal fare with low food miles. We have invested in air and ground source heating in most areas and use logs for our fires and firepits harvested from fallen trees on the farm. You are welcome to pick your own fruit in season, and enjoy foraging from the abundant hedgerows and fields. 

We have honey beehives in the fields and are rolling out the gardens to create more food production, pollinator beds, a natural wildlife and wild swimming pond and a grass amphitheatre – all planned for Summer 2024.

Over the past few years, we have planted hundreds of trees on the lower fields of the farm and were about to continue with this plantation when I learnt about the benefits of Wildflower Meadows. The carbon sequestration subject is complex with many different views. I spent a great deal of time researching the matter when investing heavily in ‘offset’ for my retail business – our aim was to be carbon neutral at operational level. The consensus seems to be that digging up species-rich meadows to plant trees is counter-productive (as opposed to planting trees on deforested hillsides as we were), it releases more carbon than it sequesters in the critical time period ahead.

The more flora species present in grassland, the more effective the sequestration effect, so we are now working on preserving the biodiversity of the land in general and developing our wildflower meadows. We are doing our best to preserve habitat for wildlife and are delighted to regularly view bats, swifts, owls, hedgehogs, foxes, badgers, deer, rabbits, hares, newts, buzzards, red kite, pine martens etc. Not to mention the numerous varieties of bumble bees and butterflies which love our pollinator friendly gardens.

For those interested in the wildflowers meadows, please check the house files for a survey which we have turned into a fun spotting game. Please feel free to pick the abundant species but refrain from taking the rare ones for obvious reasons. You may download and print out a copy of our survey here.