26 April 1996

HELPS OUT

EURO-CASH

Pictures:Jonathan Page

Members of the Golden Valley & Black Mountain Bed and Breakfast group are receiving European funding to help improve their enterprises but they are keen to ensure that tourism does not spoil their lovely countryside. When Ann Rogers visited them the weather was cold and snowy but the welcome warm and friendly

"ITS a bit like the IACS forms," says Herefordshire farmers wife Eva Morgan, referring to the formidable amount of paperwork that challenged the Golden Valley & Black Mountain Bed and Breakfast group when applying for European funding.

"We learnt a lot and even if nothing had come from it, it would not have been a waste of time," adds Eva referring to the way the exercise helped members get to know each other better and swap ideas.

But something did come from it. The group of 20, mainly farmhouse, enterprises which span the borders of Herefordshire and Gwent have been granted £46,418 of EC money. The project was one of the first two in the Marches Objective 5(b) area to have successfully applied for support from the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund for which MAFF is responsible. The money is being spent on upgrading members facilities in order to provide more tourist accommodation and safeguard jobs in the area.

But even so – and this is one of the things the members are emphatic about – they do not want their beautiful countryside changed in any way. They want no new tourist attractions to spoil what has been declared one of the few remaining tranquil places left in the country.

Their paying guests already have much to interest them: The market towns of Abergavenny, Ross-on-Wye, Monmouth, Hereford, and Hay-on-Wye – renowned for its second-hand bookshops – are close to hand; so are the Forest of Dean and the Brecon Beacons, and theres a wealth of churches, castles, gardens, museums and friendly pubs and restaurants all within easy reach.

Group members do not want to boost traffic through their villages and lanes. They are happiest if their guests stick to the network of country footpaths. To encourage them to do so, and to keep the tourists in the valley, they are producing a walking holiday package which will offer guests a choice of routes, both long and short ones, and a back-up service to transport their luggage from one members home to the next.

"We can only get on with the walking holidays if the footpaths are useable," says Janet Robinson who, with her husband Mark, runs a guest house in what was an early Victorian vicarage.

Janet chaired the small working party which masterminded the application for the grant last summer, an exercise which had to be carried out within three weeks in order to meet the August deadline, followed by six months of waiting. By the end of this period they were pretty sure that the money was theirs but a further month went by before they had written confirmation.

The money is being spent on farmhouse renovations, kitchen improvements, installing en suite bathrooms, upgrading dining rooms and improvements to drives. Several members are having answering machines and 13 faxes are being installed to improve the handling of bookings.

For Wendy and Fred Gunn of Pentwyn Cottage, Bacton, who besides running a b & b enterprise have a tea room and open their gardens and plant nursery to the public, the grant is providing an extension to toilet facilities to make them more accessible for disabled people.

Its not just tourists but local people who benefit from the groups services. Relatives and friends visiting the area for weddings and family parties often need somewhere to stay and the group makes a point of promoting its facilities locally too.

"Any salesman that comes to the farm, any lorry that calls, we send them away with a leaflet," says Heulwen Herdman of Fair Oak Farm, Bacton. Heulwen is a stock farmers wife who offers three b & b rooms and a flat for self-catering stays.

The groups golden coloured leaflets are placed in garages and shops and some tourist information centres too. While a few members are registered with the tourist board and have their accommodation graded, most are not. But their own standards are high.

"By meeting in each others homes we get to know what other members accommodation is like which helps when you want to recommend somewhere," says Julie Jones of Cottage Farm, Middlewood. The farm is "only 20 minutes from the queues to the Royal Welsh Show," says Julie, who lets one double and one twin room.

Pauline Goodwin is another farmers wife with two bedrooms (one family, one twin) to let. She welcomes guests on a b & b basis or on a self-catering one. Guests have their own bathroom, sitting-room and kitchen facilities so the rooms can also be let as a unit. Pauline has static caravans to rent too.

Candlelit dinners, a welcome for horses, painting and woodcarving tuition and a railway platform for train spotting are among the attractions offered by individual members, while the group efforts to encourage business include the production of a Christmas card which is sent to each of the visitors who have stayed during the year.

In order to be able to help and advise guests, group members have made efforts to broaden their own local knowledge and they recently took a first aid course to ensure they can cope in emergencies.

Providing b & b can be a lonely life, they say, but operating as a group helps them feel part of a team and also helps bring in the customers.

For details of Golden Valley & Black Mountains b & b group accommodation contact Eva Morgan (01981 550282, Fax 01981 550800).

Eva Morgan offers a warm welcome to her farmhouse which is on one of the quiet by-roads of Peterchurch. Hearty breakfasts are her speciality.

Guests staying with Heulwen Herdman (left) have their own comfortable lounge and fine views to the Black Mountains. Below: Pauline Goodwin and daughter Rebecca at the door

of The Glebe, a working farm

in a secluded setting.

Peaceful, unspoilt countryside draws visitors to the Golden Valley and the Black Mountains and the b&b group does not want it to change.

A winter scene in Fred and Wendy Gunns entensive gardens. As well as opening the gardens to the public they run a plant nursery and tea room.