Bluestone offers Welsh holidays something new

Started by Newshound, April 17, 2008, 06:34:46

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This summer will see the opening of a £110m new holiday complex that its owners say will redefine UK holidays. Steffan Rhys is the first journalist to get a look inside

IT may be paradoxical to describe a 500-acre site as being quietly nestled away in the West Wales countryside, but Bluestone is barely noticeable to the casual visitor until you are almost literally on top of it and overlooking the hundreds of timber lodges and picturesque village that could soon become the country's leading attraction.

Now just weeks from completion having been 10 years in the making, the project's backers say Bluestone is about to transform the flagging Pembrokeshire economy, to which it will bring 700 jobs, 350,000 visitors and £35m a year.

When it opens on June 30, the site will boast an indoor water park, a sports centre and luxurious spa, with work on a £25m snow dome getting under way in 2009.

At its heart will be a village in, broadly, an early 20th century style which could have been modelled on any number of small West Walian towns like Laugharne, Llandeilo or Narberth with its gentle pastel colours, country pubs and upmarket restaurants.

And spread across the whole site to the south of the Preseli mountains will be 335 timber lodges - only 182 of which will initially open - the cost of a stay in which will vary from between £150 and £2,600 a week.

But despite its vast scale, its founders claim it is based on firm principles of sustainability and of spreading the economic benefits far beyond its patch by encouraging visitors to explore the rest of Pembrokeshire- an Objective One area where GDP was estimated at having fallen by 17% between 1984 and 1994 - and Carmarthenshire.

"It is central to our ethos that we do not get people down here and expect them to stay in Bluestone," said communications manager Richard Harris.

"Pembrokeshire is a beautiful place to live, but geographical peripherality has also meant the county economy has suffered in recent years.

"We're going to draw people here in greater numbers than they have ever come before.
"But it is no good us promoting our climbing walls when just a few miles away you can climb a real coastal cliff.

"And how could we not encourage people to walk the coastal path or see Barafundle Beach?"

The idea of former Pembrokeshire dairy farmer William McNamara - who left neighbouring Oakwood theme park to back this venture along with Sir Edward Dashwood and developers Mansford - the site also has strong environmental credentials.

Many of its lodges - the interiors of which were designed by Haverfordwest designer Barrie Knight - feature solar panels, triple glazing and Scandinavian insulation techniques, while the Blue Lagoon is thought to be the only water park in the world powered by biomass energy created on site in an energy centre which boasts a £50,000 turf roof.

Two 26-ton boilers will heat water through the carbon-neutral burning of woodchip and miscanthus, or elephant grass, grown by a co-operative of local farmers.

"The aim is for the farmers and growers to keep control and with no middleman, all the money stays within the local community," said Paul Ratcliffe, a farmer whose land neighbours the site, and who travelled to Finland and Austria to look at energy systems run on similar principles.

The traffic-free village boasts local butchers and bakers, and pubs and restaurants which strongly emphasise the importance of local produce.

While The Tafarn will serve Welsh ale, and restaurants The Granary and The Smithy will serve simple fare, Carreg Las will boast the finest food Wales has to offer - like Atlantic sea bass, Welsh black beef, organic Welsh lamb and Solva crab.

Food manager John Glasby claims it will be a showcase for seasonal local produce.
"We're lucky to have a wealth of high quality food and drink locally in Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, and Wales generally," he said.

"There is no need to buy cheese from any further than 30 miles away and the area is strong on lamb, beef, poultry, Carmarthenshire ham, as well as chutneys, honey, chocolate and ice cream."

On the village's edge is a spa boasting a traditional brick sauna, marine sauna, salt steam room, herbal steam room, ice pod, dry salt room and no fewer than 15 treatment rooms.

Marrying the ultra modern to the ancient, the spa has been named The Well after the holy well at the neighbouring and now ruined Newton North Church, which found itself on a major pilgrim route after Pope Calixtus II declared in the 13th century that two pilgrimages to St Davids were worth one to Rome.

Bluestone pays the Church in Wales the token sum of one white rose on a midsummer evening for the lease of the ancient church and there are fledgling plans to restore it and hold weddings there.

"It is going to give Wales something that has never been done here before," said Mr Harris.

At a glance - what Bluestone has to offer

The Blue Lagoon

In the shape of an upturned Cleddau coracle with a roof made of cedar shingles and a plastic similar to that used for the iconic domed roofs at Cornwall's Eden Project, the water park's main feature will be a wave pool capable of producing some of the largest indoor waves in the UK. It will also have three flumes, a rapids ride, a main pool, a lazy river ride and a bubbling hot tub

The Snow Dome

Work on this £25m attraction is not expected to start until at least 2009. The main ski run will be 200m long and 50m wide with a 75m training run next to it. It will be open 12 hours a day with tobogganing and snowboarding sessions at night

The Well

A luxurious spa featuring a traditional brick sauna, marine sauna, salt steam room, herbal steam room, ice pod, dry salt room and no fewer than 15 treatment rooms for treatments including reiki, aromatherapy, massage and reflexology

Landsker Sports Club

Features a large indoor sports hall, outdoor facilities including football and tennis, a state-of-the-art gym, pool and snooker tables, and fitness and dance suites

The Village

A traditional Welsh village featuring pubs, wine bars, shops and three restaurants boasting the finest in Welsh local produce

Local and sustainable

Bluestone has been developed on a grand scale but it has tried to remain largely loyal to Welsh designers, architects and suppliers as well as maintaining green credentials.
Among its suppliers are:

Wizo Trees, from Clarbeston Road, near Haverfordwest, who supplied more than 200,000 native trees, shrubs and bulbs; Vaughans in Haverfordwest, who supplied 400 TVs and 230 DVD players; BK Designs of Haverfordwest, who designed the lodges' interiors; Powell Dobson Associates of Cardiff, who designed the Blue Lagoon and Pembrokeshire Bio-Energy, a co-operative of farmers which is growing the crops to power Bluestone's biomass energy.

Measures taken to minimise its environmental impact include solar panelling in the lodges' roofs, recycled newspapers as insulation, and the world's only water park powered by biomass from crops grown in Pembrokeshire.

Countryside, hillside and waterside lodges in a choice of colours to match
When Bluestone opens in June, 182 timber lodges set around a traditional Welsh village will be ready for occupancy but when the site is complete, there will be 335 to stay in, along with 30 stone cottages within the village and 17 studio apartments.

Bordering woodland, nestled into the hillside, on open countryside or surrounding a freshwater lake, the lodges boast two to four bedrooms and range from the luxurious to the modest but comfortable.

Each of the four categories of lodge is named after some of Pembrokeshire's islands with the 24 Skomer lodges being the flagship.

In these detached two-storey, three-bedroom, three-bathroom lodges, slate-floored kitchens fitted by Zenith Interiors of Milford Haven lead to the open plan dining and lounge area, with its overlooking balcony directly above.

Thick beams of European whitewood support the roofs, several of which sport solar panels which heat water.

Outside, the lodges - each of which has been strategically placed in the site's best spots - have their own patio and furniture.

A Skomer privilege package, which includes a week-long stay in the lodge, your own electric buggy and £150 worth of spa treatment, costs £2,600.

The Caldey, Ramsey and Dinas lodges, as well as the cottages and studios, come in cheaper with a midweek Monday to Friday stay possible for around £150.

Their interiors were designed by Haverfordwest-based Barrie Knight.

"The colour palette has to work with the landscape and enhance the natural beauty of the area," he said.

"The palette will work well whatever the time of year, with shades of green in the woodland lodges, blues for the lakeside lodges, and purples and browns for the area with the best mountain views.

"The environment hasn't changed for thousands of years, so the basic colouration should date well while the design of the furniture is quite classical with a modern twist."

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