Have I ever told you that I am one eighth Welsh? My maternal great-grandmother was Welsh, from near Buckley or Hawarden. Her name was Gertrude Thomas, and she seems to have been a bit of a dour woman, from my Mum’s accounts. I can’t exactly blame her: her husband was injured in World War I, her son was killed in World War II and by the time my Mum was old enough to visit her alone, she was beginning to suffer from a series of strokes. Life lessons can be hard-learnt sometimes.
Whatever, added to the 50% pure Irish I have from my Dad, I feel happy claiming that I am more Celtic than I am anything else. And I love Wales.
As a family, we’ve had several lovely holidays by the beach in Nefyn, family weekends in Abergele and the whole country is a perfect mix of mountains, valleys, sea, waterfalls, sheep and people. It’s like a whole country designed for forest bathing. I can feel my blood pressure drop as I cross over the Rhuallt Hill gap on the A55 and see the first patchwork countryside with mountains behind. I know, having been there at every time of year, that this view has splendours that alter with the season, from Winter’s frost bedecked skeletons to Summer’s lush foliage and white sheep echoing the clouds above. On a misty, wet day the view is still spectacular… just shortened.
This weekend was all about shortened views. Mountain summits shrouded in mist, valley bottoms that we knew were there, but just couldn’t clearly see through the haze of drizzle, and stars in the incredibly dark sky that were visible only between the hours of midnight and three on one night, because the other two were weather driven. We had sun, we had rain, we had sun and rain, we had mist, we had fog, we had wind, we had wind and rain. We wore coats and removed them because we were sweaty, we wore waterproofs and stripped them off at the slightest lifting of the drizzle, we had jumpers that were too cold, too warm, t shirts that were too light, too wet, too short to cover cold elbows. Wales is an enigma of a place, inhabited by people who speak an enigma of a language and visited by people with their own enigmas, issues, problems; to which Wales, in its wisdom, may not have an answer but will help you answer them.
Unusually for me, this was a weekend with only one of my children: James, my Second Son. He’s a quiet, unassuming person who has been through a lot the last two years, with his University moving entirely online and a lack of purposes to go out meaning an already incredibly shy boy has grown into an incredibly shy man, unsure of what his future holds and needing to find his purpose. He also likes walking, and uses it as his meditation and thinking time. Taking him away was my idea, a chance to be out of the house and away from daily distractions to ponder, contemplate and find guidance.
We booked an old slate mining cottage, Bryn Rhos Goch, in a village called Cwm Penmachno about 8 miles from Betws y Coed. I’ve visited Betws y Coed quite a few times, so I know it’s a useful place for shops, as a base for walks or just to sit and watch life go by. The cottage was a way away along the Conwy valley and on the Machno river source. I can imagine in full summer sun it would be a grand spot, but with the weather on the turn and four days of rain on and off forecast, we packed everything we needed for a chilly stay.
Number 5 Bryn Rhos Goch was a really small cottage. Literally there was a main room, a minute kitchen and a shower room downstairs in a space that would entirely fit, truthfully, in my own living room. Upstairs was even more compact, since it was built in the roof and the slant meant that standing up straight was possible only in the very centre of the space. Downstairs doors were 5ft 6 tall (see me in the doorway below) while the upstairs door was even less, at about 5ft (see James stood in the doorway!) Two bedrooms (just) gave us each privacy, although the cottage description reads ‘sleeps 4’, I think that’s just about possible if that’s two adults and two children. Certainly for evening sitting and relaxing, the set up definitely suited just two adults rather than many more.
That said, it was big enough. It was a bit like sleeping in a living history museum: the cottage has been very sympathetically restored, the roof tiles are original and the windows in the roof are heavy iron-framed and really unique. Slate floors throughout and a wood burning stove add to the feeling that once you close that door, you are not in 21st Century Britain anymore. The cottage also has no wifi, no phoneline and no television service as well as no mobile phone reception, so you might as well leave any tech at home. My phone, bar emergency calls to check on those we’d left at home made on excursions, was useful only as a camera and for listening to my audio books at night. And all the better for that. Time to sit, read, crochet, drink tea and eat teacakes. Bliss.
With the weather, the wood burner and a decent glass of whiskey, evenings in the place were pure hygge. If there was one complaint we had, it was that the settees needed to be more comfortable, or perhaps swapped for armchairs on either side of the fire, with footstools, but that’s just wanting perfection in a perfectly comfortable way. Sunday night it poured with rain and was windy, and once we closed the door and pulled the door curtain across, the feeling of being safe and at home was really hygge.
The professed reason for the holiday was to give James a chance to do some walking and, kind as he was, he agreed that I could tag along on some of them. I was worried that this might mean I slowed him down, but he was really good at walking ahead, walking back to check on me and walking on again, so I think he probably walked at least twice as far as I did in the end. We walked in woodland, along rivers and streams, besides lakes and across mountains. On the Saturday, our afternoon was spent on a walk above the mill town of Trefriw, across to Llyn Geirionydd, down to Llyn Crafnant and back to Trefriw. I’m going to post the pictures of our walks and excursions in the next post, as I’m worried this one will be too long entirely!
An afternoon/day spent walking, especially in bad weather, is a prime excuse for an evening spent inside. We dined well, on fish and chips, and took prime advantage of the woodburning stove. What else is life for, if not closing the door against the sound of the wind and the rain, putting the side lights on and enjoying a few quiet hours crocheting, reading, talking and dozing as the world outside howls away unnoticed. This: just these few evenings of peace, has made me more convinced than ever that we as humans need a sanctuary. I wasn’t surprised when the magazine I read at the cottage started with the quote “If we could make our house a home, and then make it a sanctuary, I think we could truly find paradise on Earth” (Alexandra Stoddard). Truly, just for this weekend, this little white and red cottage in the middle of the valleys became my sanctuary.
And it was good.
And now, a word from our sponsors.
How to Hygge the British Way is my gift to the world. I don’t get paid for writing it, I’m not in it for the kudos, financial rewards, to become an influencer, work with brands or otherwise make any money from the blog. That’s why there are no ads, and any products I mention and recommend have either been gifted to me or bought by me with my everyday wages or donations from supporters. Every book I review has been bought and read by me, unless stated otherwise.
I do get a couple of pennies each time someone buys from the Amazon links on my page, as an Amazon Affiliate, but otherwise if you’d like to support me, I like to give something back in return. That’s why I write books. It always feels good if you get a book back in return for some money. You can find a full list of my books at my Author’s Page on Amazon, but especially recommended for this time of year are:
Cosy Happy Hygge: Setting up a rhythm to life and rituals to enjoy it to make for a more balanced life that handles waves and storms better. Lent is a season of rituals and resets. The book has small and easy ways to make your life flow with grace and happiness, which lead to more hygge.
Happier: Probably my most personal book, it’s the story of how I used hygge and the little things in life to help boost my happiness. I still go back and reread to remind myself what I need to do to be a happy human. And it’s always the little things.
Useful for what’s left of July and August is How to Hygge Your Summer. It has ideas for taking your hygge with you out of winter and to any place you go in the summer… the beach, the park, your holidays. Hygge is an all-year feeling, so start preparing and let’s hygge the heck out of summer this year!
And if you, like me, like to plan ahead, then my Christmas books are always available: Have Yourself a Happy Hygge Christmas is the basic, all round Christmas hygge book, Enjoying a Self-Care Christmas is about taking time to look after yourself at the busiest season of all and is only available in ebook, while Celebrating a Contagious Christmas was my answer to Christmas in Lockdowns in 2020 but might (sadly) prove useful for a few more years to come. I’m itching to write a new Christmas book, on simplicity, frugality, minimalism and making the meaning of your Christmas more significant, but time, time, time…
If you’d like to support me, but don’t want to buy a book, I have a Paypal.Me account as Hygge Jem. Every little helps, so even a few pence goes towards the books, goods and courses I use and recommend on the site. I’m grateful for every little bit that brings me closer to my dream of full-time writing, and I know I couldn’t still be writing if it weren’t for the support of many readers and friends out there. Thank you all for every little bit of support, emotional, physical and financial, you give me.
If you’ve enjoyed this article, don’t forget to share it or save it so others can enjoy reading, thinking about and living hygge as well.
The regular photo I’m currently using between text and my book promotions is a photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash. It’s waterlilies, chosen for the reflection and because the flowers resemble lotus flowers so much. And my header is a photo of Number 5, Bryn Rhos Goch that I took on my stay. Red door, red trimmings: how perfect is that?