I needed some time off. As part of an effort to spend less and explore more of what’s around me, I booked a week away near a village called Cwmystwyth in Ceredigion, Wales.
It’s easily drivable from Bristol and I also have friends a little further North, near Machynlleth. I picked it as I wanted to be somewhere remote, near mountains and running water. Check.
Cwmystwyth is a small village nestled alongside the river Ystwyth, which flows all the way west to Aberystwyth. Cwmystwyth literally means “valley of the river Ystwyth.” It sits in the middle of the Cambrian mountains. It is the exact centre point of Wales, according to Wikipedia. This is also West Wales, so it’s pretty wet.
There’s one road in and one road out: the Mountain road, which stretches from Rhayader in the East to Pontarfynach (Devil’s Bridge) in the West. It’s an undulating and exciting road to drive along and feels suitably prehistoric.
The valley is beautiful. It’s primarily moorland with sheep pottering around. The hills are relatively barren, but still a luscious green with splodges of brown, dying grass and grey rushes of rock spilling down the sides. The river Ystwyth is always present, running alongside the road. There are waterfalls every 100m or so down the valley.
When I arrive, the hosts warn me the heating maxes out at 18 degrees. I’m not worried because I’ve not had the heating on at all at home. This is a step up.
The Airbnb is an extension of my hosts’ house, and their parents’ house is across the driveway. (The next houses are a 10-minute walk in either direction.) You enter the top-floor lounge/kitchen via a wooden bridge, and then downstairs there are two bedrooms and a bathroom. It’s comfortable and has everything I need.
Did I mention it’s wet? The rain was intermittent and heavy for the first few days I was here. But I enjoy being ensconced in a solid building, in the middle of nowhere with the rain beating down on the roof and windows. The rain is the loudest thing. Otherwise, it’s so quiet. I arrived on bonfire night and didn’t hear a single firework. No sirens, no lamposts, no light pollution, no public transport, no taxi, no Uber, no takeaway, no supermarket.
I’m isolated, but there is a feeling that I’m not missing anything. The pace is predictable. I read, I write, I hike, I cook. Being situated in a valley gives a concrete sense of place: a clear direction of travel and a feeling of being exactly where one should be.
Some things to do
- First of all: bring waterproofs, tops and trousers. It’s wet and you can get soaked through remarkably quickly. Also, bring layers. I didn’t need that many because it was still unseasonably warm for November. And bring walking boots. Shopping for food beforehand is a good idea if you wish to eat; the nearest supermarket is a 30-minute drive away.
- Explore the mines. The Cwmystwyth metal mines date back to the Bronze Age and have gone through many revivals since then, before being abandoned in the 20th century.
- Hike up the valley. Or my personal favourite, “find the top of the waterfall.” Fortunately, there are well-worn trails all around the valley, so it’s not that hard to find your way.
- Visit the Hafod Estate. I could have filled 10 blogs with pictures from Hafod, it was stunning. The estate was originally built as a tourist garden for the well-to-do in the 1800s. The original mansion is now gone, but the estate remains. It is unreasonably well sign-posted and tracks were very simple to follow with the map that’s provided in the car park. I walked the Lady’s path and the Gentleman’s path in about 3.5 hours, including breaks. As you might guess, these paths were not named in this century. I only saw one other couple the whole time I was there.
This was the first time I’ve been away and not imbibed nicotine since going through divorce and burnout. It felt predictably wholesome and nourishing. I spent a lot of time writing, making plans and reviving my blog. This was the perfect place to do that, an ideal writing retreat—mornings of coffee, keyboards & dopamine; afternoons of waterfalls, trails and wine.
There was a feeling of “this is what I needed” but also “I need this to be a turning point”, a strange feedback loop of necessity and intent. Either way, it worked.
11 Nov 2022