A couple of days off

This week we had a couple of stolen days, no jobs, no working away at the relentless list, just a couple of days for going out and behaving as if we were on holiday. Last year we managed a whole week, with two nights away and a detailed programme. This year somehow we weren't quite so organised and ended up with Tuesday to Thursday, with a visit to some friends on Wednesday at The Blackden Trust in the middle. Blackden is a magic place which I have blogged about before. If you get the chance, go and see.

On Tuesday we started with a walk, a local one, the kind of thing we always think we will do but somehow never happens because there is weeding to be done and grass to cut, logs to chop and jobs to do. It took us about four hours, down the hill and back up to Caerwys, over to Babell and then across to Ysceifiog and down and up to home again. There were trees full of damsons, leaving me torn between my urge to forage and get out there for more jam making sessions and the knowledge that as soon as my visitors have gone I need to start on our own produce to begin to make inroads on the seasonal glut.

Damsons are lovely though, tart and sweet together, their skins a luminous black with a purple sheen. They remind me of my grandmother whose favourite fruit they were. I used to help her with damson jam, standing on a stool with a slotted spoon, fishing out the stones as they rose to the surface. I expect someone would do a risk assessment now and find this unacceptable for a seven year old but it was how I learnt to do so many things, standing by my mother or grandmothers, stirring, scraping, trying and failing to rub butter into flour for pastry, getting cross as my Grandma did it yet again in a trice and then suddenly finding at about eleven that I could do it. "Sitting by Nelly" they used to call it in the cotton mills, learning by watching someone who already has the skill.

On Tuesday night we went for a meal and a night at The Manorhaus in Ruthin. Great food, not cheap but a wonderful place for a celebration meal or, like us, just to spoil yourself. The rooms are beautifully furnished using works by local artists. The only other Arthaus hotel I have ever stayed in was in Berlin, all chic modernism and fabulous breakfasts. It seems slightly surprising to find such a place in an ancient little town in North Wales but its local focus makes sense of it. They also have a very nice bar! This is the view out over the town to the Clwydian hills.

In the morning we wandered around Ruthin, failing to get into Nant Clwyd Y Dre, probably my favourite old house ever, as it opens only on Friday to Sunday. It is Wales's oldest timbered townhouse and has been lived in for generations. It was rescued from falling into ruin by Denbighshire County Council and is now a perfect small manor house, the kind you can see yourself living in. From its fifteenth century heart to the Georgian additions with the light streaming in from the sunny garden, it is just a gem.

We also went to Ruthin Craft Centre, wandered the exhibitions, resisted the lure of the cafe and drove slowly home. On the way to Blackden we went to Waterstones in Chester to spend a sizeable book token. I now have no excuse for failure to propagate anything in my garden as I am the owner of a propagating bible. If everything takes I shall have to start a small nursery.

And yesterday was motorbike day. I have not ridden pillion on Ian's bike since we came to live here, nearly four years ago. It's not that I don't like, just another thing that is never on top of the list of things to do. He tends to use his bike to commute to Manchester in the summer which of necessity is something we don't share. So we planned a day of gentle touring, up to Bala, and across a steep and narrow pass to Lake Vyrnwy for lunch. I had forgotten how good a view you get from a bike and how in touch you feel with the countryside, the wind in your face, cows and horses looking over the hedge at you in surprise. There was the inevitable moment when the route took us up a lane so narrow and unused there was grass in the middle. Had there been a bike up there before? Maybe not.

The country of the Berwen hills is empty, astonishingly so. Here and there small stone farms sit in their protecting embrace of trees. Every now and then a tractor comes towards you, pulling a trailer load of sheep, but mostly it is just the high narrow roads, the open views, the hawthorn hedges and the huge oak trees and you. Buzzards wheel high above, a flock of crows starts from a field full of stubble, a shrew darts out in front of you. Coming down into Llangollen feels like hitting the city, although it is not much bigger than our local village.

I was tired last night, not used to hanging on I suppose, and slept deeply in my own bed. Today we are getting ready for visitors for the weekend, bread has been made and cakes and beds. Sweetpeas are picked, a crumble is on its way. Time to whizz out for some shopping.


  1. An interesting post about a part of the country I am not familiar with.

  2. Is this that same person who not so long ago was agonising over whether retirement was a good idea or not? All I can say is that it sounds like a very good idea to me - Offa's Dyke, tootling off into the countryside - what more could any woman want?

  3. A lovely blog - sounds like you had a smashing time. My favourite fruit is the damson too - stewed damsons yummy!

  4. Very much enjoyed this post, still must get to the Blackden Trust, and I like the sound of your hotel. You have also inspired me to have another go at pillion riding which I have not done for a year or so. I do like the fact that you can smell things as well as see them.

  5. What happened to the retirement?!!!!!
    You sound as busy as ever.
    Lovely places that you have visited.

  6. We are just coming to the end of our wild damsons - enjoying them most with windfall apples.

    Haven't heard of Lake Vyrnwy for years. Used to love going to that area on holidays as a child.

    I'm lethal as pillion. (At least, was when I tried - decades ago!) My body wants to lean in the opposite direction from the safe one - and the driver gets angry!

  7. I enjoyed that thank you Elizabeth. I couldn't have resisited the dmsons even though I have so many things here to deal with in the preserving line. I am far too obsessed with gathering for my own good I think! Love the sound of the old manor house and it has reminded me that we haven't visited anywhere for far too long. A lovely post x

  8. I am not familiar with the word pillion. It sounds like a motorbike. I bet that was fun. Had a friend with a motorcycle once and every time I rode got bugs in my eyes, etc.
    Sounds like you had a great time. Damsons sure bring back memories of my childhood. Great post.

  9. I enjoyed your post, Wales is a mythic place to me; I'm glad to be able to hang some reality on it as well.

  10. A really beautiful blog, Elizabeth. Thanks so much. So full of so many wonderful experiences. You are enjoying you retirement (if you can call it that!) Quite with you on the damsons. LBD gave me some the other day which I made into a crumble and the richness of that burgundy sap oozing up around the edges like some medieval tapestry or cherry coloured coat was just amazing.

  11. Lovely, so gentle, so peaceful, so very much all the things we love to do. We have been through the area you describe many times on our way further west, perhaps it is time we stopped off and explored the places you mention.
    A lovely read of a life enhancing few days, there's nothing better.
    Your home life sounds idyllic too.

  12. Good days and time well spent I think. As Friko says, a lovely read. The jobs at home will always hang on for a day or two.

    Damsons? I remember bowlfuls of them for school dinners, accompanied by the inevitable Skool Custard - and then as inevitably, 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, Rich man, Poor man, Beggar man, Thief...

  13. So glad that you have had some "time out" and put the to do list on hold for a few days.

  14. Sounds like a prefect couple of days to me. Sometimes it is hard to avoid chores when you plan a home based break. Himself has had a motorbike for years and would dearly love me to get on the back of it but I am wimp. Your description of being a pillion passenger makes it sound an exhilarating experience :)

  15. Sounds sublime, Elizabeth. Love the idea of sitting by Nelly - often the best way to learn something practical. We've got damsons coming out of our ears at the moment. I'd offer to post you some, but I'm not sure they'd be up to the journey.

    Delightful blog - you make that part of the world sound idyllic.

  16. Your post reminded me of old times.

    I like Bala and the Berwens very much. There is wonderful caff in Bala called the Cafnod; red Rexene chairs and a Frigidaire counter.

    The pass you climbed is, I think, The Bwlch y Groes (Hill of the Cross) - it is a stunning road; I once cycled it on tandem from the Dinas Mawddy side.

    Happy days; fitter then.

  17. I think it's time we got out and about, I think I've had my head down for too long and you've reminded me of the joys of gettting out there.

  18. Glorious post...I enjoyed every moment of the journey. Funnily enough, we were in Wales this last weekend. A little detour from house-hunting in Herefordshire and Shropshire - and how lovely it was, too. Like visiting another country...or the pages of a childhood storybook. Serene and bucolic and utterly, absolutely beautiful.

  19. Joanne, lovely place, you should come!
    Weaver - yes, you are right. I am one lucky woman.
    Edward - half the damsons now damson jam. yum.
    Sue - pillion is great. I had forgotten how much I liked it.
    Maggie - still mulling about what to do next, can't retire as too young and not enough money!
    3c- thanks for visiting. I do know what you mean about leaning the wrong way. Husband's advice is just to look over the shoulder and leave the leaning to him!

  20. Hi Pipany - thought you would be a fellow forager!
    QMM - yes, you do need a helmet with the visor down as a protection against bugs.
    Dimple - thank you, Wales is beautiful, you must come.
    Fennie - the colour of damsons is marvellous isn't it? I can't seem to capture its depth on camera, maybe you just have to taste it!

  21. What a lovely few days. You need to plan in time to do this every now and then. So good for the soul.

  22. Recognised places here ( as you know I'm not far away) and hope you manage a visit to our Festival in October.


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