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.