Author Archives: Dee

The Otter Morning

(not THE otter!)

(not THE otter!) photo Catherine Trigg

Gwalia is less than 3 miles from the famous River Dyfi. The eco-system of the Dyfi Valley is so significant that it has been granted UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve status. This has helped local people protect the landscape and to preserve and study the many species which live within it.

Otters are one of those rare and wonderful creatures which has set up home on the Dyfi. They are such a treat for those who manage to catch a glimpse but are famously elusive for those actually trying to find them. A local wildlife expert had told us that otters regularly patrol all the streams and tributaries to the Dyfi and one of these cuts through the heart of Gwalia so of course, there was always the chance that they were around.

It was early one morning in January when it all happened. 7:45am and all was quiet. Amy’s Mum was up and about earlier than normal and was outside doing her usual morning chores whilst Amy and I were where we usually are before 8 o’clock, in bed. We heard a shout come from outside and thought Livy had fallen but no, what she was shouting was “OTTERS!”.

Amy darted out first whilst I was still throwing some clothes on and grabbing my phone in case I could get a photo. Two otters were in the garden pond, not the stream or lake but the tiny little pond 3 meters away from the house! Amy’s arrival had startled them and they’d legged it, so by the time I got there they were both gone. Completely disappeared. I was gutted! All that remained was a half eaten frog.

There were no guests in the Cabin that morning so with very little optimism I headed over to the cabin lake just in case they were there. In my mind of course I thought I’d see them splashing around but when I got there all I could see were the rain drops splashing on the surface of the water. With heavy heart I headed back to the house.

But then…out of the corner of my eye…there it was. An otter. An actual otter. It was busy exploring the pools in the stream which runs immediately behind the cabin. We’ve been lucky enough to see otters several times in the Highlands but never this close. It was beautiful. Luckily I had my phone on me and called back to the house to get Amy and Livy over whilst I quietly shadowed it working it’s way up the stream.

The three of us stood in silent awe, watching this magnificent animal, no more than 5 metres away. It looked at us as it munched it’s way through breakfast. The otter just didn’t care that we were there. We kept a respectful distance and in return it let us into it’s world for just a couple of minutes, completely unperturbed by our presence.

The second otter was nowhere to be seen and after gracing us with it’s presence on dry land the otter ducked under water again and completely disappeared. The dull light of a winter’s dawn meant that I couldn’t get a photo but it didn’t matter. It was a magical moment which will stay with us all forever.

The Scottish Project

Whilst living here in mid-Wales and developing our business from Amy’s family home, we also took on another project in Dee’s home town of Nairn in the Scottish Highlands.  Having purchased what used to be my Grandfather’s house in May 2014, we decided to take a winter break from Gwalia and spend 3 months renovating the small house with a view to doing holiday rentals.

You can view the end results at the Sutors Hauf website here – www.sutorshauf.co.uk

It was a house with a slightly complex past in that whilst the semi-detached house has always had it’s own title deeds, the next door neighbour was and always had been a close relative.  This meant that when my Grandad was getting older the house was “knocked through” on both levels so that he could come and go from my uncle and aunt’s house.  The reason for knocking through was that his house had never been modernised so had no kitchen or bathroom and was basically just one and a half rooms both up and downstairs.  The house had really been treated as one complete detached house since my Grandad passed away 20 years ago and the electrics and central heating all ran from the house next door, which is still owned by my cousins, so whilst it was only a small house it was a rather unusual renovation!

The first job was to formally separate the properties again.  This meant boarding over the connecting doorways and sound insulating the whole dividing wall on both sides.  We also had to separate the electrics and install a new supply and meter to our half, same too with the gas for the central heating , plus a new water supply.  We contracted out this part of the work and it was a bit of a slow start to the project, so several thousands pounds later and having dug up half the garden we were eventually in a position to be able to get down to work.

It’s always very quick once you start tearing things apart!  Stripping wallpaper, lifting all the carpets and uncovering the old fireplace really got us back to the bones of the house.  Top “treasure” finds included two WW2 German coins, several combs under the floorboards and a party invitation to my grandparents from 1964 (with RSVP card) behind the mantelpiece.  There were also a couple of signatures from Ellens past on the bare walls.  It was all a very poignant reminder of my family history.  Once the floorboards were up there was much work to do repairing rotting joists and digging out damp earth.   The fireplace was still in fairly good condition and so we decided it should stay, it’s dark green tiles a reminder of the traditional colour of many of the Fishertown front doors from that era.  Before laying the boards back down Amy lay all the pipes for the new central heating system, all the new plumbing and waste pipes and also all the cables for the electrics to the new kitchen.  It was pretty major stuff and although she had talked through the plan with the plumber and electrician, the only professional help we paid for was the final connection of the pipes to the boiler and the wires to the consumer unit.

Because of the size of the house it had to be well planned and functional.  The large cupboard under the stairs was transformed from a scullery into a bright modern shower room.  Small but perfectly formed!  The only other downstairs room became a kitchen / living / dining room.  One wall was given over to kitchen units and maximised for storage and functionality with everything built-in including a dishwasher, washing machine, fridge, oven and microwave.  There’s a large corner sofa-bed, extendible dining table and corner TV unit plus super fast broadband.  All you need in your home away from home.  The house may be small but the ceilings are so high and windows so large that it still feels spacious and bright.  Upstairs too was decked out just as we would want and we tried to add in that luxurious feeling where ever we could with neutral, calming décor, a king size bed and solid wood furniture.  New carpets and flooring throughout has given the old house a fresh modern feel and of course a bit of a sea-side theme never goes a miss in a holiday cottage!

The whole family, along with many folk of the Fishertown, had a lot of memories of this house and so it felt like a very personal journey to uncover and renovate every inch of it.  It’s the house in which my Dad and his brothers grew up and where my grandparents lived for most of their lives.  My Dad past away just after we bought the house and although he knew our plans it was really sad that he could not have been a part of it.  A joiner by trade, he would have loved getting involved and bringing the place back to life.  It was however an emotional and healing experience spending so much time there.  I felt closer to him than ever, imagining the young Hughie blaring out Stones records, combing his once thick curly hair (soon to be lost!) getting ready for a night out and lifting his mum, “Winnie the Pooh”, clear up off her feet when she got angry with him!  I think and hope he’d have been pleased with the end result.

Guest Blog by Heather & Dan – The Winter Experience

Home fires burning

Home fires burning

We stayed at the cabin on the lake for 4 nights over new year 2014 and wanted to share our experience of being in the cabin over winter as we had a wonderful time, and we think future guests will have equally amazing stay if they choose to visit in winter.

It was such a relaxing stay, being beside the lake and so close to nature. Being cut off from the TV, computer and, whilst inside the cabin, mobile phones, meant you could really relax, enjoy the beautiful surroundings and get stuck into a good book!

We had a wonderful stay due to going prepared and having read-up on Gwalia website about the facilities and what to expect. The website really does try and give you a flavour of what the cabin is like, with the photos and also the very clear information from Dee and Amy. We knew it would be cold, and that the weather might be bad, so we simply packed accordingly. Lots of thermal socks, vests, waterproofs, gloves, wellies etc.!

We had our main meal of the day at lunchtime whilst out and about, and then we bought provisions in the local supermarket for a simple dinner at the cabin in the evening. Eating a sausage sandwich or tucking into a warm bowl of soup with crusty bread, whilst sitting out on the decking lit by tea lights, was the perfect end to our busy days of walking and adventure!

Icey Lake

Icey Lake

Chilly canoeing!

Chilly canoeing!

  • A lovely log burner inside the cabin so we were never cold.
  • Plenty of wood to keep the log burner going through the evening.
  • Plenty of warm bedding and blankets provided to ensure you were never cold. Blankets meant you could sit outside in the evening with them wrapped around you.
  • Paraffin lamps meant plenty of light in the evenings outside on the decking. The torches and battery light bulbs meant we could read inside the cabin. Lots of tea light lanterns to light up the outdoor area beautifully in an evening.
  • The hot tub was brilliant! What a wonderful experience to be in a warm hot tub at night time, with the stars twinkling in the sky above you. Being wintertime, it took us a few hours to get the water up to temperature on our first evening, however, the following nights didn’t need so long as the water had retained some warmth. Anyway, it gives you something to look forward to!
  • Composting toilet was absolutely fine (to be honest, much nicer than any portaloos or public toilets!!) Nice to have a natural fragrance spray inside the toilet hut just to keep things smelling fresh whilst you were inside. I loved the heart-shaped window cut into the door so you could look out at the lake.
  • Having the canoe was great fun to explore the lake. We certainly enjoyed having a paddle!
  • Super range of resources in the kitchen to cater for your cooking needs (the website explains what is supplied so you have a good idea what to expect prior to arrival).
  • The outdoor sink for washing up the dishes and washing yourself was tucked around the side of the cabin. Yes, the water was cold coming out of it in winter as it came from the natural spring. However, all you had to do was boil the kettle.
  • We tried all the methods of showering! Dee and Amy kindly let us use their indoor shower at the farmhouse. We also used the pump up shower, although the low pressure (well we are all used to power showers nowadays!) meant in winter it was a rather chilly shower experience. Our final shower was using hot water from the hot tub in our bucket, which worked brilliantly and definitely worked better for us than the pump-up shower. This was a very invigorating wash outside on the decking and finished off perfectly but jumping into the hot tub afterwards!
  • The warmth from the log burner in the cabin meant clothes and towels dried very quickly!
  • Lots of thoughtful touches to the cabin, such as providing a compact mirror, mulled wine and mince pies on arrival, binoculars and nature books provided.
  • Being winter it was cold enough outside so we didn’t need to use the natural fridge!
Candlelit evenings

Candlelit evenings

We would absolutely recommend visiting the cabin in winter. I have no doubt future guests will also have a beautiful and peaceful stay. Just use your common sense! Go prepared for a simpler way of life and pack plenty of thermals!

Our thanks to Heather and Dan for their blog entry and general loveliness xx

The Bed Dilemma

How many different ways can you make a bed?  As it turns out, the answer to that is a lot more than I could ever have imagined!  Now, I’m quite a neat and tidy person, like things to be done in a certain way however as long as the beds made I’m not that bothered.  That’s not really the best approach when providing luxury accommodation though.  Having carefully shopped for tasteful, soft and sumptuous bedding  (not to mention the bedspread shopping trauma when we nearly had a total meltdown), I thought there was nothing more to do than swiftly make the bed, take some nice and photos for the website and boom…done.  But no.  I made up the bed, including said offending bedspread, plumped the pillows, flattened the duvet but it just looked so…normal.  You know when you arrive in a hotel (or your sister in law’s house) and the bed is just immaculate and smooth and inviting?  Well it was nothing like that.

Amy got involved, “that doesn’t look anything like Corinna’s (said sister in law’s) beds”.  So we took everything off the bed, everything on, folded the bedspread, unfolded the bedspread, pillows on top of duvet, pillows underneath…you get the picture.  It was rubbish.  “Let’s ask Corinna” Amy said, “she’ll sort us out”.  Sure enough, within the hour, we got an email with several attachments.  Photos of Corinna’s spare  bedroom made up with several bedding arrangements plus comments on the method and failsafe tips.  Brilliant.  We picked the fav and there you have it.  Bedroom perfection.  It’s the “classic” pillows on top of duvet / folded bedspread draped over the bottom / minimal cushion arrangement…thanks Cor.

Here’s the 5 different recommended ways to make a bed!

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Heavenly Hot Tub

The wood fired hot tub is one of the main features of the new cabin which will hopefully add that bit extra when people are choosing where go on the their short break.  We’ve also been looking forward to a dip in it as well but first we had to get it off the lorry, over the field, over the stream, over the style and onto the new decking.  Not so easy when the whole thing weighs in a 190kg!  We disassembled what we could, found several strips of old carpet, tipped it on its side and then rolled.  It was quite a sight but luckily the chunky wooden tub is so substantial that we all survived in tact, despite early fears of an Indiana Jones, Temple of Doom scenario.

"Temple of Doom" removal technique

“Temple of Doom” removal technique

Once in place we quickly got it reassembled and it was all ready for filling.   Harry had helped us out with getting a fresh water supply by tapping into the spring source 50m away and so we quickly got filling the tub with beautifully clean and clear water straight from the ground.  The tub holds 1300 litres so after 2 hours we were all ready to light the flames.  It’s quite a brilliant design whereby the metal stove sits inside the wooden hot tub but is surrounded by a wooden gate so that once you’re inside it you can’t burn yourself on the stove.  The wood is fed in from the top and then once you surround the stove in water it all starts hotting up.

Lesson one is don’t leave the stove unattended.  We nipped away for some dinner and when we got back 45 minutes later the fire was nearly out.  Nonetheless, the floating thermometer was rising and once re-lit it soon got up to temperature.  The moon was really bright, the stars were out and the beers and wine were loaded into the handy drinks holder.  A quick strip off in the cold night air and we were in!WP_20140419_001

 Oh, it was sooo heavenly!  The water was so warm and soothing, it was like having a romantic bath but we both actually had room to move around!   We’ve spent so much time out by the lake getting the cabin ready but it was such a different experience at night.  There was a full moon and the sky was a bit cloudy so it made the moonlight seem all the brighter as it bounced off the clouds.  Unlike having a bath the water stays nice and hot as the heat from the stove keeps releasing slowly.  We ended up being in for at least an hour and a half.  I was nervous about being cold when we got out but the hot tub was so warm that we were actually still super warm whilst towelling down on the decking.   I kind of always thought that hot tubs were one of those things that other people raved about but were probably over-rated but I have to say I absolutely loved it.  Peaceful night air, moon and stars, glass of wine…romantic perfection!

We’ve Gone Batty

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Bat boxes going up

I’m a town girl.  Like a bit of bird spotting but never really seen bats before apart from a couple of times when staying in the far north of Scotland but we have them here at Gwalia.  On warm evenings just as dusk falls you are sure to see them.  They are really quite mesmerising.  The first you see of them is a quick shadowy flash and you wonder if that was just a fast flying blackbird but by the second glance you know you’ve seen a bat.  They have a very distinct flight and they move so quickly as they dart around finding insects.

I’ve become a bit obsessed by bats lately.  For Christmas I got a bat identification chart, a bat book and best of all a bat detector.  It’s a listening device which tunes in to the bat’s frequency and helps you to identify  the type of bat.  Unfortunately it’s really quite difficult as there are several common types on similar frequencies but even just hearing the is quite a thrill.

Amy’s put up some bat boxes over by the pond as they like to nest near water so we’re hoping for some more glimpses once the summer comes.

Mouldy Messages from the Play Room Past

Stripping back the mouldy wall

Stripping back the mouldy wall

The living room and kitchen are one big open plan room since about March 2013 when builders came to knock through the old stone wall.  The room was known as the play room to the Chandlers and was previously a really dark little room .  Now that it’s all opened up however the light from the kitchen comes streaming through and has completely transformed that side of the house.  The plan is for this to be the day room and there will be a separate little snug / study / TV room for cosy evenings in.  The main issue with this room however is damp. It’s an ongoing battle here at Gwalia but this room has suffered the most from not being heated, not getting much sunshine and the walls not being able to breath and dry out.  Harry did quite a bit of work on the exterior facing wall in 1990 but little did he know it was actually to do more harm than good.  He insulated it, fitted a thin membrane and erected a new stud wall so as to block off the stone wall.  Unfortunately that wall is so wet that the water was seeping into the room under the floor.   Removing this stud wall and stripping back the window sill / framing revealed the extent of the water damage, the walls were literally dripping with water.  

The wooden lintel above the window was also extremely damp, so much so there was soil and roots forming on the underside.  This wall will be left to dry out for a few months and then will be lime rendered to allow a more natural breathing process.   A new wood-burning stove should also help this. The age and construction of the 18th century house means that the floor sits directly on top of the bare earth with only some insulation and chipboard underfoot.  We had to rip up half the floor and replace  the waterproof membrane so that we could run it further up the wall and hopefully prevent the same problems re-occurring.

Panel fitted by Harry, Livy, Corinna and Amy February 1990.  Good luck to you all!

Panel fitted by Harry, Livy, Corinna and Amy February 1990. Good luck to you all!

 

Corinna May Chandler born 17/10/79, aged 10 years old

Corinna May Chandler born 17/10/79, aged 10 years old

The only nice part of this was the discovery of some messages from the past.  When Harry covered over an old window sill the Chandlers each wrote a little message for future inhabitants to find.  Long forgotten about, it was rather fitting that it should be the those same Chandlers to rediscover it a quarter of a century later!

Plumbing and Electrics

It’s not just all the building work we’re doing ourselves.  The redesign has also involved a great deal of plumbing and re-wiring to fit in with the new layout but also to bring this part of the house up to current building standards.  Harry is fortunately a bit of a dab hand at plumbing and turns his hand to most things so has been really helpful with advice and guidance.  On the Electrics side of things we’ve had the help of a local electrician who has discussed the planned work with Amy and then come back to check everything over before going live.  It’s been really useful for Amy to have had the benefit of his knowledge, skills and of course he’s been invaluable at reassuring everything is safe before he’s “plugged us in”.  Whilst the input has been fantastic, Amy has done all of the actual work herself, not to mention figuring out the numerous plumbing and electric parts we’ve needed to get up and running.  The entire original half of the house has been completely rewired, a new consumer unit installed and on the plumbing side she’s dismantled the old bathroom / pantry arrangements and fitted the plumbing for a new kitchen and bathroom.  I keep being in awe at how these things just get done.  Lots of hard work and research of course goes into it but it’s great to remember that hiring someone to rewire your house and plumb in a new kitchen and bathroom would cost a small fortune.  Amy rocks!

Kitchen underway

 

Kitchen assembly

Kitchen assembly

Alas we did not meet our deadline for finishing the kitchen by Christmas, although it had actually arrived and the Ikea flat packs were all piled up like Christmas presents waiting to be un-wrapped.  After a couple of weeks off over Christmas we were back to it in the New Year and raring to go.  We opted for under counter drawers and 4 large wall cabinets over head.  Having fitted better branded kitchens in the past, Ikea is now tried and tested as the best design for fitting yourself.  We had a bit of a production line going and it all got assembled very quickly.  All drawer and cupboard fronts are white  and with all that natural light coming in we opted for white paint on walls and ceiling to really enhance the brightness of the space. 

 

The worktops were sourced separately from an online company and we opted for beech.  They are a bit of a faff to oil properly in advance of fitting but that is the key to keeping wooden worktops in good condition.  They arrived on the back of a massive lorry in 4 metre lengths and are extremely heavy.  Because of the narrow country lanes here we’ve had quite a lot of fun and games with delivery drivers and lorries.  The closest this lorry could get was 20m from the front door and so we had to carry each one through the yard and round to the back door.  There were 4 of them and did I mention they were really heavy?!   We don’t actually have 16m of worktop but had ordered 7m extra to use as window sills.  They look fantastic and it worked out a lot cheaper than buying the same quantity / quality of wood.

Kitchen taking shape

Kitchen taking shape

As a bit of extra functionality, very thin stainless steel sheets were ordered and fitted onto 2 sections of worktop.  One section on the sink / dishwasher area so as to prevent water damage and the other was fitted onto a lowered section of kitchen unit which will be used for rolling out dough and pastry.  It’s been really great to customise our kitchen in this way and has been the real benefit or doing it all ourselves.  Come the end of January our kitchen was pretty much finished, bar a bit of tiling and window paint.

Disco Baths and Disco Dinners

Among life’s many pleasures is the joy of music.  We’ve always got the radio on or our tunes playing while we’re toiling away at Gwalia.  Amy found amplifiers online and rigged up a 12V system to run speakers both in the bathroom and kitchen.  The kitchen speakers are fairly standard but the bathroom ones are fitted into the ceiling.  Both systems run off of our phones so we just plug our phones into the integrated amplifier doc and choose from digital radio or any of the 400ish albums stored on our phones. 

To accompany the tunes of course you need a bit of lighting to set the right mood.  In the bathroom there’s a light box down one side of the bath so you can set it to a serene blue light or go for the flashing disco option, depending on ones mood!  Likewise in the kitchen where similar “stylish” lighting moods can be set.  We’ve got under counter lighting, under plinth lighting and of course what kitchen would be complete without the disco shelf?

So far this has mostly been admired by our two small nephews who have been repeatedly pleading for very energetic discos in the kitchen but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until this catches on!