Gwalia Life and Living...

Here Sheepy Sheep

When you think of Wales it’s hard not to think of sheep.  They are a way of life in rural parts and pretty much everyone with a bit of land has some.  With the goat having moved on to the Dyfi Dairy it seemed like a sensible thing to get some sheep, to keep the grass down if nothing else!

After some research it seemed like a self-shedding breed would be good for us.  These are sheep which shed their own coat gradually in spring time and hence don’t need sheering.  It’s a pretty onerous job having to sheer and given the value of wool vs sheering cost it’s a popular choice among many “proper farmers” too.

It all sort of fell into place really. A quick google of livestock for sale amazingly turned up 2 Wiltshire Horns just 15 miles away from us.  After a quick trip up to say hello to them and see if they liked us the deal was done and within a few days of saying “let’s get some sheep”, we got some!  Okay, so 2 doesn’t exactly make a flock but everyone’s got to start somewhere.  They are tagged with Number 1 and Number 6 and they are so far settling in nicely.  We’ve decided not to name them for now, feels like it might be a rookie error if the time comes when we need to sell / eat them!  They came from another smallholder and are nicely “bucket trained”, that’s to say they come to you when you shake a bucket of food at them!  Quite handy as it turns out because we don’t have a dog and sheep can actually run rather fast.  It feels like our smallholding adventure has begun!

Farewell to Snowdrop

Goats and kids have always been an important part of Gwalia life with Livy and Harry having kept them for milk for nearly 40 years.  They were an important part of self-sufficiency, yielding enough milk for the family.  Having animals around always keeps you in tune with the seasons and form an important structure and routine to life here.  There were only ever a couple of goats, lots of chickens and usually a few sheep.

When Amy and I moved here in 2013 however there was just Snowdrop the goat and the hens.   Snowdrop’s daughter had died very young and so she had been by herself for quite a long time.  This isn’t ideal for any animal but particularly herd animals.  She was never the nicest of goats, always quite, eh, boisterous…but over time she was just getting downright impossible to be around!  Trips through Snowdrop’s yard often involved dodging horns as she was always keen to “play”.  There was little incentive for us to breed again from her as neither of us really likes goats milk.  A lot of people can’t tell the difference from cow milk but a childhood of being brought up on it had put Amy off for life and I really prefer cows.

And so the time finally came, 5 years after her last kid, when Snowdrop had finally stopped producing any milk.  We didn’t want to eat her but we didn’t want to keep her!  Luckily along came the Dyfi Dairy.  They are based 3 miles away in the heart of the Dyfi Valley and is an ethical, no-kill goat dairy.  It seemed like the best place for Snowdrop to move to.  She’d be surrounded by other goats and could once again breed and produce milk.  It was sad, particularly for Livy and very much felt like the end of an era.  We sometimes visit her and know that she’s having a much happier life now.  It also means that we’ve started to think about getting animals ourselves and planning just how the future of Gwalia might look…

Highs and Lows

So as some of you may have noticed, blogging has tailed off somewhat…in that it’s completely stopped!  Gwalia life has of course continued and Cabin on the Lake and Gwalia Camping are still going strong.  We have however had a bit of an epic time of it since last posting.  For starters, Amy gave birth to our beautiful daughter, Ivy, in July 2016 and life changed forever. 

Rather thoughtfully Ivy arrived at the start of the Rio Olympics and so there was many an hour passed in the dead of night bouncing on a gym ball in front of the telly, Ivy in a sling, watching some of the more random Olympic events.  On one such occasion at 2am I entered the kitchen to find a bat flying around in there and even now I wonder if I was just hallucinating from the tiredness! 

Over the coming months we all settled into our new routines.  We are very lucky to have the kind of lifestyle which means we are both around a lot and can flex to fit our new family and after the initial shock of having this tiny creature sending shockwaves through every seem of life she quickly won us over.   Being a gay couple means that there are no “little accidents”.  Her arrival was carefully thought about and planned.  Amy’s childhood here at Gwalia was in many ways idyllic and we hope to provide that same start in life to our daughter.  Ivy is a delight and quite simply the best thing ever.  

The process of carrying, delivering and breast-feeding a baby came with hormonal changes for Amy however and this had allowed some other odd symptoms to come to the fore.  It was only later in the year, following CAT/MRI scans and visits with various doctors, that she was diagnosed with a brain tumour.  Amy has now recovered from surgery and is doing well but there is as yet no cure for brain cancer.  Amy  is an amazingly positive, intelligent and resourceful person and has set about raising money and awareness to combat this disease.  

Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer. Brain tumours kill more women under 35 than breast cancer.   Less than 20% of brain tumour patients survive beyond five years of their diagnosis, whereas 86% of breast cancer and 51% of leukaemia patients survive beyond five years, with both breast cancer and leukaemia receiving nearly £500 million and £400 million respectively of research investment since 2002, compared with £57 million for brain tumours.  

If you’d like to read more about Amy’s journey or donate to the fund with the Brain Tumour Charity then follow this link –

I Do…

28th May 2011 was a wonderful day here at Gwalia as it was the day when the lovely Amy and I became Mrs and Mrs, or rather Ms and Ms as we prefer it.  I write this because having had so many people want to come here for a romantic getaway, it seems only fitting that we tell you about our own little celebration.

 To start with, it rained all week in the run up to our Saturday wedding.  It even rained all morning and so there was much concern about whether we were entirely sane to organise a wedding in a field in Wales.    Nonetheless, the marquee was up, the bunting was hung, the bouncy castle was waiting in the wings and we were ready.  The place looked fantastic.   Friends and family arrived from all over the UK, many of whom pitched their tents in our little campsite and the whole event felt like going to an amazing festival with all of your mates.  In fact the event was unofficially deemed “Wedfest”.

Come lunchtime, as we rather nervously got dressed and make-uped and haired, the skies began to clear.  Yes, actual blue skies.   It felt like a good omen.  As the guests assembled on the lawn, seated on picnic rugs and plastic chairs, we were sitting in the cabin all ready to make the dramatic entrance.  It was magical.  The sun was streaming through the green leaves making them glow brightly and the yellow iris’ were blooming on tall green stems by the lake.  We weren’t even living in Gwalia at that time but I knew then, as I was about to enter the Chandler family, that this place would become a big part of my future.

As we stepped into the throng of well-known faces, through the specially made willow archway, 2 red kites circled high over-head.  The celebrant welcomed us all to this beautiful green place and in what seemed like a blink of an eye, we were married.  Forever!  We kissed and then ran gleefully towards the bouncy castle for a celebratory bounce.  The rest of the day passed by in a bit of a blur really.  Everyone was sitting about the marquee, eating from picnic hampers and drinking wine, whilst the usual speeches and merriment ensued.  An evening ceilidh from the local band gave way to random disco classics and as we lit the bonfire, we danced and sang our way beyond the setting sun.

Over by the cabin, Harry got the barbecue going to feed the hungry hoards while our friends secretly decorated the cabin for us.  We spent the night there, which at that point was very, very different from its current state.  It was however, as special as ever to wake up to the sounds of the birds chirping cheerfully to herald a new day.

The photos in the gallery below were all taken by local, awarding winning photographer Tina Jones who is lovely! 

[alpine-phototile-for-picasa-and-google-plus src=”private_user_album” uid=”107174497982364819190″ ualb=”6014080464355692561″ authkey=”CNqk25OrsdTbqAE” imgl=”fancybox” style=”wall” row=”4″ size=”320″ num=”40″ shadow=”1″ border=”1″ highlight=”1″ curve=”1″ align=”center” max=”100″]

Pheasant Plucker

Along with house renovations and developing a new business, it’s hard to forget that we live on a working small-holding.  There are some inevitable parts of farming which one doesn’t tend to think about whilst perusing the meat isles in Tesco’s.  You purchase your nicely packaged bits of meat and the hardest part is coming up with something tasty to do with it.  There is however an awful lot of work which goes in to getting that piece of meat into your fridge and I now have a much greater appreciation for that process.   I’ll spare you the gory details but let’s just say 6 out of 12 of our new batch of chickens were cockerels and alas surplus to requirements.

Tasty as our free range, organic chickens are I had my eye on another type of bird for the dinner table.  There are a few pheasants roaming around these parts and so I started doing a bit of target practice using Harry’s air rifle and a few old tin cans.  I was getting pretty good at hitting my target when one lunch time I seized my opportunity.



We hung it for 3 days in the shed and rather than plucking and gutting as we did with the chickens, removed the leg and breast meat all ready for Amy’s Casserole dish.  I’d never shot anything before and didn’t find the whole process particularly enjoyable but there is something rather satisfying in catching your own dinner.

We’re Jammin’

Following on from all the cool things we could do with strawberries, jam was one of the obvious options which would store well and draw out the fun.  Armed with some of my mother’s advice, Amy’s mother’s advice and a recipe off the BBC website I set sail on my maiden voyage of jam-making.    I prepared thoroughly.  Strawbs ready, sugar weighed, saucers in the freezer and jam jars sterilizing in the oven.  Recipe / mother’s emails on the side and I was ready to go.  It all started quite well and the house quickly filled with the lush sickly sweet smell so reminiscent of my youth.  Livy appeared early on to check I was ok and passed on her words of advice “think about the science”.   Now, as you may know, my life skills lie neither in cooking nor science and so alas things quickly deteriorated.


In my defence, the test to tell if jam has reached it’s setting point is very subjective.  Put a dollop of said jam on a cold saucer, poke your finger in and if the skin wrinkles it’s set, if it’s liquid you need to keep boiling.  Now, that all sounds very simple but with such treasured ingredients I really didn’t want to produce a runny jam.  I mean, I’d never live it down.  And so I kept boiling…and kept boiling…and then it started to turn a funny dark blood red colour and that lovely sweet smell was replaced by something else.  In short, as my father would say, I burnt the arse out of it.


Livy had to come and rescue me and it was all very, very embarrassing .  At one point there was a discussion as whether we should just boil it a bit more, pour it in a baking tray and slice it up to make strawberry toffee.  Runny jam would have been better however as it is, I have a “very concentrated” batch of jam.  Still edible although definitely not as my mother used to make, barely jam at all really.  Caustic soda and a lot of elbow grease was required to restore the pan and I was quite frankly, mortified.  2 days later though I was back on the horse, albeit under strict supervision.  Black currant this time, much easier.

Today, I will mostly be eating…strawberries

Aaaaannnnd now…it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for…heeeeeerrreee’s “Strawberry Season”!

There have been rumours that it was coming, stories (oh the stories!) about the great strawberry years! Finally the season is upon us. To be honest I thought it was all part of a great rouse to lure me to mid-wales but I can confirm that the tales are true. There are bowls and bowls of strawberries and they just keep coming!

The summer strawberry mountain

The summer strawberry mountain

To avoid A) eating strawberries for breakfast lunch and dinner and B) freezing them for later, which just makes them lose their delicious flavour; we have embarked on a “how many cool things can you do with strawberries?” mission.

• Cool thing #1 – Just add cream , obviously
• Cool thing #2 – Strawberry Liqueur – vodka, sugar, water and a shed-load of strawberries – leave for 6 weeks and enjoy in a cocktail of your choice
• Cool thing #3 – Strawberry Jam – savour the taste of summer even in deepest darkest winter
• Cool thing #4 – Strawberry Coulis – posh sauce – stores well, tastes awesome, especially when drizzled over other lovely stuff
• Cool thing #5 – Strawberry Compote – posh desert

We’re still waiting to indulge in the delights of the Strawberry liqueur but early indications are very promising, so in the meantime we’ve been indulging in all other forms of delicious strawberries. Most of these involve some sort of cream accompaniment which, whilst truly yumtastic, has been the cause of a few missed dinners this month due to mid afternoon over-indulgence .

The Gwalia Wine Vaults

[singlepic id=58 w=220 float=left] Since arriving at Gwalia we have started to get keen on the ‘good life’ of making stuff, some such stuff is wine. This isn’t really a new idea. Harry and Livy used to make wine when I was little so there’s a fair amount of bottles and equipment tucked away at the back of one of the barns. I went exploring!

[singlepic id=55 w=220 float=right] We were surprised to discover a very, very old looking bottle of wine. “Let’s try it!” I said. Thinking about it, we have calculated that the wine is probably 25 years old (at least), Harry and Livy stopped making wine c.1988 so let’s discover if this was a vintage year…

I had some difficulty persuading the others to try. We identified it as crab-apple wine, it had a very dry, sherry-like smell – not too bad. It looks great, clear and colourful a deep amber it reminds me of a yummy dessert wine.  However “dessert wine” was not a good thing to be thinking when tasting this one, it was really, very dry and had a slightly pungent flavour. Here’s Dee after I persuaded her to try –


We tried adding lemonade to sweeten it up a bit. This made it clear that it was crab apple wine, it tasted and smelled like cider. Much more palatable as it lost the dryness but unfortunately maintained the pungent slightly off flavour. Here’s Dee with the lemonade added –


We threw it away and endeavoured to make our own.  Probably not worth ageing this stuff for 25 years though.

Have a look at the wine-making gallery here

I’m a Lumberjack and I’m OK…

[singlepic id=52 w=320 h=240 float=left] This is the song I’ve had stuck in my head for hours at a time and yes, it is indeed annoying!  It’s there because wood is a bit of a focus of life here.  If we’re not chopping it down and clearing from the land then it’s being slowly processed for firewood and kindling.  There’s a massive annual delivery of unprocessed logs which sits in yard and is gradually chain-sawed up into smaller chunks and then each one chopped. Continue reading