The spring has sprung in Myddfai this weekend. The weather this winter has been wetter than even Wales is used to. There has been flooding across large parts of Wales as I write this. We are so grateful that we found Myddfai, and that we are above the flooded valleys here on the hill. Our thoughts this week have been with close neighbours who have been flooded. Finally, today, spring has sprung in Myddfai, and the first signs are most welcome.
One of the interesting things about living in a woodland and being surrounded by nature, is how much more you notice the seasonal changes. I know spring has sprung in Myddfai because the signs are all here to see. From the catkins on the hazel trees to the buds on the camellia. From the crocus to the snowdrop, the flowers bring much needed colour to the grey skies of February.
The animals here are also telling us that spring is here. The visitors to our bird table include more finches and sparrows daily, and they are being joined by woodpeckers, nuthatches, coal tits and black birds. John and I vie each year to be the first one to spot the mistle thrushes. And the buzzard who spends much of his time in our woods, has been showing off his flying skills to his new partner; I could sit and watch them soaring all day.
Spring climbs the hill here, starting in the town of Llandovery (less than 2 miles down the hill) and we see daffodils in bloom there a good two weeks before they open in Myddfai. Snowdrops are finished in town before the open up here, and our bluebells will be a good ten days later than the woodlands in the valley. I never noticed this when we lived in the concrete jungles of London.
Ready to notice the little things? Come and stay a while and re-connect with nature..
Trees. The lungs of our planet. They are remarkable. Did you know that their roots form a network that connects trees together, allowing them to divide their water between them, giving more to those in need. They will even ‘move over’ to give saplings a chance to see the sunlight. When an old tree knows it is nearing the end of its life, it gives its nourishment to the other trees in its network. You simply have to love trees.
Here at The Charcoal Hut, we have a little under three acres of land and originally it was covered by trees. There was Oak, Alder, Ash, Willow, Hazel, Hawthorn and Birch (of several varieties) and plenty of Holly. Our neighbours remember when the field where the hut sits was full of Oaks. They were cut down in a weekend, around fifteen years ago, leaving a field and just over an acre of trees. Our mission is to replant the field, giving nature back some of the land it lost, and providing a wildlife heaven.
When we moved here, we took on a very sad and unloved woodland. We believe that you never ‘own’ land, you are custodians for future generations. Leaving the woods here more loved and nurtured than we found them is important to us. Having already planted a significant number of trees here, including 40 willows, 10 fruit and this year, ten nut trees, the plans are for more in 2020. Last year, we coppiced and thinned the very over-crowded hazels and last year, were thrilled to beat the squirrels to a decent bucket full!
This year, to increase our commitment to growing the woodland, we will be planting a tree here for every booking we take. We have also decided, as the terrible bush fires rage in Australia, that we will also plant a tree there for every booking, via Treevotion who are doing amazing re-planting work globally. If you’re planning a stay and would like to add a tree in your names, please visit their site. At the time of writing this post, they are planting an extra tree when you purchase two.
We have found nature therapy, or forest bathing, to be a huge benefit to our mental and physical health. Time spent in nature has been shown to reduce stress and pain. We love hearing from our guests about the positive impact staying here has on their sense of wellness. Thank you to the trees again. You can see more on Shinrin Yoku, or forest bathing, in this blog.
If you’ve enjoyed this blog, please go to the Treevotion site and share it with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and everywhere else. Let’s get more trees for Australia. More trees. Please.
It’s a great time to fall back in love with all the important things in your life. it’s the start of a new decade and the chance to focus your energy and time on positive things, like falling back in love. And focussing on the people, places and things you love to do are a wonderful way to have a positive impact on your mental wellness for the year, and decade, ahead.
At the Charcoal Hut, our guests often leave us lovely feedback and also tell us how refreshed they feel by their time staying with us. We’ve noticed that, whilst they mention many different things, they all seem to have a common theme – they have fallen back in love.
With walking, birdsong, trees, hot chocolate, star-gazing. Often guests tell us they fell back in love with long walks, dark skies, woodlands, streams, the sound of wind in trees. Cuddling up in blankets together, marshmallows and romantic dinners all make it regularly onto the list. When it comes to falling back in love, they most often tell us they have fallen back in love with each other. Many tell us that the peace here, the lack of noise and being ‘busy’ with interruptions on-line, allowed them to be more present for each other. Our guests tell us it is somewhere special, that they feel they’ve re-connected in some deeper way.
When you filter-out the noise that constantly seems to be present in busy lives, when you slow down and, instead of aiming for targets you focus on the moment and taking joy in being present, things really shift. The thoughts that can occupy our minds when we are surrounded by demands on our time, (all of which appear to be a priority), are often misleading us and give us a sense of not achieving, or being ‘enough’. When you get out of that environment, into the space and quiet in nature and particularly in the woods, this shifts.
Recent studies, and ancient knowledge, have shown what a powerful impact trees can have on our mental and physical well being. The art of Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing (nature therapy) has been practiced in japan for hundreds of years and in their modern practices, it is used to support positive mental health. All our guests have told us that they have found time in the woods here to be deeply relaxing and restorative.
When did you last spend time on the things or with the people you love? So often we come up with reasons (excuses) that mean we let the things we love fall aside in favour of things we believe we ‘have to do’. Being grown up sucks, right? Unless you decide to give yourself a break, and permission to make time for the things that give you joy, make you laugh, top up your tank. It’s time to fall back in love.
Before moving to Wales, I had never heard of a cwtch (pronounced koutch here in Carmarthenshire) and did not know it would become one of my favourite words. Although there is no exact translation into English, its closest would be a hug or a cuddle. I would add, a cwtch often involves snuggling up on a cosy spot under a blanket (that last bit is my own interpretation based on experience of chilly evenings watching the stars). One thing I know after five years in Wales; We love to cwtch!
Living in a woodland means we cwtch a great deal. I had not previously understood the relationship between trees and the desire to hug my husband (and many of my friends), but since we have lived here our cwtching has increased significantly. Standing in the woods, listening to the sounds of the water over the rocks as it runs into the pond, or watching a buzzard circle above us through the tops of the birch and alder, we seem to end up cwtching. We seem to find greater peace when we do this.
I have always been confident in the idea that the touch of another person, when wanted and when given with the right motivation and intention, is healing and enhancing. In my work as an Independent Celebrant, I often leave clients with a hug after we’ve spoken about someone they’ve loved deeply and who has recently passed. I am also lucky enough to help couples renew their vows and again, a hug as an expression of thanks and love for being part of their special day, says I have made a connection that mattered, that touched them. A cwtch can convey so much.
When we designed the Charcoal hut, we took the idea of a Cwtch and thought how we could create a space that made everyone feel like the hut was giving them a cwtch – making them feel safe, protected, cosy and warm. We’re always thrilled when we’re told by guests this is how they feel about the hut.
When you visit Wales, you’ll see there are lots of items for the home with the word cwtch on them, and now you’ll know what it means. The first one I bought was a small heart with the words “anyone can cuddle, but only the Welsh can cwtch”. I’m pleased to say that, with the right setting, we can all learn and enjoy this wonderful Welsh tradition.
Shinrin Yoku is the Japanese practice of forest bathing, or nature therapy. It has been practiced for generations under many names, and it is a wonderful example of science and spirituality coming together. We have known, almost instinctively, that being amongst trees in a woodland or forest, feels good for our state of mind.
science has recently been reporting studies that back this up, showing positive implications for our mental and physical wellbeing. Take a look at a couple of them here: https://nhsforest.org/evidence-benefits and https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/07/09/scientists-have-discovered-that-living-near-trees-is-good-for-your-health/
There is a wonderful Welsh saying, : “dod yn ol at fy nghoed” which means ‘to return to a balanced sate of mind”. The literal translation is ‘to return to my trees’. I have certainly found that time in the trees here, even in such a small woodland, has a powerful impact on my sense of calm. I am naturally drawn to the woodland when I feel pressure at work or am not sure about where to focus my energy. Twenty minutes does seem to be perfect for me, and I find clarity returns.
When you stay in our Charcoal Hut, you are free to spend time in the woodland, sitting by the pond and listening to water over the rocks. Or under one of the larger trees, where the sound of wind in the leaves and branches is almost primitive. A guest recently commented that listening to the woods was like listening to sea shells, and it seemed to connect her with ancestors. I was very moved by her experience.
When I sit with trees, and just look at what goes on in the woods, my pace seems to shift inside. I notice my breathing and heart rate slow down, to the point of feeling deeply relaxed and this can be a great benefit for daily meditation. There are some beautiful, private places within the woods for Yoga, stretch or meditation. At dusk, when the trees catch the last of the sun, it is truly glorious.
I’d love to hear about your experiences of Shinrin yoku, and what impact it has had on you.
We know many of our guests come to stay at The charcoal Hut to relax and unwind, to reconnect with nature and get some time together without constant demands on their attention. They love time in the hut playing board games, painting and enjoying the views. They also tell us that they’re keen to explore, and I’ve put together this short list of our favourite things to do over a long-weekend around Myddfai, or in the surrounding area.
This is the site of the myth of the Lady of the Lake, and is a stunning five mile walk. You can drive to the starting point in around 15 minutes from us and then walk up to and around the lake. It offers some of the most stunning views around Myddfai (although you are going to be overwhelmed by the beauty here). This is a steep walk, not a climb, and there are plenty of places along the path to stop and ‘admire the view’ (get your breath back).
This is a gem, known about only by locals and well behaved guests, as we all adore their homemade local food. They make their own crumpets – which are exceptional, and always have a great selection of lunch options from sweetcorn fritters to pulled pork casserole (that was this week) and they also do a great coffee and cake. We love this as a place to meet friends for a catch-up and the staff are wonderfully friendly too. If you’re too late for lunch, they make their crumpets until around 3.30pm each day – so enjoy some with a cuppa after exploring the town of Llandovery.
A mile and a half’s walk up the hill from us, you’ll find our village hall. The hall was built as a DIY Village SOS, and the project is now a great community success. There is a wonderful cafe, which serves homemade cakes and bakes, lunches and a great walkers breakfast. There is also a lovely shop which sells craft items made by local professional artisans – from pottery to stained glass, jams and honey to bird boxes and jewellery. The gorgeous Welsh Tweed blankets in our hut came from here too. The stained glass window in the hall was handmade by a group of around 30 local people (Dinah was one of them) in 2018 and is worth looking at too.
When we moved from London to Myddfai, we were stunned by the sky here at night. The hut is in a dark sky area, so the amount of light pollution is so low, that you see way more in the night sky. We regularly see the Milky way, Mars, Venus and the International space station! Many of the annual meteor shower events can be watched here and we even provide you with sleeping bags and hot water bottles to make the evening even more special.
There are several sites for wild swimming in the area, and we can help you find them with local maps. Swimming in the streams and waterfalls is an amazing experience, and provided you take notice of any areas where swimming is not allowed, you will find there are lots of chances to enjoy the sensation. if the waterfalls appeal to you more than the swimming, there are guided walks available to visit the waterfalls in the beacons.
i will be sharing five more things to do very soon, so do keep following the blog.
We had never heard of Myddfai before we found our home here in 2014. It is a tiny village (current population around 400), surrounded by views that still take our breath away at every turn, just above the town of Llandovery in Carmarthenshire. Myddfai is on the western edge of the Brecon Beacons and is famous for the legends of The physicians of Myddfai and the Lady of the Lake.
The story of the Lady of the lake is based around Llyn y Fan Fach, a stunning lake, which many of our guests walk to whilst staying with us. The legend tells of a farm boy grazing his sheep daily by the lake, who saw and fell in love with the lady of the lake. She agreed to marry him on condition that if he strike her three times, she would leave him and return to the lake. Sadly, he did strike her three times and she left him to return to her other world.
They had three sons together, who became the Physicians of Myddfai – thought to be some of the earliest herbalists practicing and you can see many of their remedies in the myddfai community hall and visitor centre (about 1 mile from us).
The Physicians have a long line, with history from as far back as 13th century in Carmarthen. The Red Book of Hergest, ( instructions for preparing herbal medicine), which dates back to the 14th century is thought to be associated with the Physicians.
The myths and legends inspire many of the local arts and crafts, and there is a wonderful selection available from both the community centre shop in myddfai, and further afield in Llandeilo at crafts alive. My friend and art teacher, Amanda Rose has been inspired by the legends in her print making and her pottery.
If you are interested in finding out more about the Myddfai legends, the local herbal traditions (many still being practiced today) or foraging for the wild plants used in the herbal remedies, we can connect you with local experts before your stay in Myddfai so that you can pre-book time with them.