Getting away from it all is something I’m a huge fan of. Sometimes you just need to have all of the temptations taken away so cutting off from the world is the only option. Enter Gwennol.
As so often is the case for New Year’s Eve, a big hype is made and plans for a big night expected but rarely both are ever followed through, so we decided to do the exact opposite and go into isolation. To give some background, we love a weekend in a treehouse, an eco-pod, or a shepherd’s hut but mostly without the “glamorous” part of “glamping” so we really try to go back to basics; making a fire as the only heat source, no phone signal, no electricity and where running water and a simple gas stove becomes a luxury. I think it’s the humbling part of it all and the test to see how well in tune you get with it that draws us back. Spoiler: it’s easy to adapt and fall in love with it every time.
We found Gwennol through Canopy & Stars and she is an absolute beauty. Nestled on a farm in the Black Mountains but very much in her own private patch down a hill, she even has her own rapid river. Her remoteness is highlighted on the website and because of it, your stay may have to be rescheduled in extreme weather conditions. Excited yet? We arrived on Friday 29th December after the snow in London had left but as we came to realise, was very much still present in Wales. Molly, the owner of the cabin, was brilliant in helping us on the days leading up to our stay and letting us know what to expect from the journey and the stay there. She doesn’t live near the space but as someone who had a vision for Gwennol being very much self-sustaining and independent (as cabin life should be!), the help to her guests is driven by her keenness to not disturb the locals for help wherever possible.
The drive was pretty straight forward, and even as you enter the hamlet, Capel y Ffin, all of the directions were clear but it’s as you start making your way uphill to pick up the keys that the lane changes. A much tighter lane with higher hedgerows, a few more ditches and as was in our case with the snow and ice, a VERY slippery track. The higher you climb, the more open and vast the land becomes leaving the fields open to the ruthless weather. We were lucky enough to make it to the top to dump our stuff off, and thankfully managed to return the car to the hamlet to stay there for the weekend. I say thankfully because of the ford that has to be crossed both ways; unless you’re in a 4x4, if and when the ford rises, there is literally no way to get across as per the warning Molly gives you.
As a cabin, everything is so well maintained and well contained too, with all of the necessities you could possibly need including a good amount of pots and pans, mugs, plates, bowls and utensils so that you don’t just make and eat one meal and have to immediately wash up! It all locks up from the inside so you feel secure on the windy nights and the gas is manually enabled for extra safety too.
Outside is a sink with running water which comes from a spring, so as a tip, don’t leave the tap running when brushing teeth or washing up because you could get caught out with all foam and no rinse! Also outside is a giant kelly kettle to heat up water for the outdoor metal bath, and a fire pit and hanging cook pot. Another thing that is outside and slightly across the space is the compost loo. On it’s own and raised slightly with a great view of the river, there really is nothing to fear - no smells, insects or scariness - as long as you follow the rules with the sawdust, use the lid and lock the door behind you.
Inside, the cabin actually feels pretty big thanks to the layout and height of it. The bunkbed is by no means two small singles tightly packed on top of each other and the double at the far end is a properly-sized double bed. We found a way to hang some of the battery and wind up lanterns up so we had light in the evening, but part of the fun is not having the luxury of unlimited light sources and walking around with lanterns and cooking with a head torch. Plenty of tea lights are provided too which produce a surprising amount of light, so take full advantage of them. A trunk of games can be found under the bed, which is a nice reminder that board games aren’t just for Christmas time.
What you end up doing with your days and nights is what I find so interesting with these stays. Waking up and building a fire becomes an event, as does keeping it maintained and getting the heating and wood burn just right. On our first night, arriving in the freezing temperature to a very, very cold cabin that seemingly wouldn’t stay warm, we went gung-ho with the fire and by 9pm, couldn’t believe we were sweating and in need of some cold air. Do not underestimate the insulation ability of Gwennol!
Days don’t go by incredibly fast but neither do they drag because you really do become absorbed in all you’re doing in the moment. Whether it’s reading a book, having a little walking exploration, even just making and sharing a pot of tea, it brings you back down to earth again.
One of my favourite things about camping or staying in a hut is the cooking and meal planning element. Knowing you don’t have a real fridge but a cool box, and also not wanting to take a huge amount because of the walk from the car and storage, means creativity (and plenty of decanting) ensues. A failsafe of mine is cheese and chorizo quesadillas, and from this trip I learnt that paneer curry and bean chilli are great as long as you prep the spices before in their own containers. Dried beans, onions, rice and tinned tomatoes may seem a little heavy and cumbersome but with no need for refrigeration, they’re well worth it for a rewarding dinner and help to create something that often leaves leftovers for a slightly exotic cabin breakfast.
Other essentials of mine for these trips is to take a few reusable water bottles to use in rotation so you don’t have to keep going outside for a glass of water, and biodegradable wet wipes and a flannel for quick washes for when a cold shower isn’t filling you with joy!
A little prep before, surrendering to the environment there, and learning how to use it to your advantage will mean Gwennol leaves you refreshed and feeling human again. She is very special one.