Two years ago today we moved into our new house. It was a bit of a gamble to leave the city that had been home to Michael forever and to me for almost forty years, and I’d be lying if I said that neither of us had had second, third and fourth thoughts about the decision.
When we set about looking for a spot we’d be happy with, there were several boxes that needed to be ticked: we didn’t want to be too far from Cardiff, in case we suffered isolation pangs; we wanted to be somewhere pretty with less traffic, but that was within walking distance of shops for everyday essentials; and it had to be within reasonable driving distance of a train station so that the girls could visit. There were other criteria, but those were the most important. We didn’t contact any estate agents until the middle of January 2014, a month after we’d completed the sale of our Cardiff house. This was a deliberate choice because we didn’t want to be under any pressure when looking for somewhere new, which we would have felt if we’d been stuck in a ‘moving’ chain.
As it turned out we only saw three properties, all on the same day. The first was too big, too expensive and the setting too urban. The second was too small, too expensive and the setting too rural. At the risk of sounding like Goldilocks, the third was just right! We knew straight away that it was the place for us and, foolishly or not, we wasted no time in putting in an offer. Twenty-four hours later we’d bagged a place to put up our feet and lay down our heads; on 13th March we got the keys and started to move in.I was glad to see the back of that carpet!
The garden didn’t look too good either
So here we are, in a village just outside Crickhowell. We are less than an hour’s drive from Cardiff – though we avoid the place like the plague, choosing Abergavenny for things we can’t get locally and Hereford for anything else. We are most definitely somewhere pretty – stunningly gorgeous, in fact, and there’s a lot less traffic – on the roads. However we do have one heck of a lot of low-flying aircraft, a bonus as far as we’re both concerned. The RAF often salutes us with Tornado jets, Chinook helicopters and the occasional heavy transport plane. Each time we hear the engines we jump up from wherever we are and scurry to the garden like children on Christmas Eve who’ve been told there’s a reindeer flying overhead. (Which is crazy because if the sound suggests a Tornado screaming up the Usk valley, then it’s half-way to Brecon by the time we reach the door.) One of these mad dashes was my downfall last summer when I slipped on the kitchen floor and broke my big toe.The view from the back bedroom windows taken in a frosty January- our Tornado Alley!
Most of our shopping is done in Crickhowell – meat, fruit & veg, bread, milk, newspaper – which is a brisk ten minute walk or an easy fifteen minute stroll. Webb’s, the hardware store, is so much more than just a hardware store. It’s like an Aladdin’s cave of all things domestic, ranging from twee baking loveliness à la Great British Bakeoff through hammers & nails, paint, plumbing & electrical necessities and everything you could need for your garden to fridges, washing machines and sofas.Our walk to the shops
Then there’s Nicholl’s the department store. I kid you not – a town that boasts only two shopping streets and has a population of less than three thousand has its own department store (which also has branches in Brecon and Abergavenny). So if we feel in desperate need of some Burberry or Cath Kidston, we can relax in the knowledge that it’s only ten minutes away. Also the local bookshop has just won the accolade of Best Independent Bookshop in Wales and the Midlands.
Last on our list of essentials was that we weren’t too far from a train station. Here we are just twenty minutes from Abergavenny station by car, which means that Alex can get up to us in forty minutes.The Nant Onneu on its way through the village
There are plenty of other benefits, most of which we hadn’t imagined. The people are friendly, with a sprinkling of oddities that we notice more than we would have done in Cardiff. There’s Bucket Man- so called because whenever we see him he’s carrying a bucket; Radio Boy – who isn’t a boy at all, but it seems to fit and yes, he carries a large radio everywhere, balanced on his shoulder; Short Trouser Boy – who also isn’t a boy but looks very young despite his moustache. His trousers are at least two inches above his ankles and he has a wicker basket over his arm at all times. I hope it’s holding something different from Bucket Man’s bucket.
We’re surrounded by mountains – or hills if you want to be pedantic – and we just need to step outside the garden gate to be at the beginning of a great walk. We’ve been exposed to different lifestyles, meeting folk who are artists, musicians, woodworkers, builders, walk leaders and travel guides. Crickhowell has a walking festival every March, an Open Art weekend every Spring Bank Holiday and a fledgling Book Festival in October – and of course there’s the Green Man festival in August, a thirty minute amble along the canal or road.The Mon & Brec Canal, a hundred yards up the lane from the house
A two minute stroll past the church
The other great advantage, and one I hadn’t considered, is that we’ve shifted the focus of our lives an hour north and west of Cardiff, which has opened up areas of Wales we’d previously not really visited (much to my shame). Because we don’t have the spectre of work and a daily commute hanging over us it’s not too much of a bother to drive somewhere occasionally. Welcome to the ‘Two Hour Rule’: if it’s within a two hour drive then it’s fair game and we’re going. For example Cardigan Bay is now just two hours away; the Gower Peninsula can be reached in an hour and a half, as can the whole of Carmarthenshire and most of Mid-Wales.And if we fancy a bustling city instead of a glorious beach or the sight of red kites being fed, we can turn our faces east and be in Bath or Bristol in not much more than ninety minutes.
And then we get to come home and if the weather’s good – not always, I’ll grant you – there’s plenty to do in the garden, even now that it’s looking more the way we want:This’ll mean something completely different to my daughters!
Michael’s fingers have been slightly green for a while but now they’re positively emerald. There are pots of seeds everywhere and Alex was quite disturbed on a recent visit home – we hadn’t warned her about the chitting potatoes on her bedroom window-sill.Some August goodies…
…and some more…
…and a place to enjoy them
Nothing’s perfect of course and we had plenty of work to do inside as well as out. But we’re getting there!
Happy Second Anniversary, House!