Tuesday, 21 April 2009
I have just come back from a Writers' Retreat at Ty Newydd, the National Writing Centre for Wales. This is a place every writer should spend time at: it has a really special atmosphere, very conducive to writing; it is run by some truly good people, who are so friendly, kind, and generous, and it says much for the place itself that most of them have been here a long time; they love to work here. That in itself is a sign of how welcoming Ty Newydd is. You are well looked after, well fed, and for those moments when you need to walk and think or just burst out into the air, there are wonderful scenic walks right on your doorstep: down to the beach at Criccieth or along the woodland path beside the river Dwyfor. If you are interested in wildlife - and I certainly am! - there is so much to see: dippers and goosander on the river; wood anemones, primrose, wood sorrel, dog violet and bluebells in the wood plus the cherries in blossom. In past years I have seen the pied flycatcher here, and the green and the greater spotted woodpecker. Plenty of goldcrests.
Down by the shore I look out for ringed plover, redshank, turnstone, oystercatchers and cormorants and this year I was delighted to see the first wheatear of the season.
The way to the shore leads between high banks of gorse, this year in prolific flower and the rich coconut smell of it was intoxicating. I saw my first swallow, a very fine fellow preening his glistening feathers and his forked tail as he perched on telephone wires. I had a good long look at him through binoculars, and admired his precisely defined colouring: once in Derbyshire I saw two swallows skittering about on a low roof and as the sun caught them I saw how intense the blue of their backs really is - for a brief moment it took on the sheen and brilliance of the kingfisher and was stunning.
But I love Ty Newydd for more then these reasons; there are two places I find I can really get work done, and this is one of them (the other is The Oak Barn in Shropshire - check out Oak Barn Workshops on the web). I love the feeling at Ty Newydd of welcome and warmth when you first step inside the door: it's quirky, with awkward and mysterious staircases, and amazing chimney stacks when seen from the back. It's an old house that belonged to Lloyd George towards the end of his life; he died in what is now the library. When I come here I often have what was his bedroom, a room I especially like, with two marvellous window seats looking out on the long front drive with its beeches and conifers and inviting bend that suggests magic beyond (and there is magic, for this is the way to the river and the woods!) There is nothing pretentious about the house, it's solid, sturdy and at the back it has the feeling of a house that has simply increased in size and adapted to changing needs of its own free will: a bit like Topsy in Uncle Tom's Cabin it has 'growed itself', springing like a strange and affable white mushroom from the earth. And I think it's the word 'affable' that fits it best. You can come here and be yourself like the house, enjoy all that's around you, feel a real part of this wonderful place, and when you leave you take it with you in your heart. Along with several finely covered pages of promising writing, which is the best thing of all! If you haven't been yet and you are a writer, get the brochure and book a course. Or even better a retreat. There's nothing like Ty Newydd. There couldn't be. It's unique.